Lisa's Landscape & Design

Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time

Landscape Hardscapes 101

One of the most expensive parts of any landscape are the hardscapes. Hardscapes are just what they sound like…Hard. Anything from concrete to metal, rock, sidewalks, built in ponds and pools are hardscapes and soft materials such as plants and soil complete a landscape.

Pools, patios and decks are very popular in Central Texas. Wood decks (below) are an excellent choice for challenging topography, but if you’re on a relatively flat area, stonework is worth the expense. Wooden decks require a lot of maintenance in our heat and humidity and there is nothing cheap or sustainable about refinishing decks every few years. If the aesthetic speaks to you, check out composite wood as well as high quality treated hardwood options in your area. 

The Sandstone slabs below weighed in at 300 pounds each. I had 5 guys giving me dirty looks as I specifically instructed each stone into position. The bench in back is made of solid limestone blocks and this creation is easy maintenance, low water and doesn’t require much effort once it’s done.

I am a huge fan of water features in the landscape because they create sound that is pleasantly distracting from the world. Tranquility at its best, the sound of running water lowers our blood pressure, calls to wildlife and numbs out the world in  delightful way.  

Even the smallest in ground Disappearing Water Feature can make a big splash in our space. 

Disappearing Water Feature with a man made reservoir. Rather custom made or from a kit, some maintenance is required.

In ground ponds (below) are a meditative paradise but maintenance is also required as the plants that are needed for proper PH will reproduce every few years and pumps need to be cleaned twice yearly. Proper installation is crucial to prevent leaks and you won’t want to skimp on the liner or the filter system.

The rocks around this pond came right out of this garden. 

Retainer walls are extremely valuable in challenging topography. Large stone blocks are from 50 to 80 lbs each a need to be laid by a professional. Retainer walls should always be installed on a concrete footer appropriate to the height of the wall and PVC or 1/2 inch mortar free weep holes should be along each foundation. The weep holes should be covered by landscape fabric and back filled with gravel and/or high quality topsoil or bed fill for planting. Remember these are just big flower pots so the soil must be a planting medium topped with native shredded mulch.

Dry Creek beds are very useful in the Hill Country landscape.  We’re hilly and that is what makes us special, but it also make gardening and erosion a challenge sometimes. Water will always take the path of least resistance, so just go with the flow…the larger the rock the less chance of them moving.

Never use more than 3 colors or textures in rock and stonework. The landscape can begin to look a bit riotous with too many colors going on so stay neutral and add colorful additions in a meaningful way.

Below you see beige hardy plank with the same limestone and brick used throughout the front and sides of this home. There are already 3 colors and textures so it’s best to stay with this color pallet. Adding stepping stones and river rock will be a natural addition to the existing local stone used in the patio and home exterior.

Water feature, austin landscape design

This trough style water feature is attached to the patio and provides sound and plants for texture and seasonal interest. Firm sided water features are easier to care for than those in the ground and less prone to damage from nocturnal visitors. Ponds hold a tremendous amount of water so be sure your vessel is secure, well built and level.

The shot below is one of my many edible gardens I was fortunate to also live in. Hardscapes such as natural stone and rock played a huge part in my design. Rock and stone should be a compliment to the landscape, not the center of attention. We are Central Texas, the look should be green with pops of rock and metal and color where we can get it. 

Xeriscape and edible gardens that are organic, low maintenance and low water. There is no place for chemicals here. Using local rocks and native mulch create the perfect plant palette for Central Texas with both feature and function.

One of the most important things to consider when making decisions about rock and concrete installation is the style of your home. It is important to mirror the design and architecture and to “update” as much as possible. It is also very important to consider the cost. Concrete work is on average about $20 a square foot and stonework can be very comparable. These types of decisions are permanent and should be made thoughtfully.

River rock can also be used for an excellent alternative to concrete or stone and mortar. It is much less expensive and can be quite functional when prepared correctly.

Rock and stepping stones

Above, a constantly wet side yard becomes a feature and a sidewalk. Below, a drainage problem becomes a dry creek bed. Fairly inexpensive solutions for big problems.

Xeriscape designs for Austin and hardiness zone 8

From modern contemporary to English garden, river rock and stones are an inexpensive way to add value and structure to our landscape.

