Despite evidence that would suggest otherwise, construction projects do end. Witness my new backyard. All you need are tongue-biting patience, puppy-dog faith, and a maybe little scripture.
I have opened a bottle of Prosecco, and my husband and I are toasting our new yard with our landscape designer Tony Evans, who has spearheaded the six-month landscaping odyssey.
Evans is dashing around the yard taking pictures.
"What's your favorite part of the job?" I ask dashing alongside him.
"This!" He says without hesitation and throws open his arms.
"Mine, too!" I say.
"Even though I design down to the inch," he says, "I am always surprised when the vision comes together, and I've been doing this 20 years."
Transformation never gets tiresome.
My husband and I first met Evans, owner of Orlando Landscape Design, in December, when we invited him over to help us reimagine our unremarkable backyard, a forsaken, overgrown, downtrodden plot of earth with as much appeal as an abandoned factory in the Rust Belt.
A month later he presented a virtual rendering of what our yard could be, and flew us around it with his mouse. The avatar yard maximized the view and minimized the neighbors. It featured three outdoor rooms — a living room, dining area, and hearth room with a fire pit, and a fountain. We were sold. We kicked the project off March 1.
Since then, I've learned landscaping projects are like pregnancy. Once that baby arrives, you forget the nausea, heartburn, swollen ankles and the humbling moment when you hold your underpants up and discover the big part now goes in the front because the reward is so worth it.
Now I can hardly remember the tree remover who didn't grind the stumps low enough to literally make the grade. I can barely recall the day when the wall fountain — which needed to go in before anything else and which took nine weeks to arrive — couldn't be installed because the Bobcat that was supposed to carry the fountain into the yard couldn't drive over the four-foot deep, two-foot-wide trench the gas-line contractor had dug to bury the gas line, which couldn't be filled in until the gas line passed inspection, which couldn't happen until we could get an inspector, which was difficult because of the pandemic's stay-at-home orders. And I have only a dim recollection of the cement fire bowl that arrived cracked, and the month-long wait for its replacement, and of the 3,000 pounds of black Mexican beach rocks coming to Florida, for reasons no one could explain, from Idaho, apparently by carrier pigeon.
(Anyone out there who thinks I get preferential treatment from contractors because I write a home design column think again.)
"It's the little foxes that spoil the vineyards," Evans said, paraphrasing a Bible verse, meaning it's all the stupid nuisances that get you. Evans is a former youth pastor, a skill set he needed to draw on to work with me.
Indeed, our project relied on six or seven industries to pull together. A lot could go wrong. "It's never easy when you are beholden to people you have no control over," he added. Amen.
But never mind all that. My backyard is now my favorite place to be. When I am away, I think about coming home and being there. When I am there, I feel as if I'm on vacation, which is good, because after what we spent on it we can't afford a vacation.
"You were locked on your patio," Evans said, looking back to when we started. "Nothing about your yard made you want to step into it. Now you have a whole new living area."
If landscape architecture is the art of turning an uninviting space into a place you want to enter, then mission accomplished. Labor pains and all, I would do it all over again. Meanwhile, here's what I learned:
Pay for a design. Hire someone trained in the field of landscape architecture. We could have easily spent as much money without a vision and not had nearly as satisfying a result. A landscape designer knows how to employ scale, proportion, texture, balance, function and aesthetics. Although professionals in related trades — like nurseries, lawn service, pool companies or paving companies — may offer to design your landscape for free, or for a small charge, they will be slanted toward their trade. Avoid the conflict.
Ask what's included and what isn't and budget accordingly. Our landscape proposal covered demolition, grading, patio Travertine, beach rock, plant materials, mulch, the irrigation system, labor and oversight. Everything else we paid for directly. The fire bowls, the gas lines to fuel them and the installation, the fountain, the furniture, the fencing, lighting, planter pots and outdoor cushions added up.
Understand the fee structure. Most landscape designers charge a flat design fee, often less than 10% of the total project cost. Then owners can either do the work themselves, hire their own contractors to do the work or have the designer oversee the project for an additional percentage. We had Evans quarterback the project because he had crews he worked with and knew how to sequence the job.
Be patient. Projects need to move forward sequentially. Problems at any step can delay the whole job. Expect hiccups. To borrow from Shakespeare, just like true love, the course of home renovation never did run smooth. But all's well that ends well. And that's all that matters.
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of five home and lifestyle books, including "Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go" and "Downsizing the Blended Home – When Two Households Become One"