In this episode, I interview Sean Pratt. Sean is a landscape designer at Ganshert Nurseries and Landscapes, a full-service Design/Build landscape firm. In this episode, we discuss:

  • The health benefits of being outside
  • How a well designed outdoor space can make it easier and more enjoyable to be outside when you’re home
  • How to design a space that ages with you
  • How to deal with flooding and grading issues
  • and much more!

Also, Sean would like you to know he meant Bermuda grass, not Crab grass.

You can find Sean on the web, or on Facebook.


Scott Robison Welcome to this week’s episode of the Integration Bodywork podcast. My name is Scott Robison, I’m a licensed massage therapist in Madison, Wisconsin.
Scott Robison The sun is out and I’m psyched, ’cause it’s been raining the last couple weeks here. We had some biblical flooding a couple weeks ago and just the constant rain has made people really frustrated and want to be outside. It’s been kinda yucky, so to have a sunshine-y day where we can grill again before winter sets in is pretty great.
Scott Robison A lot of us are trying to squeeze the last little bits of summer out, outside. And that’s why I’m talking to Sean Pratt from Ganshert Nursery and Landscapes today. We spend some time talking about the health benefits of being outside and we spend a lot of time talking about how you can create a welcoming, livable space outdoors that’s welcoming, inviting, and fun to use.
Scott Robison How you can set it up so that it’s easy to maintain and so that it ages with you, so you don’t have to tear it out and start over when you’re 75. And a whole lot more, so let’s listen in to my conversation with Sean Pratt.
Scott Robison Sean, welcome to the Integration Bodywork podcast.
Sean Pratt Hey, Scott. Thanks for having me.
Scott Robison Awesome, I’m really excited to have you on today. We’re gonna talk a little bit about outdoor spaces and how they can help you live a better life, be healthier, all those great sort of things. But we’re recording this podcast at the end of August 2018, and Madison has not … Maybe it’s not an exaggeration to say we’ve had some biblical flooding here.
Scott Robison You guys do a lot of drainage and grading projects. What’s it been like for you guys?
Sean Pratt Yeah, the last couple weeks have been a little interesting. Lot of phone calls with people, flooded basements. Now even people who’ve never had water in their basements before, we’re getting phone calls. People that have washout, retaining walls that have failed.
Sean Pratt And then the kind of thing that we wanna look at quickly as possible, ’cause people are living with these kinda eyesores. So we’re doing the best we can to keep going on the projects we have already and fit that stuff in as we can.
Scott Robison Got it. What are you guys able to do for the folks you can get to right now? I know you’re probably booked out a couple of weeks at this point. I mean, what do you do at this point once most of the flooding, or at least the rain has stopped temporarily anyway?
Sean Pratt A lot of times what I do is when I’m walking with a homeowner on their property is trying to give them some … I don’t wanna say common sense, but some simple solutions that they can enact on their own. Whether it’s extending a downspout this way or that to try and get it past the corner of a house or maybe they can lay down some plastic in some areas to try and keep water from working its way into areas where it’s causing an issue.
Sean Pratt Or even if it’s some simple grading that they could do on their own with a shovel and a wheelbarrow. I like to try and get them to that point if we’re not able to get there super fast and see if they can handle any of it on their own.
Scott Robison Got it. How successful are those strategies typically for folks?
Sean Pratt A lot of the times, it’s the simplest solution which actually can solve some of the biggest issues. We see a lot of issues with downspouts that just are emptying right next to the foundation. Then with an older foundation, chances are there’s a crack in there and water will find the path of least resistance.
Sean Pratt If you can get that water away from your foundation, a lot of the times that’s the trick. There’s a pretty high success rate with the simple solutions, believe it or not.
Scott Robison Oh, good. That’s awesome. Yeah, seems like maybe that’s rarer than it should be.
Sean Pratt Right.
Scott Robison So let’s talk more generally here. Sean, you are a landscape designer, do I have that right?
Sean Pratt Correct. I have a degree in landscape architecture but I’m not currently a registered landscape architect.
Scott Robison Oh, why not?
Sean Pratt ‘Cause there’s a big test I gotta take and I just haven’t mustered up the courage to take it yet.
Scott Robison Got it. So you think that’s in your future?
Sean Pratt Some day, yeah. For sure.
Scott Robison All right, so let’s talk here about what it is you’re designing these outdoor spaces for, for people? Why is it worth investing the time and effort and money to do some good work with your outdoor space?
Sean Pratt Well, and I don’t know if you wanted to dive into health benefits right away-
Scott Robison Totally. Let’s do it.
Sean Pratt Really, being outside is better for people than being inside. Right? We spend a lot of our time inside, whether it’s the half of our life that we’re sleeping, at work-
Scott Robison You get to sleep half the day?
Sean Pratt Well, no, no. You know what I mean. Eight hours, you know, for the lucky ones. Or in your car or at work. I think I read there was a government study that said upwards of 85-90% of the average person’s day is spent inside.
