Thursday, 21 June 2018

Get to Know Charles Hess

Charles Hess has more than 20 years of experience creating high-end residential landscapes. He explores the interrelationships between building and site, the formation of memories in garden spaces and implementation of cutting-edge technologies in the built landscape. Hess’ company, Hess Landscape Architects, is a landscape architectural design firm that covers a wide swath of the East, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, New York, West Virginia, Florida, New Hampshire and the Bahamas.

“We strive to craft unique spaces tailored to each client’s tastes and each site’s singular needs, while simultaneously incorporating selective signature elements as subtle reflections of our own design affinities,” says Hess. “We believe balanced designs are distinguished by regionally appropriate materials, the incorporation of relevant historical elements and a broad knowledge and appreciation for our natural surroundings.”

After completing his undergraduate studies in ornamental horticulture at Delaware Valley College in 1988, Hess received a master’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of Pennsylvania in 1991. Before founding Hess Landscape Architects he worked at a large, internationally recognized design firm, and then later at a smaller Philadelphia-region design/build firm.

“It’s fairly typical for us to serve as a project’s prime consultant, directing a project’s outcome from start to finish,” Hess explains, sharing how his firm works. “We work directly with the finest craftsmen and artisans in the region to produce truly turn-key projects with the overall satisfaction of our clients remaining our ultimate objective.”

A leading landscape architectural review board recently commented about what makes one of Hess’ recent landscape projects award-worthy: “He shows a more sophisticated planting palette than most, using small areas of one plant and then repeating it in either form or texture, such as clipped mounds, misty uprights or patches of strong seasonal color. He incorporates clever reuse of historical garden features in many of his designs, including garden walls and grand stairways giving a strong sense of place.” Just this year, Hess won three Association of Professional Landscape Designers’ Gold Awards.

Year founded: 1998 Client mix: 97% residential, 3% institutional and commercial Service mix: 100% design Business motto: Raise the bar.

Proudest moment in landscape business: Referrals from happy clients remain our biggest generator of future work, something which we are extremely proud of. Peer recognition is great, but client recognition is underrated. When we started, we had just two clients. If each of our clients represents the branch of a tree, those two initial clients form the stump. Every client can be traced back to them in some way or another, through other old clients. Our clientele is one big, interconnected network of branches in this tree. We knew that we had to provide the highest level of service from the firm’s start if anyone else would ever want to hire us again. The fact that the phone keeps ringing is a testament to our continued ability to provide quality service. Biggest business challenge: Delivering value for our clients. Many people see our work and immediately think it must be very expensive to produce. Well, in some instances it is, but that’s not always the case. While our work is certainly not cheap, we strive to provide design solutions that are as economical as possible while still operating within our client’s predetermined program and budget. A larger problem occurs when contractors and craftsmen start looking around a project site or the surrounding neighborhood and ascribe higher prices to the project because they naturally presume the clients must be able to afford it. We struggle to make sure pricing remains consistent and fair for all concerned. “Zip code pricing” doesn’t fly! Best sources of landscape design/build inspiration: There is no substitute for being observant, whether you are at a prospective client’s home or walking around a city or hiking through the woods or revisiting a favorite garden. The little details that make a place truly great are everywhere. All of the above examples are inspiring, but channeling that inspiration into a design becomes the real challenge. You need to take in and observe the bad along with the good, too. Sometimes knowing what didn’t work or what not to do is just as important to an idea’s ultimate success. When reviewing ideas in the office, we’ll often jokingly say: “Well, I don’t hate that.” Closing the gap to elicit a response of “Hey, I love that!” is the challenge we face as designers. Favorite plant or plant combination: We are using a lot of villosa type heuchera lately. “Autumn Bride,” “Brownies” and “Citronelle” have each been finding their way into our gardens for the past few years. They are relatively easy to grow, carefree and look great for a long time. We like to try other varieties that may be lesser known or are newer to stay current with what growers are raising. Heuchera “Mocha,” “Pistache” and “Fire Alarm” are a few examples. Growers are always searching for improved varieties, so staying abreast of green industry trends becomes critical for our success as designers. Monday morning motivation: I usually don’t need any motivation once I start reading my email. We’re very fortunate to be in demand. Business worry that keeps you up at night: Over-promising and under-delivering. It’s easy to say “yes” to someone, but then you need to back it up. We’re fortunate to be busy, but managing both clients and firm operations and growth can get stressful. Landscape design/install mentor: I’ve been an admirer of Piet Oudolf for some time and looking at any of his work can be inspirational. His ability to integrate his signature style onto either modern forms or classical architecture is daring and a welcome design trend. Successful landscape design does not have to be constrained to correspond with a particular point in time. Beauty is timeless. Favorite business or landscape design book: A client recommended Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” and I enjoyed his nononsense style. Moving from being simply good in your field to a place of greatness is a relatable goal for any small business owner. Landscape design/install project that makes you smile every time you drive past it: We have been working continuously at one project site near Philadelphia since 1998. Every year, the owner has one project they would like to undertake — some years they are small, other years they are more grand. It’s amazing to remember what the property looked like and how much it has evolved over that span of time, and to be able to track our successes as well as our failures. That kind of continuity with a place is rare. Describe your business in five years: I want us to continue to provide excellent service to our clients. In five years, my hope is for the business to continue to service the Philadelphia market, but also to grow and expand through the Mid-Atlantic and possibly beyond. We’re having too much fun to slow down now.  