Below is an example of a beautiful balance of stone and rock with a natural look in an suburban setting. Stones and rock are a great way to create borders without the formalities of metal.

Hardscapes such as these (below) will cost a pretty penny, so always start with bids on the patio stone options that are local and most cost effective. As always, the higher end the home, the more expensive the stonework will be which is worth the investment when done properly.

All materials should be brought in as samples before making final decisions. Rock and stone can change color drastically from day to night and the affects can sometimes play negatively against the color of the house or existing landscape. When all else fails, stay hyper local and neutral in tone and you will keep the cost down and make the choices easier.

However,…if you go all out as my client here did, (and I loved every minute of it!) by all means do it right. 

Some of the common choices people have to make are the shape of the stone and the color of the metal. These are not only determined by the price of the home but by the budget of the home owner.

Black Star rock and similar black/grey rock has become quite popular. It’s a really cool look but you’ll pay for it. These types of rocks and fabulous colored rock like those below can be 3 times the cost of local limestone and lower Colorado River rock. Below is a combination of local river rock (left) Bkack Star and Limestone block. 

Black star rock with metal edge

Mixing hardscape materials is a great way to create drama as shown above. Below is a great example of using similar colors to make the space go away. This hardscape work keeps a clean look, extends the sidewalk in a busy intersection and reduces watering completely. 

River rock is for NO WATER, NOT NO MAINTENANCE.

Rock of any kind can grow weeds. Some materials such as crushed granite can be quite fertile so keep a weed tool close by and plan a weekly tour to keep them at bay. 

River rock sidewalk

Below I used Hardscapes that added beauty and function. Not only have we added space to the walk way from the drive way, but we’re addressing the water issues as well. 

Local River Rock drainage with metal edge, Oklahoma Buff stepping stone and boulders.   

When using rock, it is imperative that 4 mil plastic or Landscape fabric be used beneath. I will never encourage you to use landscape fabric in your beds, but you do need it beneath rock and plastic holds up longer than fabric. However, fabric is needed on slopes for obvious reasons unless you’re building a slide. 

Dry creek beds

However, fabric is needed on slopes for obvious reasons unless you’re building a slide. Hardscapes require proper installation and layout to be the most effective. Leave ample space around all trees and plants for water absorption and protection against disease.

Landscape fabric should primarily be used on a steep slope when adding rock or mulch. Landscape fabric should not be used up to the tree trunk or on flat ground. 

4 – 6 mil painters plastic should be used beneath flat rock surface where drainage isn’t an issue.

A good rule for layout is the larger the home, the larger the beds and stone should be. Interesting lines can create the appearance of more space and in this case, also serve an important function in the way of drainage. High metal edge creates drama and holds mulch to a greater depth. 

Xeriscape designs

This Cantilever architecture deserved a special treatment but the landscape was washing away with each season. Using local rocks and many already on the property, the landscape keeps its soil and the water still gets its way. 

Drainage with style

Other important additions to consider are Corten Metal edge, Privacy panels for AC/ trash and so much more. Hardscapes are an art form and installation needs to be done by skilled hands or passionate nature lovers who understand what a creek bed actually looks like…

A/C shelter

Metal can be used for a myriad of funky uses and range from  affordable to custom.

Landscape privacy

Standard 4 inch metal edge can be very effective if installed with clean lines. 

Corten Metal Edge is a thicker gauge metal that can be found commercially at 6” but taller metal can be customized for high end or modernized landscaping.

Keeping the pallet neutral

Limestone blocks are pretty much the standard in Austin and Central Texas because we grow them here. Local rock and stone is sustainable and affordable and it supports local businesses.

Below I used chopped block and patio limestone step stones as well as the lower Colorado river rock. This simple elegance was all that needed to enhance this space. 

Patio paver stepping stones

Random, limestone patio stones are one of my favorite additions to any landscape. No matter the price point, this stone looks beautiful as long as it is appropriately sized for the space. 

Finally, shop around for the best quality for the best price. Choose local and sustainable whenever possible and buy in bulk. Stepping stones should be a minimum of 2 inches thick to prevent breakage and patio stone installed with mortar can be 1 inch thick which gives you more by the ton. Stone is sold by the ton and half ton, rock by the yard and metal by the foot (typically 10 or 12 feet). 