Scott Robison I believe it.
Sean Pratt Air quality inside is worse than outside and all that kind of stuff. So getting people outside, whether it’s just making a space more aesthetic or more usable, if we can get them outside, we can start to get some of those health benefits from being outside.
Scott Robison So what are we talking about? What do we mean when we say it’s more aesthetic? Are there some basic principles that seem to hold true for most people?
Sean Pratt Again, sometimes it’s the simplest solution. We do a lot of projects where it’s just planting beds that were let get overgrown and they’re an eyesore. There’s a lot of weeds, ugly trees and shrubs. Sometimes just cleaning them up so it’s not a stressor when you’re looking at it. A lot of people will look at the landscape and say that’s a chore.
Scott Robison Sure.
Sean Pratt That’s another thing on my list. If we can get people to flip their perception a little bit and take it from being a chore and think of their landscape as a refuge or a benefit to their home, that’s really in essence what we’re trying to do.
Scott Robison Yeah. How do you do that for people in a way that’s … I mean, I would imagine for most people like making it aesthetic and a low-maintenance sort of has to go hand in hand?
Sean Pratt Yeah.
Scott Robison Yeah, how do you do that?
Sean Pratt Honestly, when it comes to planting, I kinda live by the mantra of the right plant for the right place, which is basically we’re selecting plant material that isn’t gonna overgrow its space. It’s gonna gracefully fill in over time.
Sean Pratt Also, something that’s gonna give you multi-season interest so you’re not having to add a whole bunch of stuff throughout the season to keep it looking good. Also just picking things that don’t have really specific needs. There’s some plants that really need specific watering regimens or there’s certain plants that have to be staked, otherwise the blooms will fall over.
Sean Pratt So it’s kinda just picking the stuff that’s easy to take care of that you really only have to touch once or twice a year and it’ll kinda take care of itself. So working that stuff in.
Scott Robison Are there any examples you can think of that are common but are difficult to take care of well?
Sean Pratt That’s a great question. So one example, I get people asking me about these all the time are dahlias. They’re a bulb that you can plant and they have really beautiful flowers on them, but the problem is, is the flowers almost always without fail will flop over. They have to be staked. Then you actually have to take the bulbs out every fall.
Sean Pratt Chances of losing them are much greater, so you gotta dig up the bulbs, put them in paper bags, put them in your basement and then in the spring you go plant them again in order to get the blooms. That’s one example.
Sean Pratt There’s some hydrangeas too that are really popular, the Endless Summer hydrangea. We like to call it the “endless bummer hydrangea.” You see these nice pictures of these beautiful blue or pink flowers-
Scott Robison Sure.
Sean Pratt That type of hydrangea just doesn’t do well in our soil. They like acidic soils, we have highly alkaline soil. The blooms just don’t show up. You’ll have a nice big, full plant but no blooms.
Scott Robison Right.
Sean Pratt People are always asking us, “Hey, why isn’t it blooming?” Well, you picked the wrong type of hydrangea.
Scott Robison Interesting. Is that why they seem to thrive in the Northeast? I grew up in Massachusetts, on the South Shore so there’s blue hydrangeas every time you turn around it seems like.
Sean Pratt Mm-hmm (affirmative). I mean, that would make sense to me. We just have so much limestone here that it just permeates in. There’s very few places in this part of the state where you have acidic soil. If you go up north, you have acidic soils up there.
Scott Robison Interesting. What’s the base mineral in limestone, is that calcium hydroxide? Is that what it is?
Sean Pratt Ooh-
Scott Robison No, it’s calcium carbonate, right?
Sean Pratt Calcium carbonate, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Scott Robison That’s it, okay.
Sean Pratt I knew you were on the right track but-
Scott Robison Yeah, yeah. Anyway, just chemistry nerd time.
Sean Pratt That was a trick question.
Scott Robison It was not a trick question ’cause I didn’t’ know the answer either.
Scott Robison All right, so what are people usually looking for in a space when they’re talking with you? We talked about trying to make it aesthetic, but like what else are people looking for typically? Or should they be looking for maybe is the better question.
Sean Pratt So functionality, that’s kind of a big thing. There’s the old adage “form follows function,” and that really holds true. Every time I’m on site, one, going back to the water thing I’m thinking about where the water’s gonna go on the site? ‘Cause any time we add something, whether it’s a planting bed or a hardscape feature like a patio or a retaining wall, we’re gonna affect the hydrology of the site.
Sean Pratt So the water’s gonna change, but then just making sure people have enough usable space for how they wanna use that space. If we’re creating an outdoor living area, it’s really talking with them about how do you envision yourself using this space? Is it just gonna be for outdoor dining with four to six people or are you gonna have a fire pit out here?
Sean Pratt Those kind of things. Working them through that and making sure that the space is gonna fit their needs, where it’s not too big where it’s kind of a monstrosity in their backyard that they never use. Or not too small either.
