Who Are You Going to Hire Now that Spring Has Arrived
The right landscape professional can make all the difference in enjoying your landscape.
With warm weather more imminent in many parts of the country, many homeowners are carefully assessing their landscapes. Those individuals with yards that are as barren as a blank canvas, or maybe were unhappy with prior results, or who simply are ready to transform their site are facing one of the big connundrums: Who should they hire?
If you’re simply looking to plant some flowers or shrubs, your local nursery or even a big-box store with a plant department can be an easy, quick destination. Have an idea of how many plants of each you want, your favorite color palette, and any guidelines to help—morning or afternoon sun, too much or too little shade.
The Who. If you’re looking to do much more— first create a master garden plan. If you want to construct a swimming pool or pond, install a sophisticated vegetable garden or patio with an outdoor kitchen, you are better off going with a residential landscape designer or landscape architect who is accustomed to working on a larger scale. As with other home-improvement projects, ask friends, family members, and work staff for recommendations. You can also go online and check out the Web site of the American Society of Landscape Architects or ask professionals in your area for names of architects and also landscape designers.
Be Prepared. It is important for the professional you hire to understand your site—its size, topography, amount of sun or shade, and any problems and challenges such as too little or too much water, drainage issues, erosion, privacy concerns, and any native creatures that may pose a problem. Make sure you meet your designer in your yard. Get ready by making up your wish list—dream big initially, clip photos from magazines, bookmark pictures in garden books, and have a rough budget in mind.
The Cost. Many design experts charge by the hour, starting with an initial consultation to give you design ideas as well as discuss the parameters of the job, how they work and supervise, their fees, your budget, what type of plan they will provide, to whom they contract work, how they will assess bids for the installation, how long work should take, what daily or weekly clean-up will involve, whether they guarantee plant materials and for how long, and what a written contract will include for both sides, including any resolution strategies.
Shopping Expedition. Some may be willing to go shopping with you just for plants, trees, and hardscape at their hourly rate; others will take on projects based on a minimum budget, though they may deduct their initial hourly consultation fee from that price. Design professionals also work differently when it comes to drawings.
Preliminary Drawings. These are carefully measured drawings at a scale that specifies where each hard and soft scape element will go. They are not detailed, so they may not contain specifications for drainage, lighting, and irrigation. However, a good landscape contractor can interpret and apply the drainage, lighting, and irrigation to your site. These may run from $500 for simple designs to $5,000 for more complex and larger sites.
Working Drawings. These provide more details for construction and should include separate plans for grading, drainage, lighting, irrigation, electrical, and details for hardscape construction. These can run from $3,000 to $10,000 depending on the scope and complexity of the project.
These designer fees do not include actual plant and hardscape materials or labor. However, either of these types of drawings simplifies bidding out the work to several contractors for the best price. Some landscape professionals recommend against design/build firms because designer/contractors who do their own installation will not necessarily give you the best price for the project you ultimately desire since they’re not bidding out the job to other contenders.
The plan. Once an initial plan is presented, it is time to sleep on it rather than rush to approval. You can revisit those garden books or Web sites, drive around your neighborhood, talk to your local nursery about how well knockout roses and lilies really will fare in your climate, for instance. Ask friends with ponds if they find them worth the space and cost or if it’s a trickling water sound you desire if a wall fountain will be sufficient. If you want to make changes, now is the time to speak up. Many professionals even specify in their contracts how many revisions they will do for free. If you keep changing your mind once you see your neighbor’s outdoor kitchen, it will cost you more to keep making changes in your plans.
Bidding out Work. It is probably best to bid out the job to at least thee contractors before your finalize your plans. This way you have an idea of what the elements will cost and can scale up or down to accommodate your budget. Going with the cheapest contractor is not always advisable, but going with the most expensive may not always be worthwhile, either. A seasoned landscape pro has worked with many sources and knows their expertise—one may be best for rose gardens while another is skilled at kitchen installations. Listen to your designer as they guide you regarding the best companies for your installation.
Scale back. If the bids are too high, there are many ways to cut back. You might go with crushed gravel instead of pricier bluestone for a terrace, smaller trees and bushes rather than fully mature specimens that cost more, or you might also phase in work rather than agree to do all in one season. You could decide to tackle first the front yard, then the backyard, and finally each side yard. That is why a master plan will guide you for an overall cohesive look that will appeal long-term. Planting gorgeous rows of annuals one season, only to remove them the following year for your long-awaited deck, which you could not afford to build initially, is a waste of time, effort, money, and materials.
Getting Going. With your plan in hand and your staff ready for your big dig, you are edging closer to your dream landscape. Just remember, now is the time to be patient. There’s time enough to enjoy!