Does a Landscape Designer Really Need to Remap My Small Yard?

kruiseMarch 28, 2012

Six years ago I paid a landscaper to put in pavers in my side yard. He designed a wonderful hardscape. When he was finished I realized I wasn�t up to the task of picking out the right shrubs and doing the planting so I asked if he any experience to which he said yes. To make a long story short, most of the plants turned out to be shade loving plants and the soil he brought in turned out to be sand. So too much sun, and sand that repels water after having caked in the sun, the plants that are still alive look horrible.

What I would like is for the plants to be replaced with appropriate shrubs and some a little bit of potting soil or whatever brought in. So I set up an appoint with a landscaping company with a good reputation. A designer came out and said it cost $1500 to $5000 to measure the yard and put together a plan. Since the hardscape is done why is it so costly to propose 20 replacement plants? Am I going about things wrong? There is no change to the hardscape so can't designers work by the hour?

And before anyone asks, the original landscaper guaranteed the plants for 1 year but I couldn�t get him back out the next summer when the plants started to die. He has since retired.

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You're not clear on how big this project really is. Plants come in all sizes so "20 replacements" could be huge or almost nothing. There could be any number of things going wrong here. I don't think garden designers are going to make any profit on 20 replacements... again, depending. It could be their way of saying, "no thanks." However, I'm sure there is someone who will come out for a reasonable fee. You need to make more calls. Make sure you let them know before they come out what's up. You could post a photo here (not close-ups) that shows the situation if you want more info.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 12:14AM
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Take some pics and a sample of your soil to a large nursery. Look at plants until you have an opportunity to accost the "Old Hand" over 50. Explain the problem and solicit his thoughts. That will get you off to a good start. He'll probably have some association with a reasonably priced designer as well.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 7:42AM
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Though I prefer making my own selections, I thought I've heard from several people that the many of the large local nurseries will assist with plant selections. The designer is paid by the nursery and the nursery makes out by selling more plants. Most of the nurseries have a year guarantee, so you are protected in that respect. I'd call around and find the nursery with a HUGE selection so they are limiting you to a small selection of plants.

Perhaps too you could post some pics here and describe in detail the sun, water, and zone requirements.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 9:45AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I'm not ruling out that the new designer just wants to make this a bigger job, but maybe the current arrangement of plants is no better than the selection was, and the new designer would like to propose an alternate arrangement as well as new plants.

Plants do grow and it may just be part of doing a good job to draw the scheme to scale, show it to the client and get approval, and so on. Maybe they also have to calculate soil volumes.

Or it may just plump up the bottom line. But ask them why. And if the answer isn't good enough, you could maybe make a counter-offer.

Karin L

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 10:02AM
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And I'll trade you my clay for your sandy soil any day.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 10:11AM
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Whitecap, we've had both sand and clay. I found out that though clay can turn into almost a rock, my plants and grass did much better in the clay overall. Clay holds the water, as I'm sure you know, which helped immensely during those extra dry periods. More plants died when I had the sand. With the clay, I rarely loose anything. No matter what you have it's all about amending, amending, and still more amending.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 10:53AM
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We're talking just a side yard here? What are the approximate dimensions? $1500-5000 design fees for a smallish area is waaaay out of line, especially when there are no real changes to the layout or spatial design but just plant selection replacement/planting and potentially some soil amending. Someone is attempting to take you for a ride :-)

Not sure where in WA you are located but there are scores of excellent retail nurseries and garden centers, almost all of which will offer a wide selection of plant choices. Taking a few photos in of the area plus some rough dimensions should be all you need to have a salesperson suggest appropriate plant replacements. They may not do any of the actual installation work themselves but should be able to recommend someone who could do so at a much more reasonable cost.

FWIW, general skilled landscape labor in this area usually bills out to around $50/hr per guy. Planting 20 or so plants is less than a half day's work for one guy.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2012 at 5:37PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I agree with gardengal that the price quote seems really high, but it would be useful to add some pertinent information here of you really want an apples to apples comparison of what such a project might cost for a redesign. If you're satisfied with the layout of the existing hardscape and just want a new planting plan, that as already mentioned could be accomplished with just a one hour site visit to get quick dimensions and then perhaps another hour or two to come up with a planting plan that better matches plant choices to the sun/ shade exposure.

Your mention of water repelling sand as soil amendment may not be an issue if the soil is further amended with a good amount of compost to add organic content. You don't mention whether this area receives hand
watering, has an irrigation system or whether

you prefer plantings that are drought tolerant
and don't require summer irrigation. These
would all be design considerations to factor in
before developing a new planting plan.

Let us know where you are located, the rough dimensions, maybe some photos of the area, which direction this side yard faces, and if there is an
irrigation system(automatic/manual/none); if you'd like more informed replies here

    Bookmark   March 31, 2012 at 12:53AM
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