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10 Observations in the Pandemic Landscape

We’ll have stories, that’s for sure. We’ll all have stories to tell once this pandemic fades off into history. Some will be painful and difficult. Some will be sweet and caring and courageous. Most will be about everyday people trying to figure out how to adapt to a new set of circumstances none of us were prepared for.

I figure sharing the experiences—the good, the bad and the scary—will probably be an important part of our communities’ healing, so I’ll start off the conversation by telling you a little about what we’ve been doing at Art of Stone Gardening, how things are going and what I’ve been seeing and experiencing.

10 Experiences and observations in the pandemic landscape.

  1. Celebrating our history. Art of Stone Gardening is a family-owned, small business. We’ve put our all into growing this business, and we’re doing everything possible to protect our livelihood and that of our extended family of employees. The pandemic hit just as we entered our 20th year of operation. We can’t wait to get through this so we can celebrate our 20th Anniversary!
  2. Been there, done that. The economic impact of the pandemic may not be exactly the same, but we went through the Great Recession of 2008 and survived. We’re confident we will survive this, too.
  3. On being essential. Some of us might argue that landscape services should be considered essential because flowers and plants cheer us up and growing things is good for mental health. But the actual reason landscaping companies were considered essential businesses in Georgia had to do with safety, sanitation and maintenance of residences. Issues with drainage and erosion, for example, can cause big problems if not repaired. So, Art of Stone Gardening was fortunate to be allowed to continue operating during the shut-down. As it happened, nurseries fell under the umbrella of landscape companies, and were allowed to stay open for business, too. So I’ve been happy to see a lot of home garden planting, both ornamental and edible, taking place this spring.
  4. So, how’s business? Spring is usually our busiest season, with lots of exciting projects getting underway. With all the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic and the economy, many homeowners have hit the pause button on major discretionary spending until things settle down. They’re postponing the real elaborate outdoor projects for now. We believe those projects will still happen…we just can’t say when that will be
Some homeowners are postponing comprehensive, whole-property projects until the economy settles down a little. Others are just slowing the pace, implementing planned projects in phases. Jason designed and built this impressive stone mailbox standing atop a substantial boulder this spring.

5. Our bread and butter. Fortunately, our business model has always included jobs with diverse price points. Of course, it’s great to get those epic, over-the-top projects, but we’re always happy to work with clients on the bread-and-butter jobs, too. So, more routine projects like driveways, basic retaining walls and repairs that keep us busy all year are sustaining us right now. The bottom line: we don’t have quite as much work as usual, but we’ve got work. And we feel business will pick up again.

Elaborate landscape projects get all the oohs and aahs, but everyday projects like this driveway at the home of a repeat customer who lives on Lake Lanier are our bread and butter year round. These kinds of projects are helping to sustain us through the economic downturn.

6. Designs for now. I’m doing more design work this spring than usual. People who don’t want to dive into a major project all at once right now are liking the idea of doing their projects in phases. We’re working on the design plans now and considering priorities so when it’s time to move forward on them, they’ll be ready to go, and they’ll have a plan for what to tackle firstYou know, you don’t have to wait on a professional landscape designer to start planning your outdoor space. Just grab a pencil and make a rough drawing of your yard on a piece of paper. Make notes about what you like and what you might want to change or add. Observe and record sunny and shady conditions or challenges like poor drainage areas. Sketch in where you imagine some stone work or other hardscape features. Make it a work in progress that evolves as you get new ideas. When you’re ready to start your project, you’ll have a vision to share with a professional designer, who can help you fine-tune and budget your dream outdoor space.

7. On the job (site). Job sites look and feel a little different these days. We’re a pretty close crew, but now there’s a lot of physical distance between all of us, and there’s no contact with clients, certainly no going inside homes. There is a lot of happy waving and shouting across driveways, though, as progress takes place. Since cleanliness and sanitation rule, even the company trucks and equipment are sparkling clean.

8. Um…are you sure you want to do that yourself? Judging from the inventories at landscape supply yards and big box stores, I’m seeing that a lot of people are building retaining walls this spring. Now, I’m a huge fan of DIY. I love seeing people learn new skills and gain the confidence to apply them to improving their own living spaces. But retaining walls are pretty challenging. And if not engineered and constructed properly, they can crack or collapse, causing serious damage or injury. I can’t even count the number of failed retaining walls we’ve been called on to repair or replace. So, unless you’ve got some major skills, you might want to consider a different DIY project and leave the retaining walls to the pros.

Homeowners are doing a lot of DIY projects to fix up their outdoor spaces during the pandemic, and that’s great! But you might want to leave retaining walls to the pros. They look easy enough, but if not properly engineered and executed, they can crack and collapse, causing serious injuries and property damage.

9. People seem to be gardening more than ever! When I’m working at clients’ homes, I like to use break times to go walking. Partly for my health and to support my cycling habit, but also to enjoy the scenery along the neighborhood sidewalks, the country lanes, the mountain dirt roads—wherever our projects take me. Granted, it’s been spring, and not surprising to see people working in their yards, but on my walks during the weeks of the pandemic, I have been overjoyed to see how many people are outdoors gardening.

It’s so fulfilling and therapeutic to plant something—anything!—and watch it grow. And a wonderful thing about gardening is you can enjoy it passively, by simply taking in the beauty from a favorite spot, or actively by digging, planting, watering, weeding, dividing, and all the rest. And then, if you have a mind to, there’s so much to learn about plants that studying them can easily become a lifelong hobby.

If you’re spending extra time outdoors at home these days and your interest in gardening has been piqued, you can have a lot of fun learning more about the plants in your yard or on your property. There are a whole bunch of apps you can download that will identify plants from pictures taken on your phone. Check out these tested and reviewed apps  or search “plant ID apps” for more choices. Consider keeping a garden journal or mapping the interesting plants you find.

This foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is one of a half-dozen pink flowers that were blooming on the same day at my house recently. If I hadn’t taken time for a short stroll around the yard when I got home that afternoon, I would have totally missed the show! I’ve noticed a lot more people are spending time outdoors and gardening during the pandemic.

10. What I miss the most. I really miss hugging clients, who almost always become friends over the course of our projects. Our business is as much about the relationships we get to enjoy with our clients as the outdoor spaces we help them create. I hope we’ll be able to get past this social distancing business soon and get back to our traditional ways of bonding and expressing our feelings, like shaking hands and hugging old—and new—friends.

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