Traditional and organic lawn care company under one roof

The crew from Carr Landscape Management unloads plants from the nursery.

Growing up in Minnesota where his mother managed a retail nursery and his father managed facilities for Hilton Hotels, Chuck Carr developed a passion for landscaping. As a teenager, he mowed lawns in the summer and shoveled snow in the winter.

He opted to study broadcasting and business at Ball State University. He spent one semester in London studying geography, philosophy and art history, and visited several of Europe’s public and private gardens and estates. He worked in advertising and marketing, but that changed when he was contacted by someone looking to transition out of a landscape business, whom Carr had done some sales and marketing for. “I didn’t have a background in it, but I was a quick study, and I realized I liked being outside,” he says.

He worked in management positions for two landscaping companies before striking out on his own 10 years ago when he started Carr Landscape Management in Porter Ranch, Calif.

Two years ago, he partnered with Michael Gould to start Whisper Landscape Management, which offers low-impact, eco-friendly lawn care services. While the company’s purpose is to promote sustainable landscape practices, its keystone feature is the battery technology Gould developed with engineers to operate its equipment. “Electric and battery equipment has been around for quite a while, but it’s never been durable enough for use in a commercial environment,” says Carr. “He was able to do a lot of fine-tuning to engineer a battery process that allows us to do a route.”

Whisper Landscape Management, with four field employees and the two partners, serves Sherman Oaks, Encino, Studio City, Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Brentwood. The company provides weekly services, which include mowing, trimming, blowing, weeding, pruning, fertilizer application and sprinkler adjustment, as well as tree, shrub and flower planting.

The white cedar bench is perfectly positioned to enjoy the setting sun.

Carr Landscape Management’s eight employees service the residential, HOA, commercial, institutional and industrial markets throughout Los Angeles. Services include landscape design, build and weekly maintenance; landscape renovation; gardening; xeriscaping; sustainable landscaping; foreclosed property maintenance; ‘spruce up’ prior to property sale; irrigation install and repair; interior plant installation and maintenance; tree pruning or removal; plant supply for TV, film and stage productions; and low-voltage landscape lighting.

California does not require a license for landscape maintenance, but, Carr says, “You do need a license for any kind of landscape contracting work over $500. Whisper is for people who want organic, eco-friendly service, but typically the landscape might need a cleanup or upgrades, and the cost will go beyond that $500. We’ll do that under the Carr Landscape Maintenance company. The Carr crew will go in there and clean it up, do some planting and renovation, and when it’s all ready, we transition it over to Whisper where they do the maintenance.”

Whisper Landscape Maintenance’s mission is to improve the quality of life in the region by eliminating the noise and air pollution associated with conventional lawn maintenance and gardening services. That mission is executed through the use of zero-emission, all-electric mowers, blowers and trimmers powered by photovoltaic cells used in conjunction with rechargeable batteries that are no louder than conventional vacuum cleaners.

Employees receive training in environmentally friendly lawn care, irrigation system maintenance, plant fertilization and pest control. Toyota Prius cars are used to transport equipment.

The company differentiates itself from other companies by hand-pulling weeds and using organic fertilizers, soil amendments and mulch. Insect pests are discouraged with natural predation. It is recognized by the Beyond Pesticides Coalition as a Least Toxic Landscape Service Provider, and has become the growth area of Carr’s business. “Our goal is to make this a national company through franchising,” Carr says. “We’re working out some of the legal and financial aspects of expanding it. We’ve got landscapers from around the state and the country calling, wanting information and wanting to offer it in their territory.”

While industry professionals are interested in sustainable landscaping practices, the public is not as quick to follow. “People are used to having traditional landscaping with a sweeping green lawn and the roses and flowers, and it’s all very nice Middle America,” he says. “The problem is California is not Middle America. We don’t have that kind of rainfall or that water.

“Now, we have to educate them that native and sustainable landscapes are not just cactus and gravel. It can be – that’s a very nice type of garden – but there are other native plants and other ways to do landscaping.”

