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Eye the flowers, buy the burger

The Baltimore Sun

The next time you're idling in a drive-through lane, waiting to pick up a burger, take a look around for some gardening ideas. Corporate landscaping can offer a lot of useful tips to go with your lunch.

Local ordinances often require businesses to plant trees, shrubs and flowers outside their establishments, and the best businesses give this obligation considerable thought. Just as a good-looking front yard enhances a house and makes a statement about the family living there, cheerful flowers and well-maintained landscaping around a gas station, hamburger stand or corporate campus let customers and passers-by know that the business wants to be a good neighbor.

"It all starts with the outside," says Don Wetherby, vice president for engineering at Wendy's. "We know good landscaping speaks volumes about the inside of a store, and for potential customers, it might tip the scale" when they're deciding where to take their business.

Up to 70 percent of sales at Wendy's are from the drive-through lanes, Wetherby says, and customers in a burger line should have something attractive to look at while they wait. Healthy, hardy shrubs are the backbone of such landscaping, but pretty flowers also catch the customer's roving eye.

If you see an idea that you like, go ahead and try it at home.

"Plagiarizing is the finest form of landscaping," says Jimmy Turner, director of horticulture research at the Dallas Arboretum. Turner applies his discerning designer's eye to landscapes whether he's driving 65 mph on the highway or waiting for a traffic light or a bite to eat. He's always looking for ideas.

Bright colors are irresistible, Turner says.

"From Mary Kay to Frito-Lay, one of the best-selling colors for corporate landscapes is screaming yellow," he says. "If you plant lavender out there, people won't notice."

Turner likes to see flashy yellow, orange and other traffic- stopping colors set off by trees and shrubs. A restaurant might plant a low hedge of evergreens, for example, with some ornamental grasses chosen for their subtle color and interesting foliage texture, and then a vigorous band of eye-popping color.

Evergreen background plantings show off flower color particularly well and give the corporate landscape structure and substance through the seasons, Turner says. The idea works well at home, too. A garden with nicely planted evergreen shrubbery will never look rundown.

Junipers might be used as a backdrop plant; boxwood, yews or hollies serve the same purpose. Ornamental grasses add a lively touch.

Corporate landscaping tends to rely on annuals to capture the spirit of the changing seasons. Pansies, which are so tough and good-looking, are typical in winter, Turner says. Then come tulips in spring, lantanas and other heat-tolerant plants in the summer and chrysanthemums in the fall.

Sometimes, businesses really aren't trying to make tasteful choices. They want you to notice them, so they plant head-turning combinations like purple and orange flowers or tropical cannas and elephant's ears.

"Bright colors and funky combinations slap you in the face," Turner says. "I call those 65 mph colors."

Corporate landscaping is by no means all good. Half-hearted plantings and puny or dying shrubs make a bad impression. Turner also can't abide fake flowers in planter boxes outside businesses, shade plants withering in full sun, and pruning jobs that reveal great skill with a chain saw but no sense for what nature intended.

"You see Japanese maples pruned into lollypops," he says. "What were they thinking?

"My absolute pet peeve is colored mulch," Turner says. It steals attention from the rest of the landscaping, and "when your mulch is the focal point of your flower bed, that's a problem. As long as you can see the mulch, you're not planting enough flowers."

Sharpen your eye by comparing corporate landscaping as you commute to work, stop at an ATM or drive through a fast-food joint. Some ideas are worth taking home to chew over in your own backyard.

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