Working with a Landscape Designer
Tips for your initial consultation…
The majority of landscape designers do what they do because of an attraction to the natural world, and a desire to construct beauty from a palette that is truly ever-changing. We are faced with new challenges and opportunities in each design we do, and while most of us are at heart ‘plant people’, ours is a multidisciplinary profession that requires an intimate knowledge of a wide variety of building trades. The development of your design will require a site inventory and analysis, drafting of design documents, the coordination of multiple ‘in-house’ work crews, and may also include a variety of specialist subcontractors.
Ultimately the goal is beauty- We want you to feel pride in your landscape, and for you to feel more connected with your environment. We want you to enjoy that sense of discovery offered by watching your garden move through its annual rhythms, and we want to draw you out into your garden by creating inviting spaces in which you can entertain your friends, play with your kids, or simply relax and ‘check-out’ for a while.
For this to happen however, your designer needs feedback from you…
The more information you can provide, the better we can meet your needs. You might be in need of an elaborate master plan for your entire property, or simply want to make some minor improvements to increase your home’s curb appeal. Regardless of the scope of the project, the more you can reveal to us about your life- who you are, and how you like to live, helps us to define our project goals and make your design as successful as it can be.
Let’s start with some questions: What’s your vision for your landscape? Is there a particular style that moves you? Clients are often drawn for example, to the ‘gardenesque’ English cottage garden style- which can be said to have a somewhat wild quality. There is a sense of adventure in this type of garden, with something interesting at every turn, and yet this style requires more maintenance and ‘fine-tuning’ than one might otherwise expect, or in many cases, be willing to manage. In contrast, think about the formal gardens you have experienced, such as relaxing in the gardens of a fine hotel… You might not have experienced much in the way of ‘surprise’, but the clean lines and delivered expectations of a formal design often offer a sense of comfort that enable you to unconsciously relax within your surroundings. This is because a formal garden exercises more control over nature, which allows one to keep the wilderness ‘without’- thereby creating a sense of security. Yet another way of looking at your landscape design is to consider the ecological implications of the choices that are made. Is what you are doing lowering your energy bills? protecting your regional watershed? restoring habitat? It’s important to note that making ecological choices does not necessarily mean letting ‘nature take over ‘, one can have a very refined garden, yet still support one’s environment, both locally and regionally.
If you have the opportunity, it’s always a good idea to invite a landscape designer into your home to allow them get a sense of your personal style, as this can help inform the design. It also helps a designer to get a sense of the outlooks from your home, and how the most important spaces relate (or don’t) with the rest of your property.
What is your experience gardening? Do you have expectations regarding the level of maintenance that will be required? I’ve personally never met a client who expressed an interest in a ‘high-maintenance’ landscape, and this makes perfect sense after all- we’d all prefer to enjoy (rather than toil in) our gardens. Sadly however, there is no such thing as a low-maintenance garden (despite what some contractors might tell you), and one needs to consider maintenance options that might be available.
How will you water your garden? A good designer can make choices that reduce the need to irrigate, such as selecting native species that thrive in your particular ecological zone, or by selecting cultivars that are specific to the cultural conditions and microclimates on your property, but ultimately almost any plant you choose will need some TLC to get established, and a good landscape practice will not leave you in the lurch once plants are in the ground.
Do you have specific personal preferences? Are there plants you love or hate? What colors appeal to you? Are you a working professional? What time of day do you envision using your garden?
Do you have (or are planning) children? Development of play spaces can be particularly fun for a designer (as we have kids too). And yes, small children need to be contained, which leads us to ask about your fencing requirements? (not just for kids, but for your pets too…)
On the subject of fencing- Is there a need for deer control? Those in rural environments will no doubt cry a resounding ‘yes’ as they have likely seen their gardens decimated by local deer populations. Your designer can always select deer-resistant plant species to help protect your garden, but at the same time some consideration should also be given to deer fencing, given the widespread incidence of Lyme disease.
There are many practical considerations to be taken into account when developing a landscape plan. Of increasing importance is storm water management. State and County regulations are becoming more and more stringent, and in the redevelopment of your property (such as adding an addition), you may find that you are required to install a rain-garden or other storm water management system. Your designer can help ensure that such features not only function well, but are also aesthetically appealing.
Are there A/C units that need to be screened? How about screening that neighbor ? (say no more…) What about additional storage requirements, or screening for your rubbish bins?
What about utility easements, property setbacks, lot coverage requirements, resource protection areas, building permits, and a host of other municipal considerations that might come into play in redeveloping your property? A landscape designer can help you navigate these issues while making your vision happen with a minimum of distress.
What is the condition of your driveway? If your driveway is exhibiting ‘alligator cracks’, or starting to fail altogether, consider transitioning to a more environmentally friendly permeable paving system. What about snow removal? has your design allowed for space to clear snow without damaging your valuable plantings?
If your design calls for a patio or other seating area, will you need help furnishing your garden? In the context of a larger project, a designer can often offer garden accessories such as furniture, planters, and ornaments for a very affordable price, saving you the time and research required to find that perfect element for your garden.
When meeting with a designer for the first time, try and have a copy of your property plat available for review. Your designer will need this to develop a base map for your landscape plan, and copies are always required when submitting for a building permit. At your first meeting, your designer will walk your property with you to get a sense of your vision and the scope of your project. A design fee is typically charged based on the amount of time that will be required to prepare your design. In the case of design-build companies, your design fees will typically be applied towards your landscape installation.
Lastly, consider your budget. People are often uncomfortable talking about money, particularly with a person you have met for the first time, but if you can give some guidance to your designer about what you are willing to spend (and what your expectations are for that expenditure), your designer can let you know if these expectations are realistic. You can also typically get more for your money if your designer is given a budget to work towards. If you designer is not handed a budget, they will likely develop a design based on the program requirements you have set forth- but this might wind up being more than you are willing to pay. In this scenario, your designer will typically have to remove elements, or make changes in materials to bring costs down (which might have the effect of compromising the overall design).
Ultimately your designer is there to make a positive difference in your life by adapting your surroundings to meet your needs. You might only be looking for a little curb appeal, or you might be looking at a very elaborate project. Regardless of the scope, a landscape designer can help you make appropriate choices for your landscape, and manage all the various project components to make your project come together smoothly, and beautifully.