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The Power of Persistence
Working with Homeowners, Subcontractors, and Codes to Get a Big Job Done

By Alli Rael, LC/DBM


Pro Grounds Inc. was the landscape contractor for the 62,800 square foot landscape at this home in Clifton, Va. The work was completed in six phases. The hardscaping phase took a crew of six the better part of a year. Phases two through five, the planting phases, took a crew of four approximately one month to complete. Finally, the Japanese inspired Zen garden took a crew of four about three months to complete.

A landscape of 62,800 square feet can be a daunting prospect on its own, especially when it's the first of its size that a company has worked on. Add in multiple subcontractors, a hands-on homeowner, and state and county codes and regulations, and it really becomes a massive undertaking. That's what faced Tim Trimmer and the team at Pro Grounds Inc. at this home in Clifton, Va.

A Hands-On Homeowner
Leads for projects large and small can come from some unexpected places.

"I actually got this job through my softball team," said Trimmer. Two weeks after negotiating and making the sale, his lead sales person had to leave town for a family emergency - leaving Trimmer as the main guy on the job.

"It made a challenging year for me," he said. "I put in some crazy hours."


Pro Grounds did all of the hardscapes, including the flagstone pool deck, a three tier Ipe deck structure, and retaining walls. The deck has large seating areas on the uppermost and lowermost tiers, as well as an outdoor grilling station on the middle level. The stacked stone retaining walls throughout the yard expand the existing space. Planters were added behind the walls in order to keep green space.

"The owner was very hands-on and involved in every step of the project," he explained. "We would talk for an hour and a half every single night about every detail you could imagine." On top of the nightly phone calls, Trimmer was on site for three to four hours a day and still managing the 90-person company. With it being the company's first job of this size and duration, he knew he had to find a way to keep the company running and the customer happy.

"If you have a job for someone for two to three weeks, they're happy at the end," said Trimmer. "If you're doing a job for a year, it's much harder. It's a longer-term relationship. I knew keeping the customer happy throughout the whole job was extremely important."

Juggling Subcontractors
For a time, the owner acted as the general contractor, since he hired subcontractors independently from one another. "At one point the communication between all the subs was failing," said Trimmer. "There are guys running the gas lines, doing the trenching - a lot of the paths are shared."

Trimmer took on the role of general contractor when the homeowner realized communication had broken down. He was included in meetings between the subcontractors and helped to better organize the workflow.

"I knew at that point the ball was already in motion and I had to do it, pick up some extra work and make sure everything was done right and the customer was happy in the end," he said.


The large freestanding pavilion across from the pool and home includes a full outdoor kitchen, complete with a bar, sink, dishwasher, grilling station, refrigerator, kegerator, and storage space. The central portion acts as an outdoor living room while the area in the foreground of this photo serves as a dining room. The space is equipped with both fans and heaters so it can be used year-round.


More than 280 low voltage landscape lights were installed throughout the yard. This included string lights above the hammock, recessed lights inside the pavilion, and step lights along the stairs and retaining walls.

A Limiting Regulation
The work on this property was done in six separate phases. "Phase one was all the retaining walls and patios," said Trimmer. "The second, third, fourth and fifth were all the plantings - there were a ton of plantings," he continued. "The last phase, which I think is the most impressive, is the Japanese Zen garden." (See sidebar on page 33.)

One major obstacle that the crew encountered was a county regulation that stated that if there was over 2,000 square feet of disturbed space at any given time, they would need to acquire a grading plan - which could cost as much as $20,000. "That's why we had to work on the project in phases, so we didn't tear up too much," explained Trimmer.

A complicating factor of that regulation is how that 2,000 square feet is measured. "They measure ten feet out from any part you dig," he said. "So, if you literally dug a hole that's one square foot, it'd count as 400 square feet because they'd be measuring 10 feet out in each direction. You can imagine the challenge from that."


Drainage was a major concern on this property. Most of the space approaching the house is a flat, hard surface. To mitigate potential problems, the team from Pro Grounds installed geofabric, riprap, and stones underneath the hardscapes. In addition, they created a drainage plan to track all of the water on the property and direct where it was going to end up.


Due to the size of the patio between the pool and the house, it couldn't just be sloped to one side. Instead, a pre-sloped channel drain was installed across the deck and patio as well as along the stairs. It extends 30 meters - nearly 100 feet.

Worth it in the End
A project of this size and quality ends up benefitting both the homeowner and the contractor.

"Since this one, we've started to get a lot more larger jobs. This was the first," said Trimmer. "I knew we had to do this one and then we could really market larger jobs like this. I knew the importance of it and I knew the challenges so I just buckled down and did it."

Pro Grounds offers their landscape customers a lifetime plant warranty for as long as they maintain the property. For this particular customer, they have a $20,000 yearly maintenance contract.

"Not only that, but we're still doing work for him," said Trimmer. "We just did an entrance monument and stepping stones around the back of the pavilion."

"The owner is still thrilled about it," he said. "He comes home every day and walks around the yard and just enjoys it. He's very proud of it and so am I."

"It was very challenging, but it all worked out in the end with some persistence."


Crafting a Japanese Zen Garden


While the full property is 5 acres, the landscaped area of this home totals 62,800 square feet - 2,050 of which was made into a Japanese Zen garden located off of the pool and pavilion. A wooden bridge connects the two areas.

"It's got everything Japanese related," said Tim Trimmer. "All Japanese plants, a Japanese style bridge, and a Japanese lantern." Plantings include bamboo, Japanese skimmia, Japanese camellia, a Yoshino cherry tree and more.

A 66-foot long stream within the garden splits into two paths and comes back together, creating a small island accessible via bridge stones placed in the water. The stream culminates in a large koi pond.

"It's not a Zen garden in the traditional sense of pea gravel and a rake," explained Trimmer. "It's more of a Japanese themed garden, which is exactly what the owner wanted."

"I think it's the most impressive part of the landscape," he concluded. "Pictures don't even do it justice. It's awesome."


Cultivating a New Skill


Once the retaining walls were installed on the property, the homeowner decided he liked the stone used so much that he wanted to include some of it on his house.

"We aren't stonemasons, we're normally putting it on a cinderblock wall in a yard," said Tim Trimmer. "I started doing research and actually went to a class in New Jersey to learn about how to place these stones on a home."

When the trend of putting stone on the outside of a home started, oftentimes companies or homeowners would put the stone directly on the sheathing of the house.

"The insulation on houses got a lot better around that time. There would be no airflow behind the stone, so these houses just became like Ziploc bags," Trimmer explained. "The sheathing would just start rotting. There are huge restoration companies that are fixing that now."

Trimmer and his team put up two vapor barriers followed by a metal lathe, parging (mortar applied over the lathe), a rain screen, and then the stone.

"It's something we hadn't done before so I was very cautious with that," he said. "But we did do it right and had no problems with the job."

As seen in LC/DBM magazine, June 2017.

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December 9, 2019, 10:15 am PDT

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