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The Backyard makeover – Part 1

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:


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:


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.


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 . . .


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:


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:


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:


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.


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.


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


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:


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




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).



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


Never miss a single post and get a little something extra on Saturdays.

222 thoughts on “The Backyard makeover – Part 1

  1. 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!

    1. 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?

    2. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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

    1. 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.

    2. 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!!!

    3. 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.

    4. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 soon, as well as no regret for making that decision – personally or financially. I agree whole-heartedly with your statement to take extra, extra care when removing age – whether it be wooden furniture or live wood. I just wanted to share my experience with you for you to know that you have a southern gal in Alabama who totally understands.

  6. 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!

    1. 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.

    2. No tree should ever be “lion tailed” or “broccoli-ed”. Find a reputable company. Here is an arborist to explain:
      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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. 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 – is that it takes time, sometimes 24 months’ time for the beauty to shine through!

    Hang in there and hug a tree.

  11. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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!

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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”.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

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

  19. 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.

  20. 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 nests of owls and endangered black cockatoos. I felt sad for weeks. There were HUNDREDS of people protesting on the streets, lots of them crying or emotional. You’re not the only one who mourns gorgeous trees and it certainly doesn’t mean you’re spoilt.

    1. 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.

  21. 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

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

  22. 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. ?

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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..

  26. 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.

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

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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. 🙂

  33. 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!

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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* 🙂

  37. 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.

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

  39. 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 would have actually sued him (no matter how good our relationship had been up until that point) so the fact that you still speak highly of him is really something.

    Ok now back to finish the story….

  40. 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. =)

  41. 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 the living in a renovation and working full time cause the reaction and I suspect that had to do a lot with your reaction as well. Hang in there, What you’ve shown of your backyard is what dreams are made of!

  42. 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!!

  43. 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.

  44. 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.

  45. 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!

    1. 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.

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

  47. 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.

  48. I’m pretty close to livid over the state of your trees, and it’s not even my house! I was worried that you would say they had died after being topped.

  49. OMG. I JUST got a quote for thinning a tree in our yard. After the winter we had in Portland, I wanted to make sure it’s super safe. (it’s a 300′ + tall Doug Fir that has to be over 100 years old…and has been well maintained and limbed-up over the years). BUT, I think I might hold off!! That is so sad!

    1. Kiki, same! That winter was nuts, and sadly a man in our neighborhood was killed by a falling tree after those big gusts this spring. I was nervous we might have to heavily trim or take down some big cedars and firs in our yard and I was so thankful when our tree guy said they were healthy and didn’t need much work.

  50. I’m so glad you wrote about this! We bought our house and I LOVE our shady yard. Our yard guy keeps trying to get us to let him cut the limbs, but my husband suggested getting an arborist. I thought he was being crazy but now I’m totally going to do it. So sorry for your trees!! ?

  51. I woke up on a Saturday morning to find that our neighbor had hired some guys with a chain saw and a pick up truck to “cut back” the huge Sycamore just inches over on their side of our joint property line. Our front yards aren’t separate; they form one large area with a dry creek and this Sycamore forming the informal dividing line. The guys (they weren’t landscapers or arborists) were already lopping off huge branches with their chain saw when I ran out in my pajamas to stop them. Our neighbors weren’t even outside to supervise or watch what was happening. They only came out when they heard that all cutting had stoppedI. In the ensuing melee; I yelled, I cried, I demanded; I did everything but chain myself to the tree to get them to stop, but they had already butchered one side so badly the tree couldn’t be left that way. And the neighbors continued to point out that it was technically, on their property line and they could do as they wished. The guys with the chain saws were the ones apologizing and offering to stop; the neighbors were the ones demanding the butchering continue. And all the time, the neighbors kept saying that tree “needed” to be cut back, and that it would make it even “better”. Several months later, the tree does look somewhat better since the new leaves have hidden most of the butchering; but that Sycamore will NEVER have those graceful, spreading branches again. I suppose they think a tree that looks like a stalk of broccoli is somehow “better” looking. Needless to say, I will never speak to our neighbors again, and as a dedicated gardener, I think of that horrible scene whenever I work in our front yard garden. I grew up in the desert, where mature trees were highly valued; we appreciate the time, effort and water it takes for a tree to get to that size. It seems to me that native Californians’ grow up surrounded by so much greenery, they begin to feel that trees are invincible and can take any kind of butchering and still survive. The trees may survive, but they certainly don’t have the beauty or grace they should have.

  52. I think I would have had the exact same reaction as you!! I grew up in Michigan, and my backyard was basically a forest. To buy a home because of the trees, and come back to THAT. I can’t even imagine…. I’m so sorry for you, and want to give you a hug! I’m excited to see what it really looks like, but I’m sure it’s beautiful 🙂

  53. I felt a palpable pain in my chest while reading this horror story. We live in a boring, average neighborhood. The one draw to our home were the large maple trees. If you Google Earth our address you would think we live in a lush forest not a blah development. When we first moved I had a landscaper give an assessment of the property. He told me to cut down the trees. You mean the trees that house screech owls, great horned owls and a myriad of other creatures??! I am usually very polite and controlled but I yelled at him. My husband came home to meet with the landscaper and myself but he was gone… He narrowly escaped my wrath. I now pay an exorbitant amount to have said trees trimmed properly and peace reigns throughout our yard.

  54. Yay for long blog posts! Thank you for sharing your struggles with the project. As much as I’ve studied interior design I’ve always figured that one day I would delve into the world of exterior landscaping. Not to the same extent but maybe to just learn a little more. The same principles probably apply, right? To that end, do you have any suggestions for landscaping blogs with a similar format to this one? Thanks!

    1. agree about “yay for long blog posts!” 🙂 it’s refreshing and wanted after what has felt like many not-quite-as-meaty posts (not complaining–those are necessary sometimes, i know! just saying, i had been craving a post like this!). i also second the desire to know about good landscaping blogs…know of any, emily? i have googled but haven’t had much luck.

  55. We bought our old home brcause of the trees. It was just beyond the city limits, a 100yr old dutch colonial, and the ONLY house on the street with big beautiful trees. One in particular in the back that perfectly canopied over the back yard. Those trees cooled the entire home without blocking and light, and provided awesome privacy without hiding the house.

    We sold the house 2 years ago, our first home, and recently my kids asked if we could drive by the old house. We drove up to the house and I slammed on the breaks, put the car in park and screamed “Noooooooo!” and immediately, much to the horror of my children, started sobbing uncontrollably. THEY CUT DOWN EVERY SINGLE TREE. ALL OF THEM. And there was the house, stark, alone, weird, and now adorned with AC units in every single window.

    So I feel your pain. And occasionally, if I’m feeling creepy and overdramatic, I’ll Google street view the house and cry.

    1. Oh my!! The kicker is the AC units. Pure cheese! I kind of think I will never return to this house after we sell as I cannot stand the thought of someone trashing the place.

    2. That is truly a horror story. I am always perplexed why people buy these old homes and then don’t appreciate them. Go buy in a new neighborhood with no trees if you don’t want to rake your yard ever. Insane. We had an old neighbor who was an avid gardener. She had beautiful trees and bushes all over her yard as it was divided into areas for gardens. Young couple buys the house, rips EVERYTHING out and it is just one big grassy yard. Why buy that house then? The yard and trees were a main selling point. Someone else would have appreciated them.

  56. A similar thing happened to my parents! Sort of…

    Zoning laws required my parents to build their house close to the back of their lot, so the front yard and side yard are huge, but the backyard is narrow. The back of our neighbor’s house behind us is fairly close, but luckily there was a line of 15 trees that separated our yard from their’s. The trees were probably 20-30 feet tall, side by side, and they’d grown together over DECADES to create shade and privacy. Our house was built to be three stories tall to take advantage of the trees and how they provided shade for all floors.

