SYNKD West Fall 2023

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As the season transforms and leaves drift gracefully to the ground, it’s a poignant reminder that change is not just inevitable but vital. Fall, in its essence, is nature’s way of showing us that there’s beauty in letting go and evolving. This issue of SYNKD delves deep into embracing change, especially the kind influenced by technology and innovation in the landscaping industry.

In our community section, get to know Sal Hernandez, who never intended to work in the landscape industry but, after serving in the military, ended up driving Pacific Breeze Landscape to be an award-winning company. Inside the company Malone’s Landscape, Ryan

the maintenance realm, company culture and healthy competition.

Our project features transport you to spaces that epitomize ingenuity. The Marriott Marquis Houston’s stunning rooftop construction is not just an architectural marvel but a testament to what’s possible when creativity meets expertise. As we stroll through a residential oasis, a contemporary design and build project for a best friend turns out exactly like the design, while a contemporary take on dry-laid natural stone showcases its timeless beauty in modern settings.

Our education section in this issue zeroes in on the latest plant developments.

plant development companies are always searching for better genetics, researching and testing in order to adapt our favorites into ecological successes.

Lastly, we touch upon a trifecta of issues shaping sustainable lawn care in Florida. (We know the western USA isn’t Florida, but we wanted you to see this story!) Between a reduced workforce, a premier piece of equipment and a top-dressing with more nutrients, this article promises to reshape the way we think about maintaining those lush greens in an eco-friendly manner.

www. synkd .io 3 SYNKD West Fall 2023
-Angelique PYRACOMELES JUKE BOX ® P age 42
Photo courtesy of ©Spring Meadows Nursery September|October 2022 synkd | our community @synkd.landscape @synkd_landscape @synkd-landscape @SYNKD On Air For Latest Content, To View Digital Issues & To Find Out About Upcoming Events, Visit Follow Us On These Social Media Platforms: COVER STORY STRIKING TRANSFORMATIONS Elevate By Design transforms a property into a design marvel, emphasizing client needs & blending aesthetics with functionality. 28 inspirational works 32 38 Modern Stone & Wild Spaces Jon Aguilar JTA Stoneworks Embodying the Lone Star State Clark Condon Associates 38 32 our community 08 10 12 News Industry News and Dates to Save Q+A What technology is essential for our industry to embrace? Industry Leader Sal Hernandez Mini Interviews Fun questions from our audience Old vs. New Deborah Cole Deborah Cole Connections Beating Around the Bush Damon Abdi LSU Ag Center Enhancing Landscape Design with Technology Angelica & Matt Norton Open Envelope Studios 20 23 25 26 INSIDE MALONE’S LANDSCAPE 15 WEST

FALL 2023


raise the bar

323 Polk Street Lafayette, Louisiana 70501


Angelique Robb (337) 852–6318


The Power of Plant Breeding

Jane Beggs-Joles Spring Meadow Nursery Inc.

42 44 50

Sizzle & Bloom New Heat-Tolerant Plants from Sunset Plants & Proven Winners



Revive Soil, Save Water, Double Revenue with Mulch Mate

Change Management Part II: The First Steps Jay Worth Single Ops


Next Issue: SYNKD Winter 2023 Plan For Success

Contact Angelique Robb at for more information on how you and your company can be featured in upcoming issues.


Tiffany o’Kelley (817) 832–5478


Caitlyn Wallace


Erin Z. Bass


Jenna Patrick |pg 12 & 47

Laura Lee|pgs 15

Jada Babcock |pg 32

Mary Kate Carson |pg 38


Deborah Cole |pgs 23

Damon Abdi |pg 25

Angelica & Matt Norton |pg 26

Jane Beggs-Joles |pg 42

Jay Worth |pg 50


Published by © SYNKD

SYNKD is published four times a year and distributed to 5,000 qualified members of the green industry.

Postmaster: Send address changes to 323 Polk St., Lafayette, LA 70501.

SYNKD verifies information as much as possible. The views expressed by editorial contributors and the products advertised herein are not necessarily endorsements of the publishers. Reproduction of any part of this magazine is strictly forbidden.

www. synkd .io September|October 2022 synkd | our community






Equip Exposition, the blockbuster, award-nominated tradeshow for the international landscape, outdoor living and outdoor power equipment industry, is fast approaching, and excitement for the show is building. Equip Expo will be held October 17-20 at the Kentucky Exposition Center.


Construction has started on Dramm’s research greenhouse. The addition to the new factory and headquarters will allow for easier development and testing of products and techniques.

The 2,500-square-foot facility will feature several cropping systems, from fixed and movable benches to hydroponic systems. Various water sources will also be used, including rain, pond, recycled and municipal water. Multiple water treatment systems will be installed for regular use and to test different methods and tools for best efficacy with different sources and water qualities.

Trials of the Drammatic® Organic Fertilizer will be conducted in the greenhouse. Another benefit will be growing plants for Dramm’s lobby “green wall” and flowers for spring planting. The new research greenhouse will honor Kurt W. Dramm, who left a legacy of developing and testing high-quality products. dramms-research-greenhouse

“If you don’t come this year, you’ll have missed something. Landscape contractor


Join us at SYNKD Live 2024 in Atlanta, February 13–15, and mingle with famed podcasters Naylor Taliaferro of LCR Media and Paul Jamison of the Green Industry Podcast. Experience their live recordings and seize the opportunity to possibly be featured on their podcast!

attendance is up by 39 percent over last year, which is a record, and dealer registration is up by 10 percent. This shows the relevance and importance of Expo,” says Kris Kiser, president and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, which owns Equip Exposition.

Find more information by scanning the QR code: synkd-news/the-buzzequip-expo SYNKD West Fall 2023 8 synkd | our community


Groundwork, a lead qualification software for residential contractors, raised $1 million in pre-seed funding. The round was completed earlier this year and was led by Jason Calacanis’ LAUNCH Fund with participation from I2BF Global Ventures, construction industry executives and angel investors.


Scapify has launched an artificial intelligence tool that is specifically designed for our industry and took it on a roadshow to conferences this summer, including Cultivate in Columbus, Ohio, and The Landscape Show in Orlando, Florida. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or just starting out, Plant Nerd AI is equipped with knowledge from decades of horticultural research to help you create and maintain a beautiful and thriving landscape. Plant Nerd AI can help you with basic plant care, advanced landscaping techniques and practical maintenance and management solutions.


Vectorworks Inc. announces the availability of Vectorworks 2024, featuring comprehensive solutions and quality improvements that automate processes and help unleash limitless creativity.

“Our goal is to empower designers with tools and resources that boost their creativity,” says Vectorworks Chief Technology Officer Steve Johnson. “With Vectorworks 2024, we have taken this mission to new heights through groundbreaking new features, user experience enhancements and a strong focus on quality and performance. These advances will significantly accelerate our users’ design experiences, from the initial spark of an idea to the ultimate realization of a project.”

SYNKD recently launched the second season of SYNKD On Air on Turf’s Up Radio. You can tune in to hear us live every Monday at 11 a.m. EST.

If you miss us live, you can tune in wherever you listen to podcasts.

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Read more about this story by scanning the QR code: Kelly
Growing Up in the Industry & Finding Her Way Growing Customer Service Through Technology Design Software for Our Industry— What to Look For Living Retaining Walls, The 30 Year Journey SEASON 2 EPISODE 1 SEASON 2 EPISODE 2 SEASON 2 EPISODE 3 SEASON 2 EPISODE 4 Do you want to be on our podcast or nominate someone? Scan the QR code to fill out a quick form or visit our website at !
Dowell Mark Woolbright Mario Camberdella David Sloan


Joe Langton

Acting CEO of Automated Outdoor Solutions Woodstock, Illinois

Let’s face it, automation is coming in the professional landscaping space. It will force leadership in the space to see properties differently. It will force them to ask questions like: How much does it cost to mow per square foot or per acre? What is the cost to mow with automation? As I travel from show to show, I am shocked by how many people don’t know what it costs them to mow traditionally! Before you come to a show and tell me this won’t work, learn your current costs per acre or per space as they are not all created equal. Next you must ask if these automated units are insurable? How will this affect my company’s profitability over five years? How will this affect our current carbon impacts? How will it impact our workforce safety? Do our customers want daily mowing or traditional weekly mowing? How will I charge them? Does my company traditionally purchase or lease equipment? Do we traditionally use a subcontracting model, and are there automatic mowing companies that fit that model? Do you see where I am going? All the shows showcase these new pieces of equipment, but all you should ask is what will it do for my team’s ability to grow market share in the space and profit from the automation revolution. SYNKD West Fall 2023 10

The world has changed a lot over the last 10 years. The average consumer is now used to shopping for anything on Amazon, calling an Uber and ordering groceries with just a few clicks from their smartphone. They are used to instant gratification.

