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Smaller Grading Projects Pose Unique Challenges

By Gregory V. Harris, LCN Regional Editor

Landscape contractors may be hired to move tons of material as part of large grading projects, or they can be hired to grade smaller, yet more intricate projects. In some cases, these smaller projects, requiring less manpower and equipment, can be more difficult to carry out than the larger projects.

“We do a fair amount of urban grading projects, and although they are usually smaller projects, they can be tough,” Tom Nugent of Chapel Valley Landscape said. “We had one project where we had to use a crane to bring in the soil on site. This was a difficult time consuming process because we had to use the crane to get the soil into tricky locations.”

Chapel Valley Landscape, based in Woodbine, Maryland, has an additional office in Dulles, Virginia, and satellite locations in Crystal City, Virginia and Bethesda, Maryland. The company has more than 300 employees, and a large fleet of vehicles and equipment.

Boulders are placed on site at the Hock residence with the use of an articulating arm. This machine allows crews to place and position boulders easier than by using a crane or forklift.

Nugent said the notion that the smaller grading projects can be difficult extends to residential properties.

“We had one project, the Hock residence, that was difficult because a fair amount of underdrainage was required, due to the clay soils” he said. “We had to reduce the surface water runoff, and there was no opportunity to get the water to drain well without using a subsurface system.”

Nugent said Chapel Valley crews had to tie into the existing grades on site, noting that the Baltimore property did not allow for expansion.

“This was a typical smaller property that you would see in a subdivision,” he said. “We were not allowed to change the grade, and the grade was not enough to allow for good drainage.”

Nugent said the solution to the drainage issue was to install a “French drain.” The French drain is a system for eliminating excess water Smaller Grading: from low points and other areas prone to saturated soil. French drains are considered easy to construct, as they are just trenches filled with gravel, with sand on top of that. Many French drains are defined to include a drain pipe as well, though the traditional design is simply the gravel-filled trench. French drains can be covered over with turf after installation, making them less conspicuous, which was the case at the Hock residence.

The sloping grade at the Hock residence, before and after. The trick was to create a slope that was not too steep to maintain. Surface water runoff was drained via a subsurface system.

“Once the drainage issue was solved, we replaced the sod and utilized a fair amount of boulders to create an outdoor room for the homeowners,” Nugent said.

Approximately 100 tons of boulders were trucked to the site for use as shelves within the slope. A crew ranging from three to six men working on the project, using dump trucks, graders and a machine with an articulating arm to move and place the boulders.

“This was the first time we use the articulating arm,” Nugent said. “With this machine, we were able to turn and twist the boulders any way we wanted. It worked very well.”

Prior to using the articulating arm, Nugent said crews would have to use a crane to put the boulders into place. The boulders would have to be strapped to the crane before the crane operator could place the boulder. Crews then would have to remove the straps from the boulders, which is a difficult process. Nugent said forklifts have also been used to place the boulders, but the ability to adjust the boulders to an ideal placement was non-existent using this method.

Another Chapel Valley project utilized similar equipment that was used on the Hock residence, but this project was done on a much larger canvas.

The Linderman residence, located in Lovettsville, Virginia, sits on a 100 acre site, and unlike the Hock residence, there were no nearby residences to be concerned with. The homeowner built the house, and upon completing the project,” Nugent said.

Crews were not allowed to change the grade at the Hock residence. Poor drainage required the installation of a French drain; sod was then installed.

“There was nothing there when we came in,” Nugent said.

The homeowner wanted to fill the blank space with a wide variety of trees to create an arboretum on the property.

“We planted somewhere around 500 trees on the property, everything from 10-inch calipers to four-inch calipers,” Nugent said.

Since the property was a blank slate prior to construction, Chapel Valley had more leeway as far as the grading of the site. The property is located in a mountainous region of Virginia; as a result, there were no drainage issues to be concerned with. In addition to the numerous trees that were planted, 150 tons of boulders were placed on the site, again using the articulating arm.

The crew size on the Linderman residence ranged from six to 10 men, and Nugent said Chapel Valley is still working on this award winning project after five years.

A third Chapel Valley project, the Kelly residence, was smaller than the Linderman project, but at two acres, was larger than the Hock residence. In this project, the homeowner had a very steep grade in the backyard, which made using and maintaining the backyard difficult.

“That slope was probably a three-to-one slope, and the grass on that slope was very difficult to cut and maintain as a result,” Nugent said.

Landscaping of the Hock residence begins as crews work on the stone urn that will be a highlight of the backyard.

To remedy this issue, Chapel Valley created terracing in the backyard. A stone wall separates the lower portion of the yard from the higher level. Stone steps were installed, leading to a small pond.

