Landscape Fail

We’ve designed, installed and maintained a lot of landscapes over our 25 plus year career as a landscape company. I’m sad to say, I decided to give up the maintenance account of the largest garden installation we ever installed. I’m very frustrated but even our green thumbs are having trouble making it work.  The landscape is quite unique with great differences in growing conditions throughout the site.  The site had the largest drainage system I’ve seen on a residential property, a high water table in the back yard, an irrigation system with zones that didn’t make a lot of sense when taking into consideration all the different growing conditions and heavy clay soils. I took the job, even though it was outside our normal work area because I knew the General Contractor. As I think back to where the landscape went wrong, the largest detriment to the project had to be the landscape design.  A Landscape Architecture firm designed the landscape. When I saw the site and the plan for the first time, I was concerned with the sustainability of the landscape right from the start.  I could see that the plant list wasn’t going to jive with the difficult site and growing conditions. I brought it to the attention of the General Contractor before I gave him an estimate. He explained that the homeowners had paid a lot of money for a Landscape Architect firm to design the landscape and it wasn’t my concern or his to concern to analyze or make changes to the plan. I submitted my bid and was awarded the job. After installation, the homeowners wanted us to maintain the new garden. We tried for three years to make it work.  Although some of the gardens were successful, many were not.  Constant disappointment and plant replacement was the norm.  Throughout our time on the project, things continued to be over watered while other plants were dying of thirst.  Every time we had to replace a plant due to over watering or a high water table, we would do everything we could to divert water from the base of plants to get them out of the high water table.  Ultimately, some major changes need to occur.  A major irrigation overhaul of a brand new system, a redesign of the landscape with plants that can adapt to the extreme growing conditions and constant micromanaging of the landscape. What I can offer after this experience is this:

1.Make sure who you hire to design your landscape is not only a good designer but has a solid understanding of plants, horticulture and site analysis. Believe it or not, there are a lot of designers out there with minimal understanding of plants and plant needs. In this case, there was obviously heavy clay soil and a high water on parts of the property yet the project was filled with plants that needed good drainage.

2. Make sure there is open discussion between all trades and the homeowners. If someone is concerned with a part of the project, it needs to be brought to the table even if it will increase the budget.  Let the homeowners decide on the final outcome. I was concerned with the plant list and I kept asking for things with the irrigation which didn’t happen because it wasn’t in the budget.

3. It’s never too early to bring in the landscaper on a construction project.  On this project, the property had a high water table. Air conditioners and other utilities were in place by the time we were brought in. Although we couldn’t have eliminated the soil problems, we could have minimized them by building all the garden beds up with compost/soil to get the new landscape out of the existing problem soils but that wasn’t possible when there is so much ‘stuff’ already set in the landscape.

This was a tough experience.  I hate giving up on a project but in retrospect, we just had too many things going against us.  It’s not that the landscape was a total failure. There were plenty of nice areas but it was not as sustainable as it should have been and could have been. Either way, it was a good learning experience.

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Richard Schipul
Richard Schipul

For the last 30 years, I have owned the landscape company Designing Eden LLC based in New Milford, CT. We offer landscape designs, landscape installations and garden maintenance services in Fairfield and Litchfield County Connecticut. I am currently the only Nationally Certified Landscape Designer in Litchfield County and sit on the board of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers and Mad Gardeners.


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