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Design

The Backyard makeover – Part 1

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The backyard is finished (well . . . is anything ever finished?) and it’s time for it to make its big blog debut. It was super “easy, affordable, and fast!” – said alternate-reality Emily living in opposite-land. Opposite land is SUPER FUN. Reality-land is a prick. But honestly we love it so much and my children and husband have promised to spend 19 hours a day out here for the rest of their lives. LITERALLY, FOREVER.

I started writing this post last week and 13 hours later (two days!) I was only 1/2-way done and yet it was 28 pages. It was supposed to be a big ‘our backyard landscape makeover’ post. But there was too much information and it just got out of control.

So I’m breaking it up and spreading it out. If you aren’t interested in landscaping, don’t worry, I wasn’t either. HOWEVER, perhaps you’ll be interested in some extremely heightened/ridiculous emotions due to a seemingly epic mistake on our end. It’s something I swore I would never write about, nor will we forget, but when it comes to design regrets IT’S MY NUMBER ONE . . . FOREVER.

Here goes:

When we bought the house the backyard looked like this:

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Pretty darn great if you ask me. And in a lot of ways nothing really needed to be done. We had a few small plans, but that was it. Maybe we’d build a fort, and sure, planting a little vegetable garden would be lovely so I could make myself feel like a good mom who instills values/patience/hard work in my children, blah, blah, BLAH. But what we actually did, what happened next was never part of the plan . . .

A few months after we bought the house, something bad happened. Something that I wasn’t going to tell you about because it made me cry for 3 – 4 months. I’m ashamed to say that I’m not being hyperbolic. Every single time I thought about it my eyes filled with tears, often having to leave the room. I’ve wept so hard, for so many weeks, that Brian was concerned about me and suggested kindly that maybe I needed to see someone to help overcome the sadness. For the record, he cried about it, too.

Don’t worry. No one was hurt. I know you’re thinking that someone must have died, but no. I’m a privileged LA lady who is just inexplicably sad about something totally first world. My kids are healthy, we aren’t filing for bankruptcy, my handsome husband is super nice to me . . . I realize that these tears aren’t warranted and I was truly totally embarrassed and ashamed that something so trivial could provoke such grief. But the truth is that you can’t tell your brain to not feel sad about something, even if it’s just . . . the trees. 

So here is what happened – While renovating we came here on weekends to play in our new backyard. We noticed that everything was kinda dying because the irrigation was not set up or maybe it was but it was wrong or something. So we had our beloved gardener come and assess the situation. We’ll call him “Johnny” – which is not his real name but I’m about to destroy his reputation so I want to protect his business as he is truly a wonderful person. We figured why not get some of the work we wanted done now during construction with the hope that we’d have everything spruced up by the time we moved in.

So “Johnny” started removing some of the now-dead plants, he demo-d out the cement pad at the back (we wanted more play space), and put in proper irrigation which ripped up the yard a bit. All fine and good. Then he told us that the trees hadn’t been trimmed in decades and were dangerous.

Let me backup even more . . . one of the reasons that we bought this house, that I fell in love so hard with this house, was the flat SHADY back yard. I have extremely fair skinned children and I’m from Oregon and grew up playing in the forest all day, every day. Trees are my spirit plant and I want nothing more than a backyard full of old-grown lovelies that our kids can climb, hide behind, and feel loved by. You guys. I PUT FOREST MURALS UP IN BOTH OF BIRDIE’S ROOMS FOR OAKS SAKE!! I LOVE BIG TREES MORE THAN ALMOST ANYTHING. While in escrow, and after we bought this house all I told people was ‘I love this house, it’s a 1926 English Tudor with a FLAT BEAUTIFUL SHADY BACK YARD.’

There are four old-growth trees back there that combined to form this amazing canopy of shade. Sure, it needed to be thinned out because no I didn’t want any branches falling on my children’s pink-skinned heads, but I loved the trees as-is and didn’t want them touched. Brian wanted a few of the lower branches gone so it visually felt bigger, so I agreed to a ‘thinning out’ (literally my heart is pounding so hard as I’m writing this even though I thought I was over it!!).

So we gave “Johnny” the go ahead to ‘thin them out.’ And he did so, on a Saturday afternoon without telling us or having us there.

Here’s what Brian found that Sunday morning, thank god without the kids:

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They were absolutely butchered and not only were leafless, but he took off at least 10′ diameter of the canopy in every direction. They used to be these beautiful shapes and now they are totally vertical, with broken, hacked off arms. There was no more shade and my once simple but beautiful backyard became a hot dead dirt-pile, baked by the sun, with only my tears for irrigation.

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The beautiful fig tree that shaded the living room from the morning sun was 1/2 its original size and not in a good way. We had wanted him to take off the lower branches so we could see the backyard and have it grow higher, and instead he chopped everything so it’s a low round ball. The living room baked. I cried.

The rest of the trees were butchered, too . IMG_2630

The tree on the far right is our back neighbors, obviously – BECAUSE IT HAS EFFING LEAVES SO THERE IS NO WAY THAT IT WAS OURS.

