Raised beds in front yard.

jey_lSeptember 25, 2010

Hi everyone,

I have a friend who bought a home in VT and wants to put a "formal garden" in the front yard and asked me to design the structures for her. It is Victorian era Italianate with fairly simple details. The house sets back from the road on a busy intersection and the design is fairly simple and although I think the pergolas are a bit much it is what she wants.

She has hired a landscaper to do the work and they have already done a good job in the back of the house but they have come to an impasse for the front. The landscaper is saying they do not want to install the raised beds or pergola's in the front yard which faces SE and is really the only place she has for her gardens. Many of the plantings already exist as she has dragged most of them around with her throughout her life but are too hard for her to keep up as they blend into the "lawn" and now most of them have been dug up and are haphazardly stuck in a mound of dirt and she wants to get this done before the snow falls. Part of the reason for the design is that she is trying to solve some water problems and reduce the amount of lawn, which is straggly and sporadic, that needs to be mowed.

The raised beds, pergola and retaining walls are all white concrete and match the white marble foundation of the home but the landscaper who has already received a substantial deposit to do the work is refusing to install the raised beds because a landscape designer is telling them it is not "correct" for the front of the house.

I have searched the net looking for something similar and have found nothing myself but can anyone direct me to some images and literature of "normal" homes with formal Italian style gardens in the front .

Does a home need to be a mansion on sprawling property to have a formal garden in the front? Personally, I don't think it is any business of the landscaper but she needs to resolve this quickly and for whatever reason she feels compelled to show them there is nothing improper about it before she has to take them to court.



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Very difficult to answer your question without seeing pictures. Could you relate what the landscape crew has done in the backyard specifically? Sometimes I get a hunch about things and right now I am wondering if this crew has the ability to do the concrete work called for in the front yard design and is hiding behind an excuse? Maybe yes. Maybe no.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2010 at 10:32AM
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sleepy33(5b KS)

I agree, something sounds fishy. Either there's some other reason they don't want to do the work, they've spent the deposit money already and can't afford the concrete, or they've got some real cojones trying to tell her that they won't do the work because they don't like the design aesthetic. Not someone I'd be inclined to work with. Are they offering to refund the deposit?

    Bookmark   September 25, 2010 at 4:23PM
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May I see pics of the house?

    Bookmark   September 26, 2010 at 1:04AM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

The house sets back from the road on a busy intersection

Busy intersection as in no place to put the equipment? And problems of access to the front yard?

It's easier to be able to pour directly from the cement mixer rather than to wheel cement to the site from 100' or 200' away, one wheelbarrow at a time. Ditto for the dirt for the raised beds (a difficulty I'm personally acquainted with).

The landscapers might suddenly have realized the job is more complex than they'd expected -- and their costs more than they'd expected when they gave your friend the quote.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2010 at 3:00AM
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I can't concieve of any honest landscaper who would refuse to do what the customer wants. I would threaten to take them to court--demand any money back that she has paid to do the front and hire someone else.

Our neighbor has 3 raised beds on his side lot--he lives on a corner. They use them for growing veggies and have some flowers mixed in. It looks good, No one in the neighborhood has any complaints about them. He has one long oval at the back and 2 kidney shaped ones in front. This leaves a section in the middle where he plans to put an arbor and flagstones to make a little seating area.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2010 at 6:08PM
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Jey, you asked specifically for examples of formal Italian gardens in front yards. Here you are. Do a search for, Smithsonian + archives of American gardens. Thousands of pictures and ideas among which you will find what you are looking for. This is a valuable resource for anyone in the design business. Have fun searching!

    Bookmark   September 27, 2010 at 2:06PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)
    Bookmark   September 27, 2010 at 3:08PM
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No expert here, as is well-known, but it does sound weird based on prior discussions about the role of various folks in the process. If there is a design, and they bid on it as an install-only, then it seems they should do it. If someone is design-build, then they are working within their "artistic" domain and will aim to work out a design that fits the client but is also "what they do" but again, once agreed upon, you ought'nt then back out.

Plus it sounds fishy that the installers are not attempting to discuss specific alternatives, or some great insight or discovery that is to the client's benefit, such as an alternative design that looks as good or better, and is cheaper but similar quality overall, or some unexpected problem with drainage or even with access ( such as, we will have to kill your front tree to do this, do you want to reconsider) --I may not have good examples, but the idea would be anything that a reasonable person would want to know if it came to light after the original design & bid.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2010 at 11:13AM
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Hi everyone,

Thanks for the replies.

I spoke with the HO's daughter this AM and found out the real scoop. She is going up there to straighten it out. I guess the LD and landscaper need to grow up.

All the materials they are providing are on site and have been for a while. In the back yard they really only did weed removal, abatement, regrading and installed a french drain. The rear of the house is only about one third of the front, very dark, shaded by trees and neighboring homes which are not on the HO's property. They also dug up the thousands of lilies and other plants that had been plowed into the stone driveway over the years and regraded it so the carriage house doors could be opened.

I was going to post a pic of the house but she recommended against it as her mother isn't comfortable with it but there is plenty of room and access for equipment and the majority of the concrete work is all precast and ready to go. The HO made all the pieces herself as it is the only way she could afford to do any of it and this was a practice for the pieces for the house. At this point the only thing they need to provide is the labor. The assembly of the beds are extremely easy and can be done by the HO once the pergolas are in place but she wasn't really planning on it because filling them by hand would be quite a job.

According to her daughter this is the dilemma.

The landscaper (A.K.A. farmer) and the LD are very young and have apparently "married" their businesses together and it is apparent he would like to marry more than just the business. She is very cute and obviously has him hanging on her every word and seems to be the cause of the problems. As far as I can tell, after searching the links provided and all the books at the local library, she is correct in many respects but was not part of the design and aside from the look of the beds and pergolas (I had just suggested a simple arbor at the entrance) it is all pretty much the HO's layout and design. However we were able to get her tone down the posts to match the existing on the house.

No one but the LD, who was not part of the original plans and whose only involvement is that she is now part of the landscape company, is concerned with anything being "historically correct" and the HO just wants the job done.

The young lady who showed the HO how to make the pieces, provided the forms and cement mixer is about the same age and also very cute, not to mention incredibly wealthy and therein lies the problem. For whatever reason the LD has some sort of resentment or unfounded jealousy and that seems to be the real "issue". I guess the problems began when she was up there making the forms for the details of the house.

Neither of us are landscape designers nor do we profess to or want to be. I am retired, two states away and she is currently somewhere in France and is only providing the forms for the garden and the restoration of the house. She is doing this as a favor to me as I am to the HO (who is more of a family friend than a personal friend). Neither of us really wanted to get involved but during the few years the HO has been in this house it has been nothing but hit and run construction/repairs with things left in worse condition than when they started. The PO's really hacked the exterior of the house and her husband had passed away shortly after they moved in.

The HO has not had any luck with the courts here on other repair disasters so her daughter wishes to avoid that at all costs and while her mom feels that if she is able to show him other "normal" homes with formal gardens in the front she can get him going again, her daughter (who was unaware of the stop or "the reason" until I called her) is finished with them and has other plans. Apparently she had problems with the LD's animosity too. The landscaper has equipment in the carriage house and gated rear yard so she is going to encourage him to refund the money not earned and come get his things. Hopefully she can find someone to complete it on such short notice. I have to be up there at the end of Oct. to work out some details for the house and hope it is finished by then. It really should have been done a few weeks ago.

Thanks again,


    Bookmark   September 29, 2010 at 10:28AM
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