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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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 décor 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.
“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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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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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.
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.
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. 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. 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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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.
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.
“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.
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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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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For the first time in three years, California’s devastating four-year-old drought showed signs of easing its grip a wee bit on the nation’s most populous state.
Less than 90 percent of California is in drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a federal website that tracks drought conditions. This is welcome news for the state’s 38 million residents who are dealing with widespread water restrictions, which may soon be amended.
The Golden State can thank El Niño for the dip in drought. El Niño is a natural warming of the Pacific Ocean that typically brings wetter conditions to the West Coast. Currently, 89.68 percent of the state is in a drought, down from a high of 100 percent in October 2014. Only 21 percent is in exceptional drought, which is the worst level. This is down from a high of 58 percent from August to October of 2014.
El Niño also helped increase the water levels in all three of northern California’s major reservoirs (Shasta Reservoir, Lake Oroville and Folsom Lake) to above average — the first time that’s happened in three years as well, says the state’s Department of Water Resources.
Unfortunately, even though the latest El Niño was the strongest on record, it has recently waned. The Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a chance of La Niña during the second half of this year, which could make drought conditions worse since it tends to produce below-average precipitation on the West Coast.
The post Less Than 90% of CA in Drought, But it May Not Last appeared first on Turf Magazine.
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Put your party hats on: Gardeners are finally spending more money.
The National Gardening Market Research Company’s National Gardening Survey says gardeners spent $36.1 billion in 2015. Diving deeper, the average amount spent on the backyard or balcony nationwide in 2015 was $401 per household – up from a low of $317 in 2014.
On top of that, an estimated 90 million households participated in do-it-yourself indoor and outdoor lawn and gardening activities last year. That amounts to three-quarters of all U.S. households.
This proves interest in gardening hasn’t waned. “Participation in gardening did not decline much during the economic downturn; people have been participating in gardening all along, but they weren’t spending as much in recent years,” explains Bruce Butterfield, an industry analyst. “These results are encouraging. Not only did DIY gardening have six million more customers, they spent more, too.”
Who’s spending the dough on green? The survey says the highest spending came from baby boomers, married households, those with annual incomes more than $75,000 and college graduates. The most important market force, however, were millennials in the 18- to 34-year-old range. Five million of the six million new gardening households were millennials.
Food and flowers were the most popular items purchased, according to the survey. Approximately one in three households participated in food gardening (36 percent) or flower gardening (34 percent).
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There has been a lot of talk lately about self-driving and autonomous automobiles, with companies like Apple, Google and Tesla pushing as hard as they can to be first to market. There was also a recent report of one of the founders of Google investing heavily in a couple of flying car companies.
While this autonomous technology has its place, don’t expect skid-steer loaders and compact utility loaders to become self-driving — at least not yet.
“Not all of our skid-steer customers are ready for autonomous technology. We have to be careful not to drive too far out in front of our customer’s headlights when it comes to this technology,” says Jeff Brown, product development/marketing with Caterpillar, explaining that some of his company’s products can work using line-of-sight remote control, which can get the operator out of harm’s way while still controlling the machine. “The focus needs to be toward keeping things simple. We’re already learning our lessons in some areas where we have a lot of technology at operators’ fingertips, and some of it can be overwhelming to them.”
That said, Caterpillar skid-steers and compact track loaders do have a capable user interface, which enables the setting of preferences and customizing the way the machine operates and responds for individual users.
There are seven performance parameters that can all be set to certain levels depending on the operator’s skills or the specific task.
“And you can have multiple users on that same machine that can identify themselves by logging in with a PIN number,” Brown says. “All those performance parameters are then recalled and the machine will be set up as they had it. There is tremendous value there, but it must be intuitive and easy to use.”
Software is a big part of the machines, says Brown, and the nice thing is, unlike hardware, it can always be constantly fine-tuned.
“We’re not stuck with what we have for the lifecycle of the machine when we develop a new product and put it out there,” Brown points out. “We can constantly be innovating and adding to the refinement of that software or additional features. The challenge then becomes how do you get that field population, all of those users who are on a daily basis experiencing our equipment, to realize those same improvements and benefits.”