Scott Robison Have you ever put a lazy river in somebody’s yard?
Sean Pratt I don’t think so.
Scott Robison Okay.
Sean Pratt That would be a new one.
Scott Robison Just curious. My cousin bought a place out in Colorado about two years ago. I thought he was kidding when he was talking about putting a lazy river in his backyard. Apparently he was actually serious. It was probably like an acre, maybe three quarters of an acre. They put up like a big hill and a koi pond that will someday have koi and a bunch of other stuff. I guess there was a lazy river planned, but they decided not to do it in the end.
Sean Pratt I’m guessing it was pricey.
Scott Robison Seems like it would be, right?
Sean Pratt Yeah, seems like a pool company’s avenue there, but that’s interesting.
Scott Robison Yeah. Is it mostly outdoor dining that people are coming to you for? How many people come to you looking for like, “Hey, I want a space for my kids to play.”
Sean Pratt I mean, a lot. Any time we’re re-doing someone’s backyard, that’s always a part of it if they have kids. It’s always space for the kids to play soccer or … depending on the age.
Scott Robison Sure.
Sean Pratt One thing I always work with clients on is thinking about how these spaces are gonna transition over time. Kids might be young now and they want a jungle gym and a sandbox and all that kind of stuff. But how are you gonna repurpose that over time? What does that turn into? Are you gonna have enough lawn for them to play soccer or football in a few years?
Sean Pratt After that, the kids are in college, when they come back home, do you want to have an outdoor living space where they can have their friends over? And then thinking about the homeowner themselves as they start to age, how are they gonna use that space?
Sean Pratt Is it gonna meet their needs down the road too? It’s all involved. As much as I can, I like to approach those projects as holistically as possible, from a long-term aspect.
Scott Robison Right. Yeah, that seems like a sensible strategy and yet probably is relatively infrequently adopted, I would imagine.
Sean Pratt It’s hard to do, it’s kinda hard to wrap your head around. Even for me sometimes, thinking about how to transition spaces. But also you have to have someone who’s in the right spot, they plan on being there for decades not just years.
Scott Robison Yeah, right. That’s an interesting point. Yeah, I remember … this was a while ago, but I remember when ING Direct was still in existence, they only sold seven-year mortgages ’cause most people are in and out of a house in about that time. They’re like, “What’s the point in having a 30-year mortgage if most people don’t actually get there?” Which I thought was an interesting take on it.
Scott Robison Is there anything in particular that are some basic principles for folks who are trying to do it themselves on how to easily transition those spaces?
Sean Pratt Probably the biggest thing is I kind of call it taking the space for a test drive. Say you want a patio in your backyard, laying out that space and using it. There’s not a patio there, but in the grass, laying out what you plan on doing and trying to live in that space.
Sean Pratt Again, it comes down to that making sure you’re giving yourself enough space to use it effectively. When it comes to planting, I’m always putting out stakes and flags for people to kind of visualize where things are gonna be. From in their house, they can look out certain windows and, “Okay, where’s that focal point gonna be?”
Sean Pratt If you’re trying to screen something like a road, are those plants gonna be tall enough? Those kind of things.
Scott Robison Got it. We talked a little bit about low maintenance already, but in my head, I feel a little bit like low maintenance also is … I don’t even know how the right way to say this. More natural sounds kinda silly when you’re talking about landscaping, because all landscaping is natural. Most people don’t use artificial plants outside [crosstalk 00:12:08].
Scott Robison Most people are thinking more like prairie restoration and that sort of thing. What’s your feeling on prairie restoration in people’s yards?
Sean Pratt If you have the ambition and the budget to do it, it’s great. But there’s a lot of work involved. It’s not as simple as stripping out your grass and throwing down some seed and you’ve got an insta-prairie. It doesn’t really work that way.
Sean Pratt Especially for the first five years, you’re battling a lot of weeds. Just staying on top of that to make sure the prairie plants that you’ve planted have time to establish and kinda work their way in, and out-compete some of those things.
Sean Pratt I always recommend when somebody’s trying to do a prairie restoration … Well, two things. One is hire a company to at least help you get it established. And then check up on it every two to three years, just to make sure things are still on track.
Sean Pratt The other option is, is doing a stylized prairie. This is what I do more often with clients, kinda reducing the amount of size they’re looking at doing and actually instead of doing a seed mix, we actually do full plants in gallon pots or whatever. And do kind of the look of a prairie with big swaths of plantings, but you’re taking some of the struggle of establishing it out by having fully-established plants in there right away.
Sean Pratt It’s easy to tell what is a weed and what isn’t a weed, ’cause that’s actually the biggest difficulty early on in a prairie’s process is identifying what’s a good plant and what’s not and getting rid of the bad ones. ‘Cause you can’t go in there and spray, you’d kill everything.
Sean Pratt It’s not like a lawn where you could theoretically use broadleaf herbicides and get rid of all the dandelions and stuff. You’d kinda kill it all. So you have to be able to identify what’s good, what’s bad, and you also have to physically be able to get out there and remove the bad stuff.
