Complex environments require specialty skills to navigate the landscape and design a solution. Even seemingly basic scenarios – installing plantings, building a wall, dealing with drainage – can be addressed creatively to provide clients with a thoughtful, sustainable solution.
The easy way out is not the “best practice” at E-Landscape Specialty Solutions.
“When we started E-Landscape Specialty Solutions, we were not going to be just another landscaping contractor,” says Eric Drenner, partner and president of the Davidsonville, Md.-based firm, which he started with partner/CEO Richard “Rook” Rogers in spring 2007.
“We want to not just be the guy who is putting in trees and shrubs, but the guy who is helping to understand the total integration of the site,” Drenner says. This includes handling a construction or existing site’s subsurface draining, piping and downspout connections to rain gardens or stormwater management ponds. It also includes managing the fine grading, installing impervious paver walls and planting landscapes using specialty soils.
E-Landscape Specialty Solutions is engaged by general contractors to bring its expertise to sites. Sometimes, the firm brings on subcontractors that focus on driveways or specialty concrete stamping.
Its project portfolio includes projects ranging from luxury high-rise complexes to affordable housing developments and healthcare campuses.
Even during the recession when the company launched, there was a demand for the niche services E-Landscape offers, Drenner says. “We looked at the market, and it was starving for competitive, competent people who could bring solutions,” he says.
“There was a need in the market for us. People were looking for qualified professionals, so marrying our expertise and experience was a perfect storm for us and how we built the business.”
Growth from zero in 2007 to more than $6.5 million today proves what Drenner says is true – the market was calling for specialty solutions. Here, he shares some of the challenging projects and innovative solutions E-Landscape brought to clients.
Challenge: Managing water run-off at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Solution: Installing subsurface rain collection systems that collect and filter water run-off, and eventually redirect the water so it leaves the system clean and free of potentially harmful pollutants.
Turn to technology
Managing water is big business in an environment where municipalities and watchful organizations have a greater concern over the quality of water running off of our properties.
“We are doing a tremendous amount of rainwater harvesting now, including subsurface rain tanks,” says Eric Drenner, president and partner of E-Landscape Specialty Solutions.
Staying on the leading edge of technologies that solve complex water management and other landscape concerns is a focus for the company. In fact, the company blogs about some of the latest tools and products they use to keep customers in the know.
Here are a few technologies Drenner’s excited about.
Silva cells. A modular building block that contains unlimited amounts of healthy soil below paving. “This solution provides uncompacted pathways for root systems to extend downward through the soil to get the nutrients and moisture they need,” he says.
Live roof trays. Basically pre-grown green roof in modular components, typically 2 by 4 feet in size. “When they are put together, you can instantly get a green roof without a lot of on-site construction and labor,” Drenner says.
Permeable pavers. Homeowners in the Chesapeake Bay area have to pay great attention to pervious surface requirements. “A lot of times, people are forced to have a gravel driveway,” Drenner says. Permeable pavers provide an alternative that abides by storm water management regulations.
Execution: Pressure to manage and filtrate water runoff in the Mid-Atlantic region is great, with municipalities and businesses facing pressure to decrease their environmental impact.
E-Landscape has experience working with advanced rainwater collection systems and designing water management elements, such as rain gardens or subsurface rain tanks.
At St. Elizabeth Hospital, E-Landscape installed a half-million dollars worth of subsurface rain tank construction where surface water was collected into a series of underground modular tans that expand up to 30,000 square feet.
This system of modular tanks is wrapped with a filtration bag. Water enters the system, then slowly releases into bioretention soil before reaching a subsurface pipe.
“When it gets to that pipe, it has been (cleaned) and goes from muddy murky water that you would see on the curb and gutters to crystal clear water because of the natural filtration of the bioretention soil,” Drenner says.
E-Landscape sources the latest technology to manage complex water issues, and it calls on professionals including structural engineers to provide solutions for its clients. “Our success is attributed to our people – who they are and how they work,” he says.
Challenge: A specified precast concrete wall broke the project budget, but a cheaper modular wall solution required an 8-foot geograde that blew past the property line.
Solution: An Anchorplex retaining wall that reduced the horizontal geograde and kept the structure within properly limits.
Execution: The project called for a cast-concrete wall about 12 feet tall, but that element was throwing off the budget in a big way. The contractor approached E-Landscape with this dilemma.
“Based on the cost, they were not going to be able to move forward,” Drenner says.
The wall was critical because it separates the property from a parking lot – blocking the lot was the goal. A traditional modular wall would be much cheaper, but those require a geograde that is typically 80 percent of the wall height. For this project, that meant an 8-foot horizontal geograde that went over the property line.
“We talked to our structural engineers and came up with the Anchorplex wall solution,” Drenner says. “We are using the same modular wall with a pervious concrete mix that allows us to reduce the distance of the horizontal geograde to bring it back inside the property line.”
The Anchorplex wall was a compromise between a lowest-cost modular wall and a budget-busting cast-concrete wall. “This allowed the savings so that the project could move forward,” Drenner says.
Challenge: Pedestrian traffic was wearing on the landscape of an affordable housing community.
Solution: Thoughtful plant picks and placement reduced pedestrian impact and improved long-term maintenance costs.
Execution: “When this affordable housing project was built, it was really more about function – making sure people had adequate housing and that land use was maximized,” Drenner says. Pedestrian flow generally was not part of 1950s planning – especially in the affordable housing environment.
“We take a look at the project’s unique challenges, as far as how pedestrians use the land, and determine what we can do to reduce the impact of their use by directing them or moving them through the project,” Drenner says.
This means redirecting sidewalks or strategically installing landscape that encourages or discourages the use of areas. “That landscape has to be affordable and functional – there may be physical deterrents we use, such as a plant with a prickly foliage or evergreen to discourage where people move,” he says.
The result is a longer-lasting landscape and reduced maintenance expenses.