It is important that lawn care and landscaping companies adapt to this new world that we live in. Making it super easy for customers to sign up for your company’s services is crucial. Some of these tools include utilizing instant quote products to give quotes on your website or over the phone, AI measurement tools to calculate pricing and smart spray technology to track what chemicals were applied and where. The list goes on. By adopting new technologies, your company can stay competitive in this new world that we live in.

Using a cellular confinement system has been a game changer for my projects for several key reasons. First, the individual cells’ containment aspect combined with the tensile strength of the underlying fabric prevents rutting or other surface failures. Additionally, the system’s design ensures that there is no migration of aggregate materials due to load-bearing forces. One of the most significant benefits is the substantial reduction in excavation and infill depth requirements, leading to considerable cost savings. Importantly, the system is specifically engineered to bear the weight of heavy vehicles, such as a fire truck. Finally, it can be used for both impermeable and permeable systems, making it suitable for installations like driveways, parking areas or patios

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SAILING TO Efficiency

Industry Leader | Sal Hernandez on His Journey From Military Ship to Business Ownership

Those reading this from California may recognize the name Sal Hernandez from the California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA) board of directors. Sal is the organization’s director of membership and has been an active member for several years, joining shortly after starting his award-winning business Pacific Breeze Landscape in Orange County. Knowing this, it’s hard to imagine there was a time when Sal wanted nothing to do with landscaping.

Before he joined the Navy, Sal worked for his father, Sal Hernandez Sr., as part of his maintenance company. Mowing, edging, weed whacking, this was just about all Sal knew of the landscape industry at the time and he quickly learned it was not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. After serving his country for nine years, however, Sal found himself directionless. Eventually, he approached his father with the idea to start his own landscape business.

Pacific Breeze Landscape began with a focus on maintenance—the Hernandez bread and butter—but the company quickly evolved. First, it shifted into softscape installation, then hardscape, then design and, now, Sal says the

company has found its niche in the design/ build sector. The company has experienced tremendous success in just seven short years, reaching revenue numbers far above average for the industry.

“I thought all there was to it was gardening,” Sal recalls. “That’s what I thought because that’s what I did with my dad, not knowing there was a license to become a landscape contractor in California. When I first got my license about a year into it, I became a member of CLCA and I finally was able to see the different avenues I could go with my company. Now, I have my landscape license, my patio cover license, my pool license, and I will be pursuing a general contractor license soon.”

Aside from the behind-the-scenes support of his wife and guidance from his church, Sal holds profound gratitude for the Orange County Chapter of CLCA for openly sharing wisdom with him that first year. During our conversation, Sal mentioned Richard Cohen, from Richard Cohen Landscape, and his knowledge in both the landscape industry and trade; Dave Horten, the OC chapter president, who advised Sal on handling difficult customer service situations and gave tips on the design/build process; and Ed Wallace SYNKD West Fall 2023 12 synkd | our community

of Midwest Landscaping, who Sal says has a strong horticultural irrigation background and a wealth of knowledge in sales.

“I knew coming into the industry that I had to network and that I had to associate myself with individuals in the field,” Sal says. “Now I’m the one giving advice and mentoring. As a matter of fact, I’ve turned around, taken what they have given me and sort of innovated it. I can say, ‘Hey I’m doing it now and this is what I’ve learned using the software that I’m now familiar with.’”

Sal’s understanding of the design/build industry was rooted in CLCA, but it didn’t stop there. As a former member of the military, Sal was able to use his benefits to return to school and expand his knowledge by taking specific classes he knew would propel him forward. Having been formally educated in subjects like business, design and horticulture, Sal finds that what sets Pacific Breeze Landscape apart from similar businesses in the area is an objective perspective.

From Sal’s perspective, there are three major functions of a business: sales and marketing, operations and administration. When business slowed down after the pandemic boom, Sal made the difficult call to lay off much of his labor. Outsourcing was a necessity at the time, but Sal recognizes the long-term advantage that subbing out certain tasks can offer.

Sal’s Google Ads are run by a company full of experts, his HR documents are managed through an online software, he hires freelancers for his photo and video needs, and he works with designers, as an administrator, using standard software. For on-site work, Sal likes to sub out demolition and plumbing work to specialists.

About four years into running his company, Sal hired a temporary business coach who he says acted much like a COO, keeping everything and everyone associated with Pacific Breeze in check.

“Sometimes we can become tunnelvisioned as business owners,” Sal says. “Having a business coach on board helped me take it to the next level. He’s the one that influenced me to use software for estimation. He also inspired me to look into EOS.”

“I know how to do the hands-on dirty work in the field, but if I do it versus my guys, it’s more costly to the business,” Sal explains.

EOS stands for Entrepreneurial Operating System, a set of principles that help businesses like Sal’s run effectively and efficiently. Sal believes data-driven

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Having that business background allows me to see the industry through a different lens : not as a landscaper or technician per se, but from a management perspective .

decision making is crucial and understands there is always room to learn from others. Although he is not currently taking guidance from a business coach, he seeks objective feedback from his network consistently to avoid stagnation.

In contrast to the authoritarian leadership style he experienced in the Navy as a petty officer second class, Sal describes his business leadership style as relatively laid-back. He’s comfortable allowing his team to make mistakes, so long as the final install checks all the boxes.

“One thing I’ve always said to my guys from the beginning is, ‘If you mess up, fix it. It’s alright. Let’s correct it.’ I would walk my jobs and tell them when they needed to take something out and reinstall it because I did my due diligence by surrounding myself with true experts in the industry,” he says. “I’d pick up little things here and there that make our installs better like installing concrete pavers using ICPI standards for example.”

Efficiency in business is key, but it should never come at the cost of quality work, service and leadership. Sal cares deeply about doing things right. To him, that means constantly reevaluating and remaining open to new ideas delivered by experienced voices. On the surface, Pacific Breeze Landscape is a veteranowned company devoted to creating dream backyards for its customers. This company is also a benchmark for landscape businesses across the country.

1 Sal doing HGTV

2 Design meeting


Owner of Pacific Breeze Landscape

Phone: (714) 379-0744

Email: SYNKD West Fall 2023 14 synkd | our community



Malone’s Landscape has been serving the Seattle community since 1991.

Founded by Jim and Debbie Malone, the design/build firm has grown into a full-service landscaping company

with more than 100 employees, 200 current clients and their two sons at the helm.

When did you become involved with the business?

My dad and mom started the designconstruction side in 1991, and I’ve been in and out of the industry my whole life. Six years ago, I came on full-time and took over the maintenance side of the company.

When did Malone’s branch out into maintenance?

In 2002, the company wanted to diversify and add that all-encompassing service for its clientele, but the maintenance division floundered for years. Now, we’ve grown from three maintenance crews to 17 maintenance crews, three enhancement crews, three irrigation technicians and account managers.

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Ryan Malone, Director of Maintenance at Malone’s Landscape in Washington, Talks Business Growth, Company Culture & Healthy Competition. Ryan Malone

How did you get the maintenance company where it is today?

