Creating a garden can be daunting, even to someone who has the proverbial green thumb. Good design should fit your needs, be proportional to the house and its environment, facilitate flow and rhythm, unify all parts of the garden as a whole, and offer diversity and sustainability. If you are a new homeowner, have specific issues in your yard you just can’t seem to resolve, or just want to renovate a weedy backyard, you may be considering hiring a landscape designer. Before you do, there are some factors to consider.
|Initial Questions to Ask:
• Have you worked on any projects similar to mine before?
• Do you have a portfolio I can look through?
• How much will the design cost?
• Do you handle the installation as well as design?
• How long will it take?
• Do you offer any follow-up services or plant care instructions?
Landscape Architect or Designer?
Generally, landscape architects have been trained for large projects that require permitting through city departments. They are experienced in the design aspects of swimming pools, fountains, retaining walls over a few feet and other engineered elements. Landscape architects are often needed with new home construction but are rarely used for residential planting plans since their expertise is usually not with plants’ cultivation and combinations. In addition, their fees are often much higher than designers’. So if you don’t have complex hardscape in mind and want professional advice or a custom design, hire a designer.
To find the right person for your project and get the most out of your landscaping dollars, prepare some questions. If, for example, you want to incorporate edible plants to your entire yard, not just vegetable beds, ask designers if they have previously produced plans that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also produce well, and if they grow food-producing plants themselves. If you want to grow native plants, ask if they have a decent knowledge of native plants’ requirements and if they have worked on projects involving species that are native to your area.
Find out what their design process is. For most designers, there will be an initial consultation which results in an offer of a bid. If the price is acceptable, a contact is jointly signed and a second meeting is held to further discuss options and ideas. The designer then begins work, first by taking photos and measuring the space in order to produce a site plan. From the site plan a designer will usually draw up initial notes and a preliminary plan or two that the homeowner can consider. A final or master plan is then produced following another conference between client and designer.
Digging a little deeper, ask about their background since, ideally, a designer should have a degree in design, horticulture, or a related study, or at the very least some experience from working for a contractor or plant nursery. But schooling is not crucial, so ask to see a portfolio, which should give you a feel for their work and what to expect of them. Designers who are associated or affiliated with a nursery or construction company may be somewhat limited by the plants and other materials their company carries. Independent designers may have more flexibility, and if you choose to install the design yourself it makes sense to seek someone not tied to a “full service” company.
Inquire about their fees and schedule, keeping in mind that landscape designers are usually busiest during the spring and early summer months. Finally, ask if plant care instructions and ongoing advice are included, since installation may bring up questions or issues and because gardens constantly change over time (often requiring mini-renovations).
At the initial meetings, feel free to offer your ideas, concerns, and ultimate goals. If you have made notes or have photographs from books or magazines that illustrate your vision, feel free to share them. Ask the designers about their general impressions of your yard and its potential and you may discover options you hadn’t thought of.
It’s been said that it can cost just as much to install a bad design as a good one, since the installation cost is usually 90% of the project cost (unless of course you install it yourself), so choose carefully. Fees vary, and don’t be surprised if there is a consultation fee for an initial meeting. If you are serious about pursuing professional assistance, this initial fee will be a minor investment. If a choice between designers is difficult, base your decision on the overall feeling you have about each designer. Consider whether you would enjoy working with them, since the design process should be a pleasant experience for client and designer alike. Look for garden designers in the phone book, in your neighborhood newspaper, or ask friends. Online, visit the Association of Professional Landscape Designers at apld.com.
Eileen Stark is owner of Second Nature Garden Design, which offers sustainable design in the Portland area. She can be reached at 503-467-8545 or email@example.com.