Step by step instructions to a successful landscape.
One of the best ways to squelch the life out of a good design is to work with a client who can’t give up control to the process. You need to be open to suggestion, education, what is realistic and what isn’t. While there are many certain’s in landscape and gardening; More times in life, work and landscaping, you have to fly by the seat of your pants.
No matter how qualified a gardener/landscaper, sometimes that great plan for an elaborate space dies with your budget, that super spot for your new tree turns out to be a rock shelf, or you hit an irrigation head. In other words, Sh** happens… Much like life, you cannot control every little aspect of your garden design or installation. Things are going to affect your installation because we can’t see beneath the ground, you’ll only have so much to spend and yellow doesn’t grow in shade. Many times when a problem presents itself however, there is an equally clever solution if you are open minded. When you micro manage your landscape crew or design process, you are limiting yourself to your own ideas, and let’s face it…if they were so great, you probably wouldn’t have called me 😉
A design or installation is a collaboration, it’s about the designer or contractor bringing your vision to life; but you have to be confident that the professional can complete the concept, then trust them to do just that. A big part of the success of any landscape design or installation is a management of expectations on both parties. It is important to fully articulate your needs in as few words as possible. For example, as the client, “I like pink, I hate orange, I don’t want to see my neighbors when I’m in my hot tub, and I need shade for my kids”. The Designer might say, “Here is what you will get, here is how much it will cost and this is about how long it will take”,… for example. If there are particular plants you love or a style of gardening you are attracted to, have photos to share for samples. This way you can be sure the designer/ contractor has your vision and you’re not surprised by the finished product.
A good place to be very involved is in the bid, ask for details, then ask questions. Always ask for rock samples for river beds and patios. Never choose materials from a photo, much like cloth and painting material, stone comes in many shades depending on the mining. Make sure you know what plants are going in the ground. Never let any random plant go into your space without understanding its nature and water needs.
If you are the type of person who prefers typical business hours and a person who always answers the phone, use a big company. People like me who hustle every day don’t have time to take calls all day. Although, you should get a call back within a day or so at least. We are giving all of our attention to the clients we are working with just as you would prefer for yourself later. Conversation by email is one of the surest ways to communicate with continuity and it doesn’t hurt to have it in writing.
If you love cactus, you wouldn’t want to hire me. You need to find someone who specializes in that. So don’t expect landscape miracles when you defer to your lawnmower guy for plants and they all die because they didn’t belong here. Hire a professional Landscape Coach or Landscape Consultant to educate you on the plants in your local area, or visit your local nursery with your smart phone and start googling your hardiness zone for reference. If the plant you’re looking at isn’t for your zone, move on. If these are the types of plants your contractor is recommending…move on. For example, these (above and below) are a few of the plants, shrubs or trees we can enjoy in our Central Texas Xeriscape garden beds. Never ask for, or allow anyone to install plants or trees that aren’t native to here or acclimated already, if I have a client who doesn’t get that, I move on.
Clients don’t realize it, but in my industry there is such a thing as a PITA tax. That’s a “Pain In The A$$” penalty passed on to the client. You will be charged extra when you let your contractor know up front that you’re going to be difficult to work with. Have a cohesive concept for them to bid on, or be completely open to their ideas. Working with someone who has no idea, but doesn’t like any of yours is a sure sign to step away for both sides. Don’t force a relationship with a landscaper or designer. You should be finishing each others sentences if you’re on the same page, or at least be excited by their ideas. If a trusted professional tells you your idea is bad, listen. There is often a cheaper or more practical solution and/or your rate of return will not be worth it. In other words, your contractor could charge you for the difficulty/ impracticality, not just the work. Desperation is another trigger for a landscaper. The job takes as long as it does and rushing it won’t help, but it could cost you more. Ask for the “real time” for completion, expect them to show up every day or tell you why. Then add on extra time for weather, material issues and traffic delays. Don’t start off a good relationship on the wrong foot by mismanaging your own expectations.
These were collaborations of love with people who enjoyed the process. You not only get what you pay for, but you get what you envisioned and so much more. Hire great people for fair pay then let them get to work!
Lisa’s Landscape and Design
” Saving The Planet One Yard at a Time”
Do you know that most Landscape companies are large firms with lots of overhead, a few highly qualified people who make a small talent pool with lots of so, so qualified labor? The up side, they carry insurance and lots of it. If you use them, ask for it and you want $1,000,000,000, in coverage but 2 million would be better. Especially in Austin when your house costs that anyway.
