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VOL. 127 | NO. 77 | Thursday, April 19, 2012

Low-Impact Landscaping

Companies fill latest green niche as homeowners turn to organic yards


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For most people these days, the descriptive word “green” evokes thoughts on diminishing consumption and environmental chivalry, and not necessarily the lush colors of an early spring such as Memphis has seen this year.

Kalki Winter, owner of eScape landscaping company, removes barberry plants at a customer’s home, which he will replace with a native or drought-resistant plant.  

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

For Kalki Winter, however, it means both.

As the owner of eScape, he has an eye toward the quality of backyard ornamentation, as well as his customers’ overall quality of life.

Winter began the organic landscape company last October after a 12-year stint in management with ServiceMaster Landscape.

He said the mission of eScape is to offer “sustainable, site-specific landscape design with a focus on using native and zone appropriate plant material, as well as refurbished, recycled and repurposed building materials.”

“I feel strongly about it, I think that there is a need and a desire for it,” Winter said of the niche market of organic landscaping. “In terms of landscape design and installation, it’s an easy fit to go green and organic.”

Winter said it depends on the expectations of the customer whether or not one can go completely organic, but generally the promised savings in money, time and future labor helps win a customer over.

It was savings in precious time that won over East Memphians Marci and John Lambert who, after living in their home for a year and a half and completing some of the necessary yard work makeover themselves, finally succumbed to the pressures and constraints of work and raising two children.

“We had taken it so far ourselves and really needed some more professional advice,” Marci Lambert said.

She found eScape through Facebook and had Winter dress up a courtyard, taking out neglected plants and adding new ones, as well as walking the rest of the one-third acre backyard to discuss long-range goals.

“He seemed very willing to work with me over a period of time in different phases,” Lambert said.

Organic landscaping can involve using compost instead of wood chips in beds, drought-resistant and native plants, repurposed building materials, no herbicides and no pesticides.

Morgreen Nursery & Landscape in Collierville has been green since before green was cool.

The 25-year-old business sold its maintenance arm to ChemLawn and started organic landscaping 12 years ago as “more of a niche that was in the industry at the time,” said Mike Omar, co-owner of Morgreen.

It now makes up a large part of their business as it sends out up to 12 crews a day while maintaining six acres of retail space. Morgreen’s landscaping is 80-percent residential and 20-percent commercial.

Omar isn’t one to insist a customer go completely organic, though, and is open to them choosing some organic products while eschewing others.

“You can be selective,” he said. “It’s like when I go to a grocery store, there are some things I buy organic and some things I don’t buy organic.”

Not all products are completely ready for the organic market. For instance, corn gluten meal used as an organic pre-emergent herbicide is only about 50-percent effective as opposed to a more heavily chemical choice, Omar says. But it’s the option of going natural in compost and fertilizer that most people look for and are pleased to find.

Winter, likewise, will work with a customer’s wants and needs, meeting with them to learn what they’re interested in and how they intend to use the space.

“I have a lot of general principles and rules that I apply to landscape creations, but it’s completely customized to each person,” he said.

Part of that customization can include art for the yard as well as plants, shrubs and sod. Winter has built raised bed gardens, chicken coops and sculptures made from found objects and recycled materials.

“I’ve done some of that for myself and I’ve made mobiles for years and sold them at the Cooper-Young Festival, but I really like the cottage garden approach to landscape, which incorporates found object art or kinetic sculpture,” he said.

It makes the yard and garden an extension of a homeowner’s inside living space as well as his or her own personality.

For Lambert, the draw to eScape and organic landscaping was the low-impact landscaping and not having to spend a lot of time on maintenance once Winter was done with the initial instillation.

“He was able to do something pretty that is somewhat self-sustaining and didn’t require a lot of upkeep,” she said. “I don’t have to be out there watering some precious little flowers every three minutes because they’re going to wilt if I don’t.”

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