Photos courtesy of Tellepsen Landscaping

Benjamin Brown always knew that Marc Tellepsen, right, and Mark Scioneaux, left, demanded excellence. He had no idea how far they’d take that to please clients. While working at Tellepsen Landscaping Services in Houston, Brown says there was a client who wanted major changes to her landscape design at last minute. She wanted to replace the native soil in her flower beds after the crew had already started planting, and Brown told her it wouldn’t be possible. The next day, she called Brown’s bosses, who ultimately sided with her. Brown says now that it was an inconvenience and it wasn’t in their contract to do that extra work.

But that’s what Brown loved about that company: Tellepsen, 45, and Scioneaux, 58, had pure commitment to the client. It was first and foremost, he says.

“They would bend over backwards no matter what. There was nobody small,” Brown says. “Just to meet the expectations of the homeowner, they went above and beyond what was necessary.”

This is just part of the legacy “Marc and Mark” left behind. Tellepsen, the founder of Tellepsen Landscaping, and Scioneaux, once a designer for that company, were both killed in a Kerrville, Texas, plane crash last year. The crash also took the lives of four others: architect Reagan Miller, their clients Stuart and Angela Kensinger; and pilot Jeffrey Weiss, according to the Houston Chronicle. They had been surveying some property they’d be working on for a client when the plane went down just around 9 a.m. on April 22.

“It was such a shock, such a surprise,” Brown says. “You don’t realize you’re going to be saying these things about people who should still be alive.”

Remembering giants. Houston irrigation contractor John Taylor had already heard about the accident itself by watching the news – he just didn’t know his personal friends and colleagues were aboard. “I just thought, ‘Those poor people,’” Taylor says. “The following morning during a team meeting, one of my managers came in and said, ‘Hey, I’m sorry for your loss’ and I had no idea what he was talking about.”

It was a fairly high-profile crash, and many stations picked up coverage of the accident. One of Taylor’s friends in Alaska even heard about it on the local news affiliate in Alaska. When the names of those killed in the crash were revealed, Taylor says colleagues and Houston in general had come together to remember the industry giants. Tellepsen and Scioneaux often gave to charity, so much so that even some of those organizations reached out to Taylor to express condolences.

“At first, you think about what these people have meant, that they died and their families, but then you think of the sort of vacuum or hole that’s created with them being gone,” Taylor says. “The way we’ve come together… both as Houstonians as well as people in the green industry, has been pretty profound.”

Tellepsen’s name is renowned in Houston: His family owns the construction company that has built several prominent skyscrapers in the city. Both Brown and Taylor say that Tellepsen wanted to create his own legacy and step out from behind the shadow of his family’s name.

They believe he and Scioneaux succeeded.

“There’s nobody I know that, if they don’t consider Tellepsen one of the best landscaping companies in town, then certainly in the top three,” Taylor says.

In the immediate days following the crash, Tellepsen Landscaping’s Vice President Kristi Axel says she went into autopilot mode. She and Lead Designer Michael Hernandez called all of the clients and reassured some employees that the company wouldn’t fold.

There were seven major installation projects going on at once. It wasn’t until months later, Axel estimates, that the gravity of the situation hit her. She pulled into the parking lot and wondered aloud where Tellepsen’s truck was parked, though it hadn’t been there since his death.

“There was no time for us to even sit down and grieve…because we had to go. People were depending on us who have been working here for years,” Axel says. “That’s when the realization came, that we’re doing this without them but we’re doing this for them. Our goal is that we want to make sure that this place stays, that we make them happy, we make them proud.”

The whole company has bought into this mantra as they remember two men who shaped what the 35-person team is today. It’s helped to hear from countless Houstonians who are now realizing just how many landscapes the Tellepsen company has designed.

“Marc and Mark would move in silence,” Axel says. “They just wanted to have things looking beautiful and go on about their business.”

Tellepsen’s wife, Jennifer, was a co-owner in the company and has since made her presence around the company quite visible. Axel says she told employees to take the next day off after the crash, but they wanted to show up anyway because it’s what Tellepsen would’ve wanted. “It makes you feel good to know everybody wants you to keep going,” Axel says. “Marc started this from scratch and we want to keep it going.”

