Need help about subpar landscaping job

segaJune 12, 2011

I hope someone can help me! Im so upset. I am a complete novice about landscaping.

I live in Charleston, SC and I just had a smallish job done this week. One that I save up money for 2 yrs. to do and still could not really afford. Probably should have done it myeself but as a single mom, I done have the time.

The landscaper was highly recommended by a very high end nursery nearby. She made a proposal which I liked but needed adjustments. I didnt get other proposals which is my fault but I trusted that this nursery wouldnt recommend anyone but the best.

There have been many problems and I dont know what to do.

She was to put in a drip line with 2 timers and install plants in 2 small beds in the front of the house and a narrow bed in the back of the house. The final invoice included the following:

5 Loropetalum 3 gallon at $30 each

9 Double Knockout Roses 3 gallon at $25 each

13 Breeze Grass 3 gallon at $18 each

14 Bulbine 1 gallon at $12 each

2 Confederate Jasmine at $35 each

Drip line irrigation for $110

2 timers for $50 each

Labor $325

sales tax $100

There were 3 people and they were here maybe 3 or 4 hrs. but Im not sure as I had to leave to work and could not stay for the entire job.

When I returned later in the day, I was very underwhelmed. I found the rose bushes were very small with no blooms and had cut stems. The plant arrangement was different from the plan she proposed with 1 bed being almost entirely breeze grass. I wanted color! She had also divided and moved my mexican petunias into another bed that had no irrigation that was not part of the job. She didnt check with me on that.

After carefully examining the invoice it seemed quite high for what I got. I asked her about it and she said she has to charge extra per plant to make money cause she is lower on her labor and she has to pay retail herself for the plants. I didnt understand why that would be. I also asked her why the roses were so small and no blooms for 3 gallon when everything is blooming now even at Lowes!. She said they had just been cut back which happens in spring. I tried to be understanding but it didnt sit well with me. Especially since she charged what seemed like a premium price. Only a third of the bulbines were blooming and the others were just a clump of green leaves.

She didnt tell me I had to water and in fact said irrigation was fine.

The next morning I came out and everything looked wilted. I noticed brown crispy leaves on the roses. I checked the drip line and saw it didnt even come near 3 plants at all. I contacted her immed. to tell her and ask her to check the roses and the drip line. I am totally uneducated about this stuff and was trying to figure it out on the spot. She later said she came by and that they looked fine. But I may need to hand water the plants for about a week.

I rechecked the line and saw the first emitter didnt come out till about 15 inches past the first 2 plants and missed another. along one side it was pulled way away from the plant bases. I called her and she came out and put additional tubing on the line. She also said the roses were just "stressed" and would look great in a month!

The front beds are now totally uneven with deep holesand undulations and I almost tripped in one today. I dont see where the soil was ammended at all except a few plants look like a handful of soil was thrown in the spot they were planted. Several of the plants are so shallow that a few have tilted over with the roots exposed. This cant be right! I expected the beds would have added compost or soil and be leveled prior to planting and that each plant would be planted into the soil not sitting practically on top. Isnt this reasonable to expect by a professional?

The larger preexisting bushes that were transplanted to the side of the house are sitting down in crater like holes and look like they were thrown in with no care into the sandy soil.

2 Loropetalum bushes were planted against the house under a window in a bed that is no wider than 2 1/2 feet. This seems inappropriate-wont they quickly outgrow this area?

The cherry on top is that the 6 rose bushes in the back clearly have black spot which has been visually confirmed by a horticulturist.

I dont know what to do but I feel ripped off. Any advice would be welcome.

BTW I paid in cash and was not given a receipt :(


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Have you called and discussed your concerns and dissatisfaction with the landscaper? That would be the first place to start.

Making no apologies for the landscaper - some are very good, concientious and are not finished with the job until the customer is happy....others fall far short - but there are a few obligations you as a homeowner have as well. First, it is never advised to contract for work to be done on your property (exterior or interior) with out a written contract outlining exactly what that work entails and how much it is going to cost. This is what defines the terms of your agreement - what you can expect and what they will deliver. It is/should be a legally binding document and will provide an avenue for recourse if the contract is not followed by both parties. Second, never pay in cash and always get a receipt......this is just basic common sense and is the only professional way to do business.

Given the rather cavalier way you describe the landscaper has approached this so far, I have no idea what to tell you to expect, but I'd certainly get in touch with her ASAP and explain what is not working and what needs to be changed. Hopefully she is concientious enough to realize that her reputation is at risk and she will make the necessary changes. Be explicit in your expectations - irrigation working as intended and delivered to the plants as needed, plants free of disease and planted according to the agreed upon plan, soils properly amended and mulched, etc.

Whether or not this will get you the results you were expecting and actually paid for is a bit up in the air but nothing will happen unless you start to make some noise. If you receive no satisfaction from this direct route, then all you can do is make sure your dissatisfaction is known, both to the landscaper and the nursery that recommended her, although they may very well be a remote third party and have no direct relationship or even personal knowledge of her business practices.

