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never hired a landscaper, some questions

Posted by joeschmoe 6 (Ohio) (My Page) on
Thu, Jul 19, 12 at 10:33

OK - so I have, for the first time in my life, a home with an acre of land. The landscaping is lacking due to it being a new construction foreclosure (the home itself was done, but then the builder threw down grass seed, plunked down 2 Autumn Blaze maples, and called it a day).

I want to hire a landscaper, but I want input on not only plant selections, but plant sources, at least to some degree. My limited experience with landscaping companies is that they don't always plant the species they tell you they were planting...so I want to order some of the specific trees I want (I want Cedrus, and some other rareish selections, the kind of stuff Forestfarm sells).

Are there landscapers in the central Ohio area willing to work with me?

I basically need their creativeness, as I'm not good at designing layouts etc, but being able to choose at least some of the specific plants I want, and possibly have a decent amount of involvement actually planting them.

If someone could design on paper, and maybe do any of the construction type work involved (things like bricks, pavers, digging out beds, etc) and let me actually plant the plants, that would be ideal...

This might be a stupid post, but I've never done this before!


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

Maybe you need a landscape designer. They will charge you a fee to create a landscape plan. A landscape contractor usually wants to do design, buy the plants and do the installation. Some contractors are great at install, but not so great at design. Not alwasy true, but !, just my experience.
Start at you local garden center and ask if they know of any designers that they work with. Designers will draw a plan and you can do the installation of plants. If work is needed to install hardscape, you can ues the plansand then hire a landscape contractor that specializes in hardscaping.
You should try to find out how much the designer actually knows about plants. For example - a good designer - If you suggest a plant for your yard, and that is not the correct plant for that growing condition, ( like hostas in sun) the designer should be able to select plants that grow in your conditions. There are also designers that look great on paper - shop around.

Good luck Mike
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Here is a link that might be useful: Garden Desgn Ideas


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

"I basically need their creativeness"

Creativeness... that's THINKING. You might think of a "landscaper" as the "muscle" that installs and maintains plants and landscapes. The landscape designer is the brains that thinks about what everything should be and where it should go and what the space should evolve into. A landscape architect would be like a designer but with added expertise in the area of structures, infrastructure and site engineering. They can transform sites with great physical challenges into something highly desirable. Obviously, there's some crossover as some landscape designers are quite skilled in the architectural and engineering aspects of the work. Occasionally, "landscapers" become talented in designing, too, but it's really hit or miss. Many tout themselves as having design ability, but their work is atrocious compared to a real landscape designer or architect. (Hint, you must see before you buy!) It sounds like you need a landscape designer. Since their work would be committed to paper (a PLAN) you can implement it as you see fit... in one fell swoop, or over time as your resources and interests dictate. While a landscape designer may be able to help you with some plant sources, it's likely that a landscapER will do as well or better. For the rarer plants, you may need to scout out sources on the Internet.


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

I've seen a few companies in my area that are contractors, but also have on-staff designers.

Regardless, if I talked to the designer, would a typical good landscape designer be offended if I handed them a "list" of plants I want, and don't want in my yard, but asked them to place them most effectively, and accent with other ideas they can come up with?


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

"...would a typical good landscape designer be offended if I handed them a "list" of plants I want..?"

Do you know these plants from real life, or just pictures and words? Though people do some of this, it's not the best way to design. In landscape design, plants are doing jobs so it's better to pick the plant based on the job it must do. Sometimes, when the plant is picked first, the job it does ends up being meaningless, or even harmful to the design. If you're going to do it this way, I'd keep the list of plants very short and offer them as possible contenders, expecting that some (depending on your list) will not work out. Be open to other plants that the designer (who knows them first-hand) will propose. Personally, I find that when customers want certain plants worked into the design, they are usually obsessed with the flowers of the plant and almost oblivious to the more important factors... like form and seasonal behavior. Offer your list, but let the designer do his or her job and when you see the result, if you think a plant you want will work as well or better in a given position, discuss it and propose a change if it really is a good choice. Much of what you ask depends on how good a job of picking plants you would do. I think I'm pretty good at picking plants, but I would never do it before comprehending the scheme of the planting geometry and plant forms needed.


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

I had a landscaper design my backyard at another home, and I specified I wanted queen palms and a rose garden, with lemon and lime trees and agapanthas. He did a great job that included a poured concrete patio, and it was a very pleasant back yard to be in. He explained to me that shrubs shouldn't be onsies. He included a beautiful ficus benjamina that looked spectacular with the queen palms. You need to group and balance for continuity. Just like in your home, different heights and widths of furnishings add interest. He put a Japanese maple in the shade. Wow!