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Packaged Lawn Products In Demand

When demand is high for your products and services, life is pretty good.

And, great news for us, demand for packaged lawn and garden consumables — products like fertilizers, pesticides, growing media, seeds and mulch — is forecast to rise in the U.S. 3.4 percent per year until 2020. The gains coming will take the industry to a projected $9.3 billion.

As a result, professional landscape firms should expect an increase in business, according to the Freedonia Group’s Lawn & Garden Consumables study.

When it comes to specific trends, the Freedonia Group’s research says vegetable, fruit and herb gardens will remain top of mind for consumers, who adopted the edible gardening trend during the economic recession as a way to focus on an inexpensive and productive hobby that was also sustainable. The trend is expected to continue even as the economy improves.

The study also revealed that rising government spending should contribute to greater demand for lawn and garden consumables at public buildings and parks.

These projected five years of gains will be much better than the 2010 to 2015 period when lagging consumer confidence and economic and environmental concerns negatively impacted demand.

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Finding Inspiration for Holiday Lighting Designs

Holiday lighting is popular service for landscape contractors who are looking for work in the off-season. But those who have been doing it a long time know it’s not a simple undertaking. Landscape business owners who have built successful services say holiday lighting takes hard work, dedication and a lot of creativity.






Service solutions




Coming up with the perfect holiday lighting design does require the ideal combination of customer input and professional know-how. A lot of customers do have ideas in mind if they seek out holiday lighting. But Nikos Phelps, president of Utopian Landscapes LLC, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, has been doing holiday lighting long enough — since 2007 — to know when something a client wants might not work. Along with his wife, Terra, who often assists with designs, he’s found he must delicately balance “wants” with “what actually works.”




“In many ways it’s quite similar to landscaping in that regard,” he says. “The customer will come in and say, ‘I want this, this and this,’ but if you’ve been doing it long enough, you have a much better sense of what works and what doesn’t. Plus, you have to balance all of that with their budget.”








holiday lighting snow

Photo: Designs by Sundown




Like many, Phelps got into holiday lighting as a way to sustain his business in the winter. Though many tend to jump in and out of holiday lighting — often depending on whether they have a big snow season — Phelps has actually turned a lot of his focus to building the service. He starts prepping for the service in August, starts installs Oct. 1, and performs take-downs from January through mid-February.




“Since we start in the fall, one of the biggest challenges has been shutting down the construction division at that point and having to actually turn work away so that we can start holiday lighting,” Phelps admits.




Those who are truly in holiday lighting as more than just a small side job echo the same sentiments. Brian Rudish, co-owner and irrigation business developer for A Plus Lawn & Landscape in Des Moines, Iowa, has been doing holiday lighting for 15 years. He says their big push starts in August. Like Phelps, by Oct. 1, lights are already being strung.