The culture on that side of the business was really rough when I came in. Our crews had been through many managers and nothing was really sticking. I focused on my people for two or three months before I even saw any of my clients. We had to get our culture right. I listened to what my team needed in terms of equipment and facilities to perform the jobs in the correct way. Instead of focusing on the clients first, I realized if I take care of my people, they will take care of the clients. In doing that, we shifted the pride everyone took in their work. We were able to build a great team that cared and was passionate and happy about their work every day.

How are you keeping that good culture going today?

We host culture rallies with awards to celebrate hard work from the previous month. We pay in line with the industry, if not a little more, and we really want to create a family culture that’s fun and easygoing. When you join Malone’s, you’re joining a family and oftentimes you spend more time at work than with your family. We treat everyone with respect and don’t rule with an iron fist. The labor shortage hasn’t impacted us because we’re taking care of our guys, and they recruit friends and family who want to come work for Malone’s.

Is there a lot of crossover between your design/build clients and your maintenance clients?

Turning design/build clients into maintenance has been a tricky thing to figure out, especially in the Seattle market. You have these big projects on the design side that are on more compact backyards, rather than large estates, that don’t necessarily need maintenance. Right now, our design/build is 95 percent residential, and our maintenance is 95 percent commercial.

Do you have a favorite project Malone’s has done?

We won a Washington Association of Landscape Professionals (WALP) award

for this beautiful deck with outdoor living space and kitchen that the team built across a creek. The property had a big fir tree, and we built around it. It was a really cool project.

How does Seattle’s rainy climate factor into your installs?

Our bread and butter on the design/build side has been outdoor living spaces. They’ve done some amazing work over the years. They’ve been doing a lot of infrared heaters, firepits and fireplaces that make you feel like you’re in a room but outside. There’s been so much improvement in technology that makes spaces warmer and more comfortable. They’ve also done such a great job making outdoor furniture more weather-resistant.

Do you have a different perspective on the design/build side now that your firm handles maintenance?

Totally. We’ve got some larger commercial projects we’re starting to install that we’re currently maintaining. We don’t want to just do a beautiful install—we think about long-term maintenance. Our commercial clients are also seeing the impacts of the new projects on their budget in terms of

maintenance. They know certain plant material is going to cost more to maintain than zero-scapes with more decorative rock. Residential clients still want a lot of hedges or beautiful and lush installs, and they don’t always take into account the upkeep.

What are you doing to be more ecofriendly and sustainable?

We’re really making a shift toward batteryoperated equipment, especially at our high-rise buildings in downtown Seattle. We also do a ton of mulch mowing. We won’t take any clippings—we take pride in minimum dump runs. And it’s better for the yard. You just have to educate clients on the best practices.

Are your parents still involved with the business?

They are definitely getting to the point where they want to be more hands-off and are taking longer vacations. But I don’t know if they’ll ever stop working completely—they love it. My brother, Jake, is a project manager on the construction side. He’s been doing a great job learning that side of the business and coming up through the ranks. Our parents have taught us to work hard and to have a strong work ethic. SYNKD West Fall 2023 16 synkd | our community

How is it working with family?

Obviously, there are hard times and easy times. Our family dynamic is laid-back and we get along. In landscaping, you’re outside and in the field so we’re not in the same room all day, which helps.

What tools do you use to manage so many clients?

Our main software is Service Autopilot for the maintenance department. My mom has created our own proprietary client estimating tool that’s worked well. We also use a collaboration tool called Asana.

What advice do you have for companies looking to grow?

Don’t scale chaos. Get your prototypes down. What do you want your maintenance truck to look like? What does a construction truck look like? What’s your best crew size? Try to streamline and create a cookie-cutter scenario to produce a consistent result.

Promote from within, train your people and help them flourish. Three of our guys started in labor positions, moved to crew lead and are now field supervisors and a production manager.

What would make the industry better?

A lot of good stuff is happening right now. The green industry is booming. Quality control always helps. Hold your company to higher standards and encourage the competition to do the same. It raises the bar for everyone. Healthy, good competition is always a key factor to improvement. Strive to be better and add more value to clients. Networking is also important. Being involved with peer groups and industry leaders around the country, and getting their insights on what’s working and what’s not, has had a big influence on me.

What are your goals for the future?

We’re working with multifamily HOAs and apartments, industrial and commercial spaces and a few hospitals. We want to continue to diversify our maintenance

portfolio and include municipalities. We also want to continue to grow with our great team. But what got us here isn’t going to get us to the next level. We have to continuously improve.

1 “The Tree” WALP award-winning project

2 Undercover patio outdoor living project

3 Beautiful modern backyard transformation


Maintenance Division Manager for Malone’s Landscaping Management Office: (888)837–1938

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Also, remember your team is the most important . If you try to do everything yourself as a manager or business owner & not build leaders under you, it will hamper your growth.


Are All Under One Roof


FEBRUARY 13-15, 2023





PRESENTATIONS & FIRESIDE CHATS Growing Your Business Through Mergers & Acquisitions | Culture Crafting: Making Your Business a Talent Magnet | Modern Stonecraft: The Art of Dry-Laying | Rainwater Harvesting from Industrial to Homeowner | Paving the Way: Sustainable Hardscape Options | Seal the Deal: Secrets to Sales Success | Tech Tactics: Elevate Your Business with Smart Tools | Demystifying Automation—Open Q&A | Adopting Cutting Edge Strategies & Solutions | Change For the Better | Emotional Intelligence | Office to Field: Improving 2-Way Communication | More to be Annouced

PANEL DISCUSSIONS Landscapes of Tomorrow: Visions of a Connected Future | Voices of the Industry: Exploring How Diversity, Equality & Inclusion Can Drive Business Success | Pioneering Sustainable Landscapes & Evaluating the True Costs | The Power of Associations | Quality in Our Industry—How Can We Improve

TICKET PRICE INCLUDES: All keynote talks, presentations and panel discussions as well as entry to the curated exposition of innovative products and services. There will also be social events organized as the event gets closer!

If you are interested in team tickets, please email Angelique at






Keith Kalfas Matthew Green Wei Zhang Jamie Rosenthal Jane Beggs-Joles Kona Gray Jim McCutcheon Frank Mariani Roy Heintz Correta Koen Marvin Salcido Flor Espinoza Jon Aguilar Claire Goldman Jeffrey Scott Tommy Aiello Weston Zimmerman Pam Dooley Joe Langton Robyn Schmitz Mary Kay Woodworth


Chelsea Hartshorn Denise Ashley


What inspired you to get into the industry?

I was fortunate to grow up in the landscaping world, but what truly anchored me were the incredible people I met along the way. They not only shared my passion, but also showed me the immense potential for personal fulfillment in this industry.

What’s the best part of your job?

For me, it’s all about team-building. I thrive on cultivating spaces where people can grow and flourish—something that’s not always a given in our line of work.

What’s your favorite place you’ve visited?

San Francisco has a special place in my heart. Maybe it’s the much-needed breaks I’ve taken there, but the city feels like a second home. It’s always stunning, always inviting.

Who do you most admire in the industry?

Pam Dooley stands out for me. She’s carved out an impressive path in a field traditionally dominated by men, and she’s done it with unparalleled grace and kindness. Her journey is a huge inspiration to me.

What would you blow your money on?

Travel, hands down. My family and I have explored some fantastic spots, and I can’t wait to add more pins to our world map.

What inspired you to get into the industry?

I left corporate America (Microsoft) to fulfill my passion for design. By incorporating my project management experience with a degree in design, I’ve created my life’s purpose.

What’s your best childhood memory? I grew up in foster care, but when I moved to my last home I learned how to garden. That was the beginning of my plant obsession and designing spaces.

What’s the one thing that would make the industry better?

Britain has consistent technical specifications across the entire country. Americans must know specs for each county and city.

What’s the best advice you have received for your career?

Comparison is the killer of joy. Every person designs differently

What are you most proud of?

I work with many PTSD survivors and people struggling with mental health issues. I know I’ve done well when I receive feedback after a couple years on how they are enjoying their space and learning how to care for plants.