And take this as a learning experience - always, ALWAYS, cover your a** by getting details of the work to be done and the anticipated costs involved in writing and never pay in cash.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2011 at 10:29AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Ditto what GG48 says... The positive thing I see is that she appears to have come back to address some things, so maybe she'll do the rest. BUT I'd give her a written list of the things you want corrected. It's a bit late in the process to put something in writing but at least it'll be good practice for you re putting things in writing when dealing with any sort of contractor. Good luck.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2011 at 1:08PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

You sound like a very patient and accommodating person who is trying to address this in a way that will retain good will - I applaud that.

There are two directions to go here, one being "I like the outcome, I just want it to survive," and the other being "I don't like the outcome and I want it changed." You say you wanted colour - I don't see how that many grasses and that much plant repetition gets you the result you asked for. I'm also not sure that the beds you describe constituted a brilliant landscape design job either. Pretty run of the mill. And finally, you've nailed the problem with the loropetalums.

Being myself a DIYer I'm also really not good at establishing terms for people to do work for me. Plus if I'm hiring out the work because I don't have the time to DIY, I don't have time to do the paperwork either! But I do see some shystering here that would p*** me off - for example the use of 3-gal sizes. Not necessary for a client who is trying to get the most out of her hard-earned money. The repeats strike me as something you do at a gas station, not at someone's home. But maybe you agreed to the plant list in advance.

You have sort of a series of decisions to make. The first is as above, the other is, "I want her to fix this for me" vs. "I am going to fix this myself and need to know how."

If you want her to fix it, you could just list problems and get her to fix them. You could also revisit the agreement process by asking her just how she understood the assignment you gave her, and contrast that with what you thought you asked for. Written down or not, she should have wanted to make you happy. Maybe she'd like a second chance to do it better. She can take those plants and maybe use them somewhere else.

You could also just leave her out of it, use the plants that you have to readjust things to the way you really want them.

But above all, I'd be going back to that nursery and mentioning to the boss there that you were not at all impressed with their highly recommended landscaper. One can qualify this sort of thing by saying "maybe I'm a really difficult customer or maybe she isn't used to residential work" but that it didn't work out for you. It would be interesting to know whether she bought the plants from them or from... Lowes? They might be interested in knowing that too, because I'll bet that their recommendation of her is somewhat contingent on her buying plants from them.

But the best thing is, you're not a newbie any more are you?? Funny how fast we learn from mistakes :-) So one way or another, there will be a good outcome here for you!


    Bookmark   June 13, 2011 at 2:32PM
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Your problems are just my work. I make some pics.they are more detail,exact contract than any wordy."a complete novice about landscaping" is easy to understand it rightly before project.
I often tell some friends,don't trust nursery completely.their interesting in dead stock sometime.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2011 at 6:45PM
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I'm sorry for what you are going through. Some of it is hard to tell without having another experienced person (but one without a reason to give a skewed opinion) take a look.

I think karinl had a good point about deciding whether to focus on whether what was actually done was done right--plants planted at appropriate depth and distances for type, drip system dripping where it should be, plants healthy, etc--vs whether you are having second thoughts about the design & color scheme. Mainly because #1 likely is easier to demonstrate shortcomings and "demand" satisfaction. Perhaps she did not supervise or inspect the work of work people she hired to do this.

Your invoice above does not list soil amendments or mulch--so I wouldn't expect to get them if they weren't itemized. I would have expected that to at least be part of a discussion/negotiation as a "good" landscaper would need to have some idea of what help the plantings survive or thrive and point that out, even if you decided to forego it due to expense. So it would make me question someone's judgment and authority if she planted a bunch of expensive shrubs in very poor soil by choice, but if it was not contracted for, it is harder to go back and say, why didn't you recommend soil amendments?

The rose pruning thing bothers me a bit also. June in SC is way past pruning time so I wonder why they would intentionally cut them way back now, because you would miss a lot of the bloom (though Knockouts are so vigourous that they may put out enough growth to still bloom later through the season) although it would be fine to shape them a bit for easier planting. But maybe I don't know enough about roses--does it help reduce transplant shock?

I can imagine why all of this is bothering you and it does point out that it takes some "experience" to even know how to talk with a landscape professional or to know when you are not hearing what you should. I had a similar experience years ago --not a totally bad experience, but one in which I met, looked at some plans and plant choices, said okay, got the job done; then kind of seeing how things panned out, I gradually realized it was not really all it looked to be or I thought it would be, and over time, after reading and actually doing a lot of trial and error "gardening" myself, I could sort of re-play the experience and go, doh, this was such a rube job--NOW I know what I should be looking for, listening for.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2011 at 6:55PM
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I don't have any advice but just wanted to say that I can empathize. Last summer I hired a landscaper who was recommended to me and I decided to give it a try because she's a certified Master Gardener through the university extension and she seemed to know what she was doing.