    We came home one day to them all cut down! We noticed the moment we walked in the house because it was as if fifty spotlights were shining through the windows. My mom had a similar reaction to the one you had – so many tears and a few tough conversations with our neighbor’s, who were mortified and heartbroken at my parent’s reaction. They truly didn’t think it’d be a big deal and apologized profusely, but it was still a tough pill to swallow, (The trees were on their lot, so it was their prerogative, but we always assumed they liked the privacy too.)

    New, tall-ish trees were planted in the old trees’ place and now…eight years later, they’ve grown and created privacy and shade again. Nothing like what we had, but over time it got better and less noticeable. Hang in there! Your reaction is warranted, no matter how silly it may seem.

  57. Oh my gosh I haven’t agreed with any of your posts more! I would have had the same reaction and we had a somewhat (though smaller in scale) situation! We bought our house in a very hot area of Northern California and were drawn to the neigborhood since it was older with mature trees (as opposed to our builder-basic rental neighborhood with its boring grass open yards and the one token tree) Our new yard was small but super shady and lots of wild plants that I thought would be just fine if we never did anything with (since we are doing a huge DIY reno of the whole house). Well that first summer we realized that two of those huge wild looking “trees” were oleander plants…which can be highly poisonous to kids and pets. And they we’re sitting right in the middle of the play space, dropping leaves into the kiddy pool and the lawn where our crawling babies played! So hubby and I ourselves ripped them out, I’m sure I cried, and our yard turned into a hot barren wasteland that we have not yet been able to fix…hopefully next year! ? It’s for the best but man our yard is awful right now! I’m glad you shared. It’s easy to think that everyone else’s lives are perfect!

  58. I almost started crying when I saw the pictures of the trees too!!! There’s a predatory “tree trimming” company in my home town that preys on people who don’t know much about trees and/or people who are afraid that a tree will fall on their house and they go in and “pollard” a tree. The result is that the tree becomes much less stable and is MORE likely to fall on the house. It’s such a sad, sad situation and frustrating that these tree trimming companies will do anything for a buck. Arborists should always be hired to trim a tree/advise how to trim a tree! Oh–and I see quite a bit of “crepe murder” as well. It’s super unhealthy for the plant and ugly as ever!

    You deserve to be frustrated with Johnny and I’m so, so sorry this happened to you. I’m sure it will return in some shady form but what you’re experiencing is grief and you had a totally rational reaction. All my love to your poor trees. The yard looks stunning, by the way!

  59. I completely would have felt the same!!!! I grew up in NJ climbing every tree i saw and imagining a tree fort with walkways between all of the gigantic trees in our yard. I definitely cried when my parents had to cut down a tree that was leaning into the roof (it really needed to go so it wouldn’t squash the house)! I’m sad that Florida doesn’t have nearly the same trees as up north but I guess my kids will just need to learn how to climb palm trees:)

  60. Your reactions are COMPLETELY justified. I would be horrified too and sad every time I had to think about those beautiful trees. Loved reading this and absolutely connected with the feeling of being so destroyed over something and feeling guilty about being so emotional about something so silly (but really, not that silly ;))


  61. Oh man, NEVER hire gardeners or landscapers to prune or take care of your trees. Arborists are trained professionals with years of experience both with meeting clients’ specific requests and understanding the health a tree. They are are licensed for tree climbing which your gardener probably wasn’t. Meaning if someone is injured or they can damage to your home an arborist’s insurance will cover the damage and you won’t be responsible for medical care. My husband is an arborist (in Oregon!) and runs into this a lot, its way more expensive, but you’re paying for quality and the long life of your trees. Going cheap on your trees usually means they won’t live as long, won’t look natural or both.

    1. Second this – we are in MD and it is required that a licensed arborist handle tree trimming (you would need a county permit to trim trees that big). I am sort of shocked your gardener trimmed these.

  62. My childhood in the PNW was similar and I have wanted my boys to grow up the same way. I’m so lucky we found a place in the desert that has a few huge trees in the corner of the smaller backyard. The Needs help (budget is zero $) but there is no way I’m getting rid of them. I understand your pain.

  63. This was so painful to read. Large mature beautiful trees are definitely prized in LA and it’s so sad that this kind of tree-trimming/butchering is so commonplace here!

    You should read Barkskins by Annie Proulx

  64. Augh, I’m so sorry about your trees! I’d be upset too. We recently had to take out a gorgeous, enormous 1940s lilac bush (with really atypical dark purple stunning flowers) and a bunch of a similar-looking butterfly bush tree (yes it’s a bush but it’s grown into a hardcore tree) because in both cases they were unsafely splitting or pulling out of the ground and posed a risk of falling onto our or our neighbor’s houses. So we had to thin in the case of the butterfly bush and completely remove in the case of the lilac. It was necessary but it broke my heart, especially since that was a 70+ year old very big pretty well established bush! (That also built a perfect path for squirrels and rats who might want to come visit our house, sigh.)

    I’m way too stressed out and overwhelmed by landscaping augh to process this post now, but I’m pinning it and filing it away for future reference (and will do the same with Part 2) because it’s exactly the kind of thing I’ll need in a couple years when I have the mojo to deal with the whole “outdoors” portion of home ownership. I’m just now getting my shit together when it comes to interior stuff (after SIX YEARS of home ownership), thanks in large part to your many helpful blog posts over the years, so I imagine it’ll only take me a freaking decade to get ready to deal with landscaping, hahaha. God I hope I’m kidding.

  65. I’m so sorry for your loss of your trees. I am a Master Gardener so I love being outdoors & I thoroughly admire your decision to figure out a new plan! Is it possible for you to be there during the plantings & installations of the plant materials so you can observe & enjoy seeing this plan come to life? Exterior design is so much more rewarding because you have living trees & flowers in so many precious colors. I try to design my gardens so I have beautiful views out of each window. Once when I was working at a MGardening Tree sale, my husband decided to scalp & butcher our pretty green shrubs on the side of our home. My 6 year old daughter told him, “Oh dad, mommy is going to be so mad at you when she gets home!” The 5′ tall shrubs looked horrible for 2 years, but then they finally came back. I hope yours do too! Thanks for sharing your story.

  66. I got PTSD symptoms reading your post. We had an insect infestation in a ficus hedge around our old house in Florida, and after treating it for the bugs, we had to cut back the hedge hard to bring it back. It looked like all we had planted around our house were sticks stuck at haphazard angles in the ground. I cried when I saw the pictures (we were renting out the house at the time) and our tenants cried and yelled at us for destroying their privacy. We had a fairly happy ending, though: two of the three sides grew back completely, but we had to replace the third side, which never recovered. It was awful and it taught me to always be very clear with landscapers when they’re trimming. I’m sure your new landscaping is beautiful, but I feel for you about the trees.

  67. Emily, I have cried and ranted about trimmed BUSHES and half-dead trees that really, in retrospect, did need to be removed. I’ve never seen such an ugly tree-trim in my life! What was he thinking?! I’m getting upset just thinking about your trees! We have neighbors who are constantly after us to trim trees, take out branches, remove entire trees, etc. Ack! Some of us prefer graceful nature over sterile blankness! Looking forward to seeing your gorgeous backyard reveal–I’m so glad you have been able to create something beautiful out of it all.

  68. Ugh, I was cringing as I read through this… I feel your pain. This is a good reminder to me that we should try to be present when we have anyone do major work on our house, even if we hired someone we trust and even if a project that seems straightforward. I can imagine that if you were there to supervise, you could have had a dramatic tree-hugging moment to make Johnny stop butchering your trees. I’m not blaming you for being absent during this tree-trimming fiasco (I’m sure you were crazy busy and trusted your beloved gardener to handle it) but I will keep this in the back of my head the next time I hire someone and will make sure I’m supervising if at all possible.

    Thank you for sharing even though I know it brings back traumatic memories for you.