From classroom to field. Marc Tellepsen never stopped teaching.

Sure, he left the classroom to join the landscaping industry when he teamed up with Scioneaux, but his meticulous approach with crews meant constant education. Brown says that industry norms meant nothing to Tellepsen in large part because of his background in education – he wasn’t always a trained landscaper – which was, to some crews, a blessing and a curse.

Brown self-describes himself as a former “boots-on-the-ground architect” at the company, while Scioneaux was the lead designer and Tellepsen focused on maintenance.

Brown admires Tellepsen’s thoroughness, which he thinks he got from persistent research. Because Tellepsen wasn’t trained traditionally like most other landscapers, he slowed things down to take the long but right route. He says Tellepsen was never demeaning, though he would make sure crews would do things like ensure none of their shallow-rooted azaleas would die off during transportation.

It would often triple the time it took to complete a job, but Brown says Tellepsen did everything he could to do it the right way.

“Everything he did, he did to full maximum effort,” Brown says.

Taylor admires Tellepsen’s humility over anything else. He says Tellepsen could’ve coasted on his family’s prominence – after all, everyone recognized the name. The local YMCA is even named after the Tellepsens.

Still, Taylor says Tellepsen built something for his own, not anybody else. And despite his celebrity in the area, he never lived excessively lavish.

“This is a guy who would go home, take a 30-minute lunch, and eat a Hot Pocket,” Taylor says. “Meanwhile, I’m eating a lunch that costs 15 bucks. I love that lesson of not just the humility…but also that frugality.”

Seeing the space. Plenty of professional athletes have their signature moves, like a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar skyhook shot or a Derek Jeter jump throw. Likewise, Taylor says most landscape architects have elements in their designs they incorporate into everything they do. He can drive around Houston and recognize which companies did what jobs based on repeated, recognizable designs.

“That’s great, but where Scioneaux was brilliant was he looked at the space and he wanted that space to tell a story,” Taylor says. “Every space ended up looking completely different. They’re going out there and getting the most out of every site.”

Taylor says Scioneaux was the rare exception to landscape architects in that he often spent time on site with his clients.

He’d visualize a new idea for the space based on what he saw once there, though Taylor says Scioneaux wanted to draw people into his designs, not just create a pretty landscape for people passing by.

Brown says he and his crews always wanted to make Scioneaux happy. He was a perfectionist, Brown says, to the point where it wasn’t a negative detriment but where employees wanted to rise up to the challenge.

He was also a family friend to most he encountered (he had Brown over for annual Christmas parties), which added to the desire to make sure Scioneaux was pleased with how his designs were implemented.

It wasn’t intimidating so much as it was inspiring, but Scioneaux often liked to watch over crews while they worked on his designs, Taylor says.

Scioneaux was on the site because he had a vision and wanted to make sure the crews didn’t incorrectly display it. He didn’t want to leave it up to chance whether what he drew up was successful or not.

“I’ve worked with a great many landscape architects in my life all over the country: I can tell you that Mark Scioneaux was hands down the best landscape architect I ever worked with,” Taylor says. “He brought a passion to the job every day. This was a selfless guy who wasn’t as interested in building a name as much as he was in building something beautiful.”

A bright future. Axel and Hernandez say they’ve been working tirelessly with their team to ensure the company not only continues but also honors the culture they believe Tellepsen and Scioneaux established. They point to the first Tellepsen hire still being employed with the company, and the fact several foremen have worked there for over six years. They don’t want that spirit to disappear.

At times since the tragedy, Hernandez says he and Axel have worked seven days a week, 60 or more hours and well into the evenings. They’ve visited with almost all of their clients to walk the properties with their crews, just to familiarize themselves with the maintenance foremen.

Hernandez says they had to give every piece of themselves for a bit of time after the accident.

“It was chaotic. Just over time, things are finally starting to settle,” Hernandez says. “We’re working to get the right people in the correct positions. Overall, we have a really good grasp on everything.”

But it’s a culture worth keeping. Hernandez recalls the company going out for a nice dinner to celebrate his engagement, and he invited several of the employees to his wedding. Axel remembers Scioneaux’s home-cooked meals and Tellepsen’s decision to occasionally do “Fajita Friday.”