What is your favorite phrase, slogan? “The only job you start at the top is digging a hole.” SYNKD West Fall 2023 20 synkd | our community

Phil Graves Stephanie Leveling Paul Jamison

What inspired you to get into the industry?

I joined the hardscape/landscape industry over 20 years ago after leaving the Army and not enjoying my first couple of desk jobs.

What’s the best part of your job?

Educating field salespeople, dealer staff personnel and installers on products and installation … as well as continuing to learn new things myself.

What’s the best advice you have received for your career?

Never stop learning and growing and to network with industry experts. It’s fun and has allowed me to meet lots of great people I can turn to for help.

What advice would you give to someone entering the green industry?

Never stop growing your education base and your skillset. Network within the industry. Identify trustworthy vendor reps and pick their brains regularly. Stay abreast of current and emerging trends while working on improving your company’s efficiencies on the tasks you perform regularly. Keep learning!

What advice would you give to someone entering the green industry? Never stop growing your education base and your skill set. Network within the industry.

What’s the best part of your job? I love helping people solve problems. Whether it was drainage issues, plant issues and now business issues, I love using my experience to help others succeed and make a difference.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced professionally?

Deciding I wanted to leave the day-to-day of the industry. The industry has changed so much I felt I didn’t belong anymore, but didn’t know what I was qualified to do. I had never really considered looking at the industries that supported the green industry.

What would you blow your money on? Donating to charities, especially where animals are involved.

What’s the one thing that would make the industry better? Having a steady labor force. We need to promote the industry as a great career to the younger generation.

What advice would you give to someone entering the green industry? Learn as much as you can from others. Ask for feedback and take it so you can continue to improve.

What is your favorite phrase, slogan? “If you are ten minutes early, you are already five minutes late.” - Vince Lombardi

What inspired you to get into the industry?

I got into the lawn and landscape industry in 2011 out of a desperate need to make some money. I started mowing lawns and eventually added landscape enhancements to my toolbelt. Over time, I fell in love with providing these services.

What’s the best part of your job? Seeing small business owners take their businesses to the next level.

What’s your favorite place you’ve ever visited?

The Florida Gulf coast

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced professionally?

Retaining quality employees

What’s the one thing that would make the industry better?

If business owners charged higher prices, it would make the industry better. A lot of new landscape companies don’t truly understand the overhead it costs to run a profitable business, and their prices are too low, creating a negative ripple effect industry wide.

What’s your best childhood memory? The Ohio State Buckeyes beating the Miami Hurricanes in the 2002 National Championship.

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of Sales,
at Daltile
Client Elevation, The Integra Group St. Louis, Missouri Podcast Host, Green Industry Pros Atlanta, Georgia
Xteriors Program

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Deborah Cole on Embracing Setbacks as Opportunities for Growth

Believe it or not, a day may come when changes feel like the enemy rather than a bosom buddy. You know the TV ad where the counselor works with people struggling against personal habits similar to their parents? My friends, it happens to all of us. One day, we wake up to find that “same” feels good.

As a person somewhat addicted to miles of tradeshow aisles where scads of new products are shown, I can agree that new is exciting. There is an adrenaline rush when a new piece of equipment is acquired or a piece of new technology is downloaded. There is the promise of greater efficiency, faster reporting and improved quality. And then we hope. But as new and exciting becomes an everyday occurrence revealing itself faster and faster (think AI technology), it is also critical to be discerning.

We know that there are five phases of adoption of new ideas, products and services. Business leaders fall into one of these categories based on personal factors and learned habits. There is a place for all of these, but where do we choose to be and why? And how does it ultimately affect our businesses and personal lives?

The five phases are:

1. Innovators are the first to try new products/services and are the highest

risk-takers. They tend to have more available financial resources with which to take risks. They acquire when things are first released and at the highest cost. But the thrill of the acquisition outweighs any fear of risk.

2. Early adopters acquire products and services early in the game because they are “in the know.” As a highly educated group, they have done their homework and evaluated risks before taking the plunge. They are cautiously optimistic about outcomes.

3. Early majority group members are in the largest group on the bell curve of adopters. These individuals are relatively risk averse and have waited until they are among the leaders who have taken the safe path to the new. They may not be thought leaders in their own right, but have sought out the opinions of many others who have already made the decision to adopt.

4. Late majority individuals are typically skeptical about anything new and are very risk averse. They often do not try something new; however, if they do, it is only after the majority of the market has been saturated. The pricing of the object has dropped and is now affordable for the late majority. As new entrepreneurs, we often start out in business as a late majority member

when our resources are limited and risk cannot be tolerated.

5. Lastly are the laggards (what a label!). These individuals hate change and by the time a product or service that was once new is old, it may even be on its way out and be replaced with something new. Know anyone who swears by the flip phone?

We all fall into one of these categories. Which is the best? Only we can determine that for ourselves based upon personal traits, business practices and comfort level. We all know people who have the first shiny object off the shelf but nothing to show for it. We also know those who happily plug along using old technology and old ideas and are completely satisfied with the results. Only we can know our own level of comfort and satisfaction. There is no arbiter of right and wrong when it comes to being happy with only the old or only the new. What are our personal vision and goals? What is our definition of success? How much time can we invest in researching? And, at the end of the day, can we not just trust our own gut?

About Deborah Cole

www. synkd .io 23 SYNKD West Fall 2023
Deborah Cole is the founder of a commercial landscape firm with multiple locations throughout Texas. She now devotes herself full-time to speaking, writing and consulting.

We manufacture tools to improve the lives of hardscapers!

A1 Machine Pkg 860-870-8665 VME Ergo XL Pkg T-Handle Pkg D3



Damon Abdi, Ph.D ., Gives Alternative Evergreen Shrubs for Borders

Boxwoods ( Buxus sempervirens ) are a staple in the landscape, often serving as a hedge or border plant. These plants are often meticulously maintained and shaped to create distinct forms that can serve as a geometric feature in the garden. While certainly a suitable option, relying excessively upon one plant for this purpose can be problematic. A monoculture of plant materials does not provide much resistance to pathogen issues, as infestations can rapidly wreak havoc and decimate the landscape when there is a dearth of diversity in species selection. Hedge your bets by considering these two alternatives to boxwoods.

Yaupon Holly ( Ilex vomitoria ) : Yaupon hollies are available in a wide range of sizes and forms, with dwarf varieties such as “Nana” providing similar stature to

boxwoods. The small, white flowers in spring are an interesting, albeit inconspicuous, feature of this plant; however, they give way to red berries that provide added interest in the fall and winter months. Keep in mind that not all hollies will produce fruit. Hollies are dioecious plants, meaning that plants have either male or female flower parts, and fruit set will only be observed on the female specimens. Ensuring that a male yaupon holly is in reasonable proximity to the female plants will provide more opportunity for fruit set. Conversely, consider planting only male specimens if fruit is not desired. The small leaves of yaupon hollies offer a fine textured foliage feature to the landscape.

Japanese Yew ( Podocarpus macrophyllus ): Japanese yews range in size from small, compact plants to larger tree forms. These plants take well to shearing, so pruning is not necessarily a problem. The leaves of this plant are a more needle-like, lanceolate form, where the leathery, waxy green foliage offers a unique color and texture that contributes to the landscape. The small, creamy white flowers are fairly inconspicuous; however, they give way to pleasant, powder

blue berries in summertime. This species is also (typically) dioecious, so consider that in your designs. The “Pringles” variety remains compact and is great for hedges, while the “Mood Ring” variety has an appealing bronze hue to the new growth that adds some fresh color to the landscape.

Boxwoods can be a great feature in the landscape, but consider expanding your evergreen options to create aesthetically pleasing and more diverse designs. This adds interest to the landscape and helps offer protection against disease outbreaks that can mangle monoculture plantings. Using these two alternatives can be a valuable contribution to landscape compositions, as observed in the accompanying photo.


A planting of Japanese yews surrounds the inner plantings of yaupon hollies. The sharp shearing creates a multi-tiered evergreen aesthetic that complements the textures of the foliage.