Scott Robison Okay, yeah it seems like it’s a lot more complicated than I think people maybe give it credit for. I remember hearing a story about a lady who just let her yard go in the hope of being a prairie restoration all by itself. I don’t think it went well.
Sean Pratt Unfortunately, the invasive weeds are much more aggressive than the good stuff.
Scott Robison Funny how that works. You know, it’s funny. I was just thinking about the invasive weeds. The last two out of the three places that we’ve lived have had grassy lawns that were clearly not monocultures.
Scott Robison The crab grass had kinda gotten established and some of those things and I’ve never had to water in any of those places. Which I thought was fascinating, because I grew up in suburban Ohio where we watered all summer, just like everybody around here probably does. I don’t know, my working hypothesis has mostly been that it was like the bio-diversity was probably what was part of what kept it green all summer long.
Scott Robison Does that hold water with you?
Sean Pratt Oh, yes. Hold water …
Scott Robison I did it again.
Sean Pratt YOu’re good at that. Yeah, no it definitely … A lot of times if you have a dry spell, the Kentucky bluegrass, which is the predominant turf grass that you see, tends to go dormant fairly quickly in drought periods. Some of those other species like crabgrass for example will start to flourish.
Sean Pratt That’s what you see in climates that don’t get as much rain or a little bit hotter, those types of grasses are actually used as turf grass.
Scott Robison What, like crabgrass is?
Sean Pratt Yeah.
Scott Robison Oh, interesting.
Sean Pratt We’ve seen kind of a trend of different turf grasses being used that are more drought-tolerant. Things like fescues need much less fertilizer input and they can handle drought better. Their roots go deeper, that’s kinda the biggest benefit to them. You see a lot of that being used these days as opposed to Kentucky bluegrass.
Scott Robison Does it always make sense to use a monoculture when you’re trying to seed your lawn? Or can you get a mix that doesn’t include crabgrass maybe or thistles or Creeping Charlie but still be fairly low maintenance?
Sean Pratt Yeah, so actually probably the most popular turf mix that’s used now is a mix of fine fescues and Kentucky bluegrass. Kentucky bluegrass is good in the sense that it spreads via rhizomes, so the roots don’t go super deep but they kinda creep along the surface. That’s why when we get a drought period, the upper part of the grass will go dormant and you see it go brown.
Sean Pratt A lot of the time, once we get rain again, it’ll pop right back because those rhizomes stay underneath the surface and they tend to survive unless you’re in a really super drought. A lot of times you’ll mix that now with fescues, which can handle drought better, so it’ll keep the lawn looking greener when some of that bluegrass would go dormant. That’s pretty common these days.
Scott Robison Okay. So I’ve seen a lot of people over the last few years do the thing where they like either spray with the paper mix or they just kinda throw down some seed and some straw. In your opinion, does that actually work? Is that a good way to try to seed a lawn?
Sean Pratt Just like seed and straw?
Scott Robison Yeah, with like some of the netting stuff over the top of it.
Sean Pratt Yeah, honestly that’s what we do a lot of the time. Smaller areas, we’ll use loose straw. Larger areas, we’ll use a straw matting but we use one totally biodegradable so you don’t have the plastic netting in the lawn anymore.
Sean Pratt So after a couple years, everything will kinda decompose on its own, including the stakes. We actually use, they’re called green stakes and they’re a compostable stake that we stick in to keep the netting in place. Those will break down after a couple years too.
Scott Robison Yeah, I guess I was wondering about that ’cause I feel like the last few places I’ve seen it done, it’s yeah okay, clearly the grass has gotten going but it’s totally been invaded by crabgrass and some of these other things too. I was just wondering is that just a cheap way to do it? Or is there other things you need to do to sort of make sure it’s successful?
Sean Pratt When you’re seeding the lawn, it’s almost impossible to stop the weeds. Basically, you’re creating the perfect environment for weeds to flourish is disturbed soil. A lot of the times those weed seeds are gonna germinate a lot faster than your grass seed is going to.
Sean Pratt You’re gonna have some weed pressure early on, but you tend to come out of that pretty quick if you’re watering regularly. Once that grass gets to about three inches tall, you can start mowing. Once you start mowing-
Scott Robison That’s awfully tall.
Sean Pratt That’s actually … Two to three inches is where we recommend people keep their lawns.
Scott Robison Oh, so not golf course length, right?
Sean Pratt Nope. If you mow your lawn too short you’re making it really, really susceptible to burning out in a drought. Right now, if you’re mowing your lawn at an inch or less, it’s probably fine. Probably looks nice and green ’cause we’ve got a lot of rain. But if we have a drought like we had in 2012, your lawn is gonna burn much quicker than if you’re keeping it at two to three inches in length. It’ll seem long, but it’ll look a lot greener longer.