  69. Okay, I didn’t think I could love you more. I grew up in National Parks (yes, kind of like Orlando, except I moved all the time; he stayed put in Yosemite) and trees just make me happy. I live in Beverly Hills, have a beatiful garden that, like you, we purchased for all the BIG TREES. We’ve had to remove three and I was devastated. The worst was when a man taking care of an outdoor fountain used toxic chemicals which he poured into the garden and KILLED a gorgeous pear tree right outside our bedroom window. That one hurt a lot. I feel your pain. When you grow up making forts all day and night in the forest, trees are important. I’ve never understood the “butchering a tree” version of trimming and I’m happy to learn that perhaps I need to have an arborist come by. Perhaps in another life I need to BE an arborist.. very very glad you decided to share this story!

  70. Yep. The city “pruned” our Magnolia on our parkway strip and it is a mere ugly shadow of its former self. Maybe in 5 years it will look better!

  71. GIRL I FEEL YOU. Our neighbor chopped down our huge trees on “accident” she didn’t like the leaves going on to her yard. I HATE HER STILL. I went full on Jersey Shore on her ass and I’m still kind of embarrased. Now her MEGA MANSION looks over our house and we play rap music really loud to annoy her waspy anti tree ass. She planted two stupid $50 home depot trees that clearly are not the same size. I just keep telling myself theres a special place in hell for tree killers.

    tree tears,

  72. I still get sad when I see old pictures of my parents’ house- they had to chop down the old redbud tree my brother and I used to climb on when we were little. The poor thing was rotting from the inside and it was unsafe, but it still breaks my heart to see empty space where we once played. Thankfully, my dad has since gone on a planting spree and put in 3 new trees but it’s not the same.
    I feel for you, Emily!
    I can’t wait to see part 2 of the post!!

  73. I totally understand. Some tree guys butchered a big tree in my mom’s backyard–since I didn’t live there I didn’t have to see it every day, but whenever I did see it, it made me so sad/mad. That happened back in 2008. The tree is finally looking better! I hope your trees won’t take as long to come back.

  74. Wow! I cannot imagine paying someone to prune my trees and having that be the result. I am a landscape designer and horticulturalist, and have a good deal of pruning experience under my belt, and I can professionally say he did not do his pruning correctly. You should never remove that much of the canopy all at once. Never more than 1/3rd of the canopy at a time. Keep an eye on those trees because what this guy did could cause them stress to the point of killing them. And I’m guessing you disturbed the roots a bit to do your landscaping, which causes them to be even more susceptible to stress and potentially then disease.

  75. That sounds heartbreaking, Emily. It broke my heart when the same thing happened to me with one beautiful, old tree so I can only imagine what you must be feeling to have that happen to all of your trees. I empathize!

  76. OMG I know that feeling. 1) growing up we had a gorgeous huge over 100 year old lilac bush whos roots were fully on our property (the branches hung into the neighbors. A new family bought that neighbors house and asked about removing it, and my parents said “no”, but it could be trimmed back. Came home from school one day and the bush was gone. This has been an ongoing battle for years now with that neighbor that will never die. 2) my fiance and I were gone camping out of town and came how to half of our tree had comes down in a wind storm. We ended up having to remove the whole tree and our yard hasn’t been the same since. We were horrified.

  77. I so feel your pain over the scalping of your trees! We have lost several signature old-growth trees due to acts of God (storms), life-cycle expiration and tree cutter abuse. All are painful! These old mature trees cannot be simply replaced in a decade or two.

  78. OMG, I would totally cry too. If it’s any consolation, trees and plants grow so much faster in Socal (provided you water them) since the growing season is all year round. Imagine having to wait 6 months before they started to grow again!

  79. I am so totally with you! I still send Very Nasty Thoughts to the “arborists” who were supposed to trim out the dead branches of our 80+ year old white oak and instead hacked off some of it’s major branches…leading to it’s death 2 years later. That was 10 years ago. I Still Hate Them. It was such a beautiful tree and gave us such great shade.

    And it’s nice to read that plenty of other people feel the same way about their trees. It seems like so many of our neighbors move in and chop down every tree on their property so that they can have sun to grow grass (how boring) — we live in an old neighborhood in Virginia with lots and lots of mature trees. It’s one of the reasons we bought our house.

    1. High-five, fellow Virginian! We moved to a different street recently with a few large, tall trees on it, and I’d forgotten how big, beautiful, and magestic trees can be! It seems like there are so few large / old / tall trees around these days…

  80. Totally understand. Before we bought our house we were living in a carriage house in the middle of the city. The HOA of the main building hired a company to come remove some invasive Trees of Heaven ( which is good because they are extremely destructive) but when I got home from work they had completely chopped down a huge Siberian Elm that provided the only shade and privacy to our yard. I didn’t even own the place and nearly lost my mind. Thankfully the company bought and planted a new tree of my choosing but it won’t replace the size and privacy for several years to come.

  81. Hi Emily – I never comment, but I just have to tell you how much I appreciate you writing about this. I love that you share this stuff and are so honest about your process, mistakes and triumphs and go into such great DETAIL. LOVE IT! I am so sorry this happened. I would have reacted the VERY SAME WAY if not worse. The backyard sneak peak looks gorgeous, btw.

  82. hate that you went through something so upsetting, but loved the story-telling in this post and felt your anxiety through the screen! excited to see more.

  83. I’ve cried over trimmed and destroyed trees multiple times. Even more tears when I was told one of my favorites was going to die soon. It’s been 7 years and so far still alive. That being said my neighbor asked if she could have one of our huge oaks cut down to improve her view. My 40 week pregnant self just started crying. Ten days later, with a newborn at home inside, I sat outside while the tree guys cut down SO many trees to make sure they didn’t touch a single tree on the property line. I cried that day too…

  84. Like everyone else, I feel your pain! A few years ago my husband and I happened to be in the suburb where I grew up, and I drove us past my childhood home so he could see it. There had been a tree in the front yard with lush green leaves and the most beautiful pink wispy flowers – I remember thinking how magical it was when I was a kid. But when we drove past, it had been chopped down, and there was nothing but dead grass left. My soul hurts a little every time I think of that, even though I haven’t lived in the house for 28 years.

  85. Our plum trees weren’t doing well so we hired a gardener . . . He cut the first one down to pretty much just a trunk with teensy tiny branches and I was worried and kept saying, “But it’ll still get plums, right?” cause it looked AWFUL and DEAD. To shut me up, he didn’t cut the others back half as much . . . Fast forward 6 months later and the only tree that is thriving is the one that was butchered 🙂 Given time I’m sure your trees will bounce back better than ever (but the waiting is painful).

    1. The only time I hear good things about severe pruning is with fruit trees. Amy Grant tells a similar story to very old fruit trees she had pruned on her farm and they finally produced fruit afterward.

  86. My heart breaks for you!!! We also bought our home here in NY not only for the 1920s home it is but how is it perfectly framed by 100 year old trees. You just can’t duplicate that. I would be devistated as well. And your right, At least they are still there!!

  87. You’re definitely going to have a skewed opinion on this question since you need a yard that is magazine-ready, but any thoughts around hiring someone out vs do-it-yourself? The obvious answer is that if you have the money/desire do it, but now that you’ve gone through the process are there any steps where you thought “I could do this myself. Why am I paying someone?”

  88. Do NOT be embarrassed for a moment about your reaction to your gorgeous trees being hacked.
    When you are a plant/tree person you develop a relationship with your plants. I think of mine as family members and when one is hurt or dying OR gets hacked, then you really do feel it!!
    I’m a Master Gardner so I really do know how you feel.
    Loving the sneak peeks of your new yard!!
    Enjoy every minute out there ❤️

  89. Just from the post description, I knew this involved trees. I’m from Pennsylvania (literally means Penn’s WOODS), so I GET IT.

