<b>Trees, Ornamental & Bedding Plants:</b> Landscapes for the locals

Features - Supplement

Rock Shelter Landscape Design & Construction reaches out to customers with relevant, localized gardening information.

September 17, 2010

Jason Wiggins and Peter Julian
Photo: Rock Shelter Landscape Design & Construction
A quick online search yields thousands of websites devoted to the art and science of gardening. What’s lacking, however, are truly local sites overseen by people “digging into” neighborhoods each and every day.

Rock Shelter Landscape Design & Construction in Bedford Hills, N.Y., is trying to fill this niche. Owners Jason Wiggins and Peter Julian recently launched a new website, www.rockshelterldc.com, filled with resources specifically for local gardeners. Their web presence includes weekly blog posts, monthly plant-fact sheets and a monthly e-newsletter – all written with area homeowners in mind. Wiggins and Julian recently spoke with Lawn & Landscape about their new communication strategy.

Q. What prompted you to develop the new website?
Julian: With the economy in its current state, we felt that advertising and marketing were very important to the success of our business. The website is a great way to reach out to the local community. We’re working closely with a marketing communications company to create stories and content. It has actually worked out really well. There is a person on their staff who has a master’s in horticulture and writes the material. Then she’s running it by us.

Wiggins: We’re bringing up topics, too, that are relevant to the season. The company is also helping us promote through social media on Facebook and Twitter.

Q: How is your site different from all the others out there?
Julian: When we’ve looked at the websites for other landscapers, we noticed that they basically all look the same, and don’t seem to change much. We would like ours to be a little more interactive.

Wiggins: Take the blog, for example. We’ve got a good article up there about deadheading – why and when it needs to be done – that kind of thing. We’re giving our customers the information they need. We’re telling them, if you want to take care of this yourself, now is the time to do it. The reality is they really want us to do it. They click on the blog, read it and think, “Oh. So that’s why my cosmos aren’t flowering anymore. Maybe I should call Rock Shelter.”

Julian: If you do a website, we feel like you ought to be 100 percent committed to it. Instead of just putting something up there and expecting it to take care of itself. We have monthly meetings with our marketing guys to keep things fresh and relevant.

Q: Just how local are your roots?
Wiggins: Peter and I – we were both born and raised here. Our families have been in this same area for around a century. We grew up working in the green industry. When our previous employers passed on, we decided to go into business for ourselves.

Q: How would you describe your company’s customer base?
Wiggins: The common thing they want, design-wise, is the English garden look. Something that still has a “country” feel.

Julian: New clients, of course, want a “new-and-improved” look.

Wiggins: We have a broad range of clientele. For some, we just do basic mowing for $40. For others we do the complete gardening package for thousands of dollars—to upwards of $100,000.

Q: What trends are you seeing regarding plant selections?
Wiggins: Customers don’t really jump on what’s hot or new. It’s low maintenance that they want.

Deer resistance is important, too. That tends to affect plant choices because the deer begin to adapt and eat things that are supposed to be resistant.

Boxwood is the No. 1 selling shrub in this region. Andromeda (Pieris japonica) is popular, too. There are less and less rhododendrons going into the ground. We try to put in viburnum when we can.

There are a lot more ornamental grasses going into the ground, too. We have to create texture and color out of foliage. And I try to use less common things, like witch hazel, to do something different. Your average landscape contractor doesn’t have much depth of experience, and our plant selection tries to go beyond the standard.

Q: What’s your mix between commercial and residential clients?
Julian: It’s about an 80/20 split – mostly residential with some commercial accounts.

You have to be careful with commercial clients. We’ve found that individual clients are more personable than the management companies you typically work with on commercial accounts.