Windswept Gardens takes creative landscapes to the next level

Photos courtesy of Windswept Gardens.

Bob Bangs, owner of Windswept Gardens in Bangor, Maine, says, “We strive to be so creative with the landscapes we design, install and maintain that everyone’s first impression is ‘Wow.’ And then we work with our clients to reinforce that impression for a long-term, highly positive experience. We want each of our clients to enjoy their property to the fullest.”

The company was started in 1972 as Robert Bangs Landscaping, and the initial services offered were landscape design and installation. Maintenance began with a referral when a homeowner was looking for someone to tame his overgrown shrubs. That led to more shrub maintenance business and quickly expanded to maintenance of the entire yard, including mowing. The number of accounts grew rapidly, too, with large, commercial clients added to the mix. By the early 1980s it had become a full-service landscape and maintenance company with 23 employees.

“At that size, management issues consumed most of my time, limiting the opportunity for the creativity and personalized service that I’d envisioned when I started the business,” says Bangs. “A lot of companies want to be the biggest. I wanted our company to be the best at what we do, so I started pulling back.”

Todd, left, and Bob Bangs with the Windswept Gardens sign.
The details of this water feature tie it into the overall setting.

In 1988, Bangs moved to the company’s current location, a 4-acre property that also provided space for nursery production to supply the landscape division. “We changed the name to Windswept Gardens in 1989,” says Bangs. “It describes the site very well and puts the focus on the company, rather than one person. By 1991, our greenhouse production capabilities had expanded enough to serve a broader market and we opened our retail garden center and nursery. That allows us to manage our plant resources more efficiently and helps balance production costs.”

Focused service

All the while, Bangs was continually paring down accounts. “Instead of over 200 multiple-site maintenance accounts, we now do estate maintenance, working with only eight large properties. We give each client the individual attention and personalized service of an on-site gardener, spending time at each site once or twice a week.”

The design/build client numbers are scaled back, too. Typically, Bangs will have one large project underway that will take two to three years to complete. The design/build accounts are 98 percent residential, with commercial work related to the business interests of a residential client.

A crew member works on detailing one of the many plant beds under the maintenance of Windswept Gardens.

Maintenance covers everything that might need to be done: mowing, weeding, edging, mulching, deadheading, pest control, pruning, color change outs of the flowerbeds and planters, fall and spring cleanup, aeration, seeding and sodding. The goal is to keep the entire property totally immaculate. The maintenance crew spends two full days each week on the 5-acre property and one full day on the 7-acre site. The remaining six maintenance accounts are 1 to 2-acre properties. The same core personnel see the sites each trip.

Bangs concentrates on developing a positive relationship with the clients so they trust that he and his staff will act in their interests. That includes face-to-face meetings a minimum of four or five times a year, and as frequently as weekly if that’s what the client prefers.

All of the properties are maintained following standard IPM procedures with cultural controls the first action step and natural controls second. Bangs says, “We train our crew members to be observant as they work, reminding them to look up and across into plantings as well as looking down. This year, our area has experienced quite an outbreak of tent caterpillars. Our crews have been able to eliminate most of them by simply pruning off the tents when they just begin to form. They’ll notify me of any larger outbreaks, or those in areas that are hard to access or where pruning would be detrimental to the shape of the plant.”

Bangs is a licensed pesticide applicator and applies any necessary chemical controls himself or subs that work to a licensed, outside contractor.

The maintenance accounts are set up on an annual program, so Bangs must balance the desire for perfection with the realities of costs. Tasks are coordinated for the greatest efficiency to help achieve that balance. But, he says, “Our clients want the level of service we provide in all aspects of our business. They understand our prices will be higher because the work is better.”

Staff organization

Bangs’ son Todd grew up working in the business. He’s now the chief operations manager, focusing on the hardscape, irrigation and lighting installation with his crew. Bangs concentrates on the design, manages the plant installation and maintenance services, and handles the major tree and shrub work and much of the insect and disease control.

Personnel are cross-trained so they can work on either the installation or maintenance crews to complete projects.

There are 14 staff members, including the employees for the garden center and nursery, which is open seven days a week. There are two additional full-time personnel and from two to four seasonal, full-time staff members. Some college students work full-time during their summers and breaks and a day or two a week when classes are in session.

The crew works on a hardscape installation.

The nursery grows the seasonal plants for all the maintenance and installation properties. Annuals are grown from plugs and mums from rooted cuttings. With the greenhouse also producing plants for the retail sales, it’s easier to incorporate a wider range of plants into the landscapes.

The maintenance crew also makes sure all the annual plantings are properly fertilized and watered. Some properties have the flowerbeds on an irrigation system; others have some, but not all; and some homeowners enjoy working with their flowers and handle most of the irrigation. Still, during the summer months, one crew member spends one day a week making a cycle of all eight properties, fertilizing and watering where needed. That frequency increases in dry conditions.

Equipment

The maintenance crew uses three rotary mowers: a 48-inch Walker, a 48-inch Exmark and a 21-inch Honda walk-behind. The 5-acre site is cut with a 76 Locke, triplex reel mower.

The installation crew has a 7500 Chevy dump truck, a 14-foot rack truck, a dump trailer and an enclosed equipment trailer for all the construction tools and hand tools. An Italian paver saw is also stored in the trailer. Other equipment includes one Bobcat and one Case skid steer, a Kanga mini-skid steer and a B27 Yanmar excavator.

The paver pathway, stone wall and bench and planting beds were designed, installed and maintained by Windswept Gardens.
Crew members use disposable cameras to capture the results of maintenance in areas such as this mixture of turf, hardscape details and plant beds.

Innovations

This season, Bangs bought every maintenance and installation crew member disposable cameras with the stipulation that each person shoot 24 pictures a month of things they liked, things that needed attention, work they were doing, before and after shots of a project, seasonal flowers at various stages, anything job related. Bangs says, “With that many people looking at the properties with different eyes, we’ve all become more aware of the little things that really make a difference. We also found the crew members developed a greater sense of ownership of the work they were doing.”

Outside the box

Bangs is an instructor at his alma mater, the University of Maine, teaching one course each fall. In the past, it’s been a horticulture class; this year it’s landscape design. He says, “I enjoy the opportunity to work with young people interested in a profession in the green industry, and it’s a great resource for connecting with potential employees. Two of the students taking my class also work for the company.”

Bangs also has a Monday morning gardening segment on the local TV station called “Gardening with Bob.” He maintains a small vegetable garden at the station as a display for that segment. He also maintains the station grounds in exchange for TV advertising.

Suz Trusty is a partner in Trusty & Associates, a communications and market research firm located in Council Bluffs, Iowa.