    A month ago, a medium sized limb randomly fell from the beautiful (and huge) maple tree in our front yard. There was no storm, no wind, nothing. It freaked us out because our kids and the neighbors’ kids had been playing in that exact spot an hour earlier. We called a few tree companies to come out and take a look.

    I tried to prepare myself for the possibility that they would tell us this tree needed to come down, but, ever optimistic, I also told myself they will trim it and it will be as good as new. I mean, you don’t go just hacking down a beautiful maple tree all willy nilly, right!?

    Well, apparently that is exactly what you do. And apparently maple trees live anywhere from 50 – 100 years (ours was around 65) so nobody was even mourning it as an early death. Except me. I was absolutely heartbroken.

    It wasn’t only the fact that I loved the tree for the shade it provided to the house and yard, but our exterior facade needs some major cosmetic upgrading (it’s stuck in 1960, not in a good way) that will not be in our budget for another year or two (or three….). This tree was hiding SO MUCH FUGLY.

    So now, there’s a big wound in our front yard, and the fugly is on full display. I miss the tree and I just want it back. I’m still moving through the stages of early-tree-death grieving process.

    So, wow, that was a lot. Just know that I completely feel you on this.

  90. This is SO SAD and you shouldn’t apologize for feeling so awful about it! Yes there are way worse things that happen in life but that doesn’t mean this isn’t horrid too!

    My husband decided to “prune” our climbing roses without asking me a few years ago, and basically cut them down to the ground. I’m not an emotional type and in all our years of marriage I’d never cried about anything, until then. I was SO upset. And it did take years for them to grow back (they still aren’t as lush as they were before ‘the incident’). Oh and he is no longer allowed near them.

  91. I’m a horticulturist and garden designer so I read your post with great interest. I would be so sad as well! Trees are so important. Unfortunately you found out the hard way the difference between a “tree trimmer” and a certified arborist. The hacking these trimmers do here in So Cal has become so common, that many people have come to believe this is how trees should be pruned. It’s so not! A tree should never have more than 1/3rd of the canopy removed at a time. I’m not suprised your gardener didn’t understand why you were upset. He has probably trimmed hundreds of trees in this manner for satisfied clients. These guys are brainwashing people with their ignorance! I even have customers telling me they need to have their trees cut down “because they are too tall” Too tall for what? I always ask. There is no reason to top a poor tree for being too tall. It actually makes them weaker.

    1. I’m in California too and I hate tree “topping” with every fiber of my being. And some people think they have to do it, like it’s good for the trees they are ruining. It’s so widespread, I don’t understand it.

      Our neighbors have a crepe myrtle that has been ruined and now grows in like a giant fluffy bush that comes over into our air space. I didn’t realize it was a crepe myrtle when we moved in because of how hugely fluffy it is. I was trying to find an arborist to trim it appropriately so the branches would recover and regrow gracefully and before I could our neighbor butchered it AGAIN. As soon as it got hot it turned into an weird unruly bush again. 🙁

  92. I would have cried too! I cried just reading about it. Lesson: be sure to communicate, and have an ARBORIST, not a tree trimmer, if you want it pretty. I had people over to trim my trees, and I was adamant that I didn’t want to lose the canopy (which is what they wanted to do), but that the bare minimum to keep them from toppling on the house, and take out dead branches, and trim in a way to encourage bushier growth (my trees had been neglected for several decades too).

  93. Duuude, I totally get it about the trees. Would it make you feel any better to know that this happens (unfortunately) frequently? Three examples… One, my friend told her FIL to supervise the tree remover guys while she napped, giving her FIL explicit directions not to trim any trees (they backed to a lot of trees and a creek). Well, he told the guys to “top” two trees of his choice (in addition to removing three other trees like they were supposed to). These newly topped trees are super prominent when you are sitting on the deck. For those unfamiliar, topping trees is the goofiest, least helpful way to alter tree shapes because it removes the top half or so entirely in a blunt way and that will never look natural. Two, our daycare told the gardeners to “take it down” meaning to trim the bushes in front. Well, they misunderstood and removed all of the bushes. This one has a happy ending though because after a long winter of having no plants, they did an awesome planting in the spring with flowers and such. It looked great. Three, without asking and with zero discussion, my dad came over and hacked our front bushes while we weren’t home. Because he thinks he knows what he’s doing, I guess? There is no way to have them look OK now – they are just rubbish. So, although difficult for me (like physically difficult, with the digging and hauling and all), I am removing them entirely. SIGH

  94. I would have been devistated too. Actually I can feel it for you. That is so so so sad.
    This is not even close, but we have these old evergreen hedges along our fence, which had enough space behind them for our kids to go back and play in. My husband built a “forest house” for them back there. (Photos in my ink if you are curious.) My kids are very gentle and super nature lovers. But just this weekend we had guests over and those kids snapped a bunch of lovely big branches on those old evergreen hedges and my heart just broke. My kids were also just grieving for our trees. (It made our secret forest house less hidden and special.)
    I read online there’s a possibility, since ours were still attached but broken, that if we splinted and tie them back in place that they may regraft back together. (It takes a least a year.) So we did that asap while my daughter sat watching saying “These are the most beautiful evergreens I’ve ever seen” with stars in her eyes. Oh my heart hurt with proudness of her kindness and sorrow for our harmed trees. I just told her “me too.”
    So I’m currently just holding my breath and praying for my branches to heal back up.
    You’re not alone in grieving nature sorrows.

  95. I completely understand your feelings. I bought my little house because it had the most beautiful shady front yard and within the first year, I lost almost all the trees to Dutch Elm disease. Very sad, needless to say. I planted a few new ones, and re-landscaped (it was all shade loving plants). Howevaer, it ended up being very pretty and within a few years, it was pretty lush. Bottom line; hang in there….it’ll be okay. Eventually.

  96. I feel such camaraderie with all of the tree criers here! Me too, Emily! I still mourn the huge, beautiful trees on my in-laws property that I only saw one time (!) in person before they had them sadly removed for fear that they might one day fall on the house, which was dozens of yards away. Sob. I take solace in the report that they were found to be pretty diseased and may have come to the end of their lives anyways.

    Somehow I think your readers all belong to some weirdly wonderful clubs–tree lovers/criers, clown dressers, Orlando Fandos (fans), those obsessed with blue and stripes, etc! So glad we have this space to discover that we are not really alone in our strange affinities.

  97. I totally understand the extreme emotions over tree trimming. I’m pretty sure the only times I’ve seen my very mild mannered mother get super angry we’re all over neighbors trimming trees she believes are on her property. I’m happy that in LA property lines are usually well defined with block walls, but I still got very upset when our neighbors took out their grapefruit tree that hung over onto our side of the wall that we frequently ate.

  98. It would be really helpful to have dimensions for the yard, as neither design includes a scale! It’s great to see landscaping posts, Emily!

  99. I gasped, GASPED, when I saw the after of your trees!
    Emily. Solidarity, sister. PNW-er here, and trees are friends.

    Also, your voice in this was so crystal clear. I loved it! I love your blog. I’m here for the design, the honesty, and the emotion. Keep it coming.

  100. My jaw dropped when I was those pics. Wooooow. I would have lost my shizzzzzz!!

  101. Such a good post. Can’t wait to see the finished product. My husband works outside as a field manager for road construction. He sat in our fabric rocker in our nursery one night and left a big dirt spot from his head. The amount of rage I felt when it happened was scary. I still feel ragey when I think about it. This happened about 2 years ago. I still haven’t tried to clean it because if it doesn’t come out I will lose it again 🙂 We just have a blanket draped over it for now (we don’t have a kid that lives in the nursery anymore).

    1. To elaborate, the rage comes from the sentimental value of this particular piece of furniture. Plus it is (was) a gorgeous rocker and wasn’t cheap.

  102. This gives me such a stomach ache! I’m sure that the landscaping has made things so much better/prettier but I completely understand your devastation. Really excited to see how things came together after such a traumatic start!