Unfortunately, I realized later that I should have stuck with my gut on certain things and you get what you pay for. In this case it seemed like a bargain but ended up looking like crap. I won't even run through the list of things I was unhappy about because I don't want to hijack your thread but it was a tough lesson to learn. I'm sorry you're experiencing the same thing.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2011 at 4:28PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Were you given the prices of these plants beforehand? An estimate of the total cost? It seems that it should have been discussed and, being the non-rich person that you are, I'm sure it would have occurred to you that you could buy your own plants cheaper.

Anyone who is charging sales tax supposedly has a geniune business that should be able to purchase wholesale plants. Wholesale transactions are not taxed. If she is not running a genuine business and submitting the collected tax to the proper authorities, it's just ripping you off.

According to the expenses you listed above, the total I got was $1382. Adding exactly $100 for sales tax would indicate that the appropriate tax that should be collected for this job is 7.25%. ($1382 x 7.25% = 100.195) Without knowing the legalities for your area, I wouldn't even know how to investigate to see if that is correct.

Some types of business transactions are taxed according to the business location, and others should be charged according to the location of the work done. This would vary depending on the city, county, state. For example, when I worked in a furniture store, the law said we should charge the rate for the store's location for anything not delivered. Delivered items should be taxed at the rate of the delivery location. It was a real pain, and we actually had a chart of all the different tax rates within different cities, or locations in counties but not within a city limits.

To investigate, you would need to determine the legalities of taxation in regard to landscaping work where you live. I would also be curious if the tax rate is the same for the labor as it would be for the plants, or if the plants can even be taxed (again - sales tax would have been charged on them when your designer purchased them supposedly at retail.)

I would ask her how she determined the tax. She should be able to explain it in detail and show you the math of which items were taxed and at what rate. If she hesitates, I would think she probably just picked an arbitrary figure she just liked to get more of your money.

Maybe you have an issue you can raise with city, county, or state tax authorities.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2011 at 10:56AM
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I think we are splitting hairs here :-) Taxes are the least of your concerns. And there are some comments made from non-professionals that are misleading and not relevant and may be further confusing the issue.

1) You need to contact the designer and explain your concerns. Since she was responsive to earlier inquiries, hopefully she will do what is necessary to make you happy with the finished product. If not, you don't have a lot of written agreement outlining services to be provided and expected costs and a cash payment w/ no receipt makes for a not very good bargaining position. Chalk that up to a lesson learned.

2) Plants are often cut back after an initial bloom one is inclined to purchase plants with spent flowers on them and cutting back sets new buds. Knockout roses bloom all summer so while they may be temporarily out of bloom at this time, they won't be for long. This is inconsequential.

3) The cost of the plants does raise some issues but only tangentially as it applies to the professionalism of the designer. A professional should have access to wholesale sources however these sometimes do not offer the same range of plant selection as larger retail sources and often landscapers make use of both sources. But even retail sources usually offer professional discounts to those in the industry. It is not common for an industry professional to pay full retail markup.

Marking up the cost of plants to above retail is awkward. Obviously, the designer should be compensated for the time, travel and effort that was expended on plant acquisition but itemizing the plants at higher than retail just raises issues for dispute. I would have buried the extra costs into another line item....labor or design fees/overhead, etc. FWIW, the labor costs seem extremely reasonable to fact quite low.

Taxes need to be paid on any taxable items and the end user - the homeowner - is the one who pays. Any taxes the landscaper was charged/paid for goods or materials used in the design are legitimately passed on to the homeowner and at the appropriate rate. If the plants were marked up, they are taxed at the marked-up price and the designer/landscaper is responsible for collecting the difference between what she paid and what was charged the homeowner and remitting that to the taxing authorities. It can differ from area to area, but here a professional discount offered by a retail nursery is also a tax-free purchase as it is understood the landscaper will be charging the appropriate tax to the homeowner/client and remitting the same to the authorities. Regardless, this is the landscaper's issue and responsibility, not the homeowners. Don't go there :-)

FWIW, because someone has a title as a 'Master Gardener' there is no reason to assume that they have any skill as a landscape designer. Design is NOT part of their limited MG training program. To select a qualified designer you should review their portfolio or examples of completed work, ask for and review/check references and any credentials and interview the candidate. Landscape design is a very interactive process and good communication and a good working relationship will facilitate the process and eliminate any issues such as these outlined by the OP. And always, ALWAYS, get a detailed written description of the work to be done and the the expected costs involved if not an actual contract for services. Otherwise, you are just at the mercy of any Joe Landscaper who may or may not be an ethical professional. And it's good practice and protection for the professional as well re: clients that do not pay what is owed. It happens......!

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 10:38AM
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jenn(SoCal 9/19)

I think some "designers" are simply good at using plants to paint a blank palate (your garden or yard), without a lot of knowledge about those plants and their relationship with the soil, sun, or how to plant them. They visualize a design and use the plants to create it. They're excited when the job begins, but run out of that excitement as the job winds down and just want to wrap it up and move on to the next one (typical of many creative types).

I suspect the nursery recommended her because she purchases her plants through them (at a professional discount) -- or, they've seen photos of her work that don't reveal the details you describe.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 1:19PM
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