PGMA Winner: Syntex Chemicals

Deep in the heart of Boulder, Colo., is a thriving pharmaceutical manufacturing company: Syntex Chemicals. The company was originally established in 1975 as Arapahoe Chemicals, which became a subsidiary of Basel, Switzerland-based Roche Holdings Limited in 1994. Today, the public recognizes the Syntex campus as more than just a successful business establishment in Boulder. As a 1996 recipient of the Professional Grounds Management Society's Professional Grounds Maintenance Grand Award, Syntex is nationally recognized as having a landscape manicured in the highest degree of excellence.

Accept the things you cannot change Syntex Chemicals contacted Ned Fenwick, owner of Ned's Lawn and Tree Service, about maintaining its grounds in 1983. Syntex's main stipulation was (and still is) that it wanted lots of lush green bluegrass--no brown spots.

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Maintaining Syntex's 150,000 square feet of turf is Fenwick's biggest responsibility on the site. And Fenwick says keeping the bluegrass free of brown spots is an ongoing challenge--and sometimes a struggle--because the turf grows on gravelly, weak soil. Additionally, the buildings are set off with berms, which are more difficult to mow, water and keep green. "The ground is very slopey--about one-third of it is on berms and two-thirds is kind of flat on a lot of gravel," says Fenwick.

Fenwick mows the grass once a week using a Bunton 48-inch walk-behind mower. He uses a 21-inch Husqvarna mulching mower to mow the bluegrass that grows on the property's steep grades. Mowing and edging near automobiles in the parking lots and the buildings' low windows require special care and attention so the grass clippings are not a nuisance to the employees. "It's kind of hard when the temperatures are in the 90s and the wind is blowing. We have an arid high-plains climate here," adds Fenwick

Keeping the "massive bluegrass" green is not the only challenge, however, says Fenwick. The site has a sprinkler system that is more than 20 years old, which doesn't make the job any easier.

"The irrigation system was installed in 1975, but we've been updating it over the years," says Fenwick. "Recently, we added a water meter and pressure-reducing valve so we can see how much water the sprinklers are putting down." The hope is that updating it as needed will help sustain the overall life of the system. At this time, the company has no plans to install a new system.

A relationship built on respect Over the years, the professional relationship between Fenwick and Syntex has matured, and the two parties have come to understand each other quite well. Although Fenwick has a limited budget for the Syntex site, he has been able to incorporate some new design concepts to enhance the appearance of the grounds.

Fenwick has been successfully working to educate Syntex to appreciate and expect color and plant diversity within the bluegrass landscape. In return, Syntex has approved implementation of xeriscape principals of landscape design to address problem areas on the site. Instead of bluegrasss, low-growing, water-conserving spreading junipers grow between the sidewalk and on either side of the steep drainage swale to the street. This approach requires less water than if the area was planted with bluegrass. From a budget standpoint, it is more cost-efficient to maintain junipers than mow bluegrass on steep slopes next to a large highway. During the Colorado winter months, people also appreciate the evergreen plant material.

Improvements here and there Two years ago, Fenwick removed another section of hard-to-maintain bluegrass covering a berm to create a large annual planting bed in the shape of the company logo. Both Syntex and Fenwick are very pleased with the results of the logo bed, which is visible to all passersby from the busy street.

Usually planted in the summer with white impatiens and dark blue lobelia, the bed requires little maintenance expense beyond annual planting. However, in trying to extend the use of the logo bed, Fenwick says, "Last year, when the frost hit, we planted the bed with 1,000 spring-blooming crocuses, so in March we had blue and white logo color to enjoy."

Recently, Fenwick created an outdoor lunchroom for Syntex employees. Continuing the overall landscape concept of gracious curves and berms with lush bluegrass and major color accents, Fenwick took up the bluegrass outside the lunchroom, enclosed the patio with berms and landscaped it with evergreens and colorful xeric shrubs, flowers and bulbs. Now employees can spend their lunch hour eating under the shade of an umbrella table or sitting on nearby grass under a tree, having a picnic or reading a book.

Because of the location of the campus in the city, as well as constant pedestrian and automobile traffic, the grounds around Syntex must always be neat, tidy, colorful--and "a pleasure to look at." Therefore, Ned's Lawn & Tree Service provides weekly maintenance of display and flower beds.

The campus has clusters of large shade trees, which contribute substantially to the overall visual aspect of the site. Maintaining the health of the trees and their surrounding areas requires careful attention. It is especially important to keep sidewalks cleared and branches pruned high. Fenwick's company specializes in tree service as well, so he is able to perform most needed maintenance himself--an advantage when working on a budget.

Fenwick does most of the care of the site himself. However, he does contract weekly with a gardener and as-needed with a pest-control applicator and landscape architect. He also employs two seasonal workers to assist him.

Fenwick says not a lot has changed over the 14 years he has maintained the site. "Every year we try to put in more flowering beds with xeric plant material by taking up the turf in problem places that are hard to mow, water and keep green. We are trying to show the passing public that we are using xericape landscape principles by taking up the bluegrass where it is not used for play or to sit or needed for visual harmony."

Fenwick enjoys maintaining the Syntex site and appreciates that the company allows him to exercise his creative landscaping ideas and care for the site as he deems necessary. "They are easy to work with," he says. "They are very particular, but if you suggest something and it solves a problem while enhancing the site, they usually say go ahead with it."

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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