From lawn, yawn to rock and roll…every slope in this hardscape (front and back)is designed to water the beds with runoff instead of forcing it to the street or neighbors. Best of all…no more lawn, replaced by food and flower.

Find reliable sources, do it right the first time and use your imagination to create something unique for “your” space.

Happy Hardscaping, 

Lisa LaPaso

Lisa’s Landscape and Design 

“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time” 

 

 

 

 

 

Mosquitoes Out of Control? Plant Some Defense.

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Mexican Mint Merigold, perennial, low water

Personally, I’m not a big family of the summer months and I never have been. I most definitely am a fall and spring girl as that is when gardening is most abundant and there is work to be done, and that quite frankly gets me excited about the new season and the new year. However, summer maintenance is unavoidable and for those of you who prefer the hot months and enjoy being out in your space, mosquitoes are a real pain in the ass to put it bluntly. Particularly in Texas where we like to grow them big and hungry. I have had my share of experience in the Central Texas landscape and apparently, I am delicious.

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Garlic chives, evergreen and perennial 

Garlic Chives are an excellent Culinary plant to use as both a repellent and an edible. They produce a beautiful purple spiked flower and long green leaves that stay evergreen all year. The garlic and onion smell they produce are a real turn off for mosquitoes and planted around your seating area can be a great deterrent as well as others in the Allium family.

The leaves can be cut all the way down to the base of the plant and used for mosquito repellent in your pocket or person, and it will probably repel vampires as well. Maybe even other people if they don’t like the smell of garlic.

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lemon Thyme , evergreen perennial 

Assorted thyme is not only a great edible perennial for Central Texas but it’s a great mosquito deterrent as well. Placed on your person, and a taste while you’re at it. Crush it into your palm and spread all over your clothes or skin. 

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Basil, Reseeding annual in Central Texas

Basil is so nice I’m covering it twice, and I could list 5 different kinds that will grow in zone eight alone, but the Sweet and Thai  basil are for sure my favorites, and they are powerful mosquito repellent’s as well as digestive champions.

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Cilantro, Reseeding annual 

Cilantro is a cool weather plant for Austin Texas. It may actually start to come back late fall and early winter, and they produce all the way until it starts to get into about the 80s. This makes an excellent potted plant as well, so if you don’t have room in your beds to throw some seed in the fall, you can always buy the plants and stick them in some pots for fresh Cilantro and a convenient mosquito repellent. As you see above when they do go to seed they produce beautiful white flowers that are a huge butterfly attraction and if you collect the seeds you can have them for years to come and sometimes you’re really lucky and it reseeds itself and free money grows in your soil.

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Spearmint, ground cover, evergreen perennial 

Spearmint is a power house herb but it can also take over your space. Mints are best planted in contained beds or container gardens. Full to part sun and very low water once established. Must be crushed to deter pests but who doesn’t enjoy the fresh smell of mint? Oh yeah, Mosquitoes.

Trailing Rosemary, evergreen perennial 

A culinary delight amongst other things, the upright or trailing rosemary is deer resistant (as are most herbaceous plants) low water and very low maintenance. It produces lavender flowers in spring and summer and makes a great evergreen hedge that doesn’t require trimming.

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Citronella, Shade plant 

Citronella (above) is a fickle plant in Central Texas landscape because it really doesn’t tolerate a hard winter. By keeping it in a pot or in a protected area we can sure make it to the next season, but it’s one of those plants that’s worth re-buying every year because it’s not only beautiful but incredibly fragrant and an excellent mosquito deterrent. I keep them by the doors so when my doggies go out and in they rub against it as well. It’s a must have for me.

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Oregano, sun to shade, evergreen and perennial 

Having been raised in a predominately Italian family, then marrying into a Mexican one, Oregano is a culinary given in our family. But most people don’t realize what an excellent groundcover herbs like oregano can be. Spicy Greek oregano outstanding room cover that can take full sun all day and minimal water. Each variety presents its flowers and unique ways delicious, medicinal and mosquito repellent. 

