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Do you have a question about your outdoor project,

frustrated with not having expectations met?


1 + 2 =

I am thinking about landscaping my backyard - should I get a plan done? I called a few contractors that say I don't need to spend money on expensive plans and that I should put that money into trees and rocks and they will provide free ideas and free estimates. - Stephanie.

Okay Steph (can I call you Steph?) I’m a little short on breath as that question just made my third and fourth ribs spasm!

First, let’s analyze the word “FREE”:

  • Costing nothing or gratuitous
  • Not subject to a given condition
  • Not controlled by obligation or the will of another

Now that we are clear about the definition, tell me, would you pay anybody to build your home without first seeing a blueprint? Certainly not, and you should apply the same rules when working on a project outside your home as well.

Over the years I have had many clients call me after they have spent $1,500, $5,000 or even $150,000, and been taken advantage of because they did not define their expectations for the project.

I could write a book with the hundreds of horror stories I have seen of clients that had work done without a plan. When the free ideas were verbally described to them they had one expectation, and when it was finally constructed it was nothing like what was originally discussed. You should never give someone your money without defining the conditions of your contract “as per design”.

A plan clearly defines the expectations for both parties, and outlines the conditions and guidelines of the project before a shovel is dug in the ground. It complements the written contract so you can visualize the outcome before work commences.

I have even heard a few stories of clients that had a FREE design presented to them and at the bottom it said “for visual aid only”, or “not to scale”. Designs like these do not allow you to calculate the quantities of what you are paying for against the per-square-foot cost. When you hire a certified landscape designer you hire someone who is responsible and educated to give you expert advice. A certified designer should have Errors and Omissions insurance, they should be carrying the designation of a CLD and should be a registered member of Landscape Ontario. Check out their website at Landscape Ontario.

When you pay for a design, you know that a plan was custom designed for your purpose. A detailed design gives you a clear indication of what to expect from the construction, ensures the contractor will fulfill their obligation on the contract “as per design”, and it will give you upfront budgets and allow you to make calculated changes to the project even before work commences. Designs ensure your contractor does not have the free will to do their version of what they said, take your money, and then argue the indifference afterwards. I hope that clarifies the importance of investing in a proper design.

Sorry for the longwinded version Steph, but it was an awesome question and as an opening question on this forum, it brought out 20 years of frustration that all needed to be communicated.

Take Care
– Dave

Great Mag by the way 🙂 I am interested to learn more about the water garden noted on pg 19 in your spring 2011 edition. We have been fighting for 4 years now with pooling (20x20x1) in our far back (190ft) yard. All on a moderate budget. Can you help?

Rain gardens are a good solution to a site where a grade may not or should not be changed as it could adversely affect neighbouring drainage. I some cases we have recommended companies that can bring in clean fill from excavations local to your area. These companies will bring in clean fill so as they do not have to pay dumping fees. For a reasonable cost you can call a Landscape Ontario member to grade the clean fill. Check out Landscape Ontario for a local member.

In the case that you cannot alter the grade a Rain garden is a great solution check out this website to understand more. If you would like creative design ideas for this solution then call our office to schedule a consultation.

Take Care
– Dave


Hello. I have been in my house 48 years. We were the first house built. We found out after our house was on cement block lower than it should have been. When we built our porch it had to be on ground level. When we put in patio stones in the winter we got a little bit of water coming in the porch. Four years ago I had somebody redo the patio and I expressed slant it away from the porch but this was done enough. Also the stones I chose absorbed water and froze. We had to remove them from in front of the screen doors in winter. This year has been the worst. we are literally using a shop vac to pump out the water coming in the porch. Also the asphalt driveway slants more in the garage which also gets water in there. even when it is just raining. THis spring i want to fix both of the problems once and for all I am 71 years old and am tired of this problem. Any suggestions would be helpful because I want to make sure i get the right company to fix it this time. Thank you very much. - Joan


Water is something powerful! You definitely want to have the surrounding yard checked for the current drainage problem. Your best solution is to hire an O.L.S. Ontario Land Surveyor and determine the best drainage solutions. You may even require a site alteration permit with the city in order to correct the problem especially if you have neighbours that may be impacted by the change in grades.

In some cases we have helped clients to modify grades to contain water areas on-site to design rain gardens in which water is diverted and collected. Also the use of underground cisterns are installed to catch rain water and recycled back into the lawn and gardens for irrigation during the summer.

I can certainly come out to give you advice on putting you on the right track. Call my office at 905-627-1466.

– Dave

I want to have 'shade sails' built over my back deck. I have contacted a reputable deck company, also a boat builder, and both have said they could and would do the job, but after months and months of getting after them for quotes, etc., we are going nowhere. I get the impression they can't or are not interested, but they do not say so. Where else can I turn? This is not a do-it-yourself project for us. Our deck is about 30' x 20' and requires custom sized sails. Hope you can help. - Julie

My wife and I bought a sail from Ikea two years ago. It was the best thing we ever did. We do have to take it down every winter so there is a bit of maintenance involved by the results are worth it.

I have not sourced a custom company but I have heard of Sunbrella.

I currently am using a canvass company that was repairing boat canvass and Jack has been most helpful. He can make anything custom. Email me your contact info and I will call you about getting this completed.

– Dave

Hi Dave A few years ago we had a beautiful patio professionally installed (it still looks new!) Since then, our beautiful huge maple tree was destroyed by a storm and we had to cut it down. We now have no shade over our lovely patio. We would like to put up a wooden pergola with a fabric top so that we can enjoy some shade. Do we have to rip up the patio to put up the pergola or can it just be bolted to the brick work? Thanks. - Heather

Unless the patio is small you do not have to rip up the whole patio but you should lift up the areas where you would have to install concrete footings for where the posts have to be installed. I have a couple of professional carpenters who you can rely on.

Email me your contact info and I will send you the contact information of the carpenters who can best help you with your pergola project.

– Dave

We have recently bought a house in Cobourg and back onto bungalow townhomes which are approx. 5 feet above our property, but they are a ways back and the slope to our property is gradual. We have a chain link fence around our property and will be putting a garden in. We are thinking of putting in 6 x 6 pressurized wood against our fence to stop the earth from going through and also to lessen any run-off. Is this what we should be doing? - Lynne


Any time that you add any retaining wall to retain grade, no matter if it is 6 inches high or 3 feet high, you need to determine the drainage above and behind the wall (the use of 4″ drain pipe) also the length of the wall, and the need to “deadman” or tie back the wall face. I have seen many do-it your-self clients put in one or two courses of 6×6 PT lumber to create a small bed and 12 months later all is pushing out falling forward and soil flowing over the wall or the back yard neighbour has water standing behind the wall causing problems. Check out Landscape Ontario for the nearest contractor in the Cobourg area and get professional advice, it is worth paying a certified landscape professional contractor or certified designer a small fee to get the right job done right.

– Dave