There are vanilla landscapes with typical plants, poor placement and blah design. Those are rice pudding, says Lou Palazzi Jr., third-generation owner of Dunmore, Pennsylvania’s Palazzi Landscape Gardening, founded 100 years ago by his great-grandfather.
Clients call Palazzi to rescue their rice pudding properties. “We make them into zabaglione,” he says, explaining that the Italian dessert trumps tiramisu, with its amaretto, lemon and orange zest, and fresh fruit.
“Most clients call us and say, ‘We have a problem,’ and that could be related to the lawn, a tree or even a bug problem, and they don’t know how to handle it,” Palazzi explains. “We go in and take care of it.”
Experience and a legacy of gardening, landscape renovation and lawn care are the foundation of Palazzi Landscape. Founded in 1917, Palazzi believes it is the third oldest landscape firm in the United States.
“I don’t remember a time when I was not working outdoors,” he says of growing up in the family business started by his grandfather, Augusto, who emigrated to the United States from Fano, Italy, in 1908. He worked as an iron molder and part-time gardener, then eventually started his own gardening outfit.
By 1962 when the second generation was involved, Palazzi Landscape opened a garden center. By the 1970s, the business included two more garden centers, a seasonal stand and more than 35 employees. Lou was working alongside his dad by then – the third generation.
Palazzi and his father backed away in 1976 to focus on landscape restoration. By 1992, they had closed the garden centers and had returned to the original business model.
“We were getting too big and my father and I got tired of supervising crews and not doing the actual work,” he says. “I don’t sit in an office. I’m not young, but I’m not dead. So, what’s the work?”
The company’s pruning technique aligns with practices from the International Society of Arborists. “I went to Italy eight years ago and my wife said, ‘Boy, they prune just like you do over here,’” he says, laughing. “I learned from my father and grandfather.”
Here are a few key lessons passed down from his grandfather:
Lesson #1: Know your strengths.
“You can’t just be a guy that goes out and cuts grass. Do something different than everyone else,” Palazzi’s grandfather told him. So, rather than being full-service for all customers, Palazzi Landscape focuses on three key areas: landscape renovation, pruning and lawn care.
The company consistently earns revenues of $300,000 a year, a comfortable number for Palazzi. By right-sizing the company and homing in on what he loves and performs with great expertise, the company earns all of its business from word of mouth. “I haven’t advertised since 1992,” he says.
Lesson #2: Grow a niche.
Palazzi’s grandfather had a special way of growing grass and even positioned a sign in front of the business that said, “Watch this grass grow.” The difference was that he paid close attention to the soil.
Palazzi Landscape’s four-step lawn care program is 70 percent organic, drawing on cultural practices like core aeration and adding back organics that soil needs to thrive in order to create a healthy foundation for grass to grow. The program involves no “weed and feed.”
“Our process is unique and based on experience, and now research is bearing that out.” It includes using Milorganite to feed the soil.
Virginia Tech recently conducted a study using a program like Palazzi Landscape’s, he says. “They said, in the long run, the mostly organic approach is much more long-lasting than using synthetics,” he says.
The second niche is pruning. “We prune for specific reasons, not just to make a plant look good,” he says of the process. That includes renovation pruning that calls for expertise – removing a third of a Bradford pear tree’s canopy every decade, for example. “Otherwise, they will snap and crack in high winds.”
“Our process is unique and based on experience.”Lou palazzi, owner, Palazzi landscape gardening
The company’s third specialty is landscape renovation, which is mostly on residential properties.
Lesson #3: Keep learning.
“Education level is the biggest gap in the industry today,” Palazzi says. He took his father’s advice to read whatever he can and continue learning. And, Palazzi serves as an educator, speaking and writing for landscape industry trade organizations.
Palazzi learned in the field, working next to his dad and grandfather. Now, his children, Rich, 27, and Danielle, 21, are involved in the business.
“I’m looking forward to the future for my son and daughter to continue something that was started by their great-grandfather – a unique gardening enterprise,” Palazzi says.