As time went on, I added dahlias and other things that interested me.


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

My basic thought was something like:

Here are plants I enjoy and would like to incorporate. Please advise if you have ideas for how we could use them, or, why if not and suggestions instead...

I don't think that's too overbearing, it gives insight as to what I like (more important is my "I don't want this in my yard" list, that would include Callery pears) etc but deferring to his/her expertise for the actual decision.


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

Joeschome,
Your request would be greatly appreciated by any good designer worth their salary.
The more information that you can provide in regards to your likes, dislikes, and style , the better the designer can collaborate with you and give you a landscape that is custom taylored to your personality, context of site and climate.

That's what good design is all about.

You would be considered a good client right off the bat .


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

I totally agree with DD :-) Asking clients their plant preferences and dislikes is an integral part of the client interview process. Gardeners being what they are, I have even designed around collections of plants either newly purchased (and awaiting a permanent home) or those hauled from a previous garden. It is afterall their garden so including what they want - as appropriate - is a major part of the designer's duty.

If a plant simply is unsuited for whatever reason - climate, siting, invasiveness, disease/pest issues - a good designer will let you know and make alternate suggestions. Remember that for any given situation, there are likely dozens of plants that will work interchangeably.


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

The only spot that might turn some designers off is a couple of "zone pushing" selections I want to try, like Cedrus libani.

I'd offer to sign a waiver...


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

The issue with zone pushing specific plants is that there are reasonable alternatives if the first choice doesn't work out.

Several years ago, the NYTimes had an article on a very ritzy home and garden redesign for a weekend house to the north of me. The garden designer, a very respected NYC based one, had used a fair number of nandinas in fairly prominent places. I have spent the time since then wondering what the nandinas were replaced with after they died. The spec is for a shade tolerant broadleaf evergreen that can handle zone 5a and alkaline soil.

Let's just say there are reasons you don't see nandinas here.


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

I also agree with DD and GG. Zone pushing is fine with me also, as long as I don't have to guarantee the the or shrub. Most designers will be able to advise you on siting a tree or shrub that pushes the zonal boundaries so that it has optimal chances to survive.


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

Joe, at the design stage, plants are generally identified by shape/type, not by identity. So if you have plants you like, you may give a species name, but the designer will hear "narrow specimen conifer," "spreading deciduous shade tree," "arching shrub" or what have you.

The designer would then site these plants where it seems to them to make sense (functionally or aesthetically) to put such a shape.

You know, kind of like you might say Ikea Ektorp Sofa or Hepplewhite chaise, and the interior decorator writes "couch."

The most probable minefield awaiting you is that you may want more plants, or more of a certain kind, than your site ideally would accommodate for an objectively "good" design. This means the designer might feel they have to compromise their aesthetic standards to meet your needs. Not all designers will understand that they are there to meet YOUR aesthetic standards, not their own. You will only find out what kind of designer you are working with when you call one, explain that you have a plant list, and have them do a walk-through

If you organize your list by plant shape you will probably have the best luck getting what you want. And remember that design services of nurseries are geared to selling their own plants, so don't call them. Designers recommended by nurseries should be OK, but your best bet is to find your designer without going through a nursery you do not intend to buy from to avoid potential conflicts of that nature.

Karin L


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

I couldn't disagree more with Karinl's description of how a professionally run design office would take in and process plant recommendation information from a paying client for a planting plan.

If that is her design process than I would suggest that you find a designer that has a more developed sense of planting design and client collaboration.

If you decide to interview a designer who works for a garden nursery all you have to do is ask if they use plants from their nursery stock only. Chances are the designer will look at you cross eyed.
I think you will find that designers who work for a nursery have an especially broad palette of plants to work with because they can order plants from the weekly availability lists from the dozens of wholesale nurseries that deliver to the nursery.
It is a myth to think that designers who work for nurseries use only the nursery stock plants that are in the nursery.
Some of the most innovative planting designs in the San Francisco Bay area ( which has one of the largest populations of extremely talented designers to choose from ) are coming from designers who work for nurseries. Just one example is the design work that is coming out of Flora Grubb Nursery in S.F.


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

My post was intended to explain to Joe that a designer's design would not depend on the exact species planted, but rather on, let's say, a large conifer being a spot where a large conifer would look good, and if he wanted to try a Cedrus libani, a designer should not have a problem with that and that the whole design would not fail if the tree fails because it could be replaced with another variant of large conifer. In that sense I hope it served its purpose.

