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Almost three years ago, we moved from a 700-square-foot New York City apartment with a couple of ailing houseplants to a new-construction home on 2/3 of an acre. It had been 20 years since either my husband or I mowed a lawn, and we hardly knew the difference between a holly and a hollyhock. After building the house, we didn’t have much left over for landscaping beyond the basic builder’s package.
Having lived in the city, we really wanted the chance to work in the yard ourselves, but we were truly overwhelmed. We didn’t know what grew well in our area, or even what kind of trees we liked. We couldn’t afford to have a landscaping company come do work for us, but we couldn’t even imagine where to start the work by ourselves. So, we found a middle ground: We hired a landscape designer to dream up a plan that we could realize as we were able.
Many large landscaping companies will design your outdoor space for you as long as you contract with them to do the work. Nurseries, too, will provide a similar service as long as you buy a certain quantity of plants. Neither option was ideal for us. Instead, we found a designer we could pay to create and deliver a design, regardless of whether we chose her for the installation, hired someone else, or did the job ourselves. The plan was the equivalent of 6 to 10 hours of professional services, which was a lot more manageable for us financially than having a whole installation done. Plus, it gave us something to think about and look forward to.
If you think you’d like to work with a landscape designer on this level, make sure you consider the following:
1. Design Appropriateness. Make sure your designer understands your gardening skill level and desired amount of maintenance. The last thing you need is pruning you can’t handle or care you don’t have time for.
2. Fees. Make sure you understand the designer’s fee, whether it’s a package or by the hour. If it’s the latter, be sure to get an estimate of how much time it will take to complete the design.
3. Plant Preferences. Help out by doing your research and letting your designer know the kinds of plants and trees you like and don’t like. Maybe you’ve always wanted a pink dogwood, or you absolutely hate the smell of lilacs. Give your designer a heads-up.
4. Create Phases. Ask your designer to break the project into phases for you, based on your budget. That way, you’ll have a better sense of when you can tackle each part of the plan. And it always helps to have a goal to save toward.
We put phase one of our landscaping plan into action this spring by cutting up a lot of planting beds and putting in a patio area. The next step will be to fill those beds with plants, and then we’ll work our way toward installing trees and bushes around our property boundaries for privacy. It’s really exciting to see our yard burst into life after looking at it for so long in black and white. For us, it’s the best of both worlds. We feel more confident having gotten some expert advice, and we have the satisfaction of doing a lot of the work ourselves.