One of my all time favorite quotes comes from a great designer and former president of the APLD (Association of Professional Landscape Designers). Harry Schuster said is well. “All things being equal, a well-designed landscape costs just as much to install as an ugly one.”
It seems so basic it’s frustrating to even have to mention but even with the popularity of home improvement and building, owners are paying the same amount for ugly that could be paying for incredible.
More often than not, homeowners skip the services of a professional landscape designer for the very reason many people expect their builder make design decisions about their home rather than an architect. The job of a builder is to build, not design. Similarly, the job of a landscaper is to install the landscape. He should not be expected to bring his own design to the table but rather be excellent at installing the plan he has been given at a decent price.
It’s a very simple progression and is the standard for almost everywhere in the world except Southwest Missouri. I feel like a lot of people from the Ozarks assume that hiring a designer, or architect for that matter, is expensive. Why spend the money for a design when the installer can do it for free? I argue with the deepest of gastrointestinal intuitions (gut feelings) that the small amount you spend for professional design is far less costly than the time and money spent in the field by you and your contractors fixing, undoing, redoing, trying out, and so on.
BEWARE OF FREE DESIGN!!! Most landscape contractors offer free design. Just remember, their goal has less to do with good design than profitability and selling you something. The old adage couldn’t be more true that “you get what you pay for” and free design is usually worth just that.
Designer’s need to be better at promoting their services. Builders and installers need to understand their role and demand to work from a plan rather than make one up. And owners need to wise up about what is available that makes best use of their money. If we all as professionals do what we do and do it as best we can, we all get to participate in something wonderful and rewarding. Hire a designer. Hire a landscape contractor. Enjoy.
If you find yourself wanting more landscape than your wallet can handle, consider going all out in one area and skimp on the rest.
It is my opinion that having one really great space that connects people and feels good to be in is far better than diluting the landscape dollars across the entire property.
From experience I know that homeowners who take a low budget and try to landscape the entire property only end up with a slightly better version of what they started with.
The same money spent on a well-designed living area or garden will offer at least one place of enjoyment that you will love and use.
Five Landscape Ideas for Less Maintenance and More Enjoyment. By Grant Williams
Would you ever ask a carpet layer to cover your floors with carpet that never needs vacuumed? Do you think a cabinet builder could come up with a countertop that will never need wiped clean? It’s a ridiculous notion I know. So why is it that so many homeowners expect to have a landscape that never needs maintenance? How low is low maintenance? Everything comes with some level of upkeep. The challenge is to find specific solutions that fit your needs and situation.
I have a client who adamantly insisted in our first meeting there would be no Yews on his property. Growing up, his parents made him prune their Yew hedge two or three times a year to keep it from crowding the sidewalk. It scarred him for life I suppose because to this day he can’t stand Yews. To him, they create maintenance and should be completely avoided. In reality, whether or not you like Yews, they are actually useful, extremely hardy plants that occasionally are a great choice in the landscape. I suspect that if the shrubs my client grew up with were a smaller variety that did not constantly outgrow the space, he would not have this hatred for a plant that was more than likely just planted in the wrong place.
One of the most common concerns I get from design clients is the worry that their new landscape could potentially create a lot of maintenance. I have to ask specifically what they think low maintenance would be. Everyone has different ideas of what low maintenance is so it’s important that I know where he or she is coming from to design solutions that work for the client.
The bad news is, there is no such thing as a maintenance free landscape. Even if those rabid yews had been a smaller variety, chances are that at some point they would have still needed some attention. Whatever your perception of low maintenance might be here are some helpful ways to make your landscape require less maintenance and be more enjoyable.
Reduce the size of your lawn. I am going to write an entire article about this soon so I’ll keep it short for now. Nothing else in the landscape creates as much maintenance as turf-grass. By reducing the overall area you have to water, fertilize, and mow weekly, you can save thousands of dollars and countless hours on the mower. Create planting beds instead to take up space. Use plants that won’t get overgrown and only require minimal amounts of water.