If you run into me in person please ask me to do a re-enactment of me seeing the trees for the first time. It’s pretty entertaining. My friends ask me to do it all the time because the level of emotion that I can immediately conjure up and put into ‘the role’ is actually oscar-worthy. It begins, hand in pretend phone call position,  calling “Johnny,” shaking, tears literally barreling out of my eyes, screaming ‘WHAT HAVE YOU DONE??? WHAT. HAVE. YOU. DONE??? {gasping for breath, choking} WE BOUGHT THE HOUSE FOR THE SHADE!!!!! MY TREES!! MY TREES!!!’

To this day I don’t know who I feel more sorry for – him or me. I mean, we REALLY liked each other. He was a great guy and we typically loved his work. Can you imagine getting a phone call from a client like that? He apologized over, and over, and over, and tried to convince me it was the right thing to do for the trees, but I couldn’t stop audibly crying and had to get off the phone every time. I absolutely ruined his Sunday with his family and I apologized to him for weeks. But I was outside my own body and mind. I had absolutely lost it. How people feel about the ocean is how I feel about trees. I grew up in the mountains of Oregon, our house backed up to the forest and I just really find peace and a sense of home in old, large growth trees. I’m really beating a dead tree here, I know, but I was just so devastated. I just kept saying to myself, at least they weren’t chopped down, at least they weren’t chopped down. Decades of age were removed, their beautiful silhouette would never be the same, but life had to go on.

Over the course over the next few weeks we had 3 different arborists come out to reassure me that a.) the trees weren’t going to die and b.) they’d come back within 2 years. They didn’t do that. All of them were pretty horrified by the job and none of them made me feel better. I had to excuse myself during all three meetings to cry and I don’t mean that I left and then cried, I mean that I started crying/weeping during the meeting and had to leave. I’M AN EMOTIONALLY WELL BALANCED PERSON NORMALLY, I PROMISE.

I even jokingly asked Brian to hire an actor and have him take on the role of ‘LA’s most experienced arborists’ and challenge him do an oscar winning performance. His line could be ‘Well, I’ve checked out your trees and while they were trimmed heavily, they are fine. They’ll be back, even healthier by next year.’ That’s all I wanted to hear. I’ve never wanted to be lied to so badly. I just needed to stop being nauseous and so sad about the fact that we butchered our own trees due to poor communication.

I learned many a lesson that you should know:

1.) It is possibly a tree trimmers jobs to practically butcher a tree. I think since it is so expensive and laborious to do, they over-trim to last a few years. “Johnny” is a great guy and I know the trees will grow back eventually

B. The one thing you can’t replace in design is AGE. Once you take age out of something you can’t put it back – so be VERY careful.  Say you bought a house because it had an amazing 18th century hand-painted mural in the living room. Sure, it was crumbling and faded, but that was why you loved it. Then an art historian suggests that a few places here and there needed repair, and you come back the next day to find it totally painted over. The mural gone. 200 years of beauty destroyed in one day. That’s how I felt.

I realize one could define privilege as someone who cries about their trees being overly trimmed. I would absolutely agree.

I’m more than aware how ridiculous this all is which is why I waited 8 months to tell you (even though I vowed I never would), but I need you to really understand the level of my superficial grief to justify what we did next.

Man. This post is VERY dramatic with so many cliff hangers . . .

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I went into desperation mode, vowing to do everything possible to make this the most beautiful backyard in existence. Lush, inviting . . . FULL OF SHADE. I even contacted a tree prop rental in the valley about building a custom large canopied tree (they do that for neighborhood sets). I couldn’t sleep. In toddler terms . . . I went absolutely bonkers.

I felt responsible for ruining it and I just wanted to throw money at the problem. Of course we didn’t have that money because we were renovating the house and we hadn’t sold the Glendale house yet. So I tried to get the backyard makeover sponsored. No one bit fast enough. But thank god Wood Naturally wanted to build a backyard fort, so I used any extra budget leftover after labor/materials of the fort towards landscaping. Also, obviously, in order to ‘reveal’ the castle it was going to have to look somewhat better than the above, so I had to invest some extra cash into getting looking sponsor-worthy. As we started the process another sponsor reached out asking me to host a press event for a wine company in our backyard. GREAT. YES. HOW MUCH??  I went into full rationalization mode and mentally told myself that obviously it needs to look BEAUTIFUL for press. ‘FOR WORK,’ but more importantly this was the job that would justify the backyard. Finally, I had an excuse to get it done.

Unfortunately months later, weeks before the event (and when the backyard was already done, money spent) the partnership was postponed indefinitely due to the availability of the product. I got what’s called a ‘kill fee’ of $5k which is basically a ‘thanks for your time/effort/brainstorming/planning’ fee since the contract had been signed. But it was a small portion of what we would have gotten and definitely didn’t cover the project. But it certainly helped and I was grateful to have it.