    PS “with only my tears for irrigation” made me laugh so hard! ?

  103. I’m glad you decided to tell the story. I remember when I read the castle/fort post and thought the “before” backyard picture looked very different from when you first introduced the house on your blog. Glad I wasn’t crazy. But I am hopeful that the trees will grow back and be full once again. Nature finds a way.

  104. I have upset many a tree trimmer in my day. I refuse to let them prune my trees up into what I call a Dr. Seuss tree. I have a gorgeous old live oak in my front yard and I hover over them while they trim it.

  105. I’m not exactly sure why, but this is one of my favourite posts you have written. I think it’s because I understand exactly how you feel and you do such a great job of being a real person. I don’t mean to get enjoyment from your suffering, but I really did enjoy reading this one. I’m glad you decided to share it!

  106. I live in Florida and it seems like the first thing they do here when you build is bulldoze all the trees! It makes me sick to my stomach. In fact, the house we just bought and renovated we bought because it has a giant beautiful oak tree in the front yard, among other grown beautiful trees of different types in the yard. You can renovate a house but you cannot buy beautiful old trees anywhere! I know your trees will grow back, unfortunately it will take time. From what you’ve shown so far it all looks amazing! And don’t apologize for being sad, those of us who feel connected to nature get it.

    1. I’m in Florida also, and hate the idea of bulldozing an entire neighborhood to make it easier on the contractors. Unfortunately, buying my first house, I ended up in one such neighborhood- but picked out the one and ONLY property that had a large OLD BEAUTIFUL Oak in the lot behind me. Evenings spent sipping coffee on the porch with a perfect view of that tree. After a few years, new people moved in and chopped the tree to put in a pool- I was HEARTBROKEN. Devastated. I’m still so upset about it, I want to move!

  107. I completely understand all the feelings you described. We have a few very large beautiful trees in our backyard that are so giant they must be hundreds of years old. The fact that they are literally irreplaceable haunts me. I have actual nightmares about something happening to them, because if they are gone – there is absolutely no amount of money that can replace them. I thought it was my own crazy obsession but I guess I’m not alone!

  108. OMG I can so relate to this post and your sadness! I normally try to keep my husband who is the Freddy Kreuger of tree/shrub trimming away from anything green at our house. Well for some reason I got it in my head that our Crepe Myrtle trees would grow more (they are fairly young) if we trimmed them this year, so we collectively trimmed them and despite reading up on it and Googling the proper way, long story short, I committed Crepe Murder and my trees that would have been filling in nicely and looked amazing blooming now look spindly and sad. I know I didn’t actually kill them, but my goal of trimming them so that they would grow fuller this year completely backfired. I am sad every time I look at them and I have Crepe envy every time I see all of the beautiful trees that haven’t been trimmed and that are blooming and lush. The worst part is I have “Freddy” who keeps telling me they will grow back with a gleam in his eye.

  109. I’d love to put your feelings of this being a first world problem in perspective a little bit. Trees and nature are important to people of all demographics and areas of the world, and I am sure it is just as painful no matter where in this world you live to see something you love, and that meant something to you be destroyed. I actually think the fact that it meant something to you, and was so painful gives you commonality with people of all different backgrounds and experiences. As seen in so many comments, others have had similar experiences that completely knocked the wind out of them. I think it would be much more “privileged” to not care that your trees were butchered because you can just afford to put something else there. So don’t apologize for having pain in your life. Pain is what actually helps us understand one another. This past summer, I traveled back to my childhood home after being away for almost 20 years. I had been able to return one other time and walk the property, and feel my childhood there as I walked through the trees, and the plants that my father had planted and that my siblings and I explored daily, and feel the connection with those wonderful times in my life. This experience was not the same. The new owners had removed almost every single tree from the entire 6.5 acre property. Beautiful Oaks with Spanish moss draping from their trees were now just giant dirt holes in the ground. Our 2 acre “fairy forest” that shaded an amazing bed of ferns and creatures was gone completely. I sat and cried, and felt like my childhood had been ripped right out of my heart. I still get emotional about it. So I get you, and so do many others, regardless of how privileged they may or may not be. Thanks for sharing with us.

  110. They used to convince people to “TOP” trees, as in level many feet off the top, but it isn’t done anymore. They always looked like hell and imo it ONLY serves to make the arborist money. The obvious thing is that Johnny did not know what the hell he was doing and wanted to make money. You can think him nice and he may be, but I would be pissed that he did a job he had no ability to do correctly just to make more money. I hate to make it worse, but while you need to forgive him for your own heart’s sake, you may want to rethink using his services.

  111. This is by far my favorite post of all time! Maybe it’s because I feel the same way about trees I feel so sorry for you, Emily! I would have had the exact same reaction!!

  112. We bought our home in Denver 3 years ago and one of the reasons I loved the house so much is because there were four glorious, majestic, massive 50′ blue spruce pines that wrapped around the corner of the property providing a little forest. I LOVED them. Last 4th of July some kids were lighting off fireworks after midnight and caught my trees on fire. They were completely destroyed. I cried for months. Besides costing us thousands to replace and clean up the area, it will take 40 years before they reach their former glory. I understand your pain.

  113. Um, Emily? I’m a garden designer who also does maintenance for clients, and let me tell you, you didn’t and don’t owe your former gardener any sort of apology for what he did to your trees. He straight-up butchered them. I am looking at those pruning cuts and wincing. I’m so sorry. I would have reacted the exact same way if it had happened to me. I can barely look at your pictures, I’m so horrified. O.M.G.

    And from my experience, if anyone is reading this who needs significant tree work done, to avoid what happened to Emily, ALWAYS hire a certified arborist and ALWAYS have them show you some before and after pictures first! Not all arborists have an artist’s eye for tree trimming/thinning! Yes, you will pay more, but your trees will also be pruned correctly and in ways that will contribute to the longetivity and health AND beauty of the tree. If you love your trees, it’s worth it.

  114. I understand how you feel when your plants are butchered. The immense sadness and pain. Your garden you have know is lovely, though I prefer ca natives for birds and butterflies.

  115. Hi, Emily. I gasped when I saw these photos. MY HUSBAND IS AN ARBORIST and I want to tell you something: never hire your gardener to do tree work. It is not their specialty. Obviously I don’t know your gardener, but I cannot tell you the amount of calls we receive asking us to correct something the gardener did. We don’t specialize in landscaping, so I’m not throwing shade (pun intended) at the profession. I just know from 20 years of running a tree service, that a licensed and experienced arborist would not butcher your trees. I’m sick for you. We live in Portland, OR and there’s a company that sells mature trees. They are very expensive, but maybe you can find one of those nurseries and buy just one?

  116. I totally get it! We bought our dream oceanview block of land, with a line of trees shielding it from other houses on the non-oceanview side, which made it feel so private. We hired a guy to clear the undergrowth and scrubby new-growth saplings completely blocking our view on the opposite side. I went on site and meticulously explained that I did NOT want any of the old growth trees touched – even marked them out. All good… he left them… but then I arrived back on site to find that he’d finished clearing the part we requested and had carried on around to the OTHER (non-view) side and was bulldozing tree after tree that had given us our privacy buffer. And yes, I did scream “NOOOOOOOO!!!!” while sprinting toward him and waving my arms hysterically. Too late. Almost all gone. Now we see houses. My hubby couldn’t understand why I was so upset! It took him less than 10 mins to knock them down, but they’ll take 10-15 years to grow back again. Devastated!

  117. Emily, I can not tell you how much I feel your pain. Trees are butchered in our area all the time and I just want to cry. Some of them come back somewhat and some of them don’t. It makes me so upset. Trees are beautiful in the natural state God made them.

  118. My husband and I have been married 22 years and the worst fight we ever had was over him cutting bushes down to the ground and having a tree guy remove a little weeping cherry tree from our backyard that I loved. I screamed and cried like a little girl over it. I’m not kidding I was heartbroken over it.

