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The Transformation Process

A brief overview of transforming an outdoor space from overgrown to outstanding.

During a recent all-day garden walk we hosted, dozens of guests complimented how clean and manicured the property looked. Rewind a few weeks prior, and the guests would have taken away a different impression—why does everything look so torn up and disrupted?

If there is such a thing, a typical project follows the following arc of events: existing conditions, removals, site preparation, construction, and details. Since we have a moment, lets look briefly at each stage and share a few thoughts.

Existing Conditions—this is our starting point, and often is overgrown and not functioning well. We assess what will stay, what will be removed, and what can be repurposed. At this point, clients will often look at us and say, “you’ve got to do something with this place!”

Removals make the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time. This stage peels back overgrown plants, exposes parts of the property that became hidden over time, and leaves clients often remarking, “who knew it could look so good, just by taking away all the overgrown things!”

Site preparation begins the messy work. Earth is moved, drains are installed, machines are running, holes are dug, and it seems like soil and gravel are everywhere. It’s the hardest time to “see” what a garden will eventually look like, because it’s hard to see past the conditions. When it rains, we need to be careful, knowing that we can sometimes make a bigger mess if we try to push ahead before the ground dries enough to resume. This stage generally sparks comments such as “I’m going on vacation, please make it better by the time I come back!”

Construction can be a short or long process depending on the scope. The new garden starts to take shape, improvements are made, and clients begin to see glimpses of their new environment. Seeing a landscape construction site in progress is like seeing the parts of a fine watch disassembled—you have to trust the parts will go together and will eventually run smoothly. We tend to do a lot of reassuring during construction to remind clients of the final vision, which can be hard to see.

Details take place after all of the heavy lifting has taken place. These finishing touches include furnishings, groundcovers, perennial and annual flowers, and amenities. They’re the most noticeable, like trim and crown moldings, and can “make or break” a garden. These are the “garden walk-worthy” elements, which can make the messy parts of a project hard to remember.

So while most garden blogs will show off their end result, our Dirty Little Secret today will show off a few messes, knowing that sometimes to make a place look better, you have to tear it up a little first.

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