Assistant Professor of Landscape

Horticulture at LSU Ag Center


www. synkd .io 25 SYNKD West Fall 2023



In our previous article, we discussed the significance of precision in-site documentation during the design phase and its potential to bolster a designer’s business. However, one persisting issue within the field of landscape architecture is the disconnect between design concepts and construction constraints. To address this, we built a comprehensive design and construction firm under one roof, focusing on the pivotal ratio of impact to effort in design. Our shift toward primarily using 3D design has proven instrumental in creating designs that blend impactful concepts with practical solutions.

Traditional 2D design methods necessitate designers to possess a three-dimensional mental grasp of their ideas, a skill that requires time to develop. Moreover, clients often struggle to interpret 2D representations, leading to misunderstandings and unrealistic expectations. Transitioning to 3D design has not only aligned our visions with clients’ expectations, but has also made it significantly easier to convey our concepts.

Numerous 3D modeling software options are available, each with its own strengths. We have predominantly utilized SketchUp due to its user-friendly nature and widespread familiarity among project managers, tradespeople and clients. Initially,

we used SketchUp as a tool for brainstorming and conveying design ideas. However, as we grew more proficient, we began harnessing its capacity to import and export valuable digital data. The model itself serves as a resource for generating counts for project estimation as well as predict accurate solar paths for shade studies. Our latest advancement involves importing data into the model from a LiDAR scanner.

LiDAR technology, once financially out of reach for smaller businesses, has become an essential design tool. Our interest was sparked by the rudimentary LiDAR capabilities of the iPhone. After extensive research, we adopted the Leica BLK 2 GO for its accuracy, portability and user-friendliness. Unlike conventional stationary LiDAR systems that require multiple scans and stitching together with software, the BLK 2 GO scans while the user walks the site, revolutionizing our base map creation process. We can now scan an entire site within 30-60 minutes, providing a digital twin for measurements and model creation. This reference is invaluable for site condition assessments of complex shapes or verifying critical as-built components.

While our adoption of 3D modeling and LiDAR technology has vastly improved our design output, we’ve also encountered an unexpected challenge: the risk of design concepts becoming homogeneous and sterile. In our next article, we will delve into the importance of emotional experience in design and its often overlooked role in the value of space-making.


Phone: (512) 925-0155

Email: SYNKD West Fall 2023 26
Angelica & Matt Norton , Landscape Designers & Owners of Open Envelope Studio

inspirational works




CONDON: EMBODYING THE LONE STAR STATE September|October 2022 3 synkd | our community


As landscapers, it’s often the pursuit of a vision that propels us. And sometimes, that vision leads us to create spaces that redefine aesthetics. Such is the story of Elevate by Design co-founder Chris Turner’s latest project, which offers a lesson in transformative design for every landscape professional.

Looking at the before-and-after shots, what stands out most is the powerful visual statement made by the renovations. The “before” pictures showcased what seemed like a regular house. But post-transformation, the abode mirrored a modern marvel. This drastic change wasn’t just about making the space look good, but also functionally altering its persona.

A core challenge for Chris and his team was the original conditions they had to work with. An unusual element, like

sludge in the pool or a landscape that screamed neglect, didn’t deter his vision. He skillfully saw beyond the existing chaos to perceive potential, leveraging the property’s large lot.

The remodel touched every corner of the estate. The inclusion of large windows dramatically shifted the property’s exterior, giving it a contemporary look. The front yard echoes the clean lines that transform the landscape in the back. Chris’s eye for detail is evident in his choice of repetitive planting and his emphasis on ensuring the landscape harmonizes with architectural changes.

However, what truly stands out in this project is the use of walls—not just as boundaries, but as instruments of design. The walls added height, creating a sense of dimension and depth. It wasn’t merely about separating spaces but adding character to them. SYNKD West Fall 2023 28
A Glimpse into an Elevate by Design Masterpiece BEFORE RENOVATIONS

Chris’s personal touch was evident in his collaboration with the clients of furniture and fixtures. While some landscape professionals overlook the importance of furniture, for Chris, it’s paramount. It not only defines the space but dictates its usability. Whether it’s creating a cozy corner adorned with hydrangeas or ensuring the seating doesn’t overpower the surroundings, each decision is meticulously planned. He believes that understanding furniture dimensions and design is crucial to determining patio sizes and layout.

Surprisingly, this project wasn’t just about working with any client but working for one of Chris’s best friends. This familiarity helped Chris get a deeper insight into the client’s needs. However, he emphasizes the importance of understanding every client’s unique preferences and desires, whether they articulate them or not. In fact, Chris did ask the client to trust him when specifying that the new extension must be painted black. Even best friends can have communication challenges.

www. synkd .io 29 SYNKD West Fall 2023 synkd | inspirational works

Chris’s innovative spirit shines in his custom designs, including the firepit, which is Elevate by Design’s signature product. The use of mood lighting adds atmospheric charm, allowing for customization depending on the occasion, whether a serene evening or a Halloween party.

Stay tuned for the next phase—the inclusion of a cantilevered bespoke pergola. This pergola will cover the outdoor sofa patio and cantilever over the bar, amplifying the area’s coziness.

This design and build project offers invaluable insights:

• Vision Beyond the Current: Never be deterred by the current state. Every landscape holds potential.

• Function With Aesthetics: Aesthetic changes should go hand in hand with functional upgrades.

• Details Matter: From the type of wall to the choice of furniture, every detail contributes to the bigger picture.

• Understand the Client: Truly transformative designs arise from understanding the client’s unspoken needs.

This project is a testament to the power of vision, innovation and detailed execution. It stands as an inspiration, urging us to see beyond the obvious and craft spaces that aren’t just visually appealing but soulfully enriching.


Photography Credit: Chad Beall Photography

3D Renderings: Elevate by Design

Landscape Contractor: Innovative Landscape

Homebuilder/Remodel: Henry Development

GET IN TOUCH WITH Elevate By Design

Denver, Colorado

Phone: (303) 567–6300

Elevate by Design also has a sister company, Studio Nisho, with a line of firepits. SYNKD West Fall 2023 30 synkd | inspirational works
Our covers are made to fit a wide variety of uses Simply input the surrounding hardscape into the cover Seamlessly blend into the surrounding landscape Tel. 775-400-2883 WunderCovers™ seamlessly blend manhole, drain, or utility access covers and vaults Custom covers, built to order, low volume, any size or configuration SYNKD West Fall 2023 32 synkd | inspirational works


JTA Stoneworks | What’s Possible With the Drystone Method in the 21st Century

Although the dry stone method is one of the world’s oldest building techniques, modern structural building and landscaping trends overlook its full potential. The question architects and designers should be asking is “What’s possible with the dry stone method in the 21st century?”

Jon Aguilar of JTA Stoneworks uses dry stone principles along with modern technologies to show that the only limits are one’s imagination. As an artist and stone builder who uses natural stone, Jon is not willing to use concrete, traditional masonry techniques (with mortar) nor concrete products. Although many landscape architects, designers and professionals have limited knowledge

about stone and the dry stone method today, Jon is hoping to educate and create awareness about its potential.

Most people think of the long roadside walls built from local rock when they hear the term “dry stone,” but this ancient technique is amazingly adaptable. It can be used to build six-figure, modernthemed residential, commercial projects or for a small meditation space by a creek with rock gathered on-site.

In 2016, Jon was contacted by a customer in Truckee, California, requesting a modern design for a complete outdoor design-build project. The design themes given were

1 Finished firepit area

2 Three-piece stone sculpture sketch

3 Stone cube sculpture “tumbled” in the planting area

www. synkd .io 33 SYNKD West Fall 2023

“warm, contemporary, minimal and mountain.” Unsure how the dry stone technique would be able to accomplish his vision without using concrete, the customer asked Jon to show him a plan first and gave him a $1 million starting budget.