His company recently transformed a 4,000-square-foot property with gravel paths and a botanical garden with native plants. “The neighbors were all very intrigued because it’s totally different to them,” Carr says. “Part of the problem is some of the people don’t find it attractive at first pass. It’s something that has to grow on you.”

Since Whisper Landscape Management was started, more people are interested in the company’s approach, notes Carr. “The people doing this are the early adapters in the neighborhood,” he says. “They’re mavericks. The biggest challenge is getting people to accept the new style of landscaping.”

Water bills are turning some homeowners into converts. At the 4,000-square-foot property, the water bill dropped from $400 to $40 a month.

Meanwhile, Carr Landscape Management sets itself apart through diversity with rose gardens, xeriscape, Japanese/Asian, English/cottage, native/Southwestern, perennial, tropical/Mediterranean, whimsical/fantasy, Gothic, “secret,” hillside, strolling, vegetable, children’s and memorial gardens, as well as outdoor rooms. “Out here, anything goes,” Carr notes.

The company recently created a Japanese garden on nearly an acre. “It was a strolling garden on the downslope of a house in a canyon,” he says. “It was very rugged and had no access. We got in there and made paths and seating areas and planted a lot of bamboo and natives.”

Carr’s versatility and background in marketing has given him an eye to seize opportunities that will put his company in the spotlight. An opportunity arose when his company was tapped to film 13 episodes of “Urban Outsiders” on HGTV with Matt James, a British landscape designer and program host. It is one of several television appearances for Carr and his crew, including “Landscapers Challenge,” “Ground Rules” and “Designing for the Sexes.” The company was also featured on an episode of “Movie and a Makeover” on TBS. “The highlight was getting to do different kinds of shows,” says Carr. “Although these may be called reality shows, the landscaping has nothing to do with reality. It’s all very different than the relationship you’d have with the customer because the time lines are very condensed.

“It becomes a relationship with customers who hire me,” he says. “It’s a give and take in landscape design. They’re looking for somebody to transform their yard for them. I’m not one of those guys who sell the job and moves on. Customers are happily surprised that I am there during the whole process.”

Carr Landscape Management has received many honors. “It’s nice to get that peer recognition,” Carr says. “Certain clients are really into that,” he adds. “Their landscape is their pride and joy, and if they can tell somebody it’s an award-winning landscape, or if they’re selling a house that has an award-winning landscape or they’re renting an apartment building where they can brag about an award-winning landscape, it’s a good marketing aspect.”

Carr has served as the CLCA’s director of communication, publishing the association’s California Landscape Magazine, and he was chairman of the board of directors in 2007 and 2008 and served as president in 2005 and 2006. Through his association involvement, Carr works with contractors new to the industry. “We’re educating them that by all of us doing better by raising the bar, it benefits everybody,” he says. “By offering education programs through the association, we train people. Our water ordinances change yearly, so we’re keeping on top of what the water issues are and all of the new technology coming out from the manufacturers.” He says, “Some people don’t like to socialize with what they view as their competitors, but I found it’s just the opposite. We all have our specialties and our niches, and when I can’t do a project or when somebody calls me from outside the area to do a project, we’re using our connections through the association. I get 25 percent of my work from other landscape contractors in the association. If I can’t do the job, I want to refer it to somebody I know and trust who can.”

The industry has to address challenges in the face of increasing water shortages, Carr notes. “In California, we have no choice. We’re not going to have the water we used to have in landscaping. So, we’re going to have to get smarter,” he says. “We’re going to have to educate people because the cost of water is going to keep going up, and they’re going to start looking to us to be the water savers instead of water wasters.

“It looks bad for the industry when someone drives by an area where sprinklers are hitting the streets,” Carr says. “We don’t see the water wasted in the house; we see the water being wasted in the front yard. There are a number of groups out there that like to point us out as being the problem because of chemical runoff into waterways. I would like people to look to the association as being the professionals and the stewards of the environment and water, and not being the problem.”

Carol Brzozowski is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and has written extensively about environmental issues for numerous trade journals for more than a decade. She resides in Coral Springs, Fla.