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Walkers Low Catmint, Evergreen perennial 

Pungent plants in the mint family all have mosquito repellent properties and should be used throughout the space as well as I pots where you spend the most time. 

BONUS! Basil with home grown tomatoes, mozzarella, sea salt and olive oil. I could eat this every day for now on…oh yeah, it also repels mosquitos.

Basil isn’t only delicious, it’s also an excellent deterrent to pests and the oil is toxic to mosquito larvae, so even planting it around your bird bath or pond can be a deterrent from laying eggs. Basil is also effective as a mosquito repellent by crushing the leaves and rubbing them on your skin, putting them in your pockets, or just by chewing them for that matter. By chewing them not only is it good for digestion and refreshing your breath, it also hides the CO2 mosquitoes used to find you from as far as 75 feet away.

If you have water features or bird baths, keep the water moving. With a fountain or bubbler, or add mosquito dunks. Bird baths must be emptied and refilled each day to avoid becoming stagnant.

Below is an article I wrote several years back for “First for Women” magazine, it demonstrates quite beautifully how you can use potted plants in clever ways around your patio and seating areas to create not only a beautiful visual, but chemical free mosquito solutions that are safe for our families and pets.

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No matter what part of the country you live in, you have mosquito problems. 

No matter what part of the country you live in this is a problem and clearly chemicals are just making it worse. We could be growing mosquito repellent plants, but this is only the beginning. We have to keep water from sitting in stagnet birdbaths, kiddie pools and plant saucers to name a few. A mosquito needs only a spoonful of water to lay eggs. Wildlife safe mosquito dunks and water management are essential

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Lemon grass and Lemon Balm (above), both work beautifully as well. Lemon Balm is one of my favorite plants to design with in the sun to shade garden, lemon balm has the most beautiful bright green leaves all year long, and the fragrance is exquisite. A lemonade, almost astringent quality that is very calming and effective.

My beautiful boys and I.

Having raised two boys with autism, we had a lot of sensory issues including smell. Having an herb that could serve as a calming mechanism as well as a mosquito repellent is a win-win in my book. We need to go back to nature for answers. That being said, plants are still plants and some people will be allergic to the oils, so use sparingly at first until you see that your skin does not react to any of these plant remedies. The best way to test an herb or leaf is to rub it onto the inside of your wrist. Allow it to sit for 15 minutes without issue and you should be good to go, but on the safe side you can always just or stick them in your pocket, handbag, or anywhere on your clothing to prevent exposure to skin.

Flowering cilantro, dill and oregano in the herb garden.

Below is the Beloved Bee balm, touted for its medicinal value, it is also a valuable tool in the mosquito repelling arsenal. The theme here is form and function.

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If you’re as tasty as I am, you will want to create a setting of Clay pots filled with mosquito repelling plants, plants these in beds around your patio or seating areas, create a raised bed specifically for this use and start a new tradition and how you use your space.

You can see clearly that not only will you get beautiful flowers from these various herbs, But many of them are medicinal and edible as well. So if you’re sensitive to chemicals like I am, this can be a great tool for your next outing. Don’t get discouraged, it may take a few tries to see what really work best on you and for you. I find that I really love the citronella leaves, Because not only do they work well for me but I get compliments on what fragrance I am wearing. Anyone who knows me knows I am no fan of perfume, but that is a compliment I will take.

Now go get your mosquito repelling garden on,

Lisa LaPaso

Lisa’s Landscape and Design

”Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”

White Flowers for Central Texas


White flowers play an interesting part in our landscapes in that they are most often fragrant, but delicate which causes them to fade out into a “antiqued” version of themselves. With a variety of sizes and textures, there are lot of low water, low maintenance white flowering plants and trees for hardiness zone 8a/b. 

Moonflower Duranta, 5 x 5, deer resistant, low water 

White is elegant and lovely on its own, but it’s also a great contrast with color and is especially interesting at dawn and dusk, or a Moonlight Garden. 

These are two huge plants that spread about 6′ each. Deciduous, sun to part sun and deer resistant. 

Moonflower Duranta is night blooming and incredibly fragrant which attracts Hummingbird Moths, or Sphinx Moth for a floor show at dusk. 
Below is a fabulous Kidneywood Tree that is not only a beating display of tiny leaves in a silvery green, but white flower spikes that are so fragrant they permeate the entire space. 