But before that, when I thought I had a decent budget (around $20k) I reached out to two different designers that I knew – Pete Hieatt from Deluxe Plants and Jessica Viola of Viola Gardens. They both came over for a consultation and I paid them each to do a design proposal. I worked with Jessica before and really liked her work, but Pete is a very good friend of a very good friend and came highly recommended.

Chemistry and communication are the two keys to a good designer/client relationship but obviously I needed them to be talented as well. We liked them both so much.

I gave them this direction. We wanted the following:

  1. A modern english garden with nooks/hiding places for kids and areas to explore.
  2. Plants that attracted humming birds and butterflies.
  3. Super layered but with plants that don’t need a lot of water.
  4. Think ‘wildflower’ more than ‘formal hedge’. While at one point I did indeed suggest a giraffe topiary, other than that we wanted to stay away from anything to fussy or formal.
  5. Plants that are going to withstand the abuse of kids (or grow back quickly). Nothing precious, but layered, colorful, happy, vintage inspired . . . you get it. It’s my style, but outside.

We threw out some ideas like forts, a splash pad, and a path around to see what they could do .

Pete came over and gave us this plan:

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We loved it. It felt thoughtful and yet happy, and it seemed like he was really thinking about our kids when he drew it. His plan was super, super fun and while we ended up doing very little of the actual kid stuff, it showed us that he was creative and willing to go for it.

He added an inspiration board – some of which we had pinned and some he found:

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It felt old-world and so whimsical. If only we had the room and ability to upkeep those twig tents. They are so magical and great for a summer but I can’t imagine they last long-term so it didn’t seem like a good thing to invest in. Plus once we had the Wood Naturally fort sponsored I was like ONE FORT IS ENOUGH. I grew up making forts out of sticks and dirt in the forest. I didn’t get a castle. I already feel guilty about giving them a castle with a GD pebble moat. If they want to occupy more property in our backyard they can go through our realtor (or just build it out of sticks). But those forts sure are dreamy.

He included his tree and plant choices here:

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It was so interesting being on the “client” side of things because while of course I can picture it – kinda – I didn’t know how he would layer, where these would go, and what it would really look like. But here’s the deal, clients, YOU NEVER DO because if you are designing a space from nothing, for the first time, there shouldn’t be a photo of the end result. Our project would be unique and therefore no Pinterest photos would represent it, no mood board would do it justice. It’s a lot of trust, folks.

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In the proposal he had a mix of trees, shrubs, ground cover, and flowers. Some things we kept, some we nixed, but it was nice to see his thoughtful proposal and we were into it.

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Then Jessica sent through her plan, which I loved, too!

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Jessica’s drawing was so pretty. It was less about the kids and more about creating zones, depth, and breaking up the yard. For both of them we wanted more open space, but that was an easy fix. Her plants had a different palette, a little calmer and quieter:

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A lot of these photos needed to be explained and she explained her thoughts around them.

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It was honestly a super, super hard decision. We liked them both so much and there were great advantages of either. Ultimately it was a personal decision and we really liked the idea of working with a friend. Brian had already been texting Pete a lot about it and I was like, ooh, maybe if we hire Pete then Brian can take a larger role in decision making as this was a project he wanted to be super involved in. They were both so good and I recommend both of them (don’t worry, Jessica and I are still great and she gave full permission to show the boards and promote her work even though she wasn’t hired for this particular job). But Pete has been so amazing and we were very happy to get started.

Of course a lot of annoying little starts and stops happened. Like we wanted to face out the cement wall in stone, or brick but the quote came out to be $10k (which I thought was ridiculously high but even if it were 1/2 that we wouldn’t have done it). Pete wanted to wait until the fort was at least started so he knew where he should plant, etc.

Oh and then the hilarious thing happened where our side hedge was chopped THREE FEET by our neighbors gardener. We hadn’t moved in yet, and we stopped by to check on the renovation. Brian came inside and said ‘you are not going to believe this.’ Chopped. They had to come on our property to do it which is odd, but six months later it’s back to the original height and it’s not going to happen again. But it reduced the privacy immediately and we had already wanted to break up the skyline with some trees, but we were re-committed to do so.

An exterior ‘renovation’ is similar to an interior renovation in the sense that you need to have all your ducks in a row and all materials chosen/ordered before you demo or you are going to live in dirt for months. So tomorrow I’ll show you that process with less drama and emotion (hopefully).

To be continued . . . (and here’s another sneak peek).

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If you want all the backyard posts leading up to this post and after, here you go.

Ideas for the most Family Friendly Backyard Ever | The Finished Patio (with Tile!) |  Building Our Backyard Castle with Wood Naturally | Backyard Makeover Part 2 | The Backyard Final Reveal

***Sneak Peek photography by Sara Tramp

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Jess

We live in MN and it is quite common for us to chop trees back like that. It is painful and they are definitely “fugly”, as I like to call them, but they always grow back gorgeous. Even if it takes time. Hang in there!

courtney

I have lived in MN my whole life and have never seen this before… Are you talking about the butchering the city does to trees when they are near power/phone lines?