I doubt any purpose is served by discussing this further, except that people lurk, and unchallenged remarks might be read as gospel.

I'm not here selling my services, DD, since as you know I am not in the business, nor am I here selling design services in general. As a client of the garden industry, rather than as a service provider, I have a different perspective from you, and it's possible that may be more useful to a fellow-client than a promotional, insider view. It is the case in many fields that advanced practitioners cannot even relate to the questions that novices have. Also, once you are an insider, you often can no longer discern the boundary between inside and outside because you can cross it so easily.

The reason JoeSchmo has likely settled on Forest Farm is that one can go to dozens of retail nurseries that order from dozens of wholesale nurseries and find pretty much repeats of the same stock. I know this because I have done years of mail ordering and driving far and wide to do plant hunting after having asked retail nurseries what they can special order for me. Scanning the lists of available stock from their "dozens of suppliers," it has turned out that it isn't much for an avid plant collector, especially not when you factor in minimum order quantities. It may be different in Ohio, but for some reason Joe has settled on Forest Farm. That alone leads me to believe it might not be.

You live in a rarified world of elite plant and material suppliers in a zone that is richly supplied with options, and you should not assume that everyone is so fortunate.

You may also work in a setting where you are free from the constraints faced by a designer who has a relationship with a nursery, but designers that do have such relationships would be well-advised to nurture their reference network. If you are a designer, and a nursery has had a stack of your business cards on the counter for two years during which you have never bought or ordered plants from them, when a new designer comes in with a stack of cards to ask for referrals, your business cards will go in the drawer or the garbage and the new designer's will be on the counter instead. This is a basic business reality that does not vary no matter what business you are in.

It is kind of similar to the fact that you have, if I have gleaned it correctly, a working relationship with people who do heavy rock work and hardscape. You have to cultivate that relationship, whatever the nature of it is, and you do that by incorporating hardscape into your designs (which of course you want to do anyway, hence the relationship). But if you have a series of clients whose sites do not need hardscape work, that relationship will wither. So clients who know from the outset that they do not want new rock work or hardscape may have an easier time getting their needs met if they hire a designer other than you.

Especially if they express a fear that your design might be influenced by wanting to make work for your team as well as by your client's actual needs, and you look at them cross-eyed. Given that it might be true, one could interpret such a response as dishonest, if it is not naive. The question is no stupider than someone buying clothes wanting to make themselves aware if the salesperson is working on commission.

I'm sure you're very skilled at communicating with clients, so it is unfortunate that you would suggest to other designers who might lurk here that it is ever wise to respond to a client's questions in such a way. And to suggest to a client that they should not seek to understand a designer's business model is equally bizarre.

Karin L


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

Karin L
Bizarro, simply bizarro land.


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

@ Joeschmoe... "Here are plants I enjoy and would like to incorporate. Please advise if you have ideas for how we could use them, or, why if not and suggestions instead..."

That sounds reasonable. It looks like Deviant mistook my comment to be about general designer-client discussion of the project instead of specific requests to incorporate such and such. As you can imagine, special requests help a design become better when they are good requests. (Just because they come from a client does not automatically make them so.)

@ Karin L., be conservative about wasting too much effort combating Deviant-Designer's opinion and demeaning style. This forum is her marketing tool and thus, she must appear as the authority at all times. In most cases it's her misinterpretation that one must deal with.


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

Unnecessary nastiness when what is being discussed is a difference in approach to the design process. What this points to is not that I am right and you are wrong only that designers are different and Joe should find the style that suits him best. If the job is to plant a Cedar of Lebanon the task is easy, if however the job is to take a clients desire for a Cedar of Lebanon and turn this into a workable design this is much more difficult. And if this tree is totally wrong then one must work diplomatically towards Karin's approach, that creates the desired effect but with possibly a different tree.


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

I think I must have missed another thread that this discussion is referring to because the accusations leveled here seem to have no basis in the forum threads I have been reading.

Karin, you seem to be as interested in the process of the forum as the content, and in the past I appreciated that. For you and yard to imply that DD is using the forum to solicit business is beyond insulting to the insightful and important contributions she makes to the discussion. I thought you were interested in raising the level of the forum's content, but these comments seem counterintuitive to that goal. We are never going to all agree and isn't that the point?