Axel says she and Tellepsen had a three-year plan that started in 2016. The company is seeing the growth and results come to fruition from that plan now, even if Tellepsen himself isn’t around to see it all. But she says he’d love to see the direction they’re steering the company now.

“This was our family basically. Tellepsen Landscaping, everyone here is considered family,” Axel says. “We are just a close, tight-knit group.”

Industry starts to feel effects of Coronavirus

NCLC canceled in just one of several moves the industry has made to combat the virus. By Kim Lux

As global concern over the novel coronavirus grows, landscaping companies should prepare for how to handle a possible outbreak in their area and urge employees who are sick to stay home.

In one particularly noteworthy measure, the National Association of Landscape Professionals canceled its annual National Collegiate Landscape Competition as a result of the travel and health concerns. The event has gone on for 43 consecutive years, and after Michigan State announced it would move to online classes only until April, the NCLC announcement followed shortly after. The event was scheduled for March 18-21.

The NALP wrote the following in its release: “We want to recognize and thank the team at the Michigan State University Department of Horticulture, including Marcus Duck and Bradley Rowe, PhD, for the time and careful planning that they have put into what would have been an incredible event.

“Thanks also go to our event partners and competitive event sponsors who’ve put so much time into planning a fantastic experience for our student competitors. And, we thank the students and faculty who spent time and energy preparing for NCLC.”

The next National Collegiate Landscape Competition will take place in 2021 at Virginia Tech March 10-13.

What’s next? NALP has also established guidelines to assist business owners. These tips include complying with all federal, state and local advisories; actively urging employees who are sick to stay home; and thoroughly disinfecting personal protective equipment.

While the Centers of Disease Control assessed that for most people the immediate risk of being exposed to the virus is low, businesses should start preparing for more employee absences.

The NALP suggests cross-training personnel in the event that a key member of the team is absent for an extended period of time. It’s also important to note that the coronavirus is a reportable illness with OSHA.

It’s also recommended that companies begin reviewing policies and procedures, along with preparing to alter business practices if needed.

As of March 24, Oregon had reported over 193 confirmed cases, while the neighboring state of Washington had reported more than 2,221 cases and at least 111 deaths.

For Ben Bowen, head landscape designer with Ross NW Watergardens in Portland, his company has began putting preventative measures in place in early March.

“Right now, it’s still business as usual for us. We had a discussion with all of our teammates,” Bowen said. “We made sure everyone understood the symptoms, and we told them we expect them to stay home if they have any of them.”

Bowen added that at Ross NW Watergardens, employees have a pool of paid time off that they can utilize for sick, personal and vacation days.

“Usually, our employees will come to work if they have a minor cold,” he said. “However, we made sure they know to stay home, and if they have to take off for this it won’t impact their normal pool of paid time off.”

Bowen noted some companies may not be able to offer the same courtesy to their employees.

“For states that don’t have mandated paid time off, there could be a problem,” he said. “There can be a little hostility toward those who are perceived to be spreading the virus.”

According to Bowen, Ross NW Watergardens has already begun to be negatively impacted by the growing panic over the coronavirus.

“I got an email from a client who was very motivated to do a backyard project with us,” he said. “He loved all the ideas but told me with things being so uncertain he could not invest the money into the project at this time. In the design/build industry we’re seeing people worried about the economy.”

Bowen said he expects the maintenance and manufacturing sectors of the industry to be affected as well, especially in areas that quarantine.

“If we were to see something like what is going on in Italy, then crews could be idle for weeks,” he said. “Manufacturing disruptions could increase wait time for parts and equipment.”

While everyone is being cautious, Bowen said that employees are staying calm in the meantime.

“The tone is really that we’re not worried for ourselves but realize there are people in the community who are especially vulnerable. We want to protect those people by being,” he said.

Bob Grover, president of Pacific Landscape Management, also in Portland, said that while the health risks are undeniable, he is more concerned about the economic impact.

“My biggest concern over the coronavirus is the potential impact on the economy,” he said. “We are hearing of all the things being cancelled or postponed. The impact that the coronavirus has on the travel, hotel and convention industries will have ripple effects into the overall economy.”