MW

I have lived through this exact same nightmare with a landscaper. And also cried for weeks — I said I wanted it “groomed”, not a Brazlian wax, if you know what I mean! Anyway, I can attest that this style of cutting back actually does help stimulate them as they have grown back twice as lush as before. Trees are resilient! Let nature do its thing!

Eileen

Don’t feel ashamed — I know exactly how you feel. Our neighborhood is not in the city limits and was built in the 70s so we all have septic. A year ago we had to replace our whole system and while I knew it was going to be very expensive (we had to tear off and replace a deck + some fencing at minimum in addition to the septic itself) it wasn’t until the contractor told us we’d have to take down every tree that wasn’t w/in 8 feet of our property line (we have .5 acre) that I lost it. I literally doubled over when he said it and I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach.

Upon seeing my reaction, the contractor and the county inspectors worked really hard to come up with another plan (and they DID). We still had to take down around 12 trees but we “saved” more than that.

Emily

How great of them!

Rachel

O. M. TREE. 😳

Em

Hey Emily, I definitely appreciate your transparency about recognizing your privilege. At the same token, you don’t have to apologize or minimize for being sad about things that make you sad! That’s totally a legit emotion to be feeling. I’m looking forward to the rest of your posts.

Sheri

yes, this!

Emily

Yes. Also, I think it says something good about someone’s soul when they cry about the loss or butchering of old trees.

Allison

Also- it’s really relatable to a lot of us that love and care for our homes. We spend time and energy and it represents more than just a tree. It was a piece of your childhood you worked hard to buy and were going to share with your kids. I would have cried a ton too.

Jennifer laura

Agree! This post was awesome, loved the behind the scenes peek! I’m not rich but I can totally relate, I grew up in the country with tons of trees. Now I live in the burbs and all the new neighborhoods are so ugly with NO trees, which is the main reason we decided to live in a much older neighborhood. Trees ARE imortant!!!

Mary

My daughter once said to me “feeling guilty about being sad because others have it worse is like telling people they shouldn’t feel happy because others have it better.” So true. I have gone ‘bonkers’ over the littlest, stupidest things that are easily repaired so I can only imagine your horror/sadness/frustration with what Johnny did. I have learned Mother Nature is a tough old bird though. Hang in there! Your trees will come back ~ it may take some time but they’ll grow more.

Lauren

Haven’t hear from that quote before, but I love it!

Tara

I’ve never thought of it that way, thank-you 🙂

Mary, that is a GREAT quote. thank you. xx

Laura

I agree!! I am sad with you. Your yard was so happy and then it wasn’t. I’m glad the end result is so beautiful.

rachel

i’ve never commented before, but HOLY HELL. I would have had the same reaction. My husband and I had to quit watching This Old House because there is always a mid-season episode where they chop down all the trees “for the view”… of no trees. I would get too angry and start shouting, wouldn’t be able to fall asleep, etc.

Kerri

I’m so sorry to hear about your trees. We owned 7.5 acres of gorgeous, wooded property in Alabama along a major waterway. The water view was spectacular and we held the idea to one day build our glorious dream home. We also shared a 1/4 mile long right-of-way and driveway with our neighbor that wound beautifully through woods to our gated property. He decided to “harvest” the pine on his property. The workers came in and literally SCALPED the area, left piles of debris, hacked and cut everything in their path, and left the place an absolute and utter mess – with no intention of returning to clean. I knew it would take decades – decades! – for that forest area to rebuild. Though my husband couldn’t quite understand or empathize with my horrified reaction (stating OUR woods were still there!), every time I approached our weekend getaway, I re-experienced what our neighbor had done to those beautiful, beautiful trees. We actually made a decision to sell that property, sell our “city house” and purchase an already constructed lake home closer to our work. We’ve been happily renovating and fixing it up with no plans to move anywhere else anytime… Read more »

OMG the same thing happened to us! We had a beautiful maple that hung over our deck and kept it nice and shady. The tree guys came on a day when we weren’t there (they were there to remove two dead trees and give everything a LIGHT trim) and absolutely butchered it. I believe the term we heard was “broccoli-ing” it. It does look like a stupid broccoli now. It’s such a silly thing, but I cried and cried, too. You can’t get those branches back! 2 years later I’ve learned to live with it, but I’ll always miss those low hanging shade branches!

Ann

Same thing happened to us except the term we heard was “lion tailing.” I get why they did it but it was soooo hard to look at for awhile.

QEd

No tree should ever be “lion tailed” or “broccoli-ed”. Find a reputable company. Here is an arborist to explain: http://www.albertaarborists.com/News/The-Dangers-of-Not-Properly-Pruning-Your-Trees
Creating a Lion-Tailed or Broccoli Tree — Inexperienced tree-pruners often get carried away and remove all the limbs growing along a branch until nothing is left but a group of limbs at the end of the branch, a condition resembling a lion’s tail. A “broccoli tree” has had most of its bottom branches pruned away, creating a tree with an unsightly, high canopy. This pruning method weakens existing branches and puts undue weight on the end of a branch rather than equally along it. Over-burdened branches break, exposed bark becomes sunburned and reduces a tree’s ability to engage in photosynthesis due to a lack of leaves.