  119. I got teary just seeing the pictures of your dad trees! Forests mean the same to me – even one special tree can make me smile and soothe my soul.
    We moved 70 miles from our home and jobs to raise our children on 300 acres of woods when my childhood property came available. All for the trees! Best decision ever. They thank me all the time for giving them a magical forest childhood. I totally get it.

  120. Oh dear sadly I can relate, but my tree butchering is due to a nasty neighbor who doesn’t like trees. I have had to trim back every branch on every tree that hangs over her property and even had to take down a tree my father and I planted from seedlings from a tree from the house I grew up in! What is wrong with folks?
    A bit of advice. Plant some ornamental trees like dogwoods or magnolias that you can watch grow up with your children. The old growth trees are great, but the ones you plant with your own hands, now those are really special! And take a pic of your kids every year with the tree. ❤️
    I planted a magnolia outside my daughters’ window when they were little. The springtime bloom every year was a beautiful thing that filled their window! ?

  121. Hope your trees recover! I have turned into a crazy tree lady in the past few years and am loving the tree stories, that so many others feel the same way. There’s been a trend in our neighbourhood lately to chop down the 50+ year old trees which makes me furious.
    Our neighbours chopped their trees, and their tree feller dropped one on our property, damaging a couple of little trees we’d recently planted. I was *so* mad. To make it up to me he offered to come round and chop down one of our big trees for free – talk about adding insult to injury!!! Like, sorry I stepped on your toe, how about I poke you in the eye to make everything better? :/
    Constructive criticism: please stop apologising and being pre-emptively defensive in your posts! I’d like to have a few words with whatever fool coined the phrase “first world problem”. We should all be able to get some support and sympathy for life’s little hurdles without being made to feel like a jerk.

  122. I completely understand your reaction to your trees being butchered. My husband and I bought our property TX specifically because of the 2 gorgeous live oaks in the front yard and multitude of oaks, magnolias and pine trees in the back. I would absolutely freak if the same thing happened to our trees – in fact it would likely result in bloody murder on my part. My father-in-law and husband trimmed the sucker limbs on our trees and I literally stood there the entire time directing which limbs to cut and treat with wound spray and which to leave (I didn’t trust even my own husband not to somehow make a mistake!)

  123. I live in Georgia where it is most certainly very humid, however the lushness makes it all worth it. When flying over the south all you see are TREES!!! I can’t get enough of them. They line the highways and neighborhoods providing the most beautiful backdrop. It never gets old! Needless to say, I love trees, too. My next door neighbors have no trees in their front yard, while we have an abundance. I know it irritates them when our tree debris falls in their yard (which we aid in cleaning up) but I can’t bring myself to chop them down. Can’t. Won’t. We live in the south for goodness sakes!! However at one time I did hire an arborist to trim back some of the heavy branches of one of the trees that were practically touching our house. The best way to explain the end result is that if resembled a palm tree when he was done! He rid the tree of all branches except the ones on the tip top of the very tall tree. I about died. Miraculously the tree grew back to its original state within a couple of years. It can happen! Give it time and you’ll be basking in the shade of your glorious tree, too!

  124. Once the gardener trimmed (butchered) our apricot tree when it was full of fruit! Gahhh! I went bonkers so I feel your pain. I love this post and want to thank you for all the wonderful inspiration. Your yard is spectacular!

  125. Oh Emily. My stomach literally started hurting reading this. This isn’t a ridiculous reaction. It’s HEARTBREAKING!
    I have a similar connection to trees, and also a similar story about “THE Tree”… I’m getting upset thinking about it and it’s been almost 4 years now.
    I purchased a house 7 years ago that had one smallish tree in the front yard, but the real selling point for me was the (I’m estimating) 50 year old Oak tree behind the house. The only large tree in the neighborhood. A BEAUTIFUL specimen of a tree- truly picturesque. No spot in my backyard hindered me from viewing the tree. After moving in, I’d sip coffee on our back porch and just stare at this gorgeous tree. It attracted so many beautiful birds too!
    The problem: Technically it wasn’t on my property, it was on the edge of our neighbor’s property, almost straddling the property line… 3 years later, a new family moved in and wanted to build a giant screened enclosed pool – unbeknownst to me.
    One day, I got home from work, went outside with the dogs, and when I saw sky where the tree had been – just that morning, time and space no longer existed. I suddenly felt like my body stopped processing oxygen, and I had been punched in the gut. THE beautiful Tree was gone. 50 years of magical growth was cut down. Obliterated. Murdered. Every time I looked or thought about it, Tears flowed -for a month at least. Even still I sometimes get so pissed and sad whenever I think about it.

  126. Oh my goodness I would have sobbed like you. I live in stupid hot Arizona and don’t have much of yard, but it has trees. I loved the house because it had a yard with shady trees. And then our landscaper trimmed/ butchered our trees. The shade was cut in half, they didn’t hang down as beautifully, and they just looked awful. I was so angry and cried and can totally relate. And yes, total first world problem, but it’s real. I’m glad you have a beautiful garden now and can’t wait to see the full reveal. And hopefully your tree covered yard grows back swiftly!

  127. I *absolutely* understand your crying over the trees. I’m right there with you. I once let my landlord into my yard to take away a tree limb that had been damaged by a storm. I came back about an hour and a half later to find every single bush in my beautiful yard ripped out by the roots, and all of the trees bar one decapitated. Branchless poles. I think I cried for about two weeks. It was my birthday!!! The only explanation I ever got was “they will grow back”. (They did not. Obviously.)

  128. I almost started crying when I saw the pictures of the trees too!!! There’s a predatory “tree trimming” company in my home town that preys on people who don’t know much about trees and/or people who are afraid that a tree will fall on their house and they go in and “pollard” a tree. The result is that the tree becomes much less stable and is MORE likely to fall on the house. It’s such a sad, sad situation and frustrating that these tree trimming companies will do anything for a buck. Arborists should always be hired to trim a tree/advise how to trim a tree! Oh–and I see quite a bit of “crepe murder” as well. It’s super unhealthy for the plant and ugly as ever!

  129. I am so sorry about what happened to your trees (here in Israel they tend to prune every tree like it’s a palm, leaving just these ridiculous tiny canopies, and I hate it here too) and can totally relate to your frustration and emotion, especially because the shade and yard were WHY YOU WANTED THE HOUSE IN THE FIRST PLACE!

    In a weird way this is one of my favorite posts ever, though… I love the glimpses that I get of the finished product, and as a tree-loving person from a lush green area (Pittsburgh) also now living in a warm, dry climate, I’m really looking forward to seeing how you achieve such a gorgeous, lush, natural look in your yard. Can’t wait to follow along!!

  130. Emily, you and I are Tree Sisters, I am the SAME WAY about trees! Our house (we bought a year ago) is an acre with lots of mature trees, many of which (even I can tell) have been trimmed by the owner for years – so they’re kinda wonky looking. We have a mimosa outside our living room (it’s like a jacaranda, with whispy pink blooms and not as thick leaves) that swoops over the yard – it spreads like 60′, and grows slanted b/c they planted it 3′ from the house (idiots!). In fact, when we were doing our reno, we learned that one of its roots (5″w!) was the reason our tiled floor was lifting up and cracking! The contractor cut the root, and he also had his guys sever all roots along the side of the house (so right by the tree trunk). I was SO WORRIED about if the tree would die or not….March came and all our other trees had growth return after winter… mimosa….April nothing…..finally in MAY the thing came back. I was SO RELIEVED! This thing is what makes the front of our house so amazing! (The style is modern yet rustic, from the late 70s – exterior is a mix of wide-plank stained cedar siding, dark-brown painted wood and off-white stucco, with a dark brown tile roof.)

