The Future of Hardscaping: CPI Students at the Pennsylvania State Farm Show

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Most schools have pep rallies before the big football, basketball, or soccer championship game; but at CPI, a Pleasant Gap, PA Science & Technology School, the big win can come in the form of landscape and hardscape design competition sweep.                                                          

In September of 2014 the students enrolled in CPI's Horticulture and Landscaping Design course accepted the Hardscaping™ challenge set forth by The Pennsylvania State Farm Show.

The contest, open to any school in Pennsylvania, is to design and construct 15 x 10 foot Hardscaping™ display featuring plants native to the area.

EP Henry was a proud supporter of this exciting challenge- so we reached out to Joe Luther, Instructor in Horticulture and Landscaping Design, and spoke with him and two of his students, Taylor Shook and Ethan Van Horn, the day before judging took place.

EPH: Have you ever entered this particular contest before? 

hardscaping CPI

TS: Yes, and they always have a theme to them. We entered last year, which was "Birds and Bees". That display challenge was to design an exhibit that contained plants that would attract both birds and bees. We had to make some adjustments when we got there because the space turned out to be smaller than we had accounted for.

EPH: Is this what you've been studying in class?

EVH: Yes it was. Cutting the actual block, conceiving and creating the design- there's a lot of math (geometry) involved in the design and construction. You find out very quickly what still needs work.  

EPH: How many actual build-outs has the class done together?

JL: It's hard to say because the students in the class are at different stages of their training. We have both high school students (juniors and seniors) and adult students that come here for training. But they've all worked on multiple aspects or features that are included in Hardscaping™ designs.

EPH: How many students worked on this project?

JL: 8

EPH: I understand that the application process included writing and submitting a "sales pitch" of sorts. Was that written by someone specifically, or was that a class project as well?

TS: That was a team effort as well. I found that process really interesting as we all had our own opinions of how it should read, but we knew that the final submission had to read as one idea that made sense, and flowed together.  

EPH: What was the reasoning behind determining how you'll best use the space?

TS: We wanted to have different components and engage the senses into the display. We wanted a water feature because it would add both visual interest and sound. Of course, it had to be aesthetically pleasing first and foremost. Overall balance is really important.

EPH: All right, so the contest guidelines dictate that the display has to be 10 x 15 feet, and I understand that you were limited to using the materials donated, so why and how did you decide on this pergola/seating wall scene?

TS: Well, we all agreed right away that we would do a retaining wall. We researched ideas and images and we all really liked the look of water coming out of hardscaping retaining wall CPIthe wall itself. But we weren't happy with how the rest of the space would look if we did that.

JL: So we kept looking for ideas and came across the seating wall. We all thought that it would work really well in the given space. But really, we were experimenting and changing it along the way.  

TS: We learned that we have different strengths. It helps to have team members who are really good and picturing the project in their minds as we made changes.

EPH: I see that the rules state that native plants must be used. Aside from the necessary research, what was the process for choosing the specific plants that are used in the entry?

TS: After we come up with a list, we look at size, color and texture. We chose plants that we thought worked well in the space.

JL: That, and we had to work with what we could force to bloom in January. Even with a greenhouse, you're not going to get a black-eyed-susan to flower in the dead of winter.  

EPH: Did everything go as planned? Did you have any surprises?

EVH: We had some problems stabilizing the pergola. After a few tries we were able to get it in there just right. Also, it was harder than we thought it would be working with the curves. The radiuses required us to do a lot of math.

JL: I think the bullnose curves on the seating wall were more of a challenge than they thought they'd be.

EPH: Have you seen the competition yet? Or, based on past shows, how do you think you'll do?

TS: We haven't seen all of the others yet. People are just starting to set up. But we are really proud of how it turned and we're confident that we'll place well in the competition.

EPH: Do you think that sites like Pinterest and Houzz have changed the landscaping market?

JL: Absolutely. People who are in the market for landscaping or Hardscaping are investigating and finding images that have features, layouts and components that are totally unique.

EPH: So guys, I know that your teacher is here, so make it good- What did you learn from this project? hardscaping CPI

(group laughter)

TS: I really had fun with, and learned a lot from, the sales pitch portion of the challenge. I don't consider myself a writer, but it was really fun working with everyone on what to say and how to say it. We had toexplain what was in the display and say it in a way that "sold" the set up.

EVH: I think that just doing everything from start to finish took all of our skill sets up a notch.

UPDATE: EP Henry was thrilled to learn that CPI's display was awarded 1st overall and Best in Show, PA!  

EP Henry is a proud supporter of programs and competitions that help grow landscaping and Hardscaping talent. Our investment in the "Future of Hardscaping" is evident through programs like these as well as our annual Mid-Atlantic Hardscaping Tradeshow (MAHTS), which promotes and provides continuing education to those in the industry.

Joe Luther is an Instructor in Horticulture and Landscaping Design at CPI in Pleasant Gap, PA.