Blog

Welcome Donnalee Harman

Donnalee joined Chapel Valley in May of 2021 as a Business Development Executive. She has over a decade of experience in both operations and sales roles in the landscaping industry and prior to that 15+ years in client relationship management.

Her attention to detail, ability to work with clients to address their individual needs, and developing creative solutions to match, have been what has driven her career.

Donnalee is married and lives in Lovettsville, VA with her husband Jon. They have 5 grown children and 2 grandchildren. When not spending time visiting them, she enjoys traveling, wineries, and anything on the water.

Donnalee can be reached via email or her LinkedIn profile.

Three Things I Learned About The Landscaping Industry

Joining the landscape industry has been a new learning experience and after 3 years I’m still learning. Coming from a corporate IT background I never knew what went into working for a landscaping company.

While all properties are different, they all are looking to accomplish the same goal. Each property’s requirements vary based on its region. Whether you are looking at a high-rise in DC with a green roof and planters on the ground level, a gated HOA in McLean, or a new developing apartment community in Richmond, they are all looking to accomplish the same goal, curb appeal! While working on apartment communities in DC you will see many greens. In Herndon, you don’t see that very often but you do see more outdoor spaces, for example, dog parks and trails. I have learned that we need to be able to hear all of our customer’s needs and take into consideration the location.  Landscaping at Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Coming from a corporate background new to the landscape industry I have learned that It’s a team effort from beginning to end. When it comes to preparing a proposal for a customer many parts go into the planning that I was not aware of. Starting with the initial meeting with the customer to internally estimating the property, the team physically estimating the property to finally presenting to the customer. Everyone in the team plays a big role in presenting each proposal specifically designed for each of our customers.

In my first year, I didn’t understand why there was so much conversation around snow removal. Coming from a completely different industry I would have never imagined the role that snow plays in the landscape industry. After sitting in on an operations meeting I understand all the planning that goes into a snow event. Assigning crew members and vehicles to each customer’s specific snow requirements takes a lot of preparation. Also the continued treatment of the properties throughout and after a storm. Snow is a big part of the landscape industry in Northern Virginia during the winter months. 

These are only a few of the many things I have learned while working at Chapel Valley.

World War I Memorial

Chapel Valley began work on this project in the Spring of 2020 with completion in April of 2021.  The overall management of the project was very intense and complex due to many different factors.  Chapel Valley’s Senior Project Manager and Field Manager worked closely with out-of-state Landscape Architects and Soil Scientists to sample every load of material brought onto the site. The day-to-day activities increased in intensity as COVID-19  struck the country and everyone had to become accustomed to the new and ever-changing safety protocols for working on site. Additionally, frequently occurring political demonstrations and the presidential election of 2020 required complex logistical planning and last-minute adaptations.  Despite the intricacy of the project, Chapel Valley completed the work on time with expectations exceeded. We are proud and honored to be a part of a project that honors and celebrates those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Learn more about the project at the official project website.

Photo: World War One Centennial Commission

The Advantages of Working with a Family-Owned Business

Does your Landscape Contractor provide the level of service you expect, or do you feel as though you are being “managed” for the benefit/profitability of a large corporation?   You have a lot of choices in Landscape Providers and they are all not created equal.  Yes, we all mow grass, prune shrubs, and apply mulch but is your Contractor invested in your property for the long term?  Cheap contract prices and the necessity to post corporate profits that will appease stockholders often leads to short-cuts and deferred maintenance items that will be an out of contract extra cost later down the road.  Chapel Valley is invested in the Community, committed to our employees and we hold ourselves accountable to our Customers to fulfill our contractual obligations completely and avoid the unnecessary and unexpected costs to rectify service items that should have been done in contract all along.

Chapel Valley has been in business since 1968 and for over 50 years we have remained a family-owned business.  While our Founder, Landon Reeve, passed away last year his legacy is being carried on by his son James who shares the same ethos and beliefs of always doing the right thing for each and every customer and employee even if it might cost the company money and sacrifice some immediate profits.   At our core, we operate by the Golden Rule and this is what has driven our success and our profitability.  Treat people like you would want them to treat you, do what is right and profits will naturally flow.

Family Owned Businesses, like Chapel Valley, enjoy the flexibility to implement new ideas immediately and adapt to changing situations that may be needed with either our employees or customers.  As we have all seen with COVID-19, the secret to success and reducing the spread was a quick and immediate response.

When selecting your next Landscape Provider ask yourself, do corporate profits drive the level of service you will receive?  Chapel Valley is driven by its dedication to Family Values that infiltrate every aspect of the Work Culture.  We do what we say we are going to do and we do it well.  We may make mistakes but we will own them and take the steps necessary to resolve the trouble.  You have our word on that.

Four Season Landscaping Plans

While we can see an increase of interesting trends for commercial properties, there are still many sites with overgrown evergreen vegetation and a few pockets with annual flowers. Landscape enhancements can improve the appearance of these properties, including more than just a flower rotation when adding color. With the right landscape design, commercial sites can transform into beautiful spaces with plants that thrive in each season. 