Wow. thank you. Next time ANYONE mutters the phrase ‘tree-trimming’ i’ll refer to that.

Dena

This post is so wonderful. The fact that you are promoting kids being kids, being outside as much as possible is worth it’s weight in gold. The fact that you care so deeply about nature is such an inspiring juxtaposition to the consumerism it can take to create an indoor space. I love nature so much and opted for a small house with a huge backyard (Jax Beach). Yes, we have the beach, which I couldn’t live without. But there is nothing better than a back yard full of trees, flowers and interesting bugs for a child to grow up in. So happy you kept the fig!! Picking fruit straight from the tree is so exciting for little kids! And I see some sweet alyssum which is gorgeous and smells like honey. Love that you thought of the bees and butterflies. And watering less. Are you going to get rain barrels? I could go on and on!! Can’t wait to see more. Thanks for this post and so sorry your trees got butchered. Whenever we see that happen in our neighborhood our hearts hurt a little.

Liz

Emily, I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND. I would cry so hard if someone did that to my trees and I was horrified reading your account of what happened. My husband has mentioned hiring a tree company to “thin out” the giant trees in our front yard (because dead grass) and now I will probably scream “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” and run away if he ever brings it up again. I am so very sorry for your loss – and it IS a loss as what is gone cannot be replaced.

Sheri

Oh, Emily! Your devastation is understandable! Don’t beat yourself up for being so upset, and THANK YOU for sharing. As a sensitive and emotional person (and fellow tree lover) I am comforted to know that other people grieve so deeply. I’m glad in your case you were able to work around it and I know that your backyard is going to be stunningly beautiful. Our backyard is the size of a postage stamp, and our budget is non existent but we are always looking to optimize it for our kids, and know that I will continue to be inspired by your work. You, and your blog, always provide a mix of aspiration and honesty that is priceless. We all feel like we are your actual friends because you are willing to share your beautiful soul with us through this blog – the good, the bad, the emotional. Thank you. xo

Bea

I am so sorry that the “Great Emily Arboretum Saga” has caused you so much distress! I suspect in part this overreaction may have been due to other factors i.e. stress of the move, sick children and husband, flooding and internal makeover etc. … (I’m not stalking you honestly! Just reading your blog posts  ) I know this won’t be much consolation but I live in a conservation area (in London) and any trees (front or back of property) need planning permission before they can be trimmed or removed. The gardens were established in the Victorian era and there are a lot of very mature trees that need trimming. This is my long winded way of saying, I have seen a lot of highly supervised (by the Council) tree trimming! And I have seen both methods you’ve described used in my neighbours’ gardens – just the lower limbs (on an oak) and a complete trim (a sycamore). Both methods looked pretty hideous just after the tree surgeon had visited and made the chop. However, two years later, both trees look sturdy, healthy and full of leaves. The thing about gardening – that is different to a can of paint… Read more »

Sarah

I would have been devastated about the trees as well. We live in Virginia, and our neighborhood is full of towering, old-growth trees. The power company came to trim trees above the lines a few years ago, and I was extremely anxious about what was going to happen to our two huge and lovely trees in the front yard. It ended up being mostly OK, but the shape of the tulip poplar will never be the same. They butchered multiple trees up and down the block, and it breaks my heart.

Kaiulani

BGE here in Maryland completely butchered all tress in my neighborhood along the road. Thank god my trees were further inland and they couldn’t touch them.

Here in CT they give you a form for permission And we signed it telling them to not touch our trees which weren’t even near the lines, and we watched them start to cut on them anyway. My husband ran right out and told them they didn’t have permission. Funny, they “didn’t have” our signed form.

Becca

Do you live in LBA?! We moved there for the trees! We’ve had to take down two dead ones (well, one fell :-|) and two more that threatened the foundation but we’ve still got a forest left, which we love. Taking care of your trees is so important. When we moved in an arborist explained that trimming branches is like fertilizing ground plants – it directs the nutrients to the canopy, rather than having them get used by little “sucker” branches lower down that aren’t vital to the trees overall health. It’s a safety issue too – a strong canopy is what prevents the big limbs from falling. I’ve had a big limb fall on my house, over my bedroom, while asleep, while pregnant (!) It was terrifying. Trim away I say, health is wealth!

Amy Lynn

I was not expecting that to be such an emotional roller coaster for a post about landscaping! I would have been devastated if I had been in your shoes. Super looking forward to part 2.

Martha

I could tell by Pete’s mood board that you were going to pick his design, so he totally nailed it. I love catching glimpses of your garden here and on Instagram – it is really my dream design, it looks like a disheveled cottage garden and like it has been there for ages. I am so sorry about your trees, I understand how you feel. I would be in bits about it too.