Grover added that in early March, Pacific Landscape Management began researching and formulating a plan.

“We want people to practice good hygiene,” he said. “That means washing your hands when you get to work, when you go home and throughout the day. Also, coughing or sneezing into your elbow. We told employees don’t come to work if you feel sick. If you do come sick, and we feel that you’re coughing, or feverish, we will send you home.”

Grover said he believes that in states without mandated sick leave employees will show up to work even if they have some of the symptoms.

“The good thing about Oregon is we’re a very progressive state and it’s required that all employees have sick leave,” he said. “So, it’s not as big of an issue here in Oregon as it might be in other states.”

At Pacific Landscape Management some employees have scheduled travel plans that may be cancelled and others may choose to cancel trips in highly affected areas.

“We told employees that they have the choice to self-select out and not go if they are not comfortable,” he said. “We want everybody to take their personal health into their own hands. We want to encourage people to do that and not feel like there will be any retributions.”

Saving the other half

Jain Irrigation hopes its Unity control system changes the game in water conservation. By Jimmy Miller

MARIN COUNTY, Calif. – Richard Restuccia asked attendees at Jain Irrigation’s recent media event to imagine a barista at Starbucks.

The barista assures the customers that they’ll walk out of the store with their 12 ounces of coffee, but first, they need to buy a 24-ounce cup because Starbucks doesn’t know how to pour the coffee into a cup yet. Half of it ends up on the floor and is wasted, but the client still walks out with the 12 ounces they initially wanted anyway.

“We can’t point to another industry where the waste is that bad,” Restuccia said, “but for some reason, for a long time in landscape irrigation, this has been okay. We know the reasons why, and we’re changing that.”

Powered by over a billion pieces of information, artificial intelligence and predictive analytics, Jain Irrigation launched its Jain Unity product earlier in March at a media event in the Bay Area.

Jain unity. Restuccia, the vice president of Water Management Solutions at Jain, walked the media and a handful of area contractors through the benefits of the new irrigation control system. The most obvious perk of the product? Water conservation.

“We’ve all seen this before, that right now in places like California, 60-65% of the water used in an urban area is used for landscape, and 50% or more of that irrigation water is wasted,” Restuccia said. “Of course, we’re all upset about that.”

Restuccia said it’s hard enough for people to know how to program a controller correctly, but then you factor in hourly or daily changes to the weather, and it gets borderline impossible without the right help. Before, he said it was okay to waste the water because it was a plentiful resource, but now the price is skyrocketing to unseen, expensive levels.

Jain Irrigation – in conjunction with ETwater, who first started developing this technology – hopes their new product makes significant changes to the industry. The product is now available to customers, and it lets a user log in and see how much water their plants require, plus a real-time look at how efficient their system is at eliminating water waste.

Based on weather projections, Jain Unity creates a watering schedule that goes through their line of ETwater controllers. Kevin Heverin, the project manager and director of marketing for ETwater, showed attendees at the event how to access the Jain Unity software, which can be viewed on a desktop or laptop computer and a mobile device, which could help someone who’s out in the field.

When a user logs in, the first thing they’ll notice is an alerts system that notifies users where there might be valve issues or leaks on any of their sites, controllers and stations. Commercial sites, he said, usually have between 12 and 48 stations. They use 17 weather variables hourly to adapt their watering schedules, which comes from three different providers, and Heverin said they can add a data source from anywhere within 24 hours. If they wanted to use soil and moisture data from anyone else, they can, though they’re currently utilizing major providers and generally accepted weather sources. The product has virtually unlimited scalability now because of Jain’s investment in the product.

“There’s a lot of information for the contractor,” Heverin said. “You can see rainfall probability, wind range, temperature range – really all sorts of the critical things.”

The sprinkler run time formula traditionally involves an incredibly complicated calculation based on variables like evapotranspiration rates and precipitation rates per hour. So, what have landscapers usually done? Set it and forget it without changing their schedules, so often lawns and properties have gone overwatered.