Jon knew what was possible, and he engaged with his team of collaborators to turn the customer’s idea into reality. “For this project, I simply innovated,” he says. “I created the Modern Stonecraft method, which combines the dry stone building method, machine-based stereotomy and lifting technology to meet the demands of modern design. Every stone on the entire project was set with an excavator or telehandler-mounted friction lifts or a vacuum lifter.”

28 different types of cuts that all came in oversized and then we did the final cuts in the field. We rotated three textures for all of the top surfaces or exposed faces, including Adze, Lychee and Thermaled, because texture awakens stone’s potential.”

There were two excavators and one telehandler on site at all times as well as three types of vacuum lifters and friction lifts. A cellular confinement system was also utilized under the entire stone portions as a highly cost-effective option that provides a high level of base stability and stone surface permeability. His innovation opened the door to a world of opportunity, combining old and new into a unique design-build approach for outdoor features.

Working with his friend and colleague, Jared Williams, who owns Arris Stoneworks (a Seattle-based importer), all of the basalt and granite for the project was quarried, fabricated and textured in southern China and shipped to the Port of Oakland.

“We essentially designed and built this like stone Legos,” explains Jon. “We had about

Two building seasons and over 300 tons of stone later, Jon and his team completed construction on the massive $4.1 million project that also included a multimillion-dollar landscape installation and the use of a new subsurface heating and cooling system. “We created a series of experiences … on the journey from inside the house or from the motor court down to the large outdoor fire lounge,” SYNKD West Fall 2023 34 synkd | inspirational works

Jon says. “I designed three playful, geometric sculptures that were ‘tossed and twisted’ about from point A to point B to bring in some vertical aspects to the landscape. Along the way, there were plenty of opportunities to pause and sit on the basalt plank walls. We set four big 25-square-foot stone landings for the transitions down to the fire lounge. The trees and plantings were purposefully planted close to the very long walkway so that the client would feel enveloped by them.”

On the opposite side of the dry stone spectrum, you can also find Jon using this method to create what he calls “wild spaces.” Over the last decade, he has built four of these spaces around Colorado and Arizona and has very specific criteria he set for himself for the project to be called a “wild space.” All of the rock must be collected by hand from the local land, the feature must be big enough for other people to enjoy, and it must remain in place for anyone to use. He explains, “I build the feature for free using the dry

www. synkd .io 35 SYNKD West Fall 2023 synkd | inspirational works

stone method. It costs no money at all, just my time and some fuel for the truck.”

In 2013, when he was living in the Animas Valley north of Durango, Colorado, there was a mudslide in the La Plata mountains that pushed mud and debris onto the county roads. When the local crews cleaned off the roads, all of the mud and rock was pushed to the shoulder. Taking advantage of the opportunity that nature had provided, Jon collected the rock, threw it into the back of his truck and transported it back to his rental home. With the newly acquired material and his son Aidan’s help, he created a 60-inchwide stone fire bowl under a large willow tree in his backyard. “When we wanted to have a bonfire, I put the lid of an oil barrel down to prevent the fire from discoloring the rock,” he says. “The next morning, I’d remove the lid and we’d have a stone art piece to look at until the next bonfire.”

In an industry where, unfortunately, concrete tends to rule, Jon— and many other incredible dry stone masons—are proving that the dry stone technique is the better, more beautiful and much more sustainable way to build outdoor features.


Owner of JTA Stoneworks

Phone: (425) 530–5414


Meet and learn more from Jon at SYNKD Live—Feb 13-15, 2024


Dry-set Gothic arch with cantilevered stone stairs by Russ Beardsley of Borrowed Ground in Bellingham, Washington SYNKD West Fall 2023 36 synkd | inspirational works
Call for a free catalog 1-800-451-4349 45 So. Main St., Barre, VT Follow us on Facebook



Texas-Shaped Lazy River Becomes a Houston Icon

Carefully designed with precise edges and curves to perfectly mimic the rivers and roads that create Texas’s borders, a spectacular rooftop pool deck in downtown Houston is proudly celebrated by a city, state and worldwide corporation. The 8th-floor rooftop of the downtown Marriott Marquis Houston hotel showcases a massive Texas-shaped lazy river. Outdoor lounging space and firepits, bountiful foliage, an event lawn, custom lighting and paving and even an interactive splash pad complement the expansive lazy river on the amenity deck. All aspects were intricately designed to offer each hotel visitor a luxurious and unforgettable experience.

The lazy river holds roughly 75,000 gallons of water and is four feet deep throughout. Underwater jets gently push the water, moving guests around the state’s border from east to west. At the far corner of the pool, where El Paso is located, a four-inch thick acrylic sheet creates the “infinity” phenomenon. The current pushes people toward the transparent wall as if they will fall right off the edge of the building, then slowly pulls them south, along the outline replicating the Rio Grande.

Bringing this vision to life took incredible coordination and innovation between the design and build teams, and their efforts paid off. This unique deck is a premiere

project for the Houston-based landscape architecture design firm Clark Condon. It is also widely celebrated in Houston and across the state of Texas, often listed as a must-visit destination for both tourists and Texas natives. The entire deck stretches roughly three acres—about 5,600 square feet—and provides picturesque views of downtown Houston.

Clark Condon served as the landscape architect of record for the project. A non-affiliated firm developed the conceptual deck drawings based on the initial vision set forth by Marriott leadership. Mat Funk, PLA and senior associate, helped create the landscape construction documents, select materials SYNKD West Fall 2023 38
Location The Marriott Marquis in Houston, Texas Size of Pool Deck 5,600 square feet PROJECT DETAILS

and furnishings and bring the client’s vision to fruition.

“We worked as the landscape architect of record for the amenity deck at Marriott Marquis Houston, which is atypical for our firm,” says Mat. “Typically, we like to be involved at the conceptual level, but the project type and client gave us the encouragement to move forward. Several aspects of installing an expansive lazy river on the 8th floor of a building were especially challenging. We considered various constraints and construction concerns as we developed the design.”

Creating the intricate shape of Texas on the roof deck required a balance between the best possible construction method and types of materials to ensure constructability. Due to the amenity deck’s 8th-floor location, a variety of factors were considered including weight, pool layout and fabrication methods. The final strategy consisted of lifting large sheets of stainless steel to the rooftop for fabrication of the pool, spa and lazy river on site. A vinyl liner was placed into the molded stainless steel basin to provide aesthetic texture, safety and waterproofing. Structures made of lightweight concrete form the planter walls that surround the Texas-shaped lazy river and provide a lush, landscaped environment on the rooftop. The pool and planters are located on a structural slab recessed four feet down to support the entire amenity deck. A paver pedestal system created an elevated walking surface that established a void between the structural slab and pavers where numerous utilities were routed to reduce visual clutter, as well as for maintenance and access.

An interactive spray ground is situated within the state of Texas and a large star marks Houston on the map. The feature is self-contained and circulates like a traditional in-ground pool. As this is located within the larger river area, a circular stainless steel water trough was fabricated and placed on a concrete layer within the pedestal system. Spray nozzles

and jets pump water through openings on the deck surface and the water drains back into the pavement, another feature made possible by the pedestal design.

“Watching everything come together was an exciting part of the process,” Mat says. “In the beginning, the site was in disarray with scattered materials and construction occurring across every inch of the deck.”

“The pedestal system was a major focus throughout the project,” Mat explains. “It provided flexibility to mitigate the sloping roof deck and conceal utilities while still providing an accessible walking surface throughout the amenity space.”

Another feature that the hotel prioritized was the transparent walking bridge over the lazy river. An acrylic bridge structure was engineered to balance a key design goal to support the weight of the guests without adding excessive weight to the pool deck and not obscuring the shape of Texas from above.

The sentiment is shared by many who see the pool, whether in person or in the media. When the hotel opened, the deck received international attention from groups like CNN and U.S. News and World Report, among other media outlets. The rooftop amenity deck opened in 2017,

www. synkd .io 39 SYNKD West Fall 2023 synkd | inspirational works
Over time, though, the elements were installed, & I began to see a space form reflective of the drawings we produced. It blew me away.

just in time for Super Bowl LI in Houston. The iconic image of the lazy river often finds the spotlight during Houston-based events, such as the 2022 World Series broadcasts and even local news coverage. Mat and the Clark Condon team feel a sense of pride when they see their work on display.