Kidneywood Tree

Kidneywood Tree, sun to mostly shade, 12 x 12

There is a variety of plants and trees with white flowers and sometimes an interesting contrast Like red, orange or yellow centers, the white flowers can be a stand alone or a backdrop to an array of colors and textures that are complimented by the use of white or silvers. 

Althea or Rose of Sharon, deer resistant, low water

Texture plays really well in dappled light or shade, so white can be a great accent or planted in mass for affect.

White Yarrow, 2 x 2, semi evergreen and deer resistant. 

White is not technically a color, but a shade. This plays beautifully with variegated plants as they are void of color where the white stripes begin. 


There are some beautiful trees that also produce white flowers such as the Texas Dogwood, Mexican Plum and one of my all time favorites, the Anacacho Orchid.

The Anacacho Orchid is also deer resistant as are each of the plants live listed here, but anyone in Central Texas knows, if deer are hungry, they’ll eat anything in a hardship.

Much like the Anacacho, the next plant (below) is another fragrant flower that fills the space with a scent somewhere along the line of vanilla or gardenia. 

White Mistflower Boneset, 3 x 3, low water sun to shade. 

Another super aromatic tree is the Little Gem Magnolia. Shown below as an espalier, the tree form reaches 15 to 20 feet in height and 8-10 feet wide. Best of all, it’s evergreen!

Flowers like the white echinacea (below), white Plumbago, white mealy Sage or Salvia Greggi, you won’t be short on choices.  

White echinacea, 2 x 2, sun, low water and medicinal 

Salvia Greggi (White), evergreen, low water, low maintenance. Full sun 2.5 x 2.5, deer resistant.

“Fahrenheit White” Mealy Sage, is also a great choice for deer issues, low water, low maintenance. (sun to part shade)

Many herbs have white flowers like sweet basil, cilantro and onion, which when allowed to bloom make beautiful specimens in the appropriate season. 

Flowering cilantro in the herb garden.

Combinations of variegated leaves and white flowers can also make for a striking combination. Many varieties are evergreen as well which makes them equally desirable in the landscape. 

Blackfoot Daisy, evergreen sun to part sun. 2 x 2. Flax Lily Dianella 2.5 x 2.5. Sun to shade. Deer resistant, perennial. 

White can also add drama. Shapes, texture and shades of green all create a story. To tell the story of your life, do your homework on the native and adapted plants and trees for your area. Austin Texas is in hardiness zone 8 a/b so always look up a plant you like, before your buy.

Natchez crepe myrtle, up to 30 x 20. Full sun, low water 

I love crepe myrtles and this Natches is one of my all time favorites because it is disease resistant and lightly fragrant, and it sports beautiful fall colors and amber bark during growth periods.

Each plant attracts different pollinators, blooms at different cycles, provides seeds or berries for food and remains evergreen or sleep briefly for a recharge. They are all perfect for the Xeriscape garden and provide years of happiness.

If you were struggling to find plants for your space and are ready for an educational landscape consultation or complete landscape design you can reach out to me at Lisalapaso@gmail.com.

Lisa LaPaso

Lisa’s Landscape and Design 

“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time “

Pride Month, Let’s Celebrate the Rainbow 🌈


As the proud mother of LGTBQ children, I am acutely aware of the need to celebrate Pride Month and the importance of equality and opportunity for everyone to be their most authentic self. 

The well known Pride flag was originally designed with 8 colors, each with an intention and was created to invoke emotion. Much like a landscape design, tapestry or any work of art, color is used to add context, to draw attention and to provoke empathy, understanding, enlightenment and idealism. 

Much like the flag of the United States, certain colors raise emotions, inspire memories, yield caution, authority, royalty or wealth.

Wealth to my mind is the colors of the rainbow. A celebration of all of God’s many gifts of arrays the human eye can adore, but more importantly, attract wildlife and pollinators from a distance. This combination of color celebrates the uniqueness each color represents as does the Pride Flag for its celebration of the unique tapestry of people that make our country and community a whole. 

when designing your space, choose colors that represent you and experiment with opposing colors to create drama and interesting contrast. Express yourself in a wash of color, texture, scent and structure. Our individualism is what makes each space so special. We are fortunate to have colors in hardiness zone 8 a/b that range from pink, red, orange, yellow green, silver, variegated, blue and purple. 

