Signs You’ve Hired the Wrong Landscaper

Earlier this year, we finally closed out the work we contracted to have done by a landscape architect firm and a landscaping company.

Mostly, it didn’t go well.

The part that did go well was the design from the landscape architect. We were very pleased with the design. Given our exceedingly busy schedules with managing IT teams, we also contracted with the landscape architect firm to handle the construction management of the project. It was simply impossible for us to be on site as frequently as necessary in order to complete this project. That’s were things went very wrong. I’d like to acknowledge the excellent design done by one member of the landscape architect firm with a link to their web site. However, since the construction management was such a failure, the best I can muster in consideration for the design is to leave the landscaping architect firm’s name out of this post.

I will name the landscaper: Victor’s Landscaping.

If you’re in Colorado and find yourself dealing with a landscaper named Victor, you may be in trouble.

Our number one lesson from this project was not to assume anything or trust anyone unless detailed instructions that include consequences for failure to follow the instructions are made in writing. Basically, we needed a competent change management protocol. Our mistake was assuming this was part of the construction management. Both of us have a clear understanding what this means in the IT world and from past experiences with other construction efforts. Several months into the project, after we started to discover things were off track irrespective of the construction manager’s reports, we ended up stepping into a much more active role. By then, much of the damage, and I do mean damage, had been done. Months later, in a meeting to resolve a dispute over the construction management costs, the construction manager attempted to reframe his task as “construction observation.” WTF? I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay 5% of the overall project cost just to have someone watch some crappy landscaper hack up my yard. “Management” implies an active role. “Observation” implies a passive role. We needed management, not observation. In the end, we didn’t pay the “observation” fee.

But the damage had indeed been done.

None of the sprinkler zones worked, including those on the other side of the house which had nothing to do with the front yard landscaping project. We had instructions for buried lines in all zones. We got a drip system for all zones except the one for the a set of 8 raised garden beds. And that zone was so completely botched, it never worked and couldn’t be made to work. I had to dig up the entire zone, now buried beneath 8 raised garden beds, and replace it with a system that now works as designed.

Here’s the design (click thumbnail for larger picture):

Raised Bed Irrigation - Map of what was designed.

It was designed in a loop to deliver even water pressure. It was designed to minimize the exposure of irrigation lines in the raised garden beds so that we could dig without the worry of hitting a line. Here’s what was installed (click thumbnail for larger picture):

Raised Bed Irrigation - Map of what was intalled.

Leaks, punctures, incomplete work, and ultimately almost no water pressure where it was needed – in the garden beds.

We’ve never hired out a landscaping project before this one. So we certainly learned a lot from this project. Unfortunately, our experience is all too common and is seems landscapers are deservedly held in the same esteem as used car salesmen. I’m sure there are good landscapers in the business. Victor’s Landscaping isn’t among them. For anyone considering the profession, there is a need for quality and honesty and on that basis one could build a very successful business.

Some of our additional lessons:

  • Learn Spanish (working on this).
  • Do your own construction management if you don’t have a proven resource for the job.
  • If you hire a construction manager, have a detailed description of what they are responsible for and have that in writing.
  • If you hire a construction manager, trust but verify their reports.
  • If you hire a construction manger, keep your own tally of costs and payments and reconcile with the construction manger at least weakly.
  • Be prepared to stop the project on a dime (literally) if the slightest hint of problems surface.

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