Restuccia hopes the adaptation of technology like Jain Unity continues to grow. He said controllers sell best in the “smile states,” where East and West Coast landscapers are paying a lot for water and are more willing to quickly embrace smart controllers. The culture of the communities also helps, as areas with people who are consciously thinking about water conservation are more likely to embrace their technology.

“We definitely designed our software…to help increase the demand,” he said. “We should see prices decrease with more demand, more product. I think that once again, this could be a game-changer with Jain Unity. That’s why we’re so excited about it.”

Working on the workers

The NALP’s Workforce Summit brought professionals from inside and outside the industry to find solutions for the labor problem. By Brian Horn

Whether it’s fixing your culture or investing in better technology, the green industry is looking for ways to fix the lack of quality labor. At the National Association of Landscape Professionals’ Workforce Development Summit in early March, people from inside and outside the industry contributed ways to solve the labor crisis. Here are some takeaways from the event:

Devil’s in the details. Many business owners can specifically cite reasons why customers should do business with them. But when they talk about why someone should want to work at their company, the answers aren’t as clear. You have to go beyond the overarching statements like “we’re family” or “we have fun.” Not only does the organization need to establish what makes them a better employer than the competition, the employees have to be genuine in their answers when asked about it. “They have to answer it so quick, and it can’t be rehearsed,” said Eric Chester, a workforce development author and speaker. “It has to come from them.”

Survey saYs. When is the last time you surveyed front line people? Chester recommends asking three questions regularly of frontline employees. 1. What do you like about working here 2. What don’t you like about working here? 3. If you were in charge, what would you be doing? These have to be asked without repercussion or, when the answers are delivered, greeted without argument from the manager.

On your feet. Chester said he interviewed Bill Marriot, executive chairman of Marriot Hotels, and Marriot told him every leader is required to hold a 5-minute stand-up meeting every day. Why a stand-up meeting? Because “when you sit down, you get down.” Standing up you are “eye to eye, belly to belly,” Chester said. During the meeting three items are addressed – staff are told what they are doing well. Then areas of improvement are covered (though not calling out individuals). Finally, staff is asked what they need to be more successful at their job. If the request can’t be met, make sure the reason is explained.

Reaching out to local high schools (and even younger schools) is something the industry has been turning to as a way of exposing the younger generation to landscaping as a career. But when approaching high schools about exposing kids to the industry, don’t focus on what they can do for you, but what you can do for them. LandCare’s Mark Hopkins, regional vice president at LandCare, said some of the schools he worked with had facilities like greenhouses, or equipment they weren’t fully-utilizing, which LandCare could help with. He added LandCare is working with 24 high schools in four states and said none of the students were aware of landscaping as a career. You also need to follow-up relentlessly since the contacts at school are busy like you, and you may not hear back initially. “You’ll get discouraged before you have success,” he said.

Robot revolution. Frank Mariani, CEO of Mariani Landscapes, has recently began deploying robotic mowers as a service and anticipates having 100 machines on lawns by the end of 2020, with 5,000 labor hours saved and no jobs eliminated. Mowing labor can be moved over to blowing, edging and trimming, which will elevate the quality of the work, Mariani said. When rolling out the program, he said to let clients know that the first month the lawn may look like “a bad haircut” because of the mowing pattern. He added to try the service out on a customer who is interested in sustainable practices before charging for the service.

No turf talk. Tyler Bloom is the superintendent at Sparrows Point Country Club in Baltimore, Maryland, and had a major turnover problem. That was until he shifted his focus to developing his club’s culture and recruiting high school kids who he could mold into qualified employees. The shift worked, and he hasn’t had to replace someone in two years. One piece of recruiting advice was to avoid leading with the specifics of the job when speaking with a potential candidate. Instead, focus on what the potential employee will learn when it comes to leadership, and show them the career path for growth.

Colorado landscapers recognized at ELITE Awards

DENVER – Colorado’s landscape industry association, Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado, announced the recipients of its 2020 ELITE Awards earlier this month.

The ELITE Awards recognizes landscape companies and professionals who demonstrate professionalism, excellence, management practices, sustainability and innovation.