David Veron, president of The Veron Co. in Marlborough, Massachusetts, says he starts a big marketing push over the Fourth of July, but has already built up a solid base of customers and works mostly off renewals. Having trained through Walt Disney World for holiday lighting, Veron is tackling the big (minimum $1,000) jobs that require bucket trucks and serious dedication.








holiday lighting

Safety training is a big part of preparing crews for holiday displays since they are working with electricity in sometimes icy conditions.

Photo: Utopian Landscapes LLC




Despite landing jobs that could bring in as much as $20,000, Veron admits the field is not as profitable as it used to be. And that’s due to insurance costs.




“The holiday lighting business is not cheap to insure,” Veron admits. “It’s a very dangerous service – you’re up high, often in bad weather and working with electricity.”




The service is definitely a lot more extensive than one might imagine. Tom Tolkacz, CEO of Swingle Lawn, Tree & Landscape Care in Denver, says that beyond extensive training in design and installation techniques, his designers also have a firm understanding of electrical instruction and thorough ladder and roof safety. Swingle uses multiple, highly trained crews.








holiday lighting

Photo: Swingle Lawn, Tree & Landscape Care




Rudish says he would call the learning curve for holiday lighting “large,” and that workers must have a solid understanding of electrical current. He has found there to be many similarities to irrigation work, so the crossover for the irrigation crew was easier. But with the right training, the lawn care techs have also learned the necessary skills. Rudish says the company runs four or five holiday lighting crews with two to three guys per crew.




Phelps says that Utopian crews are also trained to crossover into holiday lighting. As the season gets busy, everyone has to chip in, though they are trained for either roof work or ground lighting. Phelps reiterates what others have stressed — the importance of safety.




“If you’re going to do holiday lighting, you need to do the proper training and take all the precautions,” he stresses. “Our crews are in harnesses and are well trained. We have 15 different types of ladders so that there’s one that’s right for any situation. But you have to know that when you’re working off the ground with electric — sometimes in icy conditions — that there is risk involved.”








holiday lighting

Photo: Utopian Landscapes LLC




Finding inspiration




A spectacular holiday lighting design takes know-how and creativity. Tolkacz says many of the designs that Swingle creates are inspired by the homes themselves.




“The overall design of any home speaks to the possible artistry Swingle can create with our holiday lighting services,” he says. “From dramatic columns to exciting architectural elements to expansive windows — these all combine to create a blank canvas for Swingle’s designers. Tree lighting is one of our signature services. We find great enjoyment in pulling inspiration from the wonderful creations of Mother Nature, which allows us to produce dazzling displays that are sure to be the envy of the neighborhood.”








holiday lighting

Creativity for holiday lights can sometimes come from the home’s architecture.




Bill Mansoor, general manager of the maintenance division for Designs by Sundown, headquartered in Littleton, Colorado, says that he’s always thinking ahead about holiday lighting designs. He will drive around the city to experience some of the large government displays and make notes to incorporate ideas into next year’s “visions,” Mansoor says.




“We also make use of our distributors who have the new lighting d├ęcor products, asking them to demo certain lights or garland,” Mansoor says.




While ideas can help generate fresh creativity, Veron says it’s also important to have someone on the team who has a keen eye for design. Having learned from the masters of holiday lighting — the creative folks at Disney — Veron says some of his inspiration comes from that experience. However, he adds that creativity isn’t something that can be taught.








holiday lighting

Photo: Swingle Lawn, Tree & Landscape Care




“To really do a spectacular job with holiday lights, you have to have an eye for it,” Veron says. “You have to know what’s really going to pop. There’s a whole lot more to it than just stringing lights.






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Preserving Boston's Atlantic Wharf

Creating a fresh, inviting space that is sustainable while preserving history can create loads of challenges for any landscape architect.

Now place that location in Boston — one of the oldest cities in the country — and have it include 42 percent of previously existing historical structures, and you’ve got quite a trial on your hands.