Kate

You are definitely not out of line being an emotional mess about the trees! I had tree work done on my property last fall, and the crew made a huge mistake. In the process of taking down two gigantic pine trees, they ended up shearing off the back sides of two adjacent 75 year-old oaks that they thought were also supposed to come down. They got the wrong oaks. They had hacked them up so badly that to leave them up would have made our yard look insane, so we insisted that they take them down even though it was not part of the job. I am still mourning the loss of those trees and the canopy that went with them.

Omg, this is going to be so so pretty, im dying to see the final result!

http://www.shopthecoconutroom.com

MaryMargaret

Our arborists came and “elevated” the trees at an old house we were moving into. The trees had not been trimmed in decades, and they did a great job balancing them for light and to manage winter storms. Then the electrical company came out and HACKED all the trees at the back property line leaving defoliated straight little sticks that were destined to die. It looked awful and let in so much light that all the groundcover and grass burnt to a crisp (on the eve of a big social obligation!). We had to beg and plead with our landscaper to come out and remedy the situation, put in irrigation, roll out new grass and plant like crazy, including new trees. It looks great now, but it was a project we had not planned to do and certainly not in a huge time-crunch fashion right before a big party. Plus, it will be so, so long before the new trees can soften the back property line. Your trimmed trees will bounce back — it will just take time. Chin up! It will be leafy and gorgeous again.

Becky

I had to quit reading pretty early and scroll down to comment because OH MY GOD I UNDERSTAND! I’m an atheist through-and-through but BIG TREES move me spiritually and are the closest thing I have to a religion. when I die I’m going to be buried beneath a sapling and LITERALLY BECOME A TREE. I would be so devastated if the magnolias and oaks in my yard were butchered and all my shade were gone; it’d be like living in the middle of a of a sun-bleached, baking hot parking lot. I’m so sorry.

Nichole

A window installer nearly murdered 2 trees in order to install new windows in our breakfast room. I was pissed and would rant about it for 6 months after. I think you are not nuts to be so upset. The moral of the story is arborists should trim trees, not “landscapers”.

Kate

Absolutely agree. I know it usually costs more but it’s worth it to have the job done properly. The previous owners of our house had the gorgeous old oak in the front “topped” and now it’s dying. Two years ago we spent about $300 for the arborist to inject special fertilizer around the roots in an attempt to save it but it doesn’t appear to have worked. The tree makes the master bedroom feel like a treehouse so needless to say I’m pissed at them for killing it.

Julie

1/3 is the MOST you are ever supposed to take off. You need to be more conservative in places where the plants are stressed [you know, like CA after a drought]. He butchered those trees. You have every right to be upset and sad. I couldn’t read the whole post. I live in Seattle where we are losing canopy to developers at an alarming rate. I would suggest you find a really good arborist to come up with a plan to support those trees going forward.

I also recommend the Plant Amnesty site which has a lot of really good information about pruning and protecting large trees.

Katie

All I can say is thank god Johnny’s not a hairdresser!! Image going in for a trim and leaving with a shaved head.

Liz

Oh, I can totally relate! My husband was cleaning up our side yard, and chopped off the top of one of my favorite trees with these beautiful heart shaped leaves. I too had a similar emotional reaction, and still get sad every time I see what has become of that poor tree.

Don’t worry Emily, you’re not the only one who cries over trees! I cried bitterly and felt sad/angry for WEEKS when my husband decided to lop a giant gum tree in our front garden himself, because the tree was so shady it was interfering with our solar panels. He lopped huge branches off and when these huge branches smashed down (I wasn’t at home) they smashed half my carefully planted garden. They knocked off half my frangipani tree, a whole bunch of plants and one of the branches knocked the top of one of my olive trees clean off. Basically snapped it in half. I thought it was going to die. I cried! It grew back though, even more lush than before… and I hope your trees will be the same. I also love trees around me…. I actually don’t even think I would buy a house in an area where there are no big trees around – feel like I need big trees around me to feel happy and settled. Recently our (former) corrupt government here in Perth illegally cut down a lot of huge trees in our area. Some were more than 500 years old and home to… Read more »

Bob

Oh seriously? You are talking about Roe 8 on EH?!?!

The government was hardly corrupt. Clearing the bushland was in no way, shape or form illegal. Where do you live – because I’m sure there were probably stacks of trees of your block before it was cleared to make room for a house. I’m sure plenty of wildlife happily called your suburb home at one point in time.

If you want to talk about Government corruption, I think you need to look outside of Australia. that is, unless you want to start a conversation about WA Inc.

Pam

Easy solution for everyone: let your gardener cut the grass only, and always hire a certified Arborist to prune your trees! Find some in your area at treesaregood.org

So sorry for your canopy loss, I would be devastated too.

