CHICAGO PROPERTY SERVICES PRESENTS: Condoboss Q&A with Ellen Moderhack, Owner and Architect at MODE Landscape Design “Secrets To A Successful Landscaping Installation Project For Community Association”
Ellen is the Owner and Architect at MODE Landscape Design. She loves spending time in her garden and connecting with nature. She has been designing and installing gardens since 1999 Ellen’s contact information is: P: 773-519-6491 E: [email protected], W:www.modelandscape.com
Condoboss(CB): Tell me about yourself. How did you get into landscaping design?
Ellen Moderhack (EM): I’ve been designing and installing residential landscapes for almost 15 years. I’ve enjoyed digging around in the garden since I was quite young, but never knew that I could make a career out of it. In my previous professional life, I was involved in sales, marketing and public relations – all of which have come in handy as the owner of a small, independent landscape design company. When my daughter was born over 16 years ago, it was time to do something that I enjoyed and that gave me flexibility. Landscape design was a natural fit.
CB: Why are you so passionate about your work around landscaping design?
EM: I truly feel that I change people’s lives when I create beautiful, functional gardens for them. We are all so busy these days, with little time to pause and just breathe. Many of us are also quite disconnected from nature and the outdoors, and gardens provide a wonderful way to reconnect with that world. I’ve designed and installed gardens for couples where one partner is not as ‘on board’ as the other. More often than not, it’s the reluctant participant who then gains so much more from the new outdoor space. They find themselves using it and enjoying it to a degree that they never imagined. Sometimes you don’t know that a garden is missing from your life until it becomes a part of it.
CB: What should boards consider when implementing a new landscaping design? What are the benefits?
EM: Condo association boards should view any landscape installation as a long-term investment not a one-time financial commitment. Well-done landscaping improves curb appeal, increases property values, provides a beautiful environment and instills pride among the residents. Landscaping has to be maintained on a regular basis by a reputable company that is trained in proper pruning techniques, has thorough knowledge of the plant material installed and understands the elements that affect the health of a garden – pests, diseases, etc.
CB: What are the most common mistakes that boards/associations make when implementing a new design?
EM: Condo associations should designate a committee to work with a landscape design and installation company, not the entire membership. There are too many voices and opinions in a large group and a committee can help focus their priorities. That having been said, landscape committees should listen to their landscape designer as they have experience with how gardens function well and can make a recommendation as to how theirs should be laid out based on their needs and the elements of the site. They also know how the sun, soil and drainage conditions will affect plant selection. There are two things that condo associations can do to make a landscape installation perform well. First, install an irrigation system and assign someone to monitor the garden throughout the season.
In my experience, it’s unwise to leave hand-watering up to one or two owners. Despite their best intentions, watering will always be neglected at some point. And, although an irrigation system will take the labor out of watering, but someone must still pay attention to the weather and its affect on the garden as well as keep an eye out for areas that are getting too much or too little moisture. Second, plan for regular maintenance and hire a company that is well-trained in gardening, not lawn maintenance. You cannot install a landscape and forget about it, and the last thing you want to do after making a substantial investment is to turn the maintenance over to a ‘mow and blow’ company. I’ve seen many a garden ruined by improper pruning and harsh maintenance techniques.
Proper maintenance can actually reduce your annual expense because plants are not stressed and thus, need to be replaced less often, mulch is left on the ground instead of getting blown out and then replaced at an additional expense and issues are caught before they get out of hand and can often be addressed.
CB: What is unique about your company? How are you different from other landscaping design companies?
EM: I think that I am unique in that I work diligently to foster long relationships with my clients. I don’t install a garden and move on. I stay in touch, I educate as needed and continue to enjoy their outdoor rooms with them as much as possible. I try my best to provide personal attention so that I become a trusted resource for all things landscaping, and sometimes for things that have nothing to do with landscaping at all. Because it’s just me working alone, I really look forward to the time I spend with my clients. They inspire me and are great company.
