Chestnut Hill Landscape Contractors

By Nancy Moffett

Chestnut Hill Landscape Contractors grew out of a nursery founded in 1959 in Center Valley by Paul Talago. John Talago, Chestnut Hill’s current owner, was the youngest of Paul’s seven kids. He grew up working in the nursery, learning hands-on about horticulture and running a business. During the 1960s and ‘70s, the nursery sold stock mostly to landscapers and to DIYers who liked doing their own landscaping.

In 1990, Paul “passed the shovel” on to John, who has changed the focus of Chestnut Hill to building outdoor living spaces, although the nursery is still part of the business. Indeed, the company’s tag line is “outdoor living space professionals.” The nursery’s client base was a good starting point for the new direction, Talago explains. “Those customers already had an understanding of the needs and life cycle of plantings and landscaping,”
he says.

Chestnut Hill’s emphasis is on existing properties, not new construction. “We do what I call architectural fusion,” Talago explains. “We develop a master plan for each property based on the homeowner’s wishes and our design knowledge so the outdoor space is both aesthetic and functional. Many of our clients are empty or soon-to-be empty nesters,” he continues. “Their lives are slowing down as the children leave, and they have more time to enjoy their properties. The trend is people are staying put, rather than moving, so they’re looking for a rebirth of their property. They are also looking for changes that will work for entertaining grandchildren when they come along.”

Chestnut Hill’s services include patios, walkways, pool decks, driveways, steps and staircases, retaining walls, pools and spas, water features, drainage systems, lighting systems, and, of course, the plantings that enhance these outdoor spaces. Projects begin with a property analysis and determination of the owner’s wish list. From there, a master plan is drawn up as a guideline for the future. “The owner’s lifestyle and budget determine when and how projects are done,” Talago explains. “People may not want the inconvenience or cost of doing everything at once. We may do the front one year, the side the next and the driveway the following year,” he says. “That’s the beauty of having the bigger picture first.”

According to Talago, homes and their landscapes wear out. Just as a roof has a lifecycle, so does a driveway, a deck, walkways, etc. For instance, the life of an asphalt driveway is seven to 10 years. If you replace it with interlocking pavers, it will never wear out, Talago says. “Your property is your biggest investment, so it’s important to make long-lived improvements to protect that investment.” Having the exterior in good shape is important for selling down the road as well.

New design tools give the company an interactive drawing process and the ability to show plans to customers in color 3-D. “We sell from an education standpoint,” Talago continues, “so customers can make well-informed decisions. This process also builds trust during construction, so they understand what’s
taking place.”

Whenever a homeowner is considering an outdoor project, Talago recommends consulting the company early on to identify site challenges, place buildings and structures to maximize views, minimize environmental impact and design pleasing – yet functional – planting and hardscaping plans. The process is to put in the “built” section first, then go to planting, mulching, irrigation and lighting details.

Chestnut Hill also provides consulting services on concrete paving systems, structural retaining wall design, grading and drainage, site analysis and design for other landscape professionals. As an example, the firm did the site analysis and hardscape design for the 2003 Hometime TV program in Mound, Minnesota, overseeing the installation of the project with the help of 10 Belgard hardscape sales representatives from around
the country.

Talago holds a degree in Ornamental Horticulture from the University of Maryland with a minor in Geology. He is currently one exam away from registration as a Landscape Architect and teaches seminars for the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute and the National Concrete Masonry Association. “Teaching allows me to network with other contractors and helps me give my crew members proper technical training,” he says. He also teaches classes for Techo-Bloc (manufacturer of landscape and masonry paving stones) and has built dealer displays for them.

Chestnut Hill has won numerous awards for their work from such groups as the Lehigh Valley Builders Association, the Pennsylvania Landscape and Nursery Association and the Lehigh Valley Flower and Garden Show.

As for Talago’s satisfaction in running Chestnut Hill, he says the business was in his blood. His grandfather had an orchard, and his engineer dad’s part-time nursery was like a family farm. “Working in the nursery gave me a start that I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” he explains. “Having so much plant knowledge going into school was a huge advantage.” And, he says, he has been fortunate to be surrounded by good people. Chestnut Hill has 12 employees. Other than some new hires of the last few years, tenure ranges from 6 to 15 years. “A good team makes it fun,” Talago says, “and takes some of the stress off me.”

Going forward, he is looking at the next level in industry equipment and design tools and is in the process of hiring new people. “There’s always a new horizon ahead to rekindle the fire,” he says, that was planted and grown in his father’s nursery.

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