Brown doesn’t see any drastic changes in skid-steer loaders or compact utility loaders in the future as he feels Caterpillar is already pushing the ceiling or limit when it comes to making these machines high-tech.
“I think there is technology better used toward more usability than toward more features and automation,” he says. “We need the usability to catch up to where we’re at with technology.”
Now that computers and software are on these machines, Brown feels the sky is the limit. “Now we have the architecture of the machine and a foundation we can build upon,” he explains.
”Everything we do now builds upon a platform that is basically computer-based as opposed to mechanical,” Brown adds. “Once you make that jump, and that probably happened for most within the last decade, then it’s a matter of continuing to refine that and see who can make it the smartest and easiest to use for the operator to get the most out of that machine.”
Brown doesn’t believe lightweight materials are in loaders’ future, considering what the machines are meant to do.
“Our machines do real work,” he says. “Lightweight materials in automobiles is great for fuel efficiency, but in a machine, you actually use that weight to do work, whether that’s lifting heavy loads or creating tractive effort to the ground in order to push the dirt.”
Strength of materials, however, is certainly a way to get more life out of the machine. Brown doesn’t see an issue with that now, but it could be something looked at in the future with the question being, “How can it be built stronger?”
“We went from mostly humans doing the welding of frames to now mostly robots doing it,” Brown explains. “What’s the next step in terms of manufacturability and the ability to do things with a greater level of quality and efficiency? Is there a way to extend the life of those materials with something stronger and better? I could see us investing in those areas.”
After entering the compact utility loader category in the U.S. in 1995 by introducing the Dingo, Toro says it has been constantly enhancing the product category and now offers nine Dingo models. Recently, Toro introduced the Dingo TX 1000 – the strongest compact utility loader on the market today, Toro claims.
“In the future, we believe the line between compact utility loader and skid-steer loader classes will continue to be blurred with increasing rated operating capacities in the CUL class,” says Joshua Beddow, marketing manager at The Toro Co.
“Contractors want to lift more with a stand-on machine, and the compact utility loader class answers that need. Stand-on machines offer several benefits versus skid-steer loaders: fast, easy on-off and better visibility, to name few.”
Back to the future
Beddow believes there will be less of a focus on functional innovations on the base unit itself and more of a focus on new and interesting innovations for compact utility loader attachments.
“At Toro, we place a lot of value on feedback from end users as a driver for our research and development efforts,” says Beddow. “If there’s a challenge out there in the field, we rely on our connections with contractors to help identify those issues so that we can, in turn, develop a solution to fit their specific needs.”
As far as specific updates to equipment and attachments, only time will tell, Beddow says. “Landscape contractors are resourceful and are always looking for ways to create efficiencies in their day-to-day tasks. We believe that product innovations should stem from a need on the job site, and product enhancements should be focused on solving a challenge on the job site. For example, a soil cultivator attachment offers a narrow width for prepping devil strips. Plus, it normally only takes one pass to create a seed bed.”
One thing that won’t change in the future, Beddow says, is landscapers looking to get more out of their equipment. The market has responded, he says, with compact utility loaders that rival many skid-steers. “In the past, the boundaries were clear for landscape contractors with their equipment selections,” says Beddow. “Compact utility loaders were primarily used for light-duty applications, and skid-steers were used for mid- to heavy-duty applications. Now that the options available have broadened, landscape contractors are able to handle light-, mid- and heavy-duty applications with a single compact utility loader and a handful of attachments, which positively impacts the bottom lines of their businesses.”
Ironically, the more sophisticated these machines get, the less technologically savvy landscapers have to be. That’s because technology is making them simpler to operate.
“Landscape contractors are evolving right alongside the technology that serves them,” Beddow says. “Yes, technology is becoming more and more advanced, but so is operators’ ability to manipulate that technology. That said, we believe there’s a balance to making sure that we’re providing cutting-edge technological advancements without sacrificing practicality or usability.”
Will the skid-steer loaders and compact utility loaders of the future require less maintenance? Caterpillar’s Jeff Brown hopes the industry can move toward that.
“Our motto is, ‘If it’s difficult to do, it won’t get done, and if it doesn’t get done, it will be painful in the long run for the owner, whether in machine performance or just in their pocketbook.’ So the more we can build into a machine so it doesn’t require maintenance, that’s a competitive advantage.”