Did you know that a smaller company can be a better price, a better long-term relationship (lack of turnover) and a better over all value, If …you know what you’re doing? Many small landscape business like mine back in the day, carry a million in insurance and you need a copy of it if you’re concerned. Call the company to confirm its authenticity…I’ve seen it all 🤨
I’ve owned a small landscape business in Austin Texas for 17 years now and I did construction for about 12 of them, but I was a full-time, personal gardener for the first 5 years in business. I am a Master Gardener, Certified in water conservation, Oak Wilt prevention and native and adapted organic plant and soil care. My specialty is easy plant care because I raised two kids with Autism and I have other sh*t to do. Over the last year or so I decided I no longer enjoyed the construction aspect because as Austin grew, so did the greed and money available to take. Too many “landscapers” and contractors with little to no talent and a shovel full of fast talk and up-sells are working in our yards.
Why wouldn’t they tell you they know how to do something even if they don’t , they make a big profit and many times will never see you again. The real goal is establishing a relationship with these people for a long term relationship and self-education is knowing the difference between someone who says they know what they’re doing and someone who actually does.
In a one hour consultation I will send you in the right direction for plants, stone work, tree choices and so much more. Best of all, I’m not there to Sell you a Thing! I’m there to educate you with your budget in mind and your willingness to do any of the work or not.
A Landscape Consultation is remarkable tool for the home owner because an educated consumer is a scammers downfall, if you’re only bidding on what you need and not what they tell you to get, your already saving money.
I charge an average of $150-175 an hour for this information, but you can also do your reasearch for your hardiness zone and soil type. Visit the rock yards and learn how much materials really cost. Ask your laborer for a full bid including the cost of materials and labor so you understand what you’re paying for. This avoids “add-ons” after the sale which is a notorious trick of the trade.
I raised two kids with Autism with my husbands single income, while building a home and a business, so I know what it means to be on a budget and probably always will. Your money has value and so do your needs and that should be respected and given out of the passion for the job. I LOVE what I do because I am an advocate for my clients and I sleep well teaching them the many “tricks and thievery” that’s been demonstrated to me over my many years as a Contractor working with subcontractors, and as a company with my own crew.
Here are a few more quick tips:
1) Never use Landscape Fabric, it’s an Up Sell. People make a ton of money off of it by buying it by the roll and it’s worthless. Weeds plow right through it, it’s too hot for the soil and doesn’t allow water to permeate well at all. Garbage unless it’s for river rock on a hill, in bad drainage in a creek bed or around a tree.
Instead, use at least 4 to 6 inches of hardwood shredded mulch, ( no colors) this holds in moisture, prevents weeds and soil erosion.
2) Choose your plants from only native and adapted plant lists. Allowing your lawn guy to buy you plants from the Home Depot that are for hardiness zones n New Hampshire is not goin to help you in Texas.
My advice: choose from the many lists of plants native to your area and hardiness zone, and only support the nurseries that carry them.
3) No one likes maintenance, and the only reason people have to maintain their landscape plants and trees should be out of health and removal of dormant materials when needed. The reason however, that so many people are constantly in the beds with trimmers is because YOUR PLANTS ARE TOO CLOSE TOGETHER, or you planted the wrong plant in the wrong place. It’s not the plants fault that you let that guy or girl plant a 6×6 plant in a 3 x 3 spot. Worse yet, you inherited a builders bed or previous home owners mess who had no idea what they were doing and now you don’t either…the photo below very well demonstrated how quickly things can get out of control. Before you know it you’re Edward Scissorhands without the talent.
A Consultation is to decide what to keep and what to remove. I’m not telling you to rip it all out, I need to show you how to salvage what you have and what to add to make it better. Sometimes that is removal, but I don’t make money by suggesting it like the landscaper does.
I’m an educated Landscape Designer as well as having dug the actual holes, and carried the actual 40 lb bags of rock and mulch, I’ve also planted and cared for thousands of plants and trees and now I’m using that talent to save you money. I can do even better by providing a design or sketch for an additional cost. This tool can then be used for bidding and conveyance, or for doing it yourself over a few weekends or years.
If you can find a landscape consultant in your area, particularly one who is only there to teach you, take advantage of this valuable service because they are your first defense against contractors and uneducated “professionals “.
If you find a consultant who also does the work, that’s outstanding, just make sure you take 3 bids so you know what you’re paying for. Referring good people keeps good people working and that’s the advantage of media. It’s also your ally against unscrupulous landscapers and contractors who take from 10 to 20 percent on your sale, and additional sub contractors. The more you know, the faster you weed out the bad guys.
