Re: Landscaping, work,$
From: Kay Argyle (
Date: Mon, 23 Jul 2001 17:15:01 -0600 (MDT)
> I've searched the archives, but found nothing on these aspects of
> handling landscaping- we're wondering how others handle this.

Wasatch Commons, finished two years ago, is 25 households, ~33 adults of
varying participation.  I've written a number of messages about our
landscaping (letting off steam and warning people what not to get themselves
into), so check the archives for some of my previous posts.

> Who does the work?

Mostly a handful of hard-core gardeners, with occasional help from a few
conscientious people who aren't particularly into gardening but are willing
to work where needed, and a larger group who will show up for one or two
work parties a year, if heavily promoted and cheer-led.

Because of cuts in the construction budget, no landscaping was installed
before move-in.  After move-in, between tight money and a couple of gungho
sweat-equity fans who oppose hiring out anything, and never mind if nobody
has the necessary skills and the people they are committing already have too
much to do, nearly everything the first year was sweat equity.  It was not a
good experience.  (The people who happily talk about how *wonderful* it
feels to work together, and we should do it more often, mostly fall into the
group that has to be psyched up with rah-rah go-team-go to get them to show
up.  I got stuck with more than my share of work-party set-up & supervision,
which I find far more exhausting than the manual labor itself, and I reach
the point of flatly refusing to do it, earlier every year.)

Most of the landscape members from the planning/construction stages bailed
off during the first year after move in as it became clear the community was
expecting way too much from us, we burned out trying, relationships on the
committee turned sour, and the community turned around and blamed us for not
accomplishing things because of our dysfunctional interactions, when it was
(in retrospect) the other way around -- the dysfunctionality was because of
the impossible task.

We've done sweat equity on things we should never have tackled, and in the
resulting burn-out we've contracted jobs we could have done ourselves.
If you do hire, spending extra care and attention on getting a good
contractor, not necessarily a cheap one, is well worth the time and effort.
Having somebody who actually listens to you and will educate you about
you may not have thought of, is exceedingly valuable -- and rare.

> Who decides how much landscaping is needed, desired, affordable,
> maintainable?

Landscaping around the units is left entirely to the occupant, although
legally speaking it is common land (we're a condo).  We didn't stick to our
guns and *insist* that certain things had to be pre-approved, with the
result that a few trees got put where they will be endangering foundations
in another decade or two.

For the common areas we have a landscape committee.  We have a "master plan"
the committee came up with during the planning stages, providing a several
sentence description of the goal for each area -- what it will be used for,
what sort of vegetation or landscape features it will have, etc.  The
community has seen it, although it's never received more than sketchy
discussion outside the
committee.  And because of turnover in the committee, among other things,
decisions that at one point seemed to be settled get redone or simply

There is however a major difference between "desired [and] maintainable" and
"doable in the first place." (See above, under "who does the work.")

Each year we select one or two areas to focus on, do more detailed planning,
and undertake the work, with varying help from the community -- in '99 we
the tree pile mostly shredded (sweat equity), the leaf-bag pile mostly
opened and spread as mulch (sweat), the central path paved (hired), the
common house sprinklers & lawn installed (sweat), and the dirt mountain
moved off the garden (hired), before the landscape committee disintegrated.

Last year a patched-up replacement committee found a contractor for
sprinkler systems on much of the remaining common area, and we did not even
consider doing it ourselves.  (Most members think that if it rains lightly
for 2 minutes they
can skip handwatering for the next several days of 100-degree heat and 5%
humidity.  To reduce both the workload and the high mortality among our
young trees and shrubs, automatic sprinklers were a necessity.)

This year we've been planting the entrances (slowly, slowly), in between
calling up the sprinkler guy to ask if he can come out and fiddle with the
system (again).

Individuals may adopt areas.  One member is creating a meadow/dry woodland
area on the north end.  In practice, if somebody is willing to do the work,
they're given a pretty free hand.

The veggy garden was set up last year by mostly ex-members of the landscape
committee, whose attitude was "Give me my bed and leave me alone."  So it's
all private plots.  This year some of the more moderate or newby gardeners
requested space, so I staked out more plots, and people have helped each
other build raised beds.  (Naturally, our household hasn't gotten ours
planted yet.  The old saying about the cobbler's children going barefoot
comes to mind.)  We've left the option of community gardening open for some
future date.

The concept of landscaping being a commitment of the community's time, which
should require fully informed consent, has recently been raised, as a result
of a proposal that started out being about the proper procedure for setting
up fees and has morphed into a discussion about consensus vs. representative
government.  Don't yet know where the concept is going to lead.

> How is it financed?

The construction budget included $50,000 for landscaping.  This was a small
amount for a multimillion-dollar project, and in any case most of it went on
items cut from the construction company's contract, such as building
demolition, the emergency vehicle access, and construction debris cleanup.
Things that should have been done before anyone moved in, weren't, like
trimming the trees growing wild on the site.  A large multi-trunked Russian
olive just plain split in the middle and flopped both ways after a late
snowstorm this spring.  The Siberian elms regularly drop big branches in
windstorms, fortunately so far never with anything more valuable than a
smashed birdfeeder underneath.

There was some capital left over after the last unit sold, which the group
agreed should go to landscaping and storage unit construction -- we financed
the sprinkler system with that.  We've been a little timid about actually
going plant shopping with it, though.  (We should have had sprinklers laid
under the grass-pavers of the emergency vehicle access, which I discussed at
length in a post last year.  Too late now.)

Our annual landscape budget is $1,600 from monthly condo fees -- bare bones
even for maintenance, never mind initial landscaping.

> Do individuals pay for any of the costs?

That's where most of the plants come from.  I spent several hundred this
year on perennials for a silver garden (snow in summer, artemisia,
santolina, lavendar, woolly yarrow, etc.) and expect to expand it next year.

The member doing the dry woodland pays for it herself.

One member haunts nurseries and garden centers, looking for clearance
plants.  When stores with seasonal garden depts start closing them down for
the winter, she finds the dept manager and offers to buy the remaining
stock, and comes home with, say, twenty two-gallon rug junipers for what two
of them cost originally.  Sometimes she submits the receipts for
reimbursement, but often she forgets or doesn't bother.

And of course a lot of plants come from somebody helping a friend or family
member to divide their perennials, in exchange for carrying off half of

Kay Argyle
Wasatch Commons
Salt Lake City
argyle [at]

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