The folks at Halvorson Design Partnership embraced such a project at Boston’s Atlantic Wharf, presenting a solution that both preserves and improves the historic site.

Atlantic Wharf faces the notable Fort Point Channel, which is surrounded by busy banks full of historical buildings and sits less than half a mile from South Station, where buses, the subway and trains are among the many transportation choices.

Here, an open park and events space rest with sculpted seatwalls, an integrated pergola and lighting structure – redesigning a pivotal segment of the Boston Harborwalk.

The landscape design includes a striking, 18,000-square-foot planted roof terrace on the restored mercantile Graphic Arts and Tufts Building. Layered plants of varied color and height establish a richly textured foreground for the office tower’s waterfront views, in addition to hardscape areas and paths of crushed stone to support events use and access. The green roof helps minimize the heat escape in the energy-efficient building and reduce stormwater runoff.

As Boston’s first sustainable high-rise development to reuse materials, Atlantic Wharf introduces more sustainable green spaces to an essential city segment, as well as creates a cohesive design that blends the historic with the modern.

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Get to Know Keiji Asakura

With designs extending nationally and internationally, most of Keiji Asakura’s 38 years of experience in urban design, landscape architecture and planning has been transforming communities and urban spaces throughout Houston. His efforts have successfully spanned a highly diverse range of communities with a focus on historically disadvantaged Hispanic, Asian and African-American urban neighborhoods.




Raised in Tokyo, Japan, until the age of 15, Asakura moved to Los Angeles in 1969 — trading the world’s largest metropolis for America’s largest metropolis. As a newly arrived immigrant with limited English, Los Angeles was a land of abundance, open space, optimism and opportunity for him. In high school, Asakura worked after school at a local nursery and then received his bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from California State University.






Year founded: 2004



Client mix: 40% municipal, 16% schools and universities, 16% commercial, 12% residential, 16% master plans



Service mix: 84% landscape irrigation, softscape and hardscape designs, design/build; 16% environmental and transportation planning, community redevelopment, economic development and affordable housing



Business motto: Community-inclusive solutions. Community-driven designs.




In 1982 at age 28, Asakura moved to Houston after being asked by his employer, the SWA Group, a multinational landscape architecture, planning and urban design firm, to move to its Houston branch. Then, two years later at the age of 30, he started his own landscaping firm, Asakura Robinson, noted for providing community-driven landscape design solutions and planning leadership.




Over the years living and working in Houston, Asakura has garnered an extensive collection of community service awards, including the 2011 American Society of Landscape Architects’ Distinguished Member Award, the 2009 President Obama’s Call for Service Award and the City of Houston Mayor White’s 2005 Proud Partner Award for Distinguished Service.




As an active board member of Keep Houston Beautiful for 16 years, Asakura has dedicated thousands of volunteer hours to beautifying Houston neighborhoods. In the capacity of an urban planner, Asakura was appointed in 2010 by Houston Mayor Annise Parker to be a member of Houston’s Planning Commission. His accomplishments have been more than hands-on, working with the Public Works Department to develop the Adopt-a-Ditch program and later updating the Adopt-an-Esplanade program, both programs focusing on improved water quality in Houston.




Asakura reaches out to underserved neighborhoods through program development with organizations such as LISC’s Go-Neighborhood program; Houston Endowment’s NEA Placemaking grant; Texas A&M’s Coastal Citizen Planner Program; USGBC Galveston’s Hurricane Ike Recovery Initiative; Better Block Houston; Collaborative for Children’s Nature Play Initiative; and Neighborhood Centers Inc.








Mandell Park





Proudest moment in the landscape business: Being selected as a fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects – Texas Chapter. Fellowship is the highest honor one can achieve in the landscape architecture industry. I was pleased to be recognized by my peers, colleagues and community.



Biggest business challenge: Executing our brand throughout our work. It is important that we not only recognize our core values but implement them in every project we do.



Best sources of landscape design/build inspiration: We draw inspiration from the communities that will influence and experience our designs.



Favorite plant or plant combination: Native plants for their sustainable factors and ecological benefits. I’m also drawn to edible plants because they are a tangible, healthy and affordable resource for many communities.