“I often see the Texas-shaped lazy river on television, in tourism advertisements and on social media,” he says. “It is a feather in my cap to know I helped create this wonderful site. Knowing this would become a great icon was absolutely a driving factor for the team as we worked. Every person involved in the project can revel in their contribution, be it the designers or construction crew.”

Mat says this project is one of many rooftop installations he has worked on since the COVID-19 pandemic. Residential and commercial building owners now use their rooftop spaces for pools, office space, kitchens and lounge areas. He says clients are showing a growing interest in enhancing the outdoor spaces of their buildings, especially in densely populated urban areas. The emergence of building on rooftops has presented new challenges for architects, designers and

construction crews; however, these new outdoor environments offer a variety of future opportunities.

“Design and construction on ground-level projects routinely pose unique challenges while navigating site constraints such as drainage, grading and other factors,” Mat adds. “Transporting materials to upper floors and working within an urban environment takes the challenges to new heights. As we continue working on similar sites, our team strives to capture what we learn and share it with others in the industry. We hope our colleagues can use the information to achieve outstanding results as well.”



Office Number: (713) 871–1414 SYNKD West Fall 2023 40
All Photos courtesy of ©Clark Condon and Geoff Lyon

raise the bar




LANDSCAPES | PAGE 50 JAY WORTH: CHANGE MANAGEMENT PART 2–THE FIRST STEPS September|October 2022 4 synkd | our community

THE POWER OF Plant Breeding

Jane Beggs-Joles Talks Us Through the Why, What & How When it Comes to Developing New Plant Varieties

Q: Why are so many plant cultivars being introduced to the market? What is the goal of plant breeding/introducing new plants?

A: Cultivars are introduced because someone sees a need for them. They are sometimes the result of a particular goal, such as better disease resistance or a more compact habit. Sometimes they are happy accidents; someone with a good eye spots a seedling or branch sport that is noticeably different from existing varieties.

Before a plant breeder begins a project, the first step is to research and evaluate existing cultivars. If there is already a selection that meets the breeding goal, then it isn’t a good project. But if there’s room for improvement, a plant breeder will get to work.

The most common reasons that we work on developing a new variety are more compact size, disease resistance and bloom time.

People want more color in less space, and everyone wants low-maintenance plants. A plant that stays small and flowers all season without needing any spraying is always in high demand.

We’re also seeing a lot of interest in new genera and species, especially those native to North America. We’re just scratching the surface of what is possible with native species. I’m optimistic that SYNKD West Fall 2023 42 synkd | raise the bar

there will be many new selections that have the great qualities of our native species but fit better into residential yards.

Q: Can you tell us about the ‘best’ ones that you have developed for our western publication (11 states in the west)?

A: With the concerns over water availability west of the Mississippi, I really like the three varieties that have garnered a blue ribbon from the University of California’s Irrigation Trials. Pugster ® Blue Buddleia, Juke Box® xPyracomeles and Sunny Boulevard ® Hypericum have all been proven to perform very well without supplemental irrigation. And they look great, too!

www. synkd .io 43 synkd | raise the bar SYNKD West Fall 2023


Q: How long before a new plant can be used in a design and can be sourced easily by landscape professionals to install?

A: It’s going to depend on the plant, of course, but from the time we introduce a plant to it being readily available for landscapers, I’d plan on about three to four years. Most plants will take one or two seasons to grow to landscape size, and it may take our growers some time to get the quantities needed for a plant to be easily sourced.

If you regularly use large numbers of a particular plant, or anticipate needing something for a big job, let your supplier know as soon as possible. They are making decisions now that will determine what you have available in 2024 and 2025 and beyond.

Q: Do you have stats on how many new plants you introduce to the market each year? Or a range?

A: Usually 10-20.



Phone: (616) 223–3369 SYNKD West Fall 2023 44 synkd | raise the bar
The best thing a landscaper can do to be sure they have the plants they want is to talk to their nursery growers . There’s only so much a grower can grow on a spec.
Pugster® Blue Buddleia Sunny Boulevard® Hypericum
Juke Box® x Pyracomeles

Ever Amethyst™ Agapanthus Sunset Plant Collection

Ever Amethyst™ Agapanthus, from Sunset Plant Collection, stands out as the sole low-water agapanthus in recent University of California landscape trials. It not only excels in low irrigation needs but also dazzles with its unique purple blooms, setting it apart from the typical indigo or blue-leaning agapanthus varieties available. The trial commended Ever Amethyst’s prolific repeat blooms, with one plant producing an astonishing 39 flowering stalks during the evaluation.

This agapanthus offers an eco-friendly solution for landscapers seeking vibrant, long-lasting blooms that won’t strain water resources. It also attracts pollinators like hummingbirds and bees with its nectar-rich flowers. Whether you want to showcase its stunning inflorescent blooms in a cut flower garden, create a vibrant border or use it in container plantings, Ever Amethyst doesn’t disappoint. Its gracefully arching foliage adds an extra layer of beauty, making it a versatile choice for any garden or landscape.


Flowers that Beat the Heat

Pugster Blue® Buddleia Maximum Flowers, Minimum Watering

Pugster Blue® grows just 2 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide, so it fits into any landscape—even container gardens. Although it’s a dwarf plant, it has large, intensely colored flowers that attract butterflies and other pollinators throughout the summer. Its fragrant blooms are as appealing to clients as they are to pollinators.

Not just a pretty face, Pugster Blue® has a Blue Ribbon from the University of California Climate-Ready Plant Trials. It’s a solid performer even under intense water stress.

Whether you need a low-growing mass planting or a plant to deliver lots of flowers in a small space, this drought-tolerant, deer-resistant little shrub is a great choice. Blue not your thing? Check out the other colors of Pugster® buddleia at

www. synkd .io 45 SYNKD West Fall 2023 synkd | raise the bar


When it comes to hillside gardening and terracing, the Dirt Locker® is your strongest and most reliable option.

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Reviving Florida Soil, Saving Water, Keeping Employees Safe & Doubling Revenues with Mulch Mate

Do you remember the last time you found yourself shoveling material out of a truck bed or trailer? Can you fathom doing that all day, every day, to keep up with the changing needs of your customers? Despite how simple the task may seem from an outside perspective, this can be an extremely physically demanding job, even in ideal weather conditions. Add in record-high summer heat, and the task becomes more dangerous by the hour.

“Imagine standing inside of an aluminum truck body and shoveling mulch while the sun is reflecting off that aluminum,” says Nick Carlson, former landscape business owner and current founder and CEO of Mulch Mate. “You’re literally standing in an oven and most people, until they experience that, don’t think about it. They’re not going to realize how high of a safety risk and liability situation they’re creating.”

Nick is a self-proclaimed landscaping problem solver. Out of his collection of ground-breaking products, the Mulch

Mate DS1000 and DMT Mulch Mate Trailer are specifically designed to eliminate the shoveling process when unloading mulch, gravel, compost and more on the job. A tarping mechanism pulls material and feeds it directly into wheelbarrows, saving landscape companies time and reducing the amount of labor needed to finish a yard.

Being the first of Nick’s many inventions, the original Mulch Mate concept was simply meant to fill an efficiency gap he witnessed with his own landscaping

company that he recognized as a source of tension between members of his team. He knew he needed to do something to increase the job satisfaction of his employees and keep things moving. Unbeknownst to him, the need for Mulch Mate trucks and trailers would extend far beyond what he could envision at the time.

“I’m just a landscaper with no credentials,” says Nick. My name’s not Nick Toro or John Deere. I’m coming out of nowhere. I developed this product. I have to make it undeniable and make

www. synkd .io 47 SYNKD West Fall 2023 synkd | raise the bar
I never would have thought that this machine that I initially developed for mulch would turn into this allencompassing solution .

every detail perfect so people can have some faith in us. Now, we’ve got the industry’s faith and trust. We’ve been around, we’re not going anywhere,” Nick says.