Scott Robison This is sort of a weird question, but so if the measured length of the lawn is important, how come lawnmowers are just indexed like one through 10 on their blade heights?
Sean Pratt Well, the one I have is like A through E, where it’s actually lettered. Yeah, I don’t have an answer for that. I don’t know.
Scott Robison Do you have a rough estimation on what typically is the best … Like how do you know what’s … Other than I suppose you could just take it out and mow your lawn with a ruler? But like do you have a sense of how to gauge that three-inch length?
Sean Pratt A lot of the times, most of the mowers that I’ve used, it’s about two-thirds of the way up the settings. It’s not the highest setting, but if you’re at halfway, you’re probably okay. But I like to kinda go somewhere in between there.
Scott Robison Interesting, okay. That’s super useful. I feel like I did a really bad job on my parents’ lawn for six years or so.
Sean Pratt It’s probably fine, though. It’s probably fine.
Scott Robison Okay. Sean, let’s take a quick break here.
Sean Pratt Sure.
Scott Robison And when we come back, we sorta skipped over a little bit. We can talk more about the health benefits of what we’re doing and more specifically about how you help people achieve those benefits.
Sean Pratt Sure.
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Scott Robison All right, and we’re back. So Sean, we talked a little bit about the health benefits but we kind of skipped over it a little bit. Let’s dig in a little deeper on why it’s so important for people to have healthy outdoor spaces.
Scott Robison Yeah, anything you can shed light on in terms of how it affects people’s health in their own homes.
Sean Pratt I mean, there’s the obvious one is everybody knows you’re out in the sun, that’s how you get Vitamin D. That seems pretty simple. Really, you only need like 15 or 20 minutes a few times a week outside without sunscreen on to get the Vitamin D you really need.
Scott Robison Only in the summer though, apparently, centered on the solstice.
Sean Pratt Right, so yeah, then you’ve got the Seasonal Affective Disorder or whatever … Is that what that’s called? The SAD?
Scott Robison Yeah. I think that’s more light-driven though, not so much Vitamin D-driven but light-driven.
Sean Pratt Sure, definitely. In general, people just tend to feel better when they’re outside. From a really basic looking at it. Have you heard of the term green exercise?
Scott Robison No, tell me about green exercise.
Sean Pratt It’s a really simple concept. Being in the presence of nature tends to enhance people’s moods. Would you agree with that?
Scott Robison Oh, for sure.
Sean Pratt You feel better, right? So taking your workouts or your exercise outside has that same effect on your workouts. You tend to have more productive workouts ’cause you’re in a better mood when you’re outside as opposed to doing workouts in a gym. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that during your workouts or anything like that, but I thought that was an interesting way of looking at it.
Scott Robison So I haven’t really experienced that that much. That being said, I honestly don’t exercise outdoors much anymore. I ran cross country and track in high school and college, but that was a lot longer ago now than I sort of am comfortable with.
Scott Robison Not that I’m old, I’m 36. That’s not actually old, but that was a while ago. Most of my exercise for the last 15 years has been indoors. Climbing gyms, weight rooms, CrossFit gyms, places like that. But I have heard similar things.
Scott Robison There’s also some interesting claims by some of the PrimalHacker type people now about light quality, or light source exposure. LED lights and fluorescents versus incandescents and natural light and grounding.
Sean Pratt I was gonna bring up the grounding thing. That’s interesting to me too, yeah.
Scott Robison Tell me about the grounding piece. I’m interested to hear your take on it from your landscape perspective.
Sean Pratt I have no real take on it, to be honest. I’ve read like two things on it extremely briefly, but what I gather from it is it has to do with the electrons in your body and the electrons of the earth. Because of the differences in … not the polarity, I’m not sure what the right term is.
Sean Pratt But with the differences between our electrons and the earth’s electrons, it can actually pull some of that from the earth if we’re in direct contact, skin to ground contact, with the earth.
Scott Robison Best explanation that seems most cogent I’ve heard is that the normal biochemical machinery of life, specifically mitochondrial activity, creates a net positive charge. What that really means is that you’re losing electrons somehow, so that internally you’ve got a net positive charge and that being in contact with the ground directly allows that huge reservoir of electrons, which is the earth, to suck back up into your body and normalize your internal charge.
Scott Robison It seems a little bit like false logic, because number one, most of the time … Just for reference, the strength of the electromagnetic force compared to gravity, it’s 10 to the 44 times stronger than gravity. So what does that mean? It means however much you weigh, multiply that by a one with 44 zeros after it, that’s how much stronger the force between an electron and a proton is in relative magnitude.
Scott Robison So it seems unlikely that through your own experience of shuffling your feet on the carpet when it’s dry out and then touching something. Like that’s how easy it is for you to charge your skin and then discharge it. So it seems unlikely that, at least being barefoot in your house …
Scott Robison I could see an argument for rubber-soled shoes, but at least being barefoot in your house wouldn’t be enough to neutralize yourself, if that was really the case. Like does holding onto a wire work? I don’t know. A grounded wire. The three prongs of your outlet, you could just stick a fork in the grounding one.
