June 15, 2011
Extreme weather conditions in April and May, with near-record rainfall and low temperatures, affected all sectors among Landscape Ontario members. Business is down, challenges are up, but the trade is making the best of it all — through flexibility and positive attitudes.

Jacki Hart CLP, of Water’s Edge Landscaping in Bracebridge, reflected the attitude of the majority of LO members interviewed. “I’m keeping my sense of humour in my front pocket every day, as I re-schedule crews, logistics, barges and water taxis, half-load restrictions and impassable cottage roads.”

Sarah Johnston, of Greenlife Garden Care and Landscaping in Manotick, said, “The sun had just come out in Ottawa, when we were hit by a windstorm and then an outdoor watering ban to 80,000 homes in the south end.....aagh.....where is my sense of humour?  I’m with Jacki: have a sense of humour and make the best of it.”

John Lamberink CIT of Aquality Irrigation and Illumination in Acton, admits the weather has “completely screwed up my schedule. We couldn’t get to any booked work, and when we did manage to get on a site, we did more damage than anticipated due to the softness of the soil and tenderness of the plants.”

Now in his 15th year of business, however, Lamberink remains upbeat, “I have no choice.” He confides that based on what he sees so far, he will have a banner year.

“I think there is a bit of pent-up demand out there. Everyone was scared of the economy, and when the tax incentive dried up last year, people stopped spending. A year later, it seems people are ready to go ahead with projects,” says Lamberink.

Steve Macartney CIT, CLT of Raintree Irrigation and Outdoor Services in Hamilton, says it has been tough to get on job sites. This spring, for the first time ever, he shut down his installs for two weeks. “Some guys switched to service calls, and some labourers went home.”

Much of Macartney’s service work is pre-booked, but scheduling has been difficult, to say the least. “We’ve had guys working part-days or half-days, as we can’t get on the sites.”

Macartney is pragmatically honest about the effect the weather has had on business. “We have meetings and communicate to our staff what’s going on. My guys know we’ll struggle this year because of the rain.”

Ron Swentiski CLD, of Trillium Associates in Thornhill, continues along the same theme of devastated schedules. His landscape design company also serves as project manager for its jobs. “We are about three to four weeks behind because of the wet weather.”

Most of Trillium’s clients are commercial, and might be a little more understanding than impatient homeowners. “On one commercial site, we’ve been unable to do any test bores for the geo-technical soil testing for six weeks.”

Dealing with disappointed clients is all about communicating with them. Swentiski had met with a condo board the previous evening and he noted they understood the situation, “They know it’s in God’s hands, not ours.”

John Hewson CLP, of Greenscape Lawn Maintenance, Mississauga, refers to a question of the poor spring weather as ‘challenging.’ He said that he had the most work ever booked in his company’s 21 year history. “It began as an outstanding year, but it has turned into one of the worst ever,” said Hewson. “The weather stopped us from going onto sites, or if we could, we couldn’t finish the job.” As of May 31, he was still behind schedule.

He did note that most clients were very understanding, and he didn’t require any layoffs. Hewson’s company works in the sectors of grounds maintenance, landscape contracting and landscape design.

Paul Doornbos CLT, CLP, of Thornbusch Landscaping Company in Lansdowne, says, “I think a little perspective is always needed. Someone, somewhere has it far worse than we do. As a matter of fact, many of our parents and grandparents survived far worse things. I think that if you don’t like what you’re looking at, change where you’re standing.”  

Doornbos says that communication with customers on the challenges of the weather is important. “Get busy, get wet and thank God we get to do what we love and are
passionate about!”

Peter Scholtens, of Verbinnen’s Nursery in Dundas, says, “We’re not complaining in the native plant industry. It’s been wet, but our sales have been steady. We’re glad it’s not as crazy as it was last year.”

Tim Dyer, of Kings Creek Trees in Ashton, revealed he is dealing with the weather situation on three fronts: garden centre, outdoor nursery and greenhouse.

He explained that he just opened a new garden centre this spring. He finds it incredible how everyone arrives at the garden centre when the sun comes out. “No sun, no customers.”

Dyer’s outdoor nursery operation was the hardest hit by the heavy rainfall in the Ottawa area this spring. “We are on bedrock, with very little soil cover, so there is very little drainage.”

He estimates to have lost up to 60 per cent of his seedlings and transplants that are under water.

The greenhouse operation isn’t much better. With so little sunlight, Dyer estimates the plants are at least two weeks behind schedule.

Joan Johnston of Peter Knippel Nursery in Ottawa believes retailers will be fine. “After all, you have to be an optimist in this business,” she says. She predicts sales of annuals may well be down because of the rain and late spring this year, in addition to an Ottawa water ban, and higher fuel and food prices, yet her outlook remains positive.

Johnston is thankful that as an independent retailer, she has the facilities and staff to hold plant material; the challenge has been much more difficult for big-box retailers, forced to try holding plants on racks.

She appreciated receiving the letter of encouragement LO president Tom Intven sent to all members. Regarding 2011’s late spring, Johnston observes, “What else can you do? This is agriculture!”