Xeriscape means low water plants and trees. It doesn’t have to mean dusty and spikey.

Down the line of colors from the original design, we celebrate Hot Pink. This color was chosen to represent sexuality and nature is certainly celebrating it, so why shouldn’t we. 

PInk Salivia Greggi 

Peggy Martin climbing rose

Pink Yarrow

Red was used to celebrate life, and there isn’t a single person or flower that doesn’t deserve that.

Firemans Cap Coral been

Home Run Rose, low water low maintenance.

Red Daylily

Orange is the symbol of healing. Our world is in more need of that than ever before and it’s good to be reminded that it begins with us. 

Flowering and fruiting pomegranate tree

Pride of Barbados

Orange Global mallow

yellow is the color of sunlight, which without, rainbows wouldn’t be possible.

Flowering Dill weed

Mexican Mint Merigold

Jerusalem Sage

Obviously, green is the color of nature. My favorite color since I was a kid (along with red). Mother Nature was very clever to give each plant a unique color and texture to identify the many layers of green in nature and the landscape is a perfect place to embrace them all. 

The original Pride flag also included turquoise (art), indigo (serenity)and violet (spirit). Variations of blue/green, lavender, purple, light to dark blues and these colors represented as creative, peaceful and heavenly colors. 

All together they create the most magical spaces where each color is as unique to itself as the collaboration is work of art. 

Sometimes our rainbows are doubled and they are blessings worth counting and celebrating.  🌈 ❤️♥️❤️

Lisa LaPaso

Lisa’s Landscape and Design

Landscape Liars

“Learn the ropes or work with dopes”. That’s mine, but you can steal it, and I hope you recite it to memory. If I save one person with this blog from an unscrupulous contractor, or self proclaimed “landscaper” who delivers the wrong plants for the right job, or pulls the “bait and switch” method of bidding, I’ve done my job for the karma police.

The chicken scratch bid above is the least you should expect from anyone working in your landscape. Even this bid is vague however, because it doesn’t list specific plants or trees, it also doesn’t state the length of the job or the starting date.

Before you hand over a check, card or any cash, this is what you ask for:

1) Every deal is in writing and there are no exceptions.

2) Every bid must include detail of materials needed to complete the job. You should have the linear footage, tons or approximate yards of each material, or pallets to be used on your property, and of course, wo/man hours. You should also see a specific list of plants including mature size and sunlight requirements, and they should be native perennials or real close to it. This is also where you account for deer resistant, evergreen, etc.

3) Ask for samples of all of the materials to be used. 

Black star rock with local river rock, Lueder limestone and Corten metal. 

4) study the samples over the course of a full day. Colors of materials can change wildly from sunrise to sunset so check the choices against the house and adjacent Hardscapes before it’s too late…

5) Get a starting date and hold them to it, but don’t be impatient. A hurried client is a vulnerable one so let them think it’s no big hurry, let them set a date, then expect them to be on time and professional.

6) Get a completion date and get this in writing. If weather is an issue you can expect delays, but if the contractor is lazy, you can refer to your contract for details and negotiations. 

7) Use a trusted contractor in the first place. This should be a solid referral from a friend or colleague or someone whose phone number and business are public. Check the online feedback, look over their past work and ask a lot of questions when needed for clarification. 

8) Finally, but this is really number 1, start by educating yourself on each process. Rather it’s with an Educational Consultation or Landscape Design like I offer, or an online design program, blog source or YouTube channel, do your homework first. literally start from the ground up and my blog and many others provide a wealth of free information on how to do just that. 

A little due diligence up front, you can create both a lovely relationship and a lovely space which all any good designer/contractor could ask for. Remind them that you are “Happy” to give them a great review on their page right up front, and that lets them know that you will also leave a bad one, because you’re savvy like that. 

Now go take on that project like a boss, 

Lisa LaPaso

Lisa’s Landscape and Design

”Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time “

 

 

 

 

 

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