Preparation is All in the Details: A Checklist to Help You Make Your Garden
You're all set! You put your vision on paper, picked out your plants and decided on design materials. What now? More planning, that's what. So roll up your sleeves as we help you figure out what comes next...and what might have come first.
Creating a new garden from scratch, or tackling a major landscaping project, is a serious undertaking. If you decide to do the work but only have weekends free, or plan to do all the ground preparations by hand, it could take months to finish. The upside, however, is the immense satisfaction of having done it yourself, and the savings on labor. Detailed preparation is paramount. To be well-prepared it's essential that you calculate the cost of all materials, rental equipment and any professional fees in your budget.
DIY vs. Employing Professionals
Depending on your previous experience, you may feel confident about tackling a simple paving project, constructing trellis panels or building a deck. In fact, many modern building materials and garden features are specifically designed for ease of construction and assembly. That said, some jobs and materials are still best left to professionals. Natural stone, for instance, often comes in large, heavy pieces that require skill to cut and lay. Similarly, in a modern garden, crisp contemporary design demands a very high quality finish that can result in permanent - and obvious - mistakes if not executed perfectly. Experience and expertise are even more important when it comes to safety. Wet soil, for example, weighs a huge amount, so leave the construction of any retaining walls to builders who can calculate the type and strength required.
For example, building stepping-stones that appear to float on the surface of a pool is not easy, as water shows the slightest discrepancy in levels. Since the steps are to be walked on, they must also be rock solid to avoid accidents.
If you have even the slightest doubt about your ability to take on a project, seek expert advice and locate consultants, such as garden designers or civil engineers. Remember, when you hire a contractor to build the garden for you, it is they, not you, who are responsible for taking out the appropriate insurances, and for ensuring that work complies with all safety standards and building codes.
The value of an experienced contractor is that they know how long it takes to perform various tasks, such as digging and laying foundations, or constructing brick walls. They should also be able to pull together the necessary skilled workforce, just as the next phase is about to commence.
Any project can be dogged with unforeseen difficulties, such as bad weather or delayed deliveries, which hamper the work. As established contractors often have several projects running simultaneously, delays in these other gardens can also have a domino effect on yours. Project managers must maintain good communications with all parties, anticipate problems and find ways to maintain a free-flowing operation. Sit down with your contractors, and go through the details of construction together. Then draw up an agreed schedule and refer to it regularly.
The details and schedule should reflect the logical order of work, including planning. For example, integrated light effects need to be planned well in advance of construction so that fixtures can be built in and cables suitably camouflaged.
Keeping to a Budget
If you hire a contractor to run a project from start to finish, have a contract drawn up detailing completion deadlines, material selection, and costs. There's no guarantee you won't run into problems with your budget - things do happen, after all - but an explicit contract should help you see them coming and plan accordingly. Budget problems commonly arise when you make changes to the plan mid-way through the build, or alter the specifications of the materials used. Just because you're hiring in doesn't mean you won't have to be on top of things; in fact, you will need to be even more organized if supervising others for whom your dream is "only a job." Keep up with the flow of materials and labor to make sure you don't inadvertently wind up paying workers just to stand around, waiting.
Some lighting and water features, such as this artistic water feature, need expert installation, and many materials also require specialist preparation. Always check that your contractors have the relevant experience before commitying to use their services.
Once you have completed a site survey and prepared your design, it's time to work out when the construction and planting should take place, and who will do the work. You may decide to do some of the preparations yourself and bring in specialist contractors only for specific jobs. Or, you may decide to hire in for the whole job. Either way, try to visualize the project from start to finish to make it run as efficiently as possible. Here, we lay out the major steps of a gardening project in order.
Permission: Major building work, such as the construction of an outdoor building, may need planning permission from your local neighborhood association or municipal government. If you have any doubt, check into it, and talk to neighbors to explain plans and settle concerns.
Hiring Contractors: One or more contractors may oversee the project, bringing in specialists as needed. If you are project-managing the job yourself, you will need to find and hire bricklayers, pavers, joiners, electricians and other skilled technicians and craftspeople.
Selecting Materials: Ask contractors to provide samples of landscaping materials, or visit stone and builder’s merchants, and lumber yards yourself. Personally select feature items and commission custom pieces.
Materials Order/Delivery: Double-check amounts to avoid under- or overbuying. Arrange deliveries to coincide with different construction stages. This avoids materials getting in the way and having to be relocated later.
Site Clearance: Stake out area and rent a dumpster. Remove unwanted hard landscaping materials and features. If the lawn is to be re-laid, lift it with a turf-cutting machine. Also lift and move existing plants for reuse.
Topsoil Removal: Save quality topsoil for reuse and do not mix with subsoil. Remove it manually or with a mini digger. Move topsoil away from the construction site and pile it up on the future planting areas.
Machinery Rental/Access: If your plan requires a lot of heavy digging, trenching and re-levelling, rent a mini digger and operator. Ensure suitable access, clearing pathways and removing fence panels, as required.
Foundations and Drainage: Establish different site levels and excavate accordingly. Organize the digging of foundations and drainage channels, then pour foundations and lay drainage pipes. If needed, move existing drains.
Lighting and Power: Bring in a lighting engineer or electrician to install the cabling grid for all garden lighting and powered features. Some of these shouldn’t be wired up until the garden has been completed.
Building and Surfaces: Build all hard landscaping features, including all walls, steps, terraces, pathways, water features and raised beds. Construct wooden decks, pergolas and screens. Prepare new lawn areas.
Boundary Construction: Once the contractors, builders and landscapers no longer require access across the boundary for their machinery, vehicles and materials, walls and fences can be completed and/or repaired.
Topsoil and Planting: Some basic planting may have to be done during the dormant season, while construction continues. Replace or buy in topsoil to make up levels, then carry out remaining planting.