Garden design

Landscape plans aren’t just for fancy gardens. A good plan will save ANY homeowner money.

If you have a new landscape to do or an old one to renovate, this is the perfect time to do it. Since housing values are not likely to rise radically for some time, fixing up your home will make it a good place to ride out the real estate slump.Landscape design costs are only likely to rise in the future, so there’s no real value in waiting. And with the cost of gas and the discomfort of travel, you might want to convert your property into your own vacation land. The challenge is how to get the best value for your money.

Money is still tight for most people so spending needs to be done wisely. Pricing out garden design today is important. That might even mean spending more than you planned at the beginning to make sure you get the best deal in the long run. Please be aware that you rarely get more than you pay for, but you can certainly get less. Do some serious research before hiring help. Landscape costs can vary. Make sure the lowest bid isn’t giving you the lowest quality that will lead, eventually, to the highest expense. Grill the “salesman” because a good “salesman” (and you are not getting “free consultations” – you are getting free “sales calls”) will be focused on impressing you. Ask questions. Listen carefully. No one’s going to tell you he or she is cutting corners that may cost you dearly in the future. If you want something personal, you need to sit down with someone who can spend hours to get to know you and your space. Most landscapers and nursery people cannot afford to take the time to do this. “I wish I’d known to seek extra help,” Jeanine, a Santa Clarita homeowner, confessed to me last week. Speaking of her landscaper, she said: “He agreed with everything I said and gave me no guidance … now the trees I had chosen are getting taller all the time and I need to top them at least twice a year to keep them from getting into the neighbor’s gutters…. I thought they’d stay smaller.”

Most landscapers are not plant experts and depend on the ‘regular dozen’ plants that are commonly grown, easy to guarantee and offer a great mark-up for the installers. These lower-risk, high profit plants may or may not be the best choices for looks or for the spot where they are being planted.

Some installers want to impress you with a pretty planting right away. It is not cost efficient to consider what disasters may occur when these pretty plantings begin to grow into their normal size. Check to see if whoever is coming up with your design has creative skills. Some, but not many landscapers or nursery people have a design or artistic background. Fewer are imaginative. And fewer still, can take the time to design with safety and future growth in mind. This is NOT to say avoid landscapers and nursery help! Both of these have important roles in the creation of your landscape. Just make sure the person you select has what you need. At the beginning of a landscape project, you need to focus on making the decisions of how your space will function as a design both practically and aesthetically. If you’re not confident you can do this yourself or that your nursery or landscaper has a talented designer involved in this critical part of the project, then call in a consultant, designer, design coach or landscape architect (depending on the kind of job you need) to insure the cost of your landscaping will be well spent. And be careful not to negate what you have learned from an expert if someone later promises to fulfill all your wishes for the price you want. If the expert quoted high, there is usually a reason for it. I have seen so many jobs where the hundreds saved in the beginning cost tens of thousands several years later. The landscaper honestly thought the experts’ advise was in excess since he could get the same result cheaper. But most landscapers are not experts in all areas, even if they believe themselves to be so. I repeat. You rarely get more than you pay for, but you can certainly get less.

Just like everything else in life, taking the time to do something right at the beginning of a project will usually be the most economically sound choice. If you can’t afford the full job, then it’s better to do it in pieces than to do it badly. Or prioritize your expenditures — not by emotion — but by practicality. Once again, if you are unsure, spend the extra to call in an unprejudiced expert. This person is being paid to focus on your needs, not any other part of the job. He/she has nothing to gain by giving advice that isn’t to your advantage. It is confusing out there. Everyone claims to know what is right, yet I have to admit I’ve seen expensive disasters (or potential future disasters) in a remarkably high percentage of local landscapes. Despite the recession, building materials and construction overheads have soared. It’s hard to do even a very small, simple landscape installation for less than $15,000 and larger or more ornate landscapes can easily cost hundreds of thousands. Isn’t it worth $500 to $3000 to make sure it’s done right? (These are prices for the Southern California area. They will vary considerably around the country.)

If you already have your property landscaped, this may be a good time to give it a bit of a garden makeover so you can get the most out of your backyard this year. Think about what you want to improve or add to your garden. You can build a patio, add a fire pit or spruce up your space with some new outdoor furniture. You might want to add a shade or patio cover or an umbrella for sunny days. And don’t forget to get that barbecue cleaned up for use. Or maybe it’s time for a new one? You can also build a play area for the kids or pets. Or how about really splurging and constructing a sport court or a backyard putting green to keep everyone entertained, guests and family alike?

As summer approaches and money remains tight, look to your own backyard to ride out the rest of the economic slump in comfort. And not only will you be enjoying your property now, but the investment you make is likely to add even more value to your home when property values once again begin to rise.