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How to Hire a Landscape Contractor
And rescuing toads from basement window wells
It happened when I first started out as a landscape designer. I should have paid attention to the red flags.
Like the phone call I made to thank the landscape contractor for meeting with my clients, a couple who were also my friends.
I said we’d be looking at a few more proposals and would get back to him as soon as possible. He responded by shouting at me that I was wasting his time.
Then he calmed down and promised his work was going to “blow everyone away!”
For some reason, I abandoned all good sense and advised my clients to hire him before meeting the other contractors.
It was a big job, and I believed he was going to be the only affordable option.
I didn’t tell my clients about the phone call. Maybe he was having a bad day?
Later, when I told this whole story to a good friend, she said it sounded like I needed to get a backbone.
After things got going, the contractor generally ignored me and the woman client, speaking only with the man.
Some of the work was very nice, but a big part of the project had to be redone. The contractor berated his employees in front of the clients and me.
After the contractor finished the job and left, the clients hired a new contractor to fix what still had not been installed properly.
The project looked beautiful in the end, and the clients were very gracious about everything.
But I felt terrible.
Henceforth, I vowed I’d only work with the very best professionals. People who were kind and who had my back.
I found the most knowledgeable certified arborist, the most esteemed excavator, a master driveway-paver, the best gutter company. And two outstanding landscape contractors with whom I collaborated on many successful projects.
These folks taught me a great deal, and I have appreciated working with them more than I can say.
Here’s what I’ve learned about finding a good landscape contractor:
Chat with local nurseries. Since nurseries often offer a warranty on their plants for one year, it’s in their best interest to know which contractors have the most expertise.
Ask potential contractors to see examples of their past work. Can you visit a project he or she installed five years ago? If it still looks good today, that’s a great sign.
Check on industry certifications. Many landscape professionals are certified in different aspects of landscaping. This can be especially important with hardscape (patios, walkways). If not installed properly, product manufacturers’ warranties can become invalid.
Get a minimum of three proposals for your project. This is standard procedure. And throughout the entire process, everything needs to be agreed upon in writing.
Simplify your plans if budget is an issue. If high-quality, professional work is too expensive, don’t take a chance with a contractor you don’t feel confident about. Some contractors might offer to work out a phased approach for installation or payment or both. It never hurts to ask.
And finally, here is an excellent, detailed list of questions to ask potential landscape contractors before signing a contract.
On Trapped Toads
Well, Hello There
There’s a toad living in my basement window well,
right above the washing machine.
He’s staring at me now,
arms pressed against the glass,
long fingers forming two peace signs.
I fear the toad has landed here by mistake,
from water, food, kinfolk.
maybe he’s hiding
from the heat
or the cat
currently sniffing catmint
along the front sidewalk.
The big question is
should I send something down
to serve as a ladder,
if it will do him harm or good?
After doing some research, I learned that animals living in basement window wells need to be rescued.
They usually have fallen in unintentionally and cannot get out. Without help, they will not survive very long.
Consult your local wildlife organization or animal control agency for advice on your specific situation. Do not risk getting bitten, exposing yourself to rabies (a story for another day), or harming the animal.
In the case of toads, generally you can put a board with a rough surface in the window well and carefully prop it in such a way that the toad can climb out when the coast is clear.
This worked perfectly for my little guy. I also lowered down a shallow container of water and some snipped green plant foliage for shade and cover.
For a long-term solution to this common and tragic problem, you can find inexpensive clear plastic window-well covers at hardware and big-box stores, which do not require any tools to install.
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