I have the Ginkgo, LTD. website up as I am typing. The soothing background music isn't usually something that I go for. Today, the nature sounds and gentle instruments are just what I need. They also very much remind me of Stefanie's personality as I know her in the yoga room.
Stefanie Maloney is a yogi, mom and landscape contractor for residential landscaping in the suburbs. Her landscaping company is called Ginkgo, LTD.
“Back in the mid to late ‘70s I grew up what was a rural town, Morris, Illinois. My dad purchased 8 acres and an old farm house,” Stefanie recalls. “He felt like he needed to do something with the land, maybe farming it. We didn’t even have a rototiller at the time. Dad was kind of person that if he could get 100 cheaper than a dozen, he’d buy the 100. So, we started with 500 tomato plants, 500 pepper plants, a few rows of corn. Come harvest time, we literally had wheel barrow loads of vegetables every day.”
That was around 1978 when Stefanie was in about 6th grade. A much different 6th grade experience than your average Chicagoland pre teen in the 2000’s. It is no wonder that today Stefanie would be such a nature lover since not only was the nursery right in her back yard, she was also right across the street from the state park.
“There were just endless woods all around us,” she said. “It was really hard work, a lot of physical labor, but I can really appreciate it all now.”
The vegetable stand expanded and they had to supplement it with other farmers’ crops. That wasn’t quite enough for dad so he said they should bring in and sell bedding plants and hanging baskets, petunias and geraniums. That wasn’t enough, he said, so you know maybe sell trees and shrubs and then work in their yards as installers. All that happened just within a few years. By the time Stefanie was in eighth grade they had hired a newly graduated landscape architect from the University of Illinois.
“I was in 8th or 9th grade,” she recalls, “and I was her shadow because she just had all the answers about all the plants and everything we needed to do. We would often draw designs. When I was 15, I entered a contest in Seneca where I needed to draw a scale drawing and that is how it all started.”
She says the most challenging part was working for her dad who died unexpectedly two and a half years ago. He was very demanding at the time, where she believes she takes the opposite approach today. She calls herself “maybe too relaxed”. Her father was 70 years old and “in the prime of his life” she says. He had gotten to the point where he had slowed down ten years ago and bought a log cabin on ten acres in Northwest Kentucky where her mom is from. The first year he moved there, he called her and was so excited. He had a semi load of plants coming - he was going to do it again.
“He couldn’t help himself,” she smiled.
About 22 years ago Stefanie moved into the Burr Ridge area where she commuted back to family business every day. Eventually, she became acquainted with families around where she lived. They started asking if she could do this or that and then it started to snowball. Just like it was with her dad. First it was just a matter of design, but soon after the requests for installations began.
As a landscape contractor, she went through a certificate program opting not to go through the 5 year degree program which she felt would have been a waste for residential contracting. In a two year certificate program students can choose landscape, green house or turf studies. They learn surveying, hardscaping, CAD, installing and water features. The practical experience was really the education and an in depth knowledge of the plants, she emphasized also noting that commercial work is a whole different level and worth the five year degree.
Her brother still owns the family property where she grew up. There is no more residential or retail work just because of the shift in the economy. He still does this type of work but for municipalities.
“Walmart moves in or Home depot so you have to reinvent yourself,” she said. “There’s just too much competition.”
Ginkgo is her favorite tree. She calls it the shark of shade trees as there are no known illness that will kill a Ginkgo. Sometimes they live to be hundreds of years old. They have a male and female counterpart. In growing up she noticed there coincidently seemed to be big mature female trees around catholic churches. Another thing that draws her to Ginkgoes are the venation which is very unique. The delicate fan shape of the leaves have even been found in fossils. The leaves turn gold and when the season changes, the leaves just drop overnight creating this golden blanket on the ground.
If you’re starting to think about your garden, lawn or trees, she says fall is the best time to plant. Start to gauge when summer starts to go into fall in September or October. It is the most active phase of growth for roots. The activity above the roots starts to slow down, but roots are growing like crazy sometimes even into January until it freezes. Spring is second best, she says, because of rain. However, if you plant in spring the plant now has to push out new growth and grow roots at the same time which can be stressful.
Now that spring is just around the corner, her busy season will begin to pick up again. If you have any questions for Stefanie, give her a call (630-514-3631) or send her an email. She does offer free consultations where she can make an assessment and will offer honest feedback. You can visit her website at www.ginkgoltd.com .