Plant for the space. The most typical mistake people make that creates unnecessary maintenance is poor plant selection. A row of China Girl Hollies might look great under your picture window for a year or two. However, when the third or fourth year rolls around and your window is only three feet off the ground, they have to be pruned constantly to keep them from covering the view. Soon the plants are over-pruned and become unhealthy. Not because China Girl Hollies are high maintenance, but because they are in the wrong place.
Another consideration with plant selection is whether or not the plant will have suitable growing conditions. Make sure the plant requires the amount of sunlight or shade, and soil conditions you have on site. Many plants will survive inadequate conditions but will never perform like they were intended.
With careful selection of plant material for mature size and good growing conditions, you can save yourself years of aggravation and hard work maintaining a plant that is in the wrong place. Most plants are low maintenance if they in the right location.
WARNING: NOT ALL IRRIGATION SYSTEMS ARE CREATED EQUAL
Most irrigation installers do not take the time to correctly design systems for matched precipitation, or even watering across an area. Well-designed irrigation systems can be the key to managing the landscape on a daily basis. Quality installations allow the ability to control and regulate specific watering needs of plants and microclimates in your garden. Just because the sprinklers get things wet does not mean they evenly distribute water. This commonly results in dry spots or areas that constantly stay muddy. Other than drip or soaker applications, you should be able to adequately and evenly water each zone in 30 minutes or less. Consistent watering, even in minimal amounts, greatly improves the health of all plants and therefore reduces maintenance requirements of the landscape.
Do you know if you are a City Utilities customer in most areas, your sewer bill is directly related to your water useage? This means the more water you have going to the landscape, the higher not only your water bill will be, but your sewer bill as well.
Improve the Soil. If you have tried to dig a hole in this part of the country, you know our soil isn’t the greatest. Poor soil makes plants unhealthy. Some well-meaning homeowners try to subsidize the unhappy plants with fertilizers or unnecessary watering. This is exactly the type of maintenance we need to avoid.
The best way to improve soil is by adding generous amounts of compost or other organic material before planting the area. Highly organic soil helps plants grow more a fibrous root system and take in nutrients easier both of which directly result in healthy vibrant plants that do what you want them to do.
Design it. The last and most general suggestion for low maintenance landscaping is good design. Each of the items mentioned should be part of a well thought out landscape plan. Professional designers should always design for low maintenance by selecting the right types of plants for the project, choosing professional grade, high quality materials, insisting on irrigation that will help the plants thrive to their potential, and ensuring soil conditions are in line with the plant needs.
All of these decisions can be researched and made independently through the Internet or trips to good local nurseries. The time you spend preparing and studying could save hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in maintenance in the future.
How to Create Your Own Landscape Plan. By Grant Williams
Maybe it’s weird that as a designer, I’m giving away some of my secrets free of charge to the masses including potential clients. I admit it feels a little uncomfortable but I realize there is always going to be a group who doesn’t get it or doesn’t want to get it (i.e. my clients.) As a fanatic of great outdoor spaces, I want people to have this information to make landscape design easier and less discouraging. Hopefully the result might someday benefit us both. There is nothing like the feeling of being in a well-designed garden. I think everyone should have one.
I’ve made the mistakes and done things the hard way plenty of times. Hopefully my experience will increase your design success and eventually turn into a landscape that feels good to be in.
These steps are not conclusive. Obviously every site and homeowner comes with individual needs. What’s important to realize is that good design is well thought out and happens on purpose. These are simple guidelines I use in my own business that systematically encourage good results.
Design Intent. Before you start, I recommend writing down what your design should accomplish and include. This helps you stay on track sort of like the outline for your project. List all of the needs and desires for the new landscape. It’s also a good idea to include existing problem spots that the design can fix. When your creative side kicks in sometimes it’s easy to forget about the functionality you need the plan to include. Refer to your design intent periodically throughout the process.