Sean Pratt Yeah, that is not a suggestion.
Scott Robison I don’t recommend it either, but you know. Anyway, all right, so we got kinda sidetracked there. Exercising outdoors, that’s probably beneficial for us.
Sean Pratt And the other thing with kids too, a lot of the stuff that I’ve seen has to do with the effects on kids, both dealing with sedentary lifestyles … I don’t remember where this study was, I think it was in Great Britain. They actually hooked up kids to GPS monitors and accelerometers and they were able to track their activity levels both inside and outside.
Sean Pratt Kids were over two times more active when they were outside, just not given any other stimuli whatsoever or any sort of influence. They were just naturally two times more active when they were outside. You couple that with less screen time.
Sean Pratt I’m sure in your profession you see kids and adults who, bending over looking at screens all the time, straining, all that kind of stuff has a really negative effect overall on your body. Also, concentration … There’s another term I’m gonna bring up, the nature-deficit disorder. Have you heard of that?
Scott Robison Mm-hmm (affirmative), yup. What’s the book, “Last Child in the Woods?” My wife read that. I get a lot of those sorts of book summaries from my wife, she reads all those.
Sean Pratt Sure. Yup, but I mean, there’s some real research behind that. Kids who are affected by ADHD at least is lessened if they have regular contact with the outdoors.
Scott Robison Yeah, that’s interesting.
Sean Pratt I don’t know if that carries over into adults or not or if this is somewhat specific with children, but there’s some background to it.
Scott Robison I know you and your wife don’t have kids yet, but we do. We’ve got three. Like this morning was a great example. My kids got up, they had … We got breakfast to them relatively quickly and then they decided to try to use these paint markers, but like standing next to each other at the coffee table.
Scott Robison It was just fighting over it, “No, he’s gonna use it all.” Just all the yelling and the fighting and the stomping upstairs. I think my wife threw them away when she was done. I was like, “Man, shouldn’t we just kick them outside right now? Wouldn’t that solve this problem?”
Sean Pratt Yeah, it probably would.
Scott Robison I also didn’t step up and say anything, so I guess that’s my own fault. All right, so let’s agree here that having a healthy outdoor space is sort of generally beneficial to your health. Is there anything else besides most people feel better when they’re outside or even looking outside?
Sean Pratt So the other thing that gets brought up a lot is people’s ability to heal faster if they’ve got a connection to nature. In hospital settings is probably where this is mostly seen. So even just the sight of nature or the perceived sight of nature, whether it’s a window out onto a nice courtyard as opposed to looking at the brick wall of another hospital building or no window at all.
Sean Pratt I think it was University of Pittsburgh did a study with spinal surgery patients. They healed noticeably faster with natural light and the ability to see outside. They also use less pain meds too, which is sort of interesting-
Scott Robison Oh, interesting.
Sean Pratt From my personal experience, I know you remember when I was in the hospital in February with a heart condition. It’s as simple as there was a channel in the hospital that was like a nature channel. I was having a really hard time falling asleep and my heart was going into these racing episodes.
Sean Pratt I found this channel, it literally played 24 hours a day just a babbling brook or trees blowing in the wind. It calmed me down like nothing else. It was unbelievable.
Scott Robison Are you sure that’s not ’cause you’re a landscape architect?
Sean Pratt No, no. I don’t think so ’cause it would’ve made me think about work more if that was the case. It would’ve made it worse. But no, from a firsthand experience, I can attest to it actually assisting me.
Scott Robison Yeah, the Vitamin D natural light piece is sort of interesting with that too. I know I was talking to a neurologist a couple weeks ago about Vitamin D status. She said in a test tube some immune cell activates in the presence of Vitamin D.
Scott Robison It may actually play a role both in immune system functions in a positive way in that healing sense, but also extremely low Vitamin D status is symptomatic when you have things like autoimmune conditions. It’s conceivable that that Vitamin D status may actually be an aggravating factor or a causative factor in those autoimmune conditions ’cause they’re not getting enough of that right immune cell activation.
Sean Pratt Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Scott Robison Actually I guess that makes … I have something wrong in that story, right? If you have an autoimmune condition, your immune system is attacking yourself. Anyway, it does something beneficial. I should be clearer on that story.
Sean Pratt Well, no it makes sense. If Vitamin D is shown to activate immune cells in some way, shape, or form, lack of Vitamin D would mean those cells are less active.
Scott Robison Maybe that’s what it is. Does access to the outdoors do anything for older adults? I know my father-in-law is in a assisted living facility, and he loves both being able to look out his window but also being able to take walks and some of those things.
Sean Pratt Yeah, we work with a lot of people who are well past retirement age who would like to stay at home but it’s hard when they have things they need to do outside and they just don’t feel like they can handle those things. So if we can get them to a point where … We talked about low maintenance stuff and can also be the accessibility through their property. We try and implement things that are inherent in universal design, if you’ve dealt with that or heard of that at all.
