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Tips on Keeping Your Landscape Safe and Practical: An Interview with Tommy Pollina Landscape

By Kristen Bosse

Please describe a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

Tommy Pollina Landscape Company is a comprehensive landscaping company, providing a wide range of services both for installation (new projects) and maintenance (mowing and upkeep) for the North/Northwest side of Chicago and surrounding suburbs:

- Landscape Design- plantings and hardscapes
- Installation of new plantings: trees, shrubs, perennials, groundcovers
- Installation of hardscapes: man made and natural stone products to create the following:
- Walkways, Paths, Stoops, Steps
- Patios, Gathering Areas
- Pool Decks
- Seat Walls, Retaining Walls, Columns
- Outdoor Kitchens
- Outdoor Fireplaces and Fire Pits
- Water Features

- Low-Voltage Lighting
- Seasonal Rotations (annuals, winter/holiday décor)
- Weekly Mowing
- Monthly Weeding of Planting Beds
- Fertilization for your Lawn and Plants
- Weed Control for the Lawn
- Insecticide for the Lawn and Plants
- Spring and Fall Clean Ups
- Core Aerating (Spring and Fall)
- Trimming of Shrubs

What are the dangers of ignoring pools of standing water on my lawn? If it is caused by improper grading, how can I fix this?

Standing water can cause several problems:
- Insect breeding (especially mosquitos)
- Damage to lawn that is submerged
- Damage to surrounding plants if the root systems are under water for prolonged periods of time
- Leaking or seepage if the pool of water is near the building foundation
- If the water is deep, drowning

To repair areas, we evaluate the site and see if the surrounding area was properly graded with overall positive pitch away from the building. Then we investigate to see if we can determine why the area is low, such as a decaying root system from a removed tree, or an underground leak in pipes. If we find a problem, this must be fixed before we can address the actual grading. To address the grading, the easiest fix is to add soil to create the pitch needed for proper drainage. If the area can't be easily raised to create proper drainage, then we look to see if we can add a drain at the lowest point that can then drain out using underground drain tile to another area, alleviating the standing water.

What are the main objectives of outdoor lighting?

Outdoor lighting should enhance the safety and appearance of a site. For safety, we want to highlight any steps or changes in elevation. We also sometimes highlight corners and changes in direction. It is important that there is enough ambient light for residents and guests to safely see as they arrive and depart from the site.

To enhance the appearance of a site, we place lights to highlight interesting architectural elements on the house and to make sure the site appears balanced with the lights. Interesting plants can have lights placed at the base to shine upwards and emphasize interesting branching structures. Large trees can have lights placed in the canopy to cast a gentle glow downwards on gathering spaces. Care does have to be taken so that the lights aren't too much.

What are some tips on integrating plants and hardscapes into the same area?

It is good to soften up an area of hardscapes with some plantings but this can be a challenge for several reasons. Properly installed hardscapes have an underground gravel base that extends beyond the visible edge of the pavers, compromising the quality of the soil in the planting bed immediately adjacent to the pavers. For this reason, I recommend that beds be large enough to have adequate soil and organic matter without compromising the extended base. There is also the challenge of a modified micro-climate as the pavers tend to reflect more heat than green space. Plants must be carefully selected to take into account all conditions where they are to be sited. Drainage also must be considered: does the adjacent hard surface pitch runoff into the bed or away? Is the area covered or protected in any way that would reduce the rainfall totals? Water needs of plants must also be considered. In general, when I am dealing with a tough spot, I turn to perennials that are hardy (known performers) and those go-to shrubs that while they may not be the most interesting, have a much higher survival rate than some other shrubs. Lastly, mature plant sizes must be considered so that the area doesn't require constant maintenance to avoid becoming overgrown.

How do you make sure each landscape is designed to the homeowner's tastes?

The first, and most important step in designing a landscape is the consultation, and it is imperative that the designer listen to the client. The designer is the professional, but in my opinion, the perfect landscape design is a collaborative effort because the client is the one that has to live with the finished product when all is said and done. If a client doesn't know what they want, it is up to the designer to ask questions to help the client determine some preferences. Clues can also be taken from how the house is decorated inside as to the client's tastes and preferences. A prepared client will think about what they like before the first meeting, and maybe even have some magazine pictures to show- a picture is worth a thousand words.

What are the benefits that come along with using locally grown plants/materials?

Using locally grown plant material ensures that the plants are used to our climate and are truly hardy. If you get a plant that is technically hardy to our zone, but grown in a different hardiness zone, it may not be able to tolerate our extreme temperatures. A plant adapts to its growing conditions, and if those conditions change suddenly, the plant will go into shock. Another advantage is a greater likelihood of maintaining similar soil types. This is important for drainage, air exchange and nutrients.

What's the best way for people to get in contact with you?

Tommy Pollina Landscape Company
Office Phone: 847-698-6868
General e-mail:
My e-mail:

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Kristen has written impressive content including press releases and feature stories...

Phone: 203-913-0483

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