Julia

I would have cried long, hard tears about those trees too! We have one huge maple in our backyard that I had my neighbour, who is an arborist, trim for us. When I first saw it I was in complete shock about how much he took. Luckily the following year it came back more full and beautiful than ever! Fingers crossed same thing happens for you 🤞🏽

Also, that random picture of a hanging tire filled with flowers cracks me up. So out of place with the rest of the inspo pics. 😂

Anon

Nearly everyone loves trees, no matter how poor or privileged, right? No shame in grieving the trees. I’m grieving myself for some branches that were completely removed and won’t grow back. The whole front of the house is permanently changed…I can’t afford to replace live oaks with mature ones (hoping this is what you did!!) and I can’t bear to plant young ones and wait a million years. The trees were what I loved most about the house. Gotta get used to the new normal.

Brandi

I would have cried over the tree trimming as well. In the ten years we’ve lived in our house, we’ve had at least five trees removed or they have fallen (thankfully not on the house). I still get sad about losing the trees but a yard full of mature trees comes with it’s own problems, especially in the Deep South.

Diana

AH I understand you so much. When building my house, I had said “CREAM” to the builder. They heard GREEN. Somehow throughout the ENTIRE PROCESS, I thought the green siding was the BASE COAT. I hadn’t said a word until they were handing over the keys and talking about seasonal changes, when I asked, “so is the cream color being painted a bit later?” And received a blank look.

I cried for DAYS. Yes, first world issues absolutely, but emotions are emotions and my house was a very wrong color. I felt so stupid for not communicating. Needless to say, alls well that ends well..

Lauren

I cried real hot, grown-up adult tears when my parents sold our childhood home where MY tree (they planted it when I was born and it was a real friend to me? so I was a cool kid) was…I still think about it sometimes. Fellow Oregonian solidarity here!!! Those poor trees.

Also going to say FOR OAK’S SAKE for all my swearing needs forever.

Hi Emily could you please share the names of the trees and shrubs that Pete recommended. This info is so helpful!

Kari

I’ve had this happen too – initiated by a neighbor who was “worried” about our shared tree lines tree leaves scraping the siding on our house!
She had them trimmed without consulting us at all and when I came home from work that evening I went into meltdown mode, same as you did. Sobbing, anger, angst – all of that!
I understand totally! On our trees unfortunately the radical trimming left the trees fatally wounded and they’ve since died and had to be removed.
I’ve tried to make the best of it and now have a south facing sunnier space for a cutting garden. Our neighbor lady and we still aren’t speaking to each other, at her volition, not ours.

Brooke

I actually exclaimed out loud when I scrolled to the photo of the trimmed trees. Don’t feel bad about how you reacted either as I think most people would have felt the same way.

I get that it might seem like a “first world problem” but that only dismisses the actual pain you felt which is a legitimate feeling and shouldn’t be dismissed. People lose perspective on how others feel by throwing in the FWP phrase but if something goes wrong and is meaningful to you, regardless of whether others value it, it can be incredibly stressful and painful to deal with.

In the end, even if it cost time and pain, the end result looks like it turned out beautifully. I’m really looking forward to seeing the garden (and the plants) in more detail. We just tiered our front yard hill and we’re starting to stain it this week. Once that’s all done we’ll be able to start adding plants and while we wont be able to use all the same plants as you (we’re in Canada), it’ll be a great inspiration for colour combinations/textures etc.

Jacy

I have lived in our house nearly 8 years and three of our old trees have either died or are circling the drain. We’ve consulted arborists and I am told that this is just the end of their life cycle. But it makes me sad all the time.

Emily

I LOVE how honest you are about how you felt. It would be so easy to play down your emotions on the blog post. We are starting a renovation and your blog actually tells it like it
is… I’m terrified but thankfully realistic. All my beloved house decor magazines include comments from homeowners like “it was stressful, we would never renovate again” but you never get a sense of why.

Emma

I am in the middle of a crazy backyard landscaping/reno project (new deck/fence/pergola/patio/etc) and honestly, it is HARD. You would think that it would be easier than an interior project, but it isn’t. AT ALL. Everything is incredibly expensive and time-consuming, and, like you, I’m having a really hard time imagining how it’s all going to come together in the end. Right now it feels like my backyard is always going to be a half-finished dirt pit and my kids are never going to have access to a safe outdoor space EVER. (See? You’re not the only one getting emotional about their backyard!)

Needless to say – I can’t wait to see the finished product tomorrow so I can live vicariously through you. 🙂

I’m so sorry about your trees!!!! Hoping for speedy growth!

Sherrie S

You are justified in your reaction to those trees. I have never seen a hatchet job like that. I would have been crying for weeks too and begging my husband to spend $$$ to replant large new ones. Yikes!

Grace

This happened in some degree to us while clearing property to build a new home. We had marked trees to save but the guy we hired took out a group of three beautiful old Douglas firs that I was seriously attached to. I behaved very badly towards him, and it seriously kept me up at night with a knot in my stomach for a good year….. I still feel a little sad about it almost 6 years later. What I learned is so valuable though. Be on site, as much as possible, but especially when things are being done that have that kind of impact on the site. You can move walls, add windows…. but you can’t replace trees. I feel for you, in the end I’m sure the space looks beautiful in spite of the whole thing.

janey

I would have sobbed too. The trees look awful!!! Did you get your money back? Did he explained why he did it?