Scott Robison No, what’s universal design?
Sean Pratt Basically taking into account all site users and making a space usable for all site users regardless of their ability.
Scott Robison You know, now that you say that, I have heard of this.
Sean Pratt Yeah, okay. It’s a fairly simple concept, it’s just really thinking about who’s gonna be using a site and what difficulties they might have and how do you overcome those and make it safe for everybody to use them? A lot of times it’s pathways throughout. If you can avoid having steps, if there’s a way to do nice, gentle ramp transition.
Sean Pratt Having places to rest in the space, so benches, seats, things like that. Raised planting beds is another big one to allow that kind of access.
Scott Robison Why, so then they can get to the plants without having to bend over too far?
Sean Pratt Exactly. It’s just providing that access so you don’t have to be bending over. It’s allowing people who may have some … Doesn’t have to be elderly. People with other physical ailments who aren’t able to do some of these things, if we can set them up for success, they’re gonna have a better time doing it.
Sean Pratt They’re gonna spend more time outside. They’re gonna get more physical activity, stimulate the senses. Sight, touch, sound, smell, all that being outside has an effect mentally. And then also social interaction too. People who are working out in their gardens tend to talk with their neighbors more.
Sean Pratt Maybe they have friends over. They’re proud of what they’ve done so they show people their yard. It kinda has a far-reaching effect. It seems simple, it seems like a little thing, but it can have really far-reaching effects.
Scott Robison Gotcha. Yeah, that’s an interesting thought. I hadn’t considered it sort of from that social aspect too, although I guess that makes sense. Other than having people over for dinner.
Sean Pratt Right, right.
Scott Robison Interesting. Sean, you work for Ganshert Nursery and Landscapes. In your role there as a landscape designer, how do you pull all these ideas together for people?
Sean Pratt It’s really through just communication, meeting with the client. Finding out what their needs are and figuring out how we can make their outdoor spaces more usable. Whether through planting design, making things more aesthetic, or through hardscape design with patios, outdoor kitchens, seating areas, that kind of stuff.
Sean Pratt Making an extension of the home, I guess would be a way of looking at that. Which also helps people extend the time that they’re using the outdoors. Instead of cooking and eating in the kitchen and dining room, if you have something similar outside, you can spend that time outside during the months that we have.
Sean Pratt Or we can extend that season too. Maybe a hot tub for the winter, you can spend some time outside in the winter too. Fire pits and fireplaces are another thing we do a lot of that kind of extends that season into the fall.
Sean Pratt One of the things … Our owner actually says this all the time that the fire pit at the house is kinda like a form of truth serum for teenagers. You have a fire at your house and you invite all the kids over and they will tell you anything and everything.
Scott Robison Interesting.
Sean Pratt He looks at it as a better way to … The kids are gonna be hanging out, why not have them hang out at your house? If you have a nice fire pit seating area, they’ll be more apt to do that.
Scott Robison Interesting, I’ll have to keep that in mind for 10 years from now.
Sean Pratt Yeah, yeah.
Scott Robison What are your favorite kind of projects to work on? I know we’ve talked about a lot of things, from landscape and hardscape and plantings. What’s your favorite piece of that?
Sean Pratt That’s a hard one. I have really memorable projects in each aspect, but I really do enjoy the satisfaction I get out of helping people who have grading and drainage issues. They’ve got something that is really affecting their ability to live somewhere.
Sean Pratt I’ve had people who were on the verge of trying to sell the house as-is and get out of there because they couldn’t deal with it anymore. Water runs downhill. If we can find a way to make it keep running downhill and not into your house.
Sean Pratt Again, I keep saying this. It sounds simple but sometimes it can be intricate and if we’re able to solve that for somebody and really change their life and their ability to stay somewhere, it’s pretty rewarding.
Scott Robison Yeah, I believe it. Even Mark Alexander from Actuate Improvement just had a project like that for somebody’s basement.
Sean Pratt Yeah, well we haven’t done any work there. But we met with them and we came up with some pretty simple solutions. We were there on Monday, I think it was Monday the 20th when the big rain happened. I think Mark knows the family that lives there and it was kind of out of his wheelhouse as far as what was going on.
Sean Pratt Basically, there was a handicapped child who has a bedroom in the basement and there’s a egress window well there. It would fill up and water would just pour in the window. Through some investigative work, we were able to figure out there were two downspouts emptying right next to the foundation. The grade pitched in toward the house.
Sean Pratt Then to make matters worse, that water works its way down to the drain tile along the foundation into the sump and then the sump pump was kicking it right back basically right next to the window well where the kid’s room was. So there was just gallons and gallons and hundreds and thousands of gallons of water were just going into this window well during these storms.
Sean Pratt Mark actually went and got some long pieces of drain tile and re-routed a couple of things. He recommended them they go rent a pump just as backup. I’m not sure how much the pump ran, but in that big rain event, as far as I know they didn’t’ get any water in the room.
