From starting his own landscape company to serving as president of the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (now NALP), John Landon Reeve, IV, touched countless lives over his 50-plus year career.
The industry icon died on May 25, 2020, at the age of 79.
Landon’s family and friends say that while he did so much for the industry, he will be remembered most for pushing professionalism.
“Elevating the industry’s professionalism was at the core for him,” said James Reeve, Landon’s son and the current president and CEO of Chapel Valley. “He liked to share best practices because in landscaping there weren’t really standards at the time. It was kind of all over the board. He helped create standard specifications that everyone could bid off of.”
Landon, a Maryland native, worked at a local nursery during high school and attended the University of Maryland, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in ornamental horticulture in 1963.
In 1968, Landon and his first wife, Janet, started Chapel Valley Landscape Company in Howard Country, Md. Over the years, Landon grew the company, which started with only three employees, to where it is today – employing over 450 team members and operating in seven markets in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions.
While simultaneously growing his company, Landon served as president of numerous national and local organizations. He was the past president of ALCA; the Landscape Contractor’ Association of MD, D.C. and VA; and the Maryland Nursery, Landscape and Greenhouse Association. He also had been a member of the American Horticultural Society since 1988 and served on the board of directors from 2006 to 2019.
“He definitely led through example. His commitment to training always came through. He had great vision, and I think that inspired his people.” Michael Currin, founder of Greenscape
Dress for success.
To help raise up the industry, Landon helped establish professional and safety standards and promoted training and certifications programs.
“I think he’ll be basically remembered for just that – elevating the industry...and professionalizing a very unprofessional industry,” James says. “When Landon first got into the industry, it was mostly a bunch of guys in cut-off jean shorts and no shirts. He didn’t think it looked professional. One of the first things he did at Chapel Valley was have everyone wear uniforms. That kind of took off across our market and then went into other markets.”
Michael Currin, founder of Greenscape in Fayetteville, N.C., and a colleague of Landon’s, also feels Landon’s dedication to professionalism has helped to improve the industry.
“In the industry, Landon created the kind of persona and the kind of image of professionalism that allowed us, and others, to move the industry from a ‘Ma and Pa’ operation to the professional industry it is today. I give him a lot of credit for that,” Currin says. “He’ll be remembered for driving the professionalism and his commitment to training and people development.”
“I can’t think of a better company... that reached the level Chapel Valley did under his leadership.” Ron Eyre, Landon’s close friend
Leading by example.
Currin remembers being introduced to Landon for the first time back in the late 1970s.
“The first time I ever remember seeing Landon was when I went to Louisville for what was called the Garden Centers of America Landscape Conference,” he says. “Landon was there and did a presentation on a big apple tree that they moved in downtown Washington that was on federal property… I remember thinking he’s got his act together and knows what he’s doing. At the time I was really young and new in the industry.”
Through their time spent together with the ALCA, Currin says he got to see first-hand what kind of leader Landon was.
“He was the best kind of leader,” he says. “He was a leader who had high expectations of his people, but he was a people person. He definitely led through example. His commitment to training always came through. He had great vision, and I think that inspired his people.”
James says Landon’s leadership style was more about teaching than demanding.
“He was firm but fair,” James says. “He was very giving of his time and very willing to coach.”
Ron Eyre, a close friend of Landon’s for over 48 years, says you could see Landon’s influence on his team’s work.
Eyre, the founder of a motor coach company and the owner of several shopping centers, says all the work Chapel Valley did for him was remarkable.
“They’ve had excellent help and excellent designers. He (Landon) was committed to excellence and had a desire to always be the best,” Eyre says.
Over the years, Chapel Valley was responsible for maintaining many iconic properties including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Basilica of the National Shrine and the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.
Eyre adds Chapel Valley’s success is a testament to Landon’s leadership.
“I can’t think of a better company, that was created through sweat equity, that reached the level Chapel Valley did under his leadership,” he says. “He’s led a company that started from nothing and ended up as an industry icon. I think that his legacy in the work that was done in the nation’s capital, in major projects designed and implemented by Chapel Valley, will live on forever.”
Throughout his life, Landon graciously volunteered his time to many organizations throughout the industry.