Site Plan. A site plan is basically an overhead view or scaled map of your property. Measure the footprint of your house and all existing elements that will remain a part of the new landscape such as the drive, walkways, trees, planting beds, and so on. This is a tedious but very important chore and needs to be thoroughly recorded and accurate. Transfer your measurements onto graph paper making sure they are in scale.The site plan will be the first of several layers of paper you will use to develop your master landscape plan. In the next few steps, you should use tracing paper to allow you to see through to the site plan below. Eventually all of your layers will be transferred to one final layer, which will become your master plan. It’s best to tape down each layer to prevent them from moving as you draw. Inexpensive rolls of tracing paper are available at any art supply store.
Force of Nature. With the site plan complete, lay your first sheet of tracing paper over it to draw what designers call lines of force. Lines of force are imaginary lines that extend out into the landscape from major architectural transitions like the corners of the house and edges of windows and doors. Designers use these lines to see how the landscape might easily relate to the lines of the house.To draw lines of force, use a red pencil to extend a line perpendicular from every corner, window, door, and other relevant features of the house. The lines will create a grid over the site plan. They are not meant to limit choices in the design and not all the lines of force will be used to develop the lines in the landscape. Very often though, the grid highlights potentially great relationships between the house and the landscape that can be taken advantage of.
Focus Out. The next step is to consider important focal points in the landscape. To do this draw a thin line straight out from the center of all windows and doors. This will quickly show dominant lines of sight from inside the house. Also consider where potential focal points might be from existing walkways and other transition areas in the landscape.Planning where to take advantage of focal points is a great way to boost the quality of a design and more importantly the enjoyment offered in the installed landscape.
Get Creative. Now that you have a solid base plan set up you are ready to start designing. This is the most difficult step to describe because it’s one that you can’t solely rely on with logic to complete. This task in a way involves doing two things at once. You will be laying out lines for functional space with pleasing characteristics and shape while at the same time, taking advantage of available focal points to draw people in to those spaces.There is no special formula to help you accomplish this but I typically start by thinking of what my focal point items could be and then building the space around them. Focal point items can be anything such as a specimen tree, an art piece, bench or sitting area, birdhouse, or other special piece you might have. Remember to place your focal point directly on the thin focal line you drew earlier.With a new layer of tracing paper, insert your focal items and begin sketching out potential lines for hardscapes, planting beds, and the other elements in your design intent. Try to be loose. Let the lines of force suggest lines of landscape but feel free to go outside them if you need to. You will draw things you like and things you don’t. Keep layering paper and playing with ideas until lines you like evolve.
At this point, do not concern yourself with details. Pay close attention to the design intent and use it to make general design decisions. You are just trying to get the basic shapes and bed lines to be functional and pleasing. Chances are if you followed the previous steps, soon something nice will start to take shape. Keep it up until the overall lines and sizes meet the requirements you have set up.
Fill in the blanks. The next step is to start thinking about general types of plants and other materials. It’s ok to be generic at this point. For example, you might know you want a row of upright evergreens to screen a neighbor’s garage but unless you have a specific plant in mind, just label it ‘upright evergreen’ for now. Later you can take your plan to the nursery to figure out specific plants that are available to fit the needs of your design.Keep in mind the seasonality of plants. Start with evergreens and large plants to build year-round structure and color. Next, work on important areas that need color such as around focal points and then fill in with different textured plants to add interest.
Clean it up. By now you have several layers of trace paper and the elements of your design intent are close to complete. Transfer your progress onto a single sheet of white paper. Use any type that allows you to see the lines below and reproduce your work. Always use a straight edge and circle template to guide your pencil in the master plan. Continue until your entire plan is on a single sheet.If you have generic labels, research appropriate plants and materials to add to the master plan. Local nurseries are the best source of good information about plants that fit your design. They will show you plants that have been successful in your area. Be very careful to make choices that will do well in your climate, will fill but not overgrow the space, and will get the correct sun exposure you have on site.
Final Touch. Label your plan with the selections you made at the nursery. Add color if you like to help visualize how the garden will look in bloom. Make notes about materials and specific planting instructions.
As I mentioned, every design scenario is unique and will raise issues that can’t be covered in one article. These eight steps are intended to systematically guide your process and hopefully help you create a great plan that soon becomes a great landscape.