Like Nick, when SYNKD began gathering information to write this article on Mulch Mate, we had no idea how deep this story would go. There is a treasure trove of writing material contained just on the Mulch Mate website ( and speaking with Nick, hearing his passion for identifying and resolving pain points within everyday tasks, unlocked a plethora of hard-hitting questions on the future of the landscaping industry across the country. The original plan was to speak with Nick and his customers to highlight a product line that, while incredibly revolutionary, seemed to require little explanation. Then, as we began our customer interviews, we quickly realized that Mulch Mate is an integral part of a much larger story, not just about doubling revenues and keeping employees safe, but about reviving soil, rethinking development practices and preserving water, particularly in the state of Florida. Florida’s subsoil is dry and inert. It doesn’t hold water well, and it lacks the nutrients, microbes and organic matter that nurture prospering plants. On top of this, and in part because the

state is experiencing unprecedented development rates, the soil is constantly being compacted in residential areas, leading to poor aeration and root penetration. Illinformed Floridians have attempted to put an expensive bandaid over this problem by watering excessively and using disproportionate amounts of pesticides and fertilizers, leading to harmful red algae blooms and other unintended environmental consequences. As bleak as the situation may seem, the key to fortifying Florida landscapes is surprisingly straightforward and manageable with a Mulch Mate truck or trailer on hand.

“You can do top-dressing year-round in Florida,” explains Joey Mckinny of Mckinney Landscapes. “You’re basically

amending the soil. When they build a house down here, it’s on ground-up shell, hardpan and stuff like that. Oftentimes, they just lay sod right on that. Then, I’m bringing in really good compost with my Mulch Mate to put on top of it. If I can get under the grass before they lay it, that’s awesome. But I can also, right after they lay it, add that compost which will work its way through that grass and into the soil.”

The compost of choice for all top-dressing Mulch Mate customers we spoke with is called COMAND by Life Soils. In addition to the carefully researched structural, nutritional and biological soil amending attributes, according to Darren Midlane, vice president and chief technical officer of Life Soils, what makes COMAND unique is the innovative composting methodology that reduces labor and retains more nutrients than other options.

“We had a broken sprinkler in a customer’s lawn, and it had been broken for a while, Josh Harding of Cardinal Solutions recalls. “There was a huge washout around the pipe, and all I had was a bag of COMAND in my truck that I’d never used before. So I dumped it in the hole, and I filled it in. Then, we came back two or three weeks later for a followup visit. The growth habit of that turf, how it repaired around that sprinkler and just pushed out some of the healthiest grass, much higher than the other grass next to it, what a huge eye-opener. I’m thinking, Wow, how can I put down more? How do I apply it in wider areas? The answer was Mulch Mate.”

Another remarkable benefit of COMAND compost is the improved water retention properties the product adds to the soil. SYNKD West Fall 2023 48 synkd | raise the bar

soil. Darren and Territory Manager and Soil Ecosystem Restoration Specialist at Life Soils Mark Singleton provided many insights on water conservation in Florida. It is a topic to revisit at our 2024 SYNKD Live event this February in Atlanta with Life Soils, the Mulch Mate crew and their loyal customers.

Our repeated discussions about top-dressing in Florida highlight the importance of communication across the design, build and maintain sectors. It is astonishing to think that a short conversation between a soil restoration expert and a developer could avoid so many environmental ramifications and unnecessary expenses for Florida homeowners wanting to enjoy

their yards. Regardless of the Mulch Mate application, though, it is refreshing to hear how involved Nick strives to be in finding the right solution for his customers, no matter the cost to his business.

“I lost the remote controls for the unit a couple of weeks ago, called Nick at Mulch Mate up and said, ‘Hey I need some remotes. Just bill me, but please send them overnight,’” Tom O’Brien of Oxford Lawn remarks. “He just shipped them out. We haven’t even seen a bill for it. I don’t think he’s going to send one. He just really does treat people well, and we would not be able to do the level or quantity of work that we are doing if it wasn’t for Mulch Mate and how fast that thing lets us get through a yard.

It’s that speed that has made the profit margins incredible.”

The way Nick and his happy customers see it, these products could easily replace the work of one or two employees depending on the use. You may find that the price of your Mulch Mate truck or trailer is comparable to an employee salary—without the liability, the sick days or sudden quitting risk. Nick views his products as high-quality solutions unlike anything on the market, and the results described by his customers are extraordinary.

www. synkd .io 49 SYNKD West Fall 2023 synkd | raise the bar GET IN TOUCH WITH... Nick Carlson Founder & CEO of Mulch Mate Email: Phone: (888) 776–8524



As I discussed in my previous article, change management is the process of implementing major changes to the structure or workflow of your business in such a way that your team willingly agrees to implement the change.

Let’s dive into practical steps for change management. (Note: these steps come from the Harvard Business Review article by John Kotter and have been adapted for

at each remaining step. If people don’t see it, walk them through why there’s a problem. If people still don’t see it, consider that maybe it’s a personal preference (i.e. “I want it done this way”) rather than a business problem.

Step #2–Assemble a “Change Team”

You need your team to help you implement this change. Making unilateral decisions won’t work if you want the change to stick.

The team must have enough senior leaders to enforce the change and a mix of mid-level and frontline workers giving input to ensure the change is practical and viable. Select people who have titles, but also those who influence the rest of your team, regardless of their “official” job title. Avoid stacking the team with either only frontline workers or only senior leaders; you’ll encounter resistance from the wider company.

Lastly, ensure that the entire company knows that this team has been empowered to research the problem, develop a solution AND implement it. Communication about this is vital to success.

Step #3–Create the Vision

This step is about how you will communicate this change.

Once the change team has researched solutions and a new path is selected, you need to communicate with the rest of the company by using a vision statement. Here are critical items to include in that statement: SYNKD West Fall 2023 50 synkd | raise the bar

Then, share it with discreet employees outside the change team and people outside the company whose feedback you trust. Ask if it’s clear. If not, rework the statement until a majority of people who hear it understand the answers to those questions.

Warning: Don’t hijack this process. If you’re an owner, CEO or president, you’ll be tempted to take over the “solution” step. Don’t.

Just because your team might arrive at a slightly different solution than you doesn’t make it wrong. It makes it different. Allow them to work it out. If you are authoritarian, you might as well have made the decision. Doing this poorly will also break the trust of those influential people on your change team.

Step #4–Communicate the Vision

Once your change team has identified the problem, arrived at a viable solution and created a vision statement about the upcoming change, you need to roll it out to the company at large.

A good rule of thumb for this part of the process is this: Don’t stop talking about it. Ever.

That vision statement has to become something that’s embedded in your way of business moving forward. Memorize it yourself. Have other senior leaders memorize it. Ask your mid-level managers to memorize it.

Talk about it at morning huddles, one-onones and when you drop by the job sites. Connect the dots for your team between the problem, the solution and how the “new way” is going to benefit everyone.

And this last point is especially important; we are all more likely to do something if it benefits us. Your team is no different. Talk about how the change makes their lives easier, better, less stressful, etc. When you draw a direct line between “problem > solution > benefit,” they’re more likely to do it.

Wrapping It All Up

Here’s a quick summary of the four steps for change management:

1. Identify a real business problem to solve. Don’t fix something that isn’t broken.

2. Assemble a team of people with both seniority and influence. Ensure the

company knows they’re empowered to work on a particular issue.

3. Create a vision statement that clearly articulates the problem, why it’s a problem, the solution AND what the future looks like once the solution is implemented.

4. Communicate this vision incessantly —in morning huddles, performance reviews and casual conversations. When you’re saying it in your sleep, you might be talking about it enough.

In my last article, I’ll detail the practical steps for this process to help you nail this the first time, thereby saving you employee morale and keeping retention high.

www. synkd .io 51 SYNKD West Fall 2023 synkd | raise the bar
Jay Worth Marketing Manager for Single Ops Email:

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