Brown feels this is where ultra high molecular weight plastics and polymers have their place, whether it’s in heavy load areas or joints on the machine or bearings and bushings. If you can get rid of joints that require grease, that’s a good thing.
Adds Toro’s Joshua Beddow, “True innovations to machinery will not create additional work for the end user – advanced technology is meant to simplify contractors’ day-to-day activities. It’s important to mention that while there are plenty of opportunities for enhancement in the compact utility class, the equipment needs to remain practical, productive and cost-effective for the contractor.”
One example of how technology is helping reduce maintenance, says Beddow, is through improvements to diagnostics and indicators. If a unit can identify a small maintenance issue and alert the operator before it becomes a serious issue, it will save the contractor time and money in the long run.
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Since the beginning of time, gazing into a warm, flickering fire has proven irresistible. Today, you can enjoy that cozy ambiance with a beautiful outdoor fireplace or firepit. Borst Landscape and Design in Bergen County has over 20 years of experience in creating the perfect fireplace/firepit feature for homeowners looking to incorporate an inviting addition to their property.
Imagine relaxing with a quiet drink at the end of a long workday, sitting with friends as you cook up an impromptu feast, or taking the chill off of an early fall evening. The opportunities to enjoy your outdoor fireplace or firepit are endless. So which option is best for you?
An outdoor fireplace is a bigger focal point in your landscape. It can be designed to block an ugly view, add privacy, or create a statement in your yard that you can see from indoors as well. The downside? They take up more space and you can only sit on one side.
By contrast, an outdoor firepit is more casual and less expensive to construct. However, since it’s open, you may not be able to control where smoke drifts and cooking options may be more limited.
Both features offer a chance to enjoy cozy moments, enhance entertaining and extend the time you can enjoy your outdoor space. Plus, they’ve been shown to add value to your property.
An outdoor fireplace or firepit can be fueled by either wood or gas (so pay attention to access to the gas line when considering location). A qualified Bergen County landscape designer like Borst Landscape and Design offers the expert advice to make the best fireplace or firepit choice for Bergen County homeowners.
After walking your property, they’ll offer insights on a prime location, complimentary landscape elements, like plants, and more. Their experience will also help you navigate things like local zoning and fire laws in Bergen County and other areas (most generally dictate a fireplace or firepit be at least 15 feet from the main structure). Plus, they’ll offer recommendations on what kinds of materials will best suit your design.
Get ready to pull up a chair to your stunning new fire feature. Whether you choose a fireplace or firepit for your backyard or patio, just make a call to the experts at Borst Landscape and Design in Bergen County; you’ll be enjoying those wonderful moments with family and friends in front of warm, glowing flames before you know it!
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You’ve just moved into a new home, and stepped outside to survey the property. So many ideas, but where to start? Borst Landscape and Design has been helping Bergen County homeowners come up with smart landscape plans, then execute them in a way that fits both their vision and budget. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind.
First, what role do you want your yard to play? A space for entertaining lots of people? Or are you craving solitude? Consider your goals, plus things like preferred colors, style and (most importantly) your budget. As with designing a home, a budget is critical to making your dream yard a reality without needlessly blowing through money.
The other critical element for a homeowner planning their landscaping in Bergen County is having a Master Plan. A big picture look at the way that the seasons impact your property, what you’d like to see and when, helps you stay on track.
Quality landscaping happens in stages. Hardscape features like decks, lighting, pools, fountains and walkways should go in first. Then, build around them with foundation trees and shrubs. These take some time to get established, but in the meantime, you can augment them with seasonal color and accent plants. The experts at Borst Landscape and Design can make recommendations that are perfect for the sun, soil, drainage and more affecting your space.
And again, sticking to your Master Plan will keep you from getting overwhelmed when you’re at the garden center, overwhelmed by all the pretty plants.
As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” – and that applies to effective landscaping in Bergen County. Start with a vision and a budget, then turn to experts who can guide you in making it happen in the most effective way. Borst Landscape and Design has a long history of helping area homeowners bring their landscaping dreams to life. They’ll recommend elements that will work best in your space, both for now and in the future. Plus, they’ll keep your investment healthy and beautiful for years to come.
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Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.