CB: What perennial species are more suited to the widely varying Chicago climate? What species should associations avoid?
EM: Each garden’s site and soil conditions vary, so this is not an easy question to answer. It is important to undertake a thorough analysis upfront of the sun/shade, soil, drainage, rabbit issue, etc. so that the best plants can be selected. This winter will be a significant test to plants that we’ve thought were tried and true here in the Chicago area.
CB: How long should a new installation that is well maintained last?
EM: A new installation with proper plant selection and maintenance should last 10 to 15 years. If plants are selected that are too large for the garden, then you’ll be pruning the heck out of them to keep them in bounds. Or if a full-sun shrub is put into a garden that is located in full-shade, then expect for the shrub not to perform well. In addition, a garden needs regular maintenance, monthly at least, and bi-weekly is better, to stay looking sharp. Coming through with a blower to clean out debris and hacking a shrub into the shape of a ball is not good maintenance. Thoughtful attention to the needs of the plants and the garden overall is the best maintenance.
CB: What service won’t your firm provide if asked?
EM: We do not maintain lawns and at this time, we only maintain gardens that we’ve installed ourselves.
CB: What are your biggest challenges in working with condo associations?
EM: See #4 – Condo associations are a challenge because you often have owners with different opinions about what should be done with the landscaping. Some owners have a great deal of knowledge about plants and gardening. Others do not, but often have a stronger voice. As a designer, finding yourself in the middle of a rancorous group is a difficult position to be in. Those associations that select a landscape committee, 3 people is a good size, have better success in making decisions in a timely manner and then following through with the garden installation and maintenance. I should also point out that landscaping is not an inexpensive undertaking and requires both a significant initial investment and an on-going annual maintenance budget. There will always be those who don’t think it’s worth the money. Knowing how I’ve transformed the entry garden for the owners of Roscoe Condos and the response they’ve gotten from owners and the community at large, tells me otherwise.
CB: You seem to have a very well balanced life and have a very positive disposition. Given that you run your business and you have a family, what is your secret to keeping a balanced life and enjoying life so well as you do?
EM: You caught me on a good day…it’s the off-season! Actually, ask anyone in the landscape industry and they’ll tell you that it is very challenging to live a balanced life. At times, one must take priority over the other, especially during the installation season. However, three things motivate me. First, I get to spend a lot of time outdoors which I’ve learned is really important for my well-being. Second, I have confidence that I do indeed change people’s lives by creating an outdoor room for them to enjoy with their families and friends. Whether they’re looking for a peaceful environment, one that inspires or an area to grow vegetables, my clients tell me that they now enjoy their gardens to a much larger degree then they did before. And finally, when I drive by a garden that I’ve installed, and one of my kids says ‘Mom, your garden looks so nice,’ then it all seems worthwhile
About the Authors:
Salvatore J. Sciacca aka “Condoboss” is one of the nation’s leading experts in the community property management industry. He is also the President and Founder of Chicago Property Services, Chicago’s #1 community property management company specializing in management and operations of condos/townhomes/HOA’s of 100units and under. Salvatore is also the founder of managemycommunity.com (MMC), which is a state-of-the-art online support portal for community associations. With over 20 years of industry experience, Salvatore is recognized for his extensive knowledge of capital planning, preventative maintenance, cost-saving measures and community building techniques. He holds industry stature as a Certified Manager of Community Associations (CMCA), the designation of Association Management Specialist (AMS) and is fully licensed as a manager (License #: 261.001386) through the State of IL.
Salvatore can be reached at: 312.455.0107 x102 or [email protected]
Ellen Moderhack is the founder and landscape architect at MODE Landscape Design and is one of Chicagoland’s leading experts in the design, installation and maintenance of landscapes. During her free time, she tends to her garden, connects with nature and spends time with her family. Ellen’s contact information is: P: 773-519-6491 E: [email protected], W:www.modelandscape.com
MORE LIVING. LESS WORRYING.