ELITE Award categories also mirror the services and amenities ALCC member companies provide their clients, with awards for Community Stewardship, Customer Service, Design/Build, Innovation, Landscape Construction, Landscape Maintenance, Sustainability and Use of Color. In addition, the Most Valued Player (MVP) category recognized two landscape professionals for their outstanding service and dedication to the industry.

This year, the awards were presented by ALCC and sponsored by Colorado Materials. Over 100 landscape professionals gathered to celebrate Colorado projects (before Colorado banned community events) that placed in the awards, and the organizations that created or maintain them.

This year’s recipients, finalists and a brief description of their project submissions follow:

Community Stewardship

Award Recipient: Phase One Landscape – outdoor memorial garden for Sawyer Dow at Mullen High School, Denver, CO

Customer Service

Award Recipient: BrightView Landscape – customer service in Parker and offices across metro Denver, CO

Design/Build Over $150,000

Award Recipient: Lifescape Colorado – revitalized grounds at Richthofen Castle in Denver, CO

Finalist: Environmental Designs Inc. and Marpa Design Studio – outdoor entertainment space, fire feature and courtyard in Boulder, CO

Finalist: TLC Gardens LLC – native, low-maintenance landscape for residence in Longmont, CO

Design/Build Under $150,000

Award Recipient: Native Edge Landscapes – innovative raised garden and landscape in Boulder, CO

Finalist: LID Landscapes – modern, sustainable yard renovation in Boulder, CO

Finalist: Tree of Life Landscapes – low-water, Japanese Zen garden in Westminster, CO

Innovation

Award Recipient: Scythe Robotics – self-driving robotic mower used at Tom Watson Park in Boulder, CO

Finalist: BestYard.com – retail holiday lighting store in Centennial, CO

Landscape Construction

Award Recipient: Singing Hills Landscape – innovative residential landscape and entertainment area in Denver, CO

Finalist: Western States Reclamation – stream and wetland restoration at Chatfield Storage Reallocation Project in Littleton, CO

Finalist: Changing Landscapes – transformed residential landscape in Boulder, CO

Maintenance

Award Recipient: Lifescape Colorado – revitalized grounds at Richthofen Castle in Denver, CO

Finalist: Terracare Associates – extensive upkeep of Arapahoe Parks and Recreation District, Centennial, CO

Finalist: Designscapes Colorado – meticulous maintenance at Cherry Hills Park HOA, Cherry Hills Village, CO

Sustainability

Award Recipient: Western States Reclamation – stream and wetland restoration at Chatfield Storage Reallocation Project in Littleton, CO

Finalist: Rocky Mountain Trees & Landscaping – Cement Creek Hugelkultur in Crested Butte, CO

Finalist: Designscapes Colorado – nature discovery zone for kids in Lafayette, CO

Use of Color

People’s Choice Award Recipient: Environmental Designs Inc. – seasonal color beds and containers for Hilltop Club in Aurora, CO

Judge’s Choice Award Recipient: Rocky Mountain Custom Landscapes – vibrant and productive gardens in Vail, CO

Finalist: Tree of Life Landscapes – low-water and low-maintenance, colorful garden in Longmont

MVP

Award Recipients: Nicolas Caballero, Colorado Stoneworks, Colorado Springs, CO

Anthony Velazquez, Phase One Landscapes, Denver, CO

Volunteer Service Awards

Outlook Emerging Leader: Anne Campbell, Colorado Stoneworks Landscaping

(The Outlook Award recognizes acknowledges landscape professionals who are less than 40 years old and have made a significant contribution to their company, industry and ALCC.)

Stan Brown Distinguished Associate Member of the Year: Leo Degenstein, The L.L. Johnson Distributing Company

(This award was first presented to Stan Brown in 2008 and recognizes acknowledges landscape professionals who foster solidarity, partnership and goodwill among those in his/her company and the industry.)

Bob Cannon Lifetime Achievement: Marie Peacock, previously with Gardenz

(This award honors individuals who have given loyal, dedicated service to the landscape industry and contributed ideas, programs and other endeavors to benefit ALCC members.)

John Garvey Person of the Year: Patrick O’Meara, High Country Landscape

(This Award recognizes an individual who has provided outstanding volunteer service to/through the industry during the past year.)