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Landscape Contractor Takes On Six-Year Build
Handling a Multiyear, Multiphase Project

By Andrew Soto, LC/DBM


Indiana landscape contracting firm ProCare Horticultural Services began a long-term landscape installation in March of 2009 beginning with conceptual designs drafted with input from the property owners. The contractor installed a fully featured outdoor living space, custom pool, hardscape, and softscape in four phases over the course of six years. The final phase of the build began in July of 2015 with the addition of a detached garage, pool changing area and bathroom structure.


The homeowners wanted to work with and preserve the natural grades on their property. The pool was built at a lower elevation away from the residence, making it a destination. The hardscape around the pool incorporates luminescent stones hand seeded onto the exposed aggregate. This was done to reduce the amount of landscape lighting in the area while creating a unique effect.

ProCare Horticultural Services out of Carmel, Ind., has made a name for itself in the landscape industry by creating unique landscapes for over 40 years. The company has designed and installed lush green lawns, well-manicured plantings and outdoor living features that run the gamut from small residential projects to large commercial builds.

An Unorthodox Approach
On this residential project in Zionsville, Ind., the contractor installed a complete landscape and accompanying features over the course of six years. The extended build time was at the request of the homeowner who needed the extra time to address budgeting and time constraints. The contractor relied on gentlemen's agreements: no formal contracts were signed because of the contractor's extensive business relationship with the client.

"We had worked with the client a few times in the past and established a good relationship," said Lowell Rolsky, president of ProCare. "This made it easy for us to make changes as work progressed incorporating what the client wanted without needing to constantly write new agreements."


The patio hardscape was created using hand-seeded exposed aggregate, stamped, and rock salt concrete. A fully featured kitchen and outdoor entertainment area was built and expanded to include an additional patio arbor with a motorized louver system and fire feature. A dropdown shade screen for the western sunset was installed to shade the patio eating area in the afternoon and evening.


The initial construction phase included the installation of irrigation and plantings. Heavy excavation facilitated the creation of a flowing stream with an underground reservoir. This was done to help mitigate stormwater runoff and water flow running through the yard from a subdivision. The early construction stages also included the installation of basalt fountains, bridge stones, a fire pit, and a tree house.

The design phase of the project started in March of 2009 followed by the first stage of construction, which began later that year in June. Construction consisted of excavation for subsurface drainage, electrical, and irrigation. Hand-seeded exposed aggregate with broadcasted luminescent stone and stamped concrete was used for the construction of the patio area. Brick and stone walls were built to enclose a covered kitchen bar and grilling area.

Stage two of the project began in May of 2010. This included the construction of a negative edge pool with diving rocks and waterfall. A large natural rock wall was installed at one end of the pool providing an area for plantings during summer months and a sledding hill during the winter. The hardscape for the patio was installed during this juncture in the build. It consisted of colored sand with stamped colored concrete bands and inlays. Landscape lighting, irrigation and plantings for the patio and pool area were also installed at this point to facilitate utility of the space before and during subsequent stages of construction.

The next step in the build began in late July of 2012. It consisted of expansions and additions to the outdoor kitchen area and patio. A dry riverbed swale was removed and replaced with a horseshoe court. The dry swale's stormwater management duties were taken over by a flowing stream with an underground water storage reservoir. A waterproof motorized louver roof was installed over the new smoker and beer tap area.

The final chapter of the project began in July of 2015 and consisted of a detached garage, changing area and bathroom structure. This necessitated additional excavation and subsurface drainage for the garage. During this period, brick and stone privacy walls were built to connect garage to main structure, pergola, and gate.


The contractor built a pergola for the kitchen and bar area. The outdoor living space was outfitted with overhead string lighting and a power supply for a dropdown projection TV screen. These features were added to accommodate a larger number of guests. In an effort to plan ahead, a water line for a potential patio misting and cooling system was added.


A full sized skid steer, mid sized excavator, gunite machine and other heavy equipment were used to place approximately 90 tons of sandstone retaining wall stones. This created a natural rock wall feature that serves as a dramatic backdrop for the pool and an additional planting area.


The entire build focused on creating a space for the homeowner's four children where they could reconnect with the environment and learn from nature. The softscape, which also included a beehive, was selected to serve as a habitat for indigenous wildlife. The area was welcomed by the local community, which designated the site as a private wildlife habitat.

All Said and Done
The most challenging aspect of this build was the protracted installation time. This increased the need for the contractor to plan far in advance of scheduled installation dates. The unique characteristics of this build included the potential to adjust for variables that may never occur.

"Having an initial understanding of the customers' needs was first and foremost throughout the entire project," said Rolsky. "Thank goodness the homeowners did not shy away from our constant questions and communication. In most cases this much communication would annoy the client." Lessons Learned: Go slow, to go fast!
According to Rolsky, when working on a project for a protracted period of time, it is important not to over extend. Rushing your team or the client will create unnecessary strains on you and your resources. Unforeseen occurrences will happen. Be prepared for the reality that you could forget something that will cost you by cutting into your bottom line. Budgeting to account for the flexibility of an oral contract will help buffer the impact of any changes to the project.

Keeping the customer happy and satisfied with the level and frequency of your communication is absolutely essential for projects that extend over multiple years. Accept that sometimes, a handshake is better for business than a detailed contract. Finally, the customer needs to know that they can trust you and that you are looking out for them and their investment. A breakdown in communication or trust is sure to put a damper on any project whether or not the terms were laid out on paper.


Coming to Terms: Written vs. Oral Contracts


For the contractor on this project, an oral contract worked best because the prolonged build time created the need for flexibility. According to the Harvard Business Review, oral contracts are considered to be "incomplete contracts." These agreements are more flexible and lend themselves to adjustment without the need to rewrite a contract. The terms of the arrangement are usually adjusted in a way that conforms to social norms allowing business to continue amicably.

Written contracts on the other hand, are designed to protect all parties involved within the parameters laid out in the contract. There is little room for adjustments aside from predetermined provisions discussed in the contract. There is no expectation of goodwill when dealing with things not specifically mentioned in the contract text.

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As seen in the June 2017 issue of Landscape Contractor Magazine

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December 14, 2019, 7:45 am PDT

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