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Trillium Gardens creates beautiful, biodiverse habitats – otherwise known as yards

Article by Mary Ellin Arch

Photography by Photography Provided

Originally published in Midlothian Lifestyle

What’s a yard?

For some, it’s a flawless carpet of lush green grass punctuated by perfectly pruned trees and shrubbery. For others, it’s a wild mix of clover, violets, and native grasses that provide homes for butterflies, birds, and frogs.

Michael Spence does both. Sometimes for the same customer.

“What’s a weed?” asked Spence, on a tour of some of the yards he’s designed as owner of Trillium Gardens. “Is it what a chemical company calls it? Why have we demonized dandelions?” Then he tells of a customer who forbids the plucking of dandelions, prompting Spence to incorporate them into her yard.

Every customer is different, of course, and some prefer a manicured lawn (no dandelions). Which prompts a discussion on symmetrical and asymmetrical designs. Again, a Trillium yard may be either.

This is Trillium’s fifth year as a full-service lawn-care company: Spence, a horticulturalist; partner Jason Snider, chief designer; and two crewmen, Joel Reynolds and Dan Kelly. Right now, Trillium landscaping is limited to plants, but Spence hopes to expand into hardscapes. Services include maintenance contracts for mowing and raking through full-scale landscaping and design.

“We work with anyone,” Spence said. “We have worked on rental properties.”

No detail is too small for Trillium. Hedges are trimmed by hand, annuals swapped on schedule, perennials dead-headed, edges trimmed, leaves removed. “Attention to detail sets us apart,” Spence said.

More than that, though, is Trillium’s focus on environmental sustainability. “We incorporate native plants in all our designs,” Spence said. “Biodiversity supports the ecosystem.”

So do bugs. Spence urges customers not to wage war on them.

“Exterminators kill everything, even good insects,” he said. “It’s important to remember that some insects are predators to damaging insects. Insects are part of a healthy garden, and gardens are for discovery.”

Spence is partial to lawns combining grass with clover, which puts nitrogen into the soil. He relates how grass seed once contained 30% clover – until (of all things) television.

“Golf changed our yards,” he said. “People saw that golf-course monoculture, and everything changed.”

An estate off Old Gun Road illustrates Trillium’s attention to detail and commitment to habitat health. The driveway and arrival court to the stately brick home are flanked by well-tended beds of ornamental cherries, shrubs, yarrow and echinacea. Along the road is a “controlled meadow” of natural grasses, red oak, tulip poplars, red maple, white oak, loblolly pine and gingko, with a winding, groomed path. A pond stocked with sunfish and bluegill attracts kingfisher and turtles, and the meadow supports hawk, woodpecker and fox.

This project also includes eradicating invasive species such as Chinese privet and winter creeper. “This is an exciting project,” Spence said. “It incorporates all our expertise.”

Further down Old Gun is a more traditional project. Spence points with pride to a long boxwood hedge that the customer prefers pruned so each plant is defined.

Customers rave about Spence’s work, noting they received design drawings and plant descriptions. “He is passionate about his profession and has a tremendous sense of customer service,” said Emily Ward, who was impressed at how Spence worked within her budget.

Jane Sahutski noted, “One of our sites has poor access and they were able to work around it, where other contractors flat out told us ‘no.’”

And Spence is Anne Schlegel’s “go-to guy” after transforming her “overwhelming mess” into “a beautiful and inviting” outdoor space.

But Trillium does more than tend to the Earth. Spence and Snider give back to the community, too.

It starts with how they treat employees. “We’re getting certified as a livable wage company,” said Spence, noting crewmen are paid $16 per hour and get a year-end bonus.

Customers donate toward an annual Christmas tree pickup, with proceeds benefiting Richmond Friends of the Homeless. Some give as much as $200, and Trillium has contributed $7,000 to date. The trees are mulched.

Trillium also does community service with the James River Park System and will donate one workday to Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens starting this year.

“It’s our responsibility to care for the habitat,” Spence said.

  • Boxwood hedge, pruned individually
  • Monarch butterfly
  • Tree frog
  • Michael Spence of Trillium Gardens
  • Echinacea