Tough talk

Tough talk

PLANET’s first-ever Green Industry Great Escape opens in the Bahamas with frank discussion of the industry’s shortcomings.

  • March 2, 2012
  • Chuck Bowen
PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Tom Oyler opened PLANET’s winter meeting by taking the industry to task for its lack of innovation, focus on short-term improvement and management by comparison. 
In his keynote address to open PLANET’s Green Industry Great Escape, the consultant said too many landscapers take a “me-too” approach to managing their businesses, and spend too much time worrying about improving their processes instead of innovating their companies. 
“The coarse labors of running a business should be done by people in your organization, not the CEO,” Oyler says. “It’s not who can cut grass the best, or plant plants the best. How can you manage this whole outside environment, and communicate that me and my investment are going to be protected?”
Problem areas for companies and the industry as a whole that Oyler cited include:
  • Myopic leadership – the industry has little clout in the real estate or financial industries
  • No pack-hunting – association members haven’t pooled their resources to their fullest potential
  • Management by comparison, not to capacity – companies spend too much time focused on what their competition is doing, not what they themselves could do 
  • No good ideas for growth – besides acquisitions, many companies have no model for large-scale organic growth
“I hate to see people come in who can bully and buy, and they’re not innovative,” Oyler says. “They just have capital. I love the small guy.”
The keynote, sponsored by Caterpillar, is the first event in a three-day meeting designed to give attendees fodder for innovative thinking and time to network and develop their ideas. The rest of the week includes talks on sales from Kevin Kehoe and digital innovation from Roger Phelps, Bruce Robert, and Pat Schunk. 
Saturday also features the presentation of the 12th class of Lawn & Landscape Leadership Awards and PLANET’s Lifetime Achievement Award. 
Other sponsors of the event include: Agrium Advanced Technologies, Snapper Pro, CNA, Bayer, Syngenta, Stihl and John Deere. 
NATURE GROOMED. Prior to the keynote, conference attendees had the opportunity for a behind-the-scenes tour of the host hotel’s landscape. 
Tony Burzo, director of landscaping at the Atlantis Resort, and his crews are responsible for almost 700 acres of development. Burzo is an ISA-certified arborist and certified by the FNGLA as a landscape contractor and designer. 
Notable facts about the Atlantis landscape include: 
  • The 690-acre property, which was developed by its current owners in the mid-1990s, is split into three phases – the first phase includes two older hotels, the second is the main property and towers and the third is the water park and private residences. 
  • The landscape department is responsible for all exterior and interior plants at the resort, as well as the water features and animal pools – about 250 million gallons of water and more than 60,000 animals. (Human pools fall under someone else’s purview.)
  • Burzo’s team is also responsible for roadways, signs and stoplights on property as well as distributing water to the private homes at Ocean Club Estates.
  • Scuba divers vacuum and hand-clear algae from the pools. 120 people are in the aquatics department. 
  • The resort’s unionized landscape crews – about 70 gardeners, equipment operators, irrigation technicians, chemical applicators and managers – maintain the first two phases of the property. A private company, Nassau-based Enviroscape, maintains the third phase. 
  • 95 percent of the plants are pruned by hand, due to noise concerns. Weeds are also pulled by hand. No herbicides are used in guest areas, and pests are controlled with highly targeted applications.
  • The irrigation systems are mainly mist heads, but Burzo is experimenting with some drip tubing at some plantings. Water quality is one of the main problems with much of the landscape. Many water features are salt water, and the ocean breeze blows the salt onto many of the plants. The potable water quality also can wreak havoc on the system’s pipes. 
  • Water comes from wells on Nassau, some is desalinated through reverse osmosis and some is harvested rainwater. 
  • Burzo purchases almost all of his materials from the mainland, since mark-up on the island is so high. His plant material comes from a Florida broker, and he can maintain his costs at a fraction of what he’d pay a Bahamian grower. For example, a 3-gallon pot costs him about $4, instead of $12 or $18.
  • Plant shipments come across from Florida in a 40-foot trailer, which takes about a day to arrive. Burzo’s team maintains a two-acre nursery on the island, as well as a greenhouse and misting house that he plans to expand this year so he can grow his own annuals for seasonal color change-outs. A few years ago, annual installations were eliminated as a cost-cutting measure, and many of those beds were converted to perennials. 
  • Major pests include: spiraling whitefly, fig whitefly, ficus whitefly, pink hibiscus mealybug and aphids.  
  • Popular plants include: palm trees, sea grass, scavola (technically an invasive) and hibiscus.


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