    Anyways, our entire property needs major TLC – trimming, thinning, etc. My husband as asked me – no joke – TEN TIMES in the past few months if we can “have the gardeners to this and that” and I cannot even commit to the conversation! I tell him, this is a big deal, we need to walk the property together, and talk about what we think, and then talk to at least two gardeners, maybe even a landscape arch! Once you take away the existing plants and trees, you’re looking at dirt. So far he has agreed with me (we just completed a five month reno, are about to start planning the master bathroom – I cannot even begin to process the yard).

    Anyways, I hear you on the trees, especially living in So Cal. Mature trees are amazing. And yours will fill in, not to worry. That fig will come in sooner than two years for sure! We have one on the side of our house, and I thought it died when our house was tented (oh my, EVERYTHING under the tent was killed, it was horrible) but nope – he came back! Even when I trim him down significantly, his gorgeous thick green leaves come back fierce in a few weeks.

  131. Oh my god, you poor thing! I certainly would have cried over the trees as well. Live and learn – we all make mistakes and thankfully the trees will grow back. Now you know to call an arborist next time!

    I might even suggest that you get one in now to review the health of the trees. I’ve worked with a few in NYC and know that hacking trees back too much can be detrimental to their health. Certainly can’t hurt to speak to one, right?

    All the best and looking forward to the final reveal. x

  132. My last house had three huge oak trees in the backyard and it wasn’t that big of a backyard. I was starting to feel really claustrophobic whenever I stepped out on the deck so I had them limbed up and thinned out. Luckily, my brother and my parents had recently had tree work done by an arborist so I just called the same guy and he did a spectacular job. He brought the canopy up on both trees 4-6 ft and thinned them out, but I didn’t feel like I lost shade at all. He maintained a beautiful shape on both of them. I was astonished/horrified at the pictures of your trees:(

    I will be honest and admit I had a crab apple tree in the front yard cut down. It was a 30 ft tree and the trunk was only 3-4ft from the house and had the potential to cause problems. Plus, fruit trees in Nebraska are a lot of work with no edible fruit.

    I sold the house in October – to a landscaper who cut down two of the oaks to make space for a vegetable garden.

  133. My heart breaks for you! I would be DEVASTATED if something like that happened to my trees! Uh 🙁 I totally sympathize. Trees have history and cannot be replaced or fixed in the way a rug or piece of furniture can be. And beyond that, they’re a living thing, so to have them brutalized is heartbreaking. I’m so sorry and I totally understand your tears!

  134. We live in Phoenix and built a cabin in Flagstaff ( to escape summer heat!) we had an acquaintance do our construction managing as we were 2 hours away. I too feel same way about trees and was devastated when we arrive one day and found he had removed a beautiful shade tree out front because it’s roots were in the way of underground plumbing ( which could have been rerouted and saved the tree!) I cried and raged and cried. I feel your pain.

  135. We live in San Jose (CA), and have a humongous and beautiful old black walnut tree in our backyard. It was the main item I fell in love with when we decided on our house (and probably also the main item why I was on the market longer than usual, as its roots had destroyed the patio, and no grass grows underneath it … we love the shade it gives us, and had it trimmed a tiny bit the first year, watching over the tree trimmer like hawks. Then, during winter storms, 5 to 6 ft long branches came off the tree, luckily nobody was hurt, and they did not fall on our roof. We thought: great, no danger anymore, all the loose and dried out branches are gone. Then the following summer, on a sunny afternoon, another huge branch came down, ladden with walnuts. That’s when we had it trimmed seriously, as we did not want someone to get killed by a randomly falling branch. We had an arborist do that and shelled out a lot of money, and yes, I did cry when it was done, because it took away our previous shade and green canopy. Now, a year later, it has grown like crazy, especially after the wet winter, and provides beautiful shade again. Well, all I wanted to say is that it might look a little butchered now, but it will grow over the winter. You have a beautiful yard though, even with the “tree issue”.

  136. I feel for you, Emily — that is a hard, cruel lesson to learn. Please draw a little comfort from the fact that you have used your platform to show thousands of other people the importance of hiring a qualified arborist to maintain mature trees that you value highly. That said, there are arborists out there of the old school who still recommend “topping” trees — that is, cutting the ends off all the main branches so that new wood grows back thicker, but weaker and more prone to disease. Never let someone top your tree! Here is a more detailed explanation from the University of Minnesota Extension Service.

    I hope your new landscaper planted lots of pretty, fast-growing trees as part of your new plan. They will be big and lush before you know it, I promise!

  137. Oh Emily I feel the same way about trees. Until I was 9 I lived in Washington state. TALL trees, shade everywhere. Then we moved to the desert. And for a variety of reasons I’m still here as a grownup. But I treasure trees even more I think because of their precious shade in the hot sun and how they will always feel like home. Don’t feel bad about weeping about TREES!

    Also this spring I had a landscaper come in, put in grass and some plants and a patio. Right at the end they asked if they should shape up my mesquite tree. (still a desert tree but it provided all the shade for the backyard). I said ok. LUCKILY I came home at lunch to check on them. STOP STOP! That’s good enough! It had already been shaped into a tree I didn’t recognize, and it’s still growning back. They thought I was nuts because I didn’t want it trimmed the way the city does it with tiny sprigs.

    Anyway do not feel bad, I think many of us have been there!

  138. Hi Emily! I really appreciate you sharing your story. Your renovation mishaps help me better handle my own. Honestly, it helps me realize that I am not the only person this stuff happens too–it even happens to Design Stars! 🙂 We hired a certified arborist to trim our beautiful, large flowering cherry tree this spring. I asked him to cut it back by about 15%. Well, he heard 50%! Imagine my horror when I saw half of my beloved tree completely gone. At the end of the day, stuff happens and the trees will grow back eventually. Thanks again for your transparency!

  139. It sounds like we had the same childhood Emily. Only mine was in the Pennsylvania woods. I would have cried too and actually feel sort of sick myself thinking about it, just for your sake. My dad is actually a tree butcherer by request from his customers. He says that ‘they always grow back’ and they do, though not quite as you might like. I married a landscape architect, maybe to make up for of all the childhood trees I saw hacked to pieces by my dad (hmmm…..that’s something I should think about : ). Anyway, I know the magic that a landscape architect can create so look forward to reading your next post, which seems to be above…..

  140. I live in Brooklyn and I seriously grieved for months and months after construction guys chopped down the tree that filled our little floor-to-ceiling windowed-1 bedroom. That tree was THE reason we bought that apartment. A tree view was top priority for our new 2 bedroom. And while it took us (me) 2 years to find it, it was the greatest thing I held out for. We closed 2 weeks ago and I stare out our windows at our new beautiful tree view. Once again, we are living in our very own tree-like house. True Tree Love Always.

  141. Relax, they will be better then before. It usually looks really back that season but the severe haircut gives you even more limbs/foliage.

  142. My heart breaks for you and your trees. Such butchering makes me sad. One of the reasons I feel in love with my house and neighborhood was the huge old trees. The houses had been built around them, they were enormous and beautiful. I grew up in Kansas and only had one tree in my yard until I was like 10. I NEEDED trees. We had a huge tornado a few years back and now there are no trees. Just bareness and empty sky. I still get upset about it. Plus it’s like 30 degrees warmer in my yard now, super loud, and my electric bill is much higher without those 150 year old trees to shade my house. I’m a total tree hugger so I understand those tears.

  143. we have a house on tree-heavy property. like if you look at google satellite, you can’t see any of the houses in the area for the trees.

    when a new neighbor asked us if we minded that she thinned out trees on our mutual property line, we said, sure go ahead, thin away. her property was completely covered in beautiful old leafy trees, and we were glad that she was going to take proper care of them.

    when we weren’t home, she took ALL of the trees down on her property. every single last tree. we counted stumps, she took down 76 trees.

    the only reason the tree guy left anything between us was that the property line was sketchy.

    in one afternoon her house went from gramma’s house hidden in the woods to a ranch house next to a parking lot. and our house went from being a magical cape covered in a canopy of green next to gramma’s house in the woods to the house from which you can see all the lights from the parking lot next door to gramma’s ranch.

    ugh i have that same lurch in the pit of my stomach as i write this that i felt when we saw the denuded property. we were shocked and devastated.

