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The above lilies are gorgeous this year… I think they’re ‘Le Reve’, but wouldn’t bet anyone’s life on it. When I first planted them last fall, the flower stalks were short (but pretty). This year… WOW! Each stalk is about 4 feet tall and covered with huge, gorgeous blooms. This photo shows only the first bloom.

They’re temporarily growing in a wooden container near our frigid (no solar yet) swimming pool because we’re “about” to landscape the backyard. I put that in quotes because we’ve been saying that for… gulp… 8 years. Built a new house in Carmichael on a treed lot; finished the front within the first year; the back has been in a state of incompletion for 8 long years. Time flies, I guess.

What does the yard look like right now? Picture a couple smallish valley oak trees, a redwood and steel play structure (cha ching), a newish trellis-top fence (cha ching) and a freeform swimming pool (cha cha CHING!). Taking up one whole garage stall is a 9′ x 12′ redwood and tempered glass greenhouse kit (cha ching)… all that’s missing are the elves who were supposed to come in the night and build the damned thing. Weren’t they included in the “Deluxe Kit”? I thought so…

Having experienced a major emotional breakthrough this morning, I actually called some landscape contractors and set up appointments to get estimates. Why the procrastination? Why the hesitation, even though there’s a lonely home-improvement loan waiting to be used? Well, it’s complicated. But I can say with confidence that I’m terrified to actually hire someone. Every contractor-hiring experience so far came with surprises… some not so pleasant.

Like the pool. Putting in a pool is a big deal, but if you’re going to do it, you have to do it before the rest of the landscape goes in because the process will absolutely trash your yard. Fences come down. Bobcats grind deep ruts in your formerly fluffy topsoil. Imagine putting in a pool after your grass and sprinklers and fences are in. Oh, the waste. Oh, the destruction.

Once we decided to take the plunge (ha ha) and put in a pool, we decided to use the well-known company that put in our neighbor’s lovely pool. We even toured other pools the company built and were eager to get going. What could go wrong, right?

Well, everything turned out great except for one tiny little thing… they put in a pool that was 4 inches too high. In other words, they should have dug 4 inches deeper. Oops! 4 inches may not seem like a lot, but it sure had the concrete sub-contractor in a tizzy, because he had to use extra concrete and even had to build special forms to support the now taller patio edges.

Things sort of snowballed from there because now that we had this slightly elevated pool on a pancake-flat lot, we were faced with having to import topsoil to bring the yard up to the level of the pool.

Nevermind the fact that an entire swimming pool’s worth of soil had already been carted away, never to return.

We did order a little topsoil after the fact. It wasn’t enough, and what the sand & gravel company we’d used for years (no names) delivered as “topsoil” was more akin to “quicksand”. In winter, walk outside and your feet quickly sink, oh, about 4 inches. I’m suspecting we got a load of mostly sand… perhaps it was the dregs of what was once a nice topsoil blend.

Also, when you have a slab foundation on a really flat lot, there isn’t a lot of wiggle room when you’re raising the existing soil level near the house. I do know that piling extra soil up against a house is a definite no-no in all minds except a termite’s.

Because of this gaff, we also ended up with parts of the pool decking sloping towards the house. Another no-no. You’re supposed to maintain positive drainage away from the house. Ugly little strip drains had to be added up against the house. What a pain.

Why else is the added slope a pain? Cockeyed patio tables. Nobody wants to sit at a table so slanted that food rolls off onto the ground. So, plan B: the tables go somewhere else and the extensive decking is useful only for lounging, not dining. Bummer.

In the end, the pool company made lots of excuses, then went out of business, leaving a trail of happy and unhappy customers. I guess you could say we’re happy and unhappy. It’s a pretty pool and except for the elevation problem, well-constructed. Let me add that I never even imagined I’d have a pool. It was always something that only other people had… Despite my pool-unworthiness, I still can’t help wishing they’d read the plans just a little more carefully.

So, let’s just say I don’t trust my ability to ‘peg ’em’. I learned that even contractors who’ve done good work sometimes mess up. Or, rather, the people they hire to do the work sometimes mess up.

Oh, wanna hear another one? My neighbor hired a contractor to install decking around her pool. It came out this really funny color and started cracking weirdly. Know what she did? She had ’em tear it out and do it over! Not once, but TWICE! I admire her forcefulness, but will be the first to admit that if that had happened to me, I’d have felt sorry for the well-intentioned blundering contractor and rationalized myself into thinking that the crackly pink patio looked “kinda pretty… in a way.”

When I have found reliable, competitively priced contractors in the past, I thought, “Cool! Now I never have to use the Yellow Pages to find somebody because I’ll just hire so-and-so over and over again.” Nope, because once these so-and-sos figured out that we liked their work so much, they started throwing out preposterously high bids on future jobs.

So, back to square one. Open Yellow Pages, evaluate ads in a way not unlike reading tea leaves… medium-sized ad (not too big, not too small)… nice font… hey, cool phone number… pretty drawing of tree… Established in 1976… member of the Better Business Bureau (probably a good idea to look for this one, actually).

So far I’ve got 2 confirmed contractor bid appointments and am waiting to hear from another. Need to call a few more. Wonder how they’ll like the fact that I want them to put in everything but the plants?

“Whattya mean, lady? You want flowerbeds, sprinklers, a lawn and raised beds, but no plants?”

“That’s right. I’m going to plant them myself.”

“You sure you know what you’re doing, lady?”

To be continued…

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