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March Mulch Madness

At this point in 2005, Craig and I were the best and only employees at Topiarius – our very own landscape design, build, and maintenance company in Chicago.

While my memory of the story that follows is a little foggy, I do remember that I found a tenacious and gritty side of myself I never knew I had. It is a side that has served me and Topiarius well.

Early one morning, Craig left me sleeping in to pick up the truck rental and 5 cubic yards of bulk mulch – not in bags, just loose – that we needed to install that day at a residence in the Gold Coast. (This feels like a good time to mention that one cubic yard weighs approximately 1,000 pounds.) It was a cool, mid-March day with no sunshine.

Thankfully, we could park right in front of the building we were working at. While we weren’t going to have to move the mulch very far, we still had to contend with getting behind a six-foot privacy fence that prohibited access to any other tools (like – you guessed it – a wheelbarrow). Our solution was . . . drumroll please . . . 5-gallon buckets!

Craig would fill the bucket from the truck and I would go behind the fence into the landscape beds to dump and spread the mulch. It took us at least 5 hours for the two of us to finish the mulch installation . . . yup, that’s a lot of buckets!

As the day progressed, it continued to get colder . . . and then it began raining . . . and we were both tired. I was feeling especially exhausted and miserably sore. What kept me going was being nearly done (and knowing a hot shower and dinner were waiting for me).

At 33 years old I was in decent shape, but I’d never had a job that required such physical labor at all hours of the day – day after day! Craig had at least been doing landscaping for 5-6 years at this point and was quite used to the seasonality of the work.

On the ride home, in our rented truck, Craig mentioned he wanted to return the truck tonight so we didn’t have to pay for another’s day fee. No big deal, right? Except it was now darker, colder, rainier, AND we still had an extra cubic yard of mulch (about 1,000 pounds, if you recall) that we would have to shovel off the truck into the small parking space behind our condo.

I knew he was right, but tears still streamed down my cheeks. He says he loves this memory because he saw a transformation in me on that ride home that makes him proud. And, honestly, it makes me proud too.

Craig kindly offered to unload the mulch himself when we got home so that I could head inside and take a shower. But as we pulled up, I knew I hadn’t signed up for this only to quit before the job was done. I grabbed a shovel, jumped into the truck bed with Craig, and together we got the mulch into our parking spot. 

Condo Parking Spot for Chapter 3 March Mulch Madness
(Pictured above is the actual empty spot where we piled the mulch! And yes, we had to shovel this mulch all over again to continue to use it, but let’s not worry about that for now.)

Y’all, this was my Rudy moment! Although there were no cheering Notre Dame fans, just neighbors who were annoyed that we had blocked their alley access and parking spots, I could feel my strength and tenacity building. It was time for me to show up and finish the game! (I still cry every time I watch this movie. Sooo good.)

It boiled down to the decision that I made to start Topiarius with Craig. I said I wanted to do it, and now it was time to prove it. If I was going to be in . . . I would be all in.

And guess what? This is who we all are as landscape designers, construction and maintenance crews, and staff at Topiarius. We don’t just phone in the day and operate at minimal expectations. Matter of fact, on each and every job description we specifically say we are looking for awesome people who operate like this:

Topiarius employees are expected to perform with honesty, creativity, and respectfulness. We do this by serving with an upbeat and positive attitude. We do this by learning through asking questions, learning from other people, collaborating with our team, and improving on our mistakes. And we do this by delivering on our work product through communication, goal setting, preparation, efficiency, and meeting deadlines.

So, dear reader: What does this mean to you? It means that if you entrust a project to us, you can count on dedication, hard work, and a finished product that you – and we – can be proud of. It means that you get to live beautifully outdoors. And – MAJOR bonus – it means you don’t have to lug around 1,000 pounds per cubic yard of mulch, because we will do it for you! Contact us to get started.

Your tenacious friend,

Sara J-S

CEO / Co-owner

Miss the earlier parts of our story? Catch up here:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2

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