    $10,000 bought us 10 yews that the nursery swore would grow to heights to cover the lights. 5 years later they were proven right.

    in the meantime, the sun from the razed plot of land killed our shade garden, the shade-loving rose beds and a variety of other shade plants we had planted over 20 years.

    the takeaway from our combined stories is, to me, always be on hand when someone has a chainsaw in theirs. i weep for your trees.

  144. I am so upset even just reading this. No way would I have apologised for ruining his Sunday, he destroyed your trees! Honestly I would have been ready to stand on his doorstep screaming all night. Some trees and shrubs do need hard pruning but he didn’t prune, he cut, badly. I’m so sorry.

  145. Thank you for sharing. This is why you are hands down my FAVORITE blogger. We all have things that matter to us in a very deep, emotional way even if other people don’t see it as a big deal. I’m excited to see how this all turns out. Thanks for being so honest, open, funny and REAL. Love you.

  146. Hi Emily. I’ve long wanted to tell you that you should look into buying a vacation cabin in Green Valley Lake. My family lives in Pasadena and we own a 2-bedroom $150k cabin that is steps from an awesome lake and lots of land for our kids to explore during the 4 seasons. There are cabins that back up to the forest with seasonal streams and everything! We prioritize to go up monthly and it is our sanity saver. It takes us only 90 minutes to get there and we usually invite friends to go up with us (versus somewhere like Tahoe, which is gorgeous, but much more of a trek and also more “urban” and commercialized than we preferred).

    Here’s some photos of our cabin. We rent it out on Airbnb and so it can’t be very design-y due to fear of things getting damaged/lost and I kept things very simple and streamlined. I would LOVE to see how you would design a mountain cabin!

    1. Oops, forgot to send my condolences regarding the trees. 🙁 I saw it mentioned on your Instastory and I had to quickly skip it because I wasn’t emotionally prepared to hear about it. We bought our current Pasadena house in large part due to a HUGE protected oak tree in our front yard, so I feel your pain.

  147. A friend sent me your post because she knew I could relate a little. Several years ago, I went to work and while out for lunch with colleagues I got noticed I had missed a few calls. When I checked my voice mail it said “Hi Brittnie. This is [redacted] from [redacted]’s Tree Company. I need you to call me as soon as possible. We accidently cut down your maple tree today. We had the wrong address.”

    My maple tree. The only tree in my front yard of my (very) small house. The one that shaded 1/2 the house. The one that was 55 years old and 40′ tall. They chopped it down because they had the wrong address.

    So… I know a little bit how you reacted and how you felt. Actually, I was a little more stunned than anything. I didn’t buy the house because of that tree and the shade, and it’s worked out to be a blessing in it’s own way, but… they cut down my 40′ maple because they read the street signs wrong.

    Additionally, 6 months later while still working with {redacted]’s insurance (and lawyers, ugh) to fix the issue based on a certified arborist’s evaluation, a DIFFERENT tree company was hired by my neighbors rental agency to grind a small stump they had in their yard and this new tree company saw my large stump and just assumed that was the stump to grind up and… you guessed it. They did mine without asking and then realized their mistake afterwards. Needless to say, I’m getting a sign for the next tree in that spot that says “DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT CUTTING DOWN”.

  148. I am so sorry about your trees. One of the reasons we bought our house was the huge ash tree that shaded the large front porch. Unfortunately, the Emerald Ash Borer epidemic in Iowa lead the city to cut down our tree and many others in our neighborhood. Not only is our porch pretty much unusable due to full Western exposure in the evenings, but the shade-tolerant landscaping died and I’m still struggling with getting plants that work with no shade. We’ve since planted a couple of trees, and my husband jokes that in 40 years we’ll be able to enjoy the porch again. Hopefully your trees won’t take that long.

  149. Tree trimming is devastating. I’ve gotten completely nuts/upset/angry over tree trimming several times. Trees add so much to our living spaces, they feel sacred to me.

    I’m always amazed at how many people see trees as a nuisance. Tree roots, dropping leaves, potential of falling branches — do they not see that the benefits outweigh the downsides? It’s the same as the way some people look at pets and just think about the pet hair, cat box or spots on the lawn. These are living things, gifts to us, full of wonder and love!

  150. OMG. I totally feel you on the trees!!! We purchased a 40 year old home with beautiful pine trees three years ago. A few short months later, they started turning brown. We had two arborists out and both said that the yard had been so inappropriately cared for over the years prior to us moving in that the trees had weakened and became more susceptible to wood-boring beetle infestation. I kid you not, there were NO OTHER pine trees in our neighborhood affected . They were all green and luscious and happy (still are!)… then, there were ours (?). Brown. Sad. Brown and sad. We spent a wad of cash that we didn’t really have at the time to try and save them, despite the doubtful attitudes of the arborists. I mean, the trees were why we’d bought the house! But, sadly it was too late. And they’re gone now. I had many a sleepless night thinking about them during that period of time and still mourn them to this day. Ironic, how after years of mistreatment and neglect, the trees died once the house finally had owners who cared. Poor trees. So, anyways, I get it. And I showed my husband this post… he sighed deeply and dropped his head while cringing at the after-tree-thinning-shots. He got it, too. Hence, we’re sending your trees positive vibes for a speedy recovery. And also they should have a support group for tree loss. Just saying. ? ?

  151. Oh Emily! I’ve never commented before, but this time I feel like I really have to, because i’ve also been through a devastating tree-trimming disaster: three years ago my mother, brother and I inherited my great-grand-mother’s house, and extensive garden, in Brittany, France. At the back of the house, there is a small walled garden, with, among other trees and shrubs, two huge and very old fig trees, that produce many, many delicious figs every year (and, by extension, many many delicious jam jars). The trees were so big at one point, that they made a canopy over the whole garden, and even though it went too far, with low branches basically falling to the ground, taking root there, and growing back up, and invading the neighbors’ garden and roof (the house had been empty for a while, and no one had taken care of the garden), it was a pretty magical space. But then two years ago, my parents decided that it was too much, and that something had to be done. They were right, of course, if only for the neighbors’ sake. They hired a gardener, and asked, apparently, that they trim the trees a little, and generally clear up the garden. At least that’s what they told me they had asked. When we went to see the result a few weeks later, I broke down in tears: they had cut EVERY BRANCH BUT ONE from the fig trees, that were basically just trunks now. and they had removed everything else from there as well. they had entirely raked the place (Virginia creepers, climbing roses, lilies of the valley, daisies… all gone) which looked like the sad, brown backyard of a terraced house in northern England with two gallows in the middle. It was a nightmare, I cried for days after it, every time I started thinking about it. here is where we are, two years later: the fig trees have started to grow again, but more in the shape of a vertically elongated ball around the top (if that makes any sense). Nothing like its wide-reaching, canopy-making old branches. There are a lot of figs already though, so the at least the jam-production is safe… The rest of the garden is now waist-high in weeds: thanks to the trees, there was little light reaching the ground, so they didn’t grow much before. Now it’s full of thistle and nettle and brambles. We don’t occupy the house year-long so there is no one to take care of the garden on a regular basis, and I really don’t know how we’ll manage to get rid of them… morality: while the “trim” didn’t kill the trees, and even possibly was good for them, I’m convinced that it was way too drastic a move. It created a new weed problem that is even more complicated to manage than the few branches bothering our neighbors, and it definitely did kill the magical, whimsical vibe of the garden. From now on, you can be sure I’ll NEVER let another gardened do ANYTHING in the garden if I’m not present!!! And one thing is for sure: I’m glad that I am the kind of person who, like you, cries over an over-trimmed or cut-down tree!

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