“We wanted to create a natural transition on the sloped backyard,” Nugent said. “Our challenge was coming up with a solution to overcome an unusable grade.”

Like the Hock residence, the Kelly residence is located in Maryland, a state that experiences its fair share of rain. Unlike the Hock residence, drainage was not an issue here due to the severe slope. The crew size on this project was three men, again using similar machinery used on the Hock and Linderman residences.

Nugent said as a large company, Chapel Valley Landscape owns most of its equipment used on the job site. However, some pieces of equipment, such as cranes and very large forklifts, are rented on a job-by-job basis because this is more cost effective.

About Chapel Valley Landscape

In 1968, with one dedicated employee, a “not-quite new” truck, a few tools, and a dream, Landon and Janet Reeve founded Chapel Valley Landscape Company in Rockville, Maryland. Offering landscape design and installation services for residential and commercial clients, they built a reputation for high quality work and exemplary customer service.

From these modest beginnings the company grew steadily for the three decades that followed. Today, Chapel Valley Landscape has offices in Woodbine, Maryland and Dulles, Virginia, and satellite locations in Crystal City, Virginia and Bethesda, Maryland. The company’s has grown to more than 300 employees, a large fleet of vehicles and equipment, and Chapel Valley’s geographical scope expanded to serve clients in suburban Maryland, Baltimore, northern Virginia, and the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

About 150 tons of boulders were trucked in for use on the slope of the Linderman residence.

Over the years, the company added many other services to provide complete, start-to-finish landscaping. To fulfill Reeve’s pledge to deliver a full range of extraordinary customized services, the company offers residential and commercial clients: design/build, installation, maintenance, irrigation, hardscape construction, and specialty services such as water features, tree transplantation and preservation, exterior lighting, and seasonal services.

The residences in this feature are examples of how the Chapel Valley team of landscape architects and designers create original plans for the homeowner. Clients have the convenience of Chapel Valley's design/build abilities to handle all aspects of the landscaping and to maintain the property after the installation.

Residential Installation

Chapel Valley Landscape will work with clients who have a landscape plan of their own creation, or one that a landscape architect has designed for them. The company will work to carry out the proper installation of the plan, selecting the very best plants and materials available. Upon completion of the installation, customers can enlist Chapel Valley’s professionals to maintain the landscape.

Residential Maintenance

If clients choose not to spend time on gardening, Chapel Valley will maintain lawns in prime condition with a skilled staff and top quality materials.

Proper irrigation and water management is essential to the continued success of the client’s landscaping and requires more than just the installation of sprinklers. It encompasses site evaluation to determine water and drainage needs, slope, exposure, special plant needs, and soil type.

The Linderman residence, built on a 100-acre property in Virginia, was a blank canvas that has evolved into an arboretum of more than 500 trees.

Chapel Valley’s certified irrigation designers and auditors can design, install, and service a customized irrigation system that will help reduce plant stress and loss, lower utility costs, boost chemical performance, and improve turf renovation.

Chapel Valley’s in-house irrigation services include:

  • Certified irrigation systems design and installation
  • Certified landscape water auditing
  • Spring start-up, winterization and preventative maintenance
  • Prompt system repair and enhancementv
  • Certified central control systems installation
  • Program installation and programming
  • Pump station service
  • Sports turf design, installation, service

Commercial Installation

Working closely with a client’s landscape architect, Chapel Valley has the capability and experienced, skilled staff to coordinate and properly construct hardscapes, and install plants, in-house irrigation and landscape lighting systems.

Through long-established relationships with property owners, managers, builders, and specialty craftspeople, the company has the expertise to advise clients on scheduling, project management, and cost-effectiveness.

Chapel Valley’s pre-construction services include design evaluation, budgeting and value engineering, plant availability assessment, irrigation design and review, long-term maintenance analysis, site evaluation, and risk management consultation. When construction is completed, they schedule regular follow-up through the warranty period.

Commercial Maintenance

After completion of a landscape construction and installation project, Chapel Valley’s maintenance professionals can keep it in optimum condition for the client.

Professional landscape maintenance helps to not only retain, but also appreciate, the value of the property over time. Chapel Valley’s team of certified professional horticulturists and certified landscape technicians will develop and refine a customized management program for the client, and a supervisor will be assigned to the project to oversee all aspects of your landscape maintenance.

In memory of Janet Reeve, who passed away in 1994 after a long struggle with Juvenile Diabetes, Chapel Valley supports the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation in its work to find a cure for the disease. According to Landon Reeve, Janet’s contribution to the company and the landscape industry will forever remain a part of Chapel Valley’s mission and values.


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October 20, 2019, 6:03 pm PDT

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