I also perceive an insult to the professionals who frequent the LD forum that perhaps you do not intend. The implication that designers sell customers the products and services that the designer wants to sell rather than a product that meets there needs insults my integrity and I imagine it insults others here. I would be happy to talk about the 'business' part of what I do - its actually one of my favorite things to discuss. But at this point suffice it to say that any business owner who tries to sell people services and products they do not need or want would not be successful in getting many jobs or holding onto the customers they have in what is a very competitive business.

I think that you do not understand the landscape business very well. As I said, I would love to discuss it if you or anyone else is interested, but the reality is that it does not operate in any way similar to the way you described in your post. Please refrain from explaining your understanding of my business and my design process in the future as if it is fact - it is so far from the reality of how I work and how dedicated I am to my work as to be 180 degrees separated.

The point I will concede is that not every area is as rich in materials and plants as the area DD lives in. As a business person, though, I would always be able to get a product or plant that a customer 'had to have' regardless of what is readily available in my area. The customer might not like the price, but i would get it even if I had to order it from california.


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

The lack of understanding of the real design process and standard client interaction displayed by some of the nonprofessionals in this forum is truly astounding. And often spoken/written which such a degree of authority! Where DO these misconceptions come from??

It may be helpful to remember that not all landscape design projects are undertaken with a blank slate. The majority involve existing gardens with varying degrees of existing plant material, much of which will remain in place. Or at least onsite. To assume that all designers work with some nebulous, barely defined plant form in mind rather than a more specific plant identity is to negate this very basic element of the majority of design projects. Why is it anymore difficult to extrapolate that down to very specific plant choices the client may want to include? To disregard these wishes/choices displays a degree of arrogance that few successful designers can get away with. It is not MY garden - it is their's and should reflect their likes and dislikes.

As to Yard's comment regarding DD's post....all I can say is consider the source. Could there be some professional jealousy lurking behind that nastiness? Nothing DD writes has anything to do with attempting to market her considerable skills. I'd venture to say she sure doesn't need this pitiful forum to generate business - a skillful pro never does. But she does go out of her way to explain to posters the ins and outs of the process based on her considerable experience and often to very helpfully point out that what they had planned to do may not be the best solution. How that translates to 'marketing' I fail to see.


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

I very much like Michele's style of teaching by offering photos of her work...and others!....to illustrate different options to the problem under discussion. It appreciates that a willing reader can be intelligent enough to develop new skills in design by extrapolating a number of solutions from the examples shown which are seen to be applicable and appealing to them, instead of just being spoon fed one generic option. It's rather like teaching a novice how to use a rod and reel anytime instead of waiting for the fish & chips special on Fridays only :)


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

"Nothing DD writes has anything to do with attempting to market her considerable skills."

Apparently, you do not understand how passive marketing on a forum works.


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

This forum has and always will be a form of social entertainment for me.
It is not and never will be a venue for marketing myself or business.
Period.
Over the many year I have been fortunate to form lasting friendships from this forum, people who have come to my home and shared a dinner or a place to sleep or just a cup of coffee.
It's been my privilege to share my home and garden with Ironbelly and his family, Bahia, California Sue and her Mum, MsColla, Karen from Sac and Karen from San Anselmo as well as several others over the years. I look forward to seeing Mel and Phrago in the near future.
This forum is not a business venture for me. Get that straight Mister Sour Grapes.


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

Sticking finger into hornets' nest.
Michelle- For what it's worth, I've read you as pointed, honest, compassionate - particularly on some posts about neighbor kid and others about playgrounds, occasionally scathing, often hilarious, always professional.
I've never read you as mercenary or in any way "using" the forum. Unless it was to share a laugh. Which is not a fault in my book.

For Joe- I remember a Landscape Architect who used to post here. His online name was laag. He told a story once about his father. Dad set his young son the task of designing a bed around a broom stuck upside down in the ground.

It's a parable. He could have put a wheelbarrow. he could have put a beach umbrella.

So suppose Dad is you, Joe. The Client.

The thing you want to put out in the garden -- a bazooka, a Clydesdale, a Japanese pagoda -- is not just a shape. (Although that may well have been the original task. But,d*mn it, this is my parable now.) It's not just a shape or volume mass. What you want may also suggest something about the style you like. It may suggest something about you.


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RE: never hired a landscaper, some questions

Sorry about the hornet's nest, Joe. Maybe it needs a new thread.

Wellspring, I remember the story about the broomstick a bit differently. I think the point was that it is easier to make decisions where there is something, as opposed to where there is nothing, so if there is nothing, just stick something in the ground to give yourself something to respond to. The moral being something like it is hard to generate ideas in a vacuum.

Karin L


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