Sean Pratt Those solutions actually helped. That’s one of those that I talked about earlier. If we can walk people through maybe what they can do to help in the meantime. We may end up going back there to do some grading work to help them out, but now they have a strategy if it’s gonna rain again. They don’t have to worry about that room flooding for the fourth time.
Scott Robison That’s amazing. I wonder how many people are living with that stuff and just figure either there’s nothing you can do about it or don’t know who to reach out to. I’m sure that’s relatively common.
Sean Pratt Yeah, it is. It is.
Scott Robison Is there any project that people call you with often that you would rather not do?
Sean Pratt Hmm. I hadn’t really thought about that one.
Scott Robison The example that I usually give folks is if people call us here at Integration Bodywork and they say, “Hey, you know, I had a really tough week and I need to just really chill out and relax.”
Scott Robison I say, “Great, let me give you five referrals to these other people in my building ’cause that’s not the work that we do.”
Sean Pratt Yeah, but I totally get why you do that. I would lean on if there’s a way we can help them, I’m gonna try to do it. I do know there’s certain projects that the crews don’t enjoy doing as much as others. You have a house that hasn’t been taken care of for 30 years and there’s a foot of gravel around the house that’s all gotta be shoveled out by hand.
Sean Pratt The ones that you can’t use any equipment … But we also shine. The issue is we shine in those situations, because we can really turn something around that’s really a turd and it’s a gem in the end of it.
Sean Pratt It’s hard for me to say that there’s a project I don’t like working on.
Scott Robison Fair enough. I was just curious. Not everybody has the easy answer to that like I do.
Sean Pratt I’m sure if I thought long and hard, I could come up with one.
Scott Robison Well, as long as it doesn’t come from-
Sean Pratt Actually, I got it. It’s the places where people don’t clean up their dog poop in their yards before we come.
Scott Robison Oh, yeah. Totally.
Sean Pratt That can be frustrating sometimes.
Scott Robison Do you guys do lawn mowing and snow removal and that kind of stuff? I think that’s something people associate with landscape companies.
Sean Pratt Technically, we do. We don’t focus heavily on maintenance, but we like to like I said, if we can help somebody out, we like to say that we can. We have a small lawn mowing route and we have a small snow removal, both commercial and residential in the winter.
Sean Pratt Not like some of the big companies that you see in Madison. We can’t really compete price-wise, but we are really responsive if people have issues or they need the end of their driveway cleaned up again after the snow plows come through. We’re able to accommodate that pretty easily.
Scott Robison Yeah, okay. Actually, speaking of competing on price. I would imagine that a lot of people think that hiring a landscape design firm is out of their price range. But how small do you guys usually go?
Sean Pratt We’ll do everything from plant one tree or shrub and up to outdoor kitchens and everything in between. Being a smaller company, it kind of allows us that flexibility to do that. That being said, the smaller the project, the more expensive it’s gonna seem ’cause there is cost in getting a truck and a crew to the site.
Sean Pratt So if you have us come plant one little shrub at the corner of your house, it’s probably gonna seem a little expensive. But we have the ability to do that.
Scott Robison I see, okay. Sean, it’s been really excellent, really eye-opening stuff. Anything else you want people to know before we close up for the day?
Sean Pratt No, I mean just if anybody has questions about landscaping, has a project that they might have in mind or they’re just not sure how to get started, you can either contact us by giving us a call or you check on our website, Got lots of pictures and stuff on there.
Scott Robison How do you spell that? How do you spell Ganshert?
Sean Pratt G-A-N-S-H-E-R-T.
Scott Robison Okay, got it. Are you guys on social anywhere?
Sean Pratt Yeah, we do have a Facebook page which is updated very regularly. We’ve actually got a lot of cool articles that we put on there and tips and tricks. We’re starting a new thing, “Landscaper Lingo,” we’re gonna do that once a week. There’s some terms that our crews use that if a homeowner was hearing them talk, they’d be like, “What the heck are they talking about?”
Sean Pratt The landscaper shuffle, you tell people to do the landscaper shuffler when there’s some loose soil on the ground. We need to compact it so you just kind of do a little dance over the top of it. So stuff like that. Yeah, check out our Facebook page.
Scott Robison Got it. What is that, at Ganshert Nurseries?
Sean Pratt Yeah, it’s at Ganshert Nursery and Landscapes.
Scott Robison Got it, the full value. All right, Sean. Well, thanks so much for joining us today and we’ll talk to you soon.
Sean Pratt Cool. Thanks, Scott. Appreciate it.
Scott Robison Yup. Well, that’s it for this episode of the Integration Bodywork podcast. If you enjoyed it, please be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review on iTunes. That’s how other people find the show.
Scott Robison If you’d like to find out more about me and what I’m up to, you can go to the website where you can see show notes for this episode and subscribe to the famous weekly newsletter.


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