Kelly Park is a project Keiji Asakura has completed in Houston. In his designs, he liked to keep the local community in mind.





Monday morning motivation: My Monday mornings are motivated by my peers — they’re an engaged and energetic group of people who take pride in their work.



Business worry that keeps you up at night: Like many business leaders, I spend time considering the future of the company. I want to ensure that we progress and participate in meaningful projects in the many years to come.




Kelly Park





Landscape design/install mentor or idol: My idols are influential landscape designers from around the world who have contributed immensely to the landscape architecture industry, including Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, Lawrence Halprin, Roberto Burle Marx and Mirei Shigemori.



Favorite business or landscape design book: “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” by Jane Jacobs. This book has a community-driven outlook to preserving cities and neighborhoods — an approach I take in my design process. Another favorite book is “The Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson, an initiator of the environmental movement. I also enjoy any books by J.B. Jackson, who speaks on the cultural connotations of domesticated landscapes.



Landscape design/install project you’ve worked on that makes you smile every time you drive past it: I take pride in seeing Mandell Park, a project that’s a product of placemaking. The park is a direct result of the surrounding neighborhood’s efforts to transform an abandoned lot into a community space. The park’s design incorporates native plants and a community garden, which are maintained by the people of the community.



In five years, where do you see your business going: I see us as a more integrated firm, combining our landscape and planning expertise to deliver more insight and take part in more meaningful and impactful projects across the nation. We will be in a position where we are valued for our commitment to research-oriented and community-driven approaches and designs.

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European Award Promotes Urban Public Spaces

When you think of Europe, what comes to mind? Grand piazzas? Beautiful green spaces like the lush lawns around the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Hyde Park in London? Well people all over the world are working to bring the people back to the public square.








Thermal Orchards in Caldes de Montbui, Spain




One entity addressing public spaces in urban settings is the Center of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona. The center selects an international jury that chooses a winner from entries of revitalized and reimagined public spaces for its European Prize for Urban Public Space. This year, 276 candidates from 33 countries submitted entries. The works of the 25 finalists will be featured in an exhibition that will tour different European cities over the next two years.




The prize was created in 2000 and, according to the CCCB, “has become a recognized showcase of the evolution of public space in Europe and is a finger on the pulse of the main concerns of European cities today.








Heavenly Hundred Garden in Kiev, Ukraine




“The aim of the prize is to recognize and foster the public character of urban spaces and their capacity for fostering social cohesion,” according to CCCB’s public space website. The goal of focusing on urban spaces and the civic aspects that those spaces serve makes this award different from others given for architecture or landscape design, the CCCB notes.




One design, the recovery of an irrigation system at the Thermal Orchards in Caldes de Montbui, Spain, addressed the main canal’s risky access and contaminated stream. Now there is a walkway for public access and wastewater is channeled. There is also a new public open space and a pool integrated into the existing irrigation system that cools the thermal water.




The Heavenly Hundred Garden in Kiev, Ukraine, turned a former dumpsite and shelter for stray dogs into a thriving green space where fresh vegetables are grown, open-air parties and film series are held, and musicians perform.








Tasinge Square in Copenhagen, Denmark




The refurbishment of Tasinge Square in Copenhagen, Denmark, created a green oasis that has become a place for play – including parasols that collect rainwater and can be hand-pumped to water vegetation. Entrances to two bunkers, air raid shelters that are used as rehearsal space by local musicians, are now seating areas, and sculpture pieces also foster activity with local children.




View all 25 finalists for the European Prize visit the Urban Public Space website.

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Late Summer Drought Outlook

Expect warmer temperatures at the end of summer, according to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

With the exception of the central plains states, late summer temperatures will be warmer than normal across the U.S., with the highest anomalies in the West and New England.

Unfortunately, this outlook, combined with current dry conditions, leads to an expected development of drought over Washington and Oregon, as well as portions of the upper Midwest and southern New England.

While drought conditions did improve in spring, projected warmer than normal temperatures and dry conditions during late summer favors the persistence of drought in northern California and northwestern Nevada.

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