Lisa’s Landscape and Design
“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”
If your answer is truthful, most people like their car because it makes them feel a certain way. The color, comfort, the style, the value, how it makes you feel when you’re driving it and maybe even how you look in it.
Your yard is your calling card to the universe. It speaks volumes about who and where you are in your life. If you find that your space is not a representation of who you believe you are, or want to be, there are typically a few good reasons and I have some simple solutions.
What does it mean to you: A big part of the success of any gardener is their head space. If you are ill, or have to care for a loved one or baby, gardening can be therapeutic, it can also feel like a burden when it’s not your favorite pastime.
Much like a vehicle you may buy, it is an investment. (except this is the biggest investment you will ever make!) It requires maintenance and fuel and tires and oil. It also represents us and our lifestyle, typically. You’re not going to find most people in a mini van unless they have babies, and nobody buys a sports car to blend in. If you’re looking for the minivan version, keep it simple and install xeriscape gardens that are a reasonable blend of a small, low water lawn and native and adapted plants and trees. Below, this was a great use of space and the minimal planting makes it easy for the home owner to maintain and travel through safely. we also widened the sidewalk and addressed their drainage issues at the same time.
Rather your version of landscape is a mini van “convenience, hit it and quit it”, or you’re the sports car like my honey and I, who like to spit shine that baby to really be seen until our garden is screaming “LOOK AT ME”! You may just like to do the least and avoid the “wrong attention” and the good news is, we both have the same basic outline for success.
Less is More: Don’t over do it. Especially if you don’t like gardening. Keep the minimum low water beds, and keep your lawn mowed and your trees properly trimmed. That’s it. If you don’t have time to get outside or you simply hate the idea, please hire a service to come twice a month and be done with it. Don’t skimp here, it’s not worth it. If you own a home you knew you had a yard so get to it. For an average of about $40 bucks a pop, they will come mow, edge and blow and you’ll bring lunch to work a few times instead of going out. Case solved…
If you would like to go a little crazier than that, but not all crazy…take on a little at a time and add to it as you can adjust to the watering and maintenance. Fix your front beds first so you’re happy to come home, then move on to the back as you have time and can enjoy the process. You can also hire someone to do the heavy lifting, then do the fun stuff yourself. Below is the front yard from one year to the next. With a lot of effort up front, you get a lot of payoff longer term. Just like buying a car, make good decisions.
Maintenance regularly: This is so important!!! It’s a lot like waiting for your engine to go dry of oil, then wondering why you can’t drive anymore. Landscapes need water, they need organic food and they need maintenance. Again, if this isn’t for you, get a Condo, or get some help. No way around it.
Neglectful home owners greatly reduce the property values in the neighborhood and this is a simple, well documented fact. By allowing your neighbors to let their yards go, you’re basically throwing your money away too. Get involved with your HOA, get involved with a garden group in your neighborhood and encourage others to do at least the bare minimum, and be the example.
Keep your engine well oiled: literally and figuratively. Take good care of your lawn tools and they will take good care of you. Always put safety first. Life is less complicated when you take an extra moment to be safe. Buy good tools, you do get what you pay for here. Your mechanic isn’t using a screw driver to change your tire, so you should use proper tools and techniques as well.
Tune Ups Twice a Year: Compost every spring and mulch every fall. Have a certified Arbor who is certified in Oak Wilt (if you have Oaks) every 3 years for tree maintenance. Never hire some random guy to do your trees and just because the name says “Arbors”, This does not mean they are an arbor. Ask for the license and ask for their insurance.
Trim up your shrubs and flower heads as needed, all year. Don’t wait until everything is so overgrown that you cannot manage. Bite off small peices at a time. Weed for a few minutes a day, or on the weekends and you’ll be surprised by how affective this is.
Use only trusted professionals: In landscaping, you get what you pay for. If you cheap out on materials you will be sorry long term. If you hire cheap labor without insurance, you’re leaving yourself with a huge liability. Be smart about who you choose for what job. You wouldn’t take your care for a tune up to a body shop, so don’t let your lawn guy plant your trees and trim your hedges. If you’re not sure what the hell you’re doing, to be able to tell the difference…you need to call me for a consult. If you don’t have a me where you are, go online and do your homework, there are 50 thousand YouTube videos and blogs like mine that are happy to talk ad nauseam about it. You can afford to take a couple of minutes for your own home, you would do it for your car 🙂
Lisa’s Landscape & Design
“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”