Currently, with COVID-19 shaping the way we live and work, we recognize the importance of spending time outside. This especially relates to a workplace, where employees can benefit from spending time and work outdoors. Working in a natural environment allows for a connection with nature, therefore it is important to provide the right plants that will continue giving attention throughout the whole year. The idea of all-season interest is to include the plants that provide ornamental attributes in one season and overlapping with another group that provides interest in the following season. Certainly, most plants display an interest in spring and summer, however, there are multiple plant options to make fall and winter attractive as well.  

Spring and summer interests are known for providing showy blooms and interesting textures. After the winter is over, people want to see colors, so the earliest blooms are found in spring bulbs. The swaths of early blooming Daffodils and later drifts of Tulips add a desired color to the landscape. We also like to use the spring-blooming ornamental trees, like Cherry and Magnolia to bring eye-catching flowers. Dogwoods and Redbuds are also popular spring-blooming native trees that we use in commercial landscapes. When it comes to shrubs, many commercial sites are still covered with the popular old-fashioned Forsythia, but we like to often replace it with native Fothergilla and Itea. These shrubs also offer a beautiful fall color.

By late spring, many trees and shrubs are leafed out, giving way to blooms. One of the popular shrubs in April and May is Encore Azaleas. There are multiple varieties of this relatively new species which provide a multi-season interest and require less maintenance than the traditional Azaleas. Besides blooming in spring, Encore Azaleas re-bloom in fall and stay evergreen through the winter. We have tried and can recommend other newly introduced plants are Dwarf Lilacs for late spring color and Little Lime Hydrangea for early summer stunning flowers. In addition to shrubs, we like using the long-blooming perennials, like Daylily, Russian Sage, Catmint, Coreopsis, and late summer blooms like Sedum, or Rudbeckia. 

In fall, a must-have color comes from Red Maples, but also shrubs like Nandina, Oakleaf Hydrangea, and Spirea can provide beautiful fall foliage. They provide an outstanding mix of contrasting colors and textures in combination with ornamental grasses and fall-blooming perennials. There also are a few plant options for winter interest. We often use a multi-season Red Twig Dogwood with attractive red stems, Winterberry, known for its bright red berries, and ornamental trees like Paperbark Maple, or River Birch with peeling bark. Ornamental grasses still look beautiful and soft in winter before being cut back in early spring.  

We all want to enjoy the outdoors and work in a pleasant environment.  By making a few changes to the property, it is possible to provide an attractive and thriving landscape with multiple interests throughout the whole year. 

Operational Excellence

Finding a landscaping vendor that has every cylinder firing is getting more difficult to obtain these days. With so many more contractors to choose from now than ever before, there is a higher possibility of choosing the wrong one. Every now and again you will find a vendor that seems to be performing at the top of their level. Those are the ones you will do anything to keep. Throughout my career, I have noticed most of these top performers have one major thing in common: operational excellence.

Is the vendor professional in the most basic forms? As in, do they have a clean, presentable service vehicle and uniform? Something so simple, almost petty, is extremely important. If your landscaper pulls up to your job site every week in a dirty, unmarked vehicle with no formal uniform, how can you safely determine if those are the people you think they are? Not only does it not look professional, not knowing who or what those workers belong to could intimidate some of your residents or tenants. Your renters have better things to focus on. Do not allow your vendor to draw negative attention to themselves, because eventually, it will become a reflection on you.

Organization is key with any successful vendor. Let us start with scheduling. Does the contractor show up as agreed upon in the contract, consistently at the same intervals for each service? Or do they seem to be showing up when they can and having to perform make up services or “IOU” favors for lack of consistent service? A lot of this erratic behavior is stemmed from a poor organization or structure at their company. A great vendor will have a consistent schedule for the season, always having the correct equipment and people to perform the job. Of course, there will be times where something will go wrong even with a “perfect” vendor. Maybe a few folks called in sick or they had a breakdown on the highway which caused them to stray off schedule. What makes them a great vendor is that they let you know, and they communicated that to you and let you know the new plan. That brings me to the next point: communication.

Do you hear from your vendor once a month, once a quarter, or every week? Depending on the type of work performed and how often they are contractually required to visit your property, you may need to hear from one vendor more than another. Are they being proactive in communicating: schedule changes, pricing for enhancements, hazardous items, general cost-saving measures, or general notes of the property each week? Or are you having to reach out to them for every item? A well-oiled contractor will always have their communication down and you will know their every move.

These points discussed are some of the common trends or habits I have noticed that can separate a great vendor from a poor one. A vendor with operational excellence will be your eyes and ears for your property and will be a true partner. One should desire a company that makes your life easier, not harder. Make sure you choose one that fits your mold and takes your property to the next level with excellent operational fluidity. You won’t regret it.

Mike Bauer
Chapel Valley Landscape Company

What Your Landscape Upkeep Says About Your Company

Perception matters, from the moment a potential client clicks on your website to the first time they walk into your building. The landscape that surrounds your business sets the tone for what they can expect from your business. A stellar impression of your company results in economic advantages as well as peace of mind for everyone interacting with your business. We’ve compiled a list of the many benefits of a strategically planned landscape: Read more »

5 Ways to Prep Winter Landscaping

If you own any type of property, residential or commercial, it’s time to face some bad news: It’s already time to start thinking about preparing your outdoor landscape for winter.

That might seem premature, but cold temperatures, snow, and ice will be coming sooner than you think. It’s a lot easier to take the necessary steps now than it will be when you’re fighting early storms. Read more »