This is overall a super interesting post. I rent and have never even thought about landscaping, but I’ll file this away for my someday home.

Chaucea

No, what you felt/feel is utterly, absolutely real and very okay.

I get it, trees are majestic, glorious beings and my mom and I have wept deeply for the butchering or loss of them over the years on our property.

Every time you think your feelings aren’t ‘justified’, imagine something infinitely worse: someone who didn’t give a damn about trees.

That you feel this deeply about the trees is actually very awesome. Bless you for that! *hugs* 🙂

Sarah

Oh man. Just reading this post nearly has me in tears – and I don’t even have any thing nearly so dramatic to compare it to!! Trees are living things and, unlike an imperfect home, can’t be renovated on a deadline or in a strictly predictable fashion. This reminds me I need to get out and do summer pruning on my baby fruit trees, and I will take it seriously, slowly, and carefully, because I plan to set these trees up for a good life in my yard. Emily, I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your lessons learned.

rachelle bell

AMAZING post, can’t wait for part 2! I would Oprah Cry about those trees, too.

emily k

Oh hun. I didn’t even finish reading this post before I had to come here and reassure you that your reaction was neither one of privilege nor irrational. Even if you were poor and resource-less your attachment to the trees would be understandable (even more so! poor people are allowed to cherish things other than food and shelter!) I too have a strong attachment to trees and the forest. I grew up on 11 acres in rural PA surrounded by woods and farmland that I explored constantly. When my dad tried to trim back some bushes around the house I threw myself in between the shrubs and his shears. In tears. My dad was soo angry and little stubborn bull headed me and still tells the story. I am proud of little stubborn bull headed me for loving nature so fiercely. Also as a child I once had a dream that the woods all around our house had been chopped down and it was so traumatizing when I woke that I still remember that feeling. I too am horrified at what happened and kinda think that your gardener ought never touch trees again and should refer clients to arborists. I… Read more »

Moo

Wow, that was a rollercoaster. It makes total sense why you would be SO devastated. It was one of the MAIN reasons for buying the home in first place! My little place is surrounded by redwoods and they clog my gutters a couple times a year but in the summer, I am so grateful for the shade. Just this past weekend, it was 106′. 1. 0. 6 degrees! As much as I complain about them in the winter, I would be so sad if anything happened to them. Thanks for always sharing and keeping it real but also light. I’d love to see your Oscar performance. =)

kelly

I was horrified and hysterical reading this because you are the best storyteller. You don’t know something is going to invoke literal physical pain and tears until it happens. Your reaction while calling Johnny on the phone reminded me of a time I came home during our interior renovation (while living in the house). It was a LONG day at work and it was 400 million fucking degrees outside in the middle of summer in Missouri. The crew had been there that day to knock down the plaster ceiling in the kitchen and didn’t put a plastic wall/sheet/tarp ANYTHING up to section off that tiny doorway and my entire house (furniture and all of or belongings) were covered in brown and white dust (probably asbestos) and there was a thick fog of dust in the air. Literally could see the air in my house. I came in dropped all 60lbs of my bags that I just carried from my car on the street since I couldn’t pull in my driveway due to the 40 ft dumpster taking up residence. I. Started. Bawling. On. The. Spot. Hysterical, Wailing., Hyperventilating, Ugly tears. I’m sweating just thinking about it. Obviously, the stress of… Read more »

Loved reading this! I fully appreciate your honesty about the road blocks and devastating twists and turns throughout the process. Can’t wait to read the next part of this story!!

Emma

At our first home, my husband butchered a tree after I told him not to do it himself and I vividly remember rampaging around our property in a black out rage screaming hateful things that can’t be repeated. The neighbours must have thought I was a lunatic, but tree rage = real.

Hallie

Thank you for this post–I look forward to reading all 100 pages!

I am about to begin a similar process and I am thrilled to see yours first.

Samantha

Emily, I am so sorry to say that the projects/mistakes which obviously cost you the most money, grief, and heartache are often the ones I find most fascinating and enjoyable. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME???

Anyway, I am truly sorry about the trees. What did the other arborists say?? I kept waiting to read that you had to cut them all down or something…? I’m heartened to read so many comments assuring you that they WILL grow back lush and healthy eventually… fingers crossed!!

Anyway, whatever you did must have worked because I kept thinking about how in all the pictures I’ve seen so far of your backyard, I never particularly noticed any botched trim jobs and it always looks very lush and shady.

Good luck! Can’t wait to read part 2!

Samantha

Also the graceful way you speak about “Johnny” and acknowledge that you must have ruined his Sunday, etc, amidst your utter devastation, speaks volumes about your character. Bravo.

Vanessa

I would have had the same reaction. I hope you’re doing better now, but ooph, I can understand.

Anna

Holy cow! I got emotional just reading this. I would have been devastated! I know nothing about trimming trees, but need to hire an arborist in the fall and you better believe your post has at least taught me to be on site and VIGILANT! I am so sorry this happened to you and your beautiful trees.

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