At age 25, landscape company blossoming

October 14, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

It's difficult for some to believe that nestled among rows of young pine trees, country homes and horse pastures of Woodbine sits one of the county's major businesses.

In fact, Chapel Valley Landscape Co. is probably largest employer in the western part of the county.

Last week the company celebrated 25 years in business, during which it has grown faster than the shrubs, flowers and trees it has arranged around some of the Baltimore-Washington area's well-known institutions, as well as many homes in Howard County.

About half of the company's business is residential.

"I think their work is wonderful, absolutely excellent," said Pam Eyre, who had the company design and landscape her West County home recently. "It's amazing. It just gives the house a whole new finished look." Mrs. Eyre's husband owns what is probably West County's second-largest employer, Eyre Bus Service in Glenelg.

When Chapel Valley President J. Landon Reeve IV and his wife, Vice President Janet Reeve, started their business on five acres on Jennings Chapel Road, they had two employees and made $85,000 their first year.

Now, the company has 38 acres in Woodbine, a five-acre facility in Sterling, Va., and about 150 employees. The Reeves expected to follow last year's revenue of about $7.3 million by pulling in about $8 million this fiscal year, which began April 1.

Chapel Valley has left its orange water-drop-on-leaf mark on such landmarks as the National Cathedral, L'Enfant Plaza and the Blair House in Washington, and Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Closer to home, the company has done award-winning work at the Dorsey's Search Village Center.

Besides the expected piles of mulch, rows of potted shrubs and flowers that are the landscaper's bricks and mortar, that property contains a small park with a baseball diamond for employees. Mr. Reeve said it eventually will serve as an arboretum.

As their business grew, the Reeves reared two children. Deonne Wollman, the oldest at 27, is manager of the company's human resources department. James Reeve, 25, is a marketing representative who sells maintenance contracts for the company.

In addition to rearing her children, Mrs. Reeve was bookkeeper and secretary for the fledgling company back in the late 1960s.

"I did everything; I did it all," she says, adding, "I probably brought about my own demise" by juggling so many responsibilities.

Mrs. Reeve left the business to prepare for medical school but had to quit, first to care for her dying mother, then to receive a kidney transplant.

After 25 years of work and Mrs. Reeve's continuing medical problems, she and her husband would like to retire. Mr. Reeve said he is preparing to choose a successor, possibly one of the children or someone else from the company's management ranks, by the end of the decade.

The company has 10 branch and department managers, six landscape architects, two horticulturists, nine sales and design people, and about 100 people who do field work.

The company even has a professional Spanish translator who aids in communicating with the company's Hispanic workers. Mainly from Nicaragua, El Salvador and Mexico, those workers make up about 40 percent of the company's work force.

Unlike many migrant workers in the landscaping industry, the Reeves' foreign-born employees receive full benefits, Mrs. Reeve said.

The Reeves have worked, through national trade organizations to make such practices the standard for others in the landscaping industry, said Christine Goodnow, who heads the company's marketing efforts. Mr. Reeve was president of the Associated Landscape Contractors of America in 1984.

As part of the company's birthday celebration Friday, it announced a $1,000-a-year, five-year scholarship for a horticulture or landscape architecture student at the University of Maryland College of Agriculture. Mr. Reeve has a bachelor's degree in ornamental horticulture from the college, and Mrs. Reeve earned a bachelor's degree in education at the university.

Although the company is in a part of the county where some residents don't take kindly to commercial enterprises, the company has survived.

"We live here, so we're just as concerned about the quality of life as our neighbors are," Mrs. Reeve said.

To that end, employees are warned to drive courteously and not litter from the bright green company vehicles. The company composts and recycles whatever materials it can't use, such as grass and other clippings, and limits the use of agricultural chemicals, Mr. Reeve said. Even waste oil from its vehicles is used to heat some of its work areas.

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