“Landon was a big believer in giving back to the industry,” Eyre says. “He served on national boards and came up with creative business planning to continue to help companies be more successful on how they operate internally… Everything that Landon touched, he would give back to it. When he received something of great benefit, it meant a lot to him to give back to it so others could benefit from his success and his leadership.”
Landon also helped young people interested in the industry by starting scholarships and donating funds for gardens.
At the American Horticultural Society headquarters, Chapel Valley has been providing its maintenance for years. Landon was also recognized as the 2020 recipient of the society’s Meritorious Service Award for outstanding service.
“He was heavily involved in the American Horticulture Society and he and his second wife, Dallas, chaired some of their annual events, which were attended by hundreds of people,” Eyre recalls.
Currin says Landon’s generosity won’t be forgotten.
“The other thing he certainly will be remembered for is what he gave back to the industry,” he says.
“I think he’ll be remembered for just that—elevating the industry.” James Reeve, CEO and president of Chapel Valley
Words from the wise.
James says he always knew he wanted to join the family business.
“I worked at the company since I was 11 part-time, and went full-time when I was 21,” he says.
James acknowledges his father gave him plenty of advice over the years, but there’s one mantra of his that James, and the rest of Chapel Valley, still focus on.
“The main thing, which I still preach to this day, not only to Chapel Valley but to my family, is do it right the first time,” he says.
Eyre said that while he and Landon were in different industries, they still bonded over how to operate a respectable business.
“We would talk business quite frequently and the principles that make a successful company,” he says. “We talked about how you have to take care of your employees and be a man of your word.”
Currin says Landon gave him plenty of advice over the years as well.
“One of the subjects we often talked about was the transition aspect from one generation to the next. He had a lot of insight into that,” he says.
Following Landon’s retirement, Currin even brought him down to Greenscape to work with his team.
“After he slowed down some, I actually hired him to come and do some consulting,” he says. “He came several times in those latter years. He helped us do strategic planning and some other things.” But the best piece of advice Currin ever got from Landon was more about family than landscaping.
“One of the things I learned very early on from Landon was that your company was not the basis of your whole life and focus, but that your company was intended to be the means to the lifestyle that you wanted for your family,” he says. “Landon had a lot of diverse interests other than just work. Family was extremely important to him.”
More than meets the eye.
Outside of the industry, Landon was just a quiet man who loved and doted on his family.
Landon also loved to travel, and Eyre says he has many fond memories of traveling with him.
“We traveled with them a lot,” he says. “Landon and Janet would join us, and then Dallas joined us as well. We took a lot of international trips together.”
Eyre says Landon’s good nature shined through no matter what their trips entailed.
“We took a trip to Italy that started in Milan and ended in Sicily and it was a trip, like life, (that) had its ups and downs,” he says. “And Landon handed it with the best of grace. Dallas, too, was also a big believer in travel being an experience.”
James says through his upbringing, his father encouraged a love of travel in him as well.
“One of Landon’s favorite things was to travel,” he says. “He traveled all over the world pretty much repeatedly. As kids, travel and exposing us to different people, lifestyles and cultures was very important to him. Ultimately, it’s become important to me.”
During his many travels, Landon enjoyed touring famed gardens all over the globe.
“He was a horticulturist at heart in a lot of ways,” Currin says.
Eyre adds what most people didn’t know about Landon was that he was also a devoted caregiver to both his late wives, who struggled with serious health issues.
“Another thing was his love, compassion and support of both of his wives who struggled for years with their health,” he says. “Whatever they needed; he was there. He was always there for them and was the most dedicated husband.”
Currin, Eyre and James believe it was Landon’s warm personality that drew people to him.
“Landon was always a class act,” Eyre says. “He was very stoic in how he presented himself. He was never boastful or arrogant. He was quiet and understated.”
Currin says Landon never made anybody feel anything but important.
“Landon was the kind of person that no matter who you were when you met him, he treated you with great respect,” he says. “He never made you feel inferior because of what he had accomplished. That was true throughout his career. He’d give you more time than you’d think someone who was at the level of responsibility he was at could.”
James says he hopes this is how people remember his father.
“He was genuine,” James says. “He always had a smile on his face and people have said he had a twinkle in his eye and a good sense of humor.”
Explore the October 2020 Issue
Check out more from this issue and find you next story to read.