Landscape Fun Fact of the Day:
New York’s Central Park, DC’s National Mall, and Chicago’s Lincoln Park are the most visited public parks in the country. Central Park receives an estimated 42 million annual visitors, the National Mall receives an estimated 29 million, and Lincoln Park receives an estimated 20 million. As for the most visited U.S. National Park… that would be The Great Smoky Mountains, located across North Carolina and Tennessee, which receives more than 11 million visitors annually.
I can’t take credit for thinking of a subject for today’s journal entry. In this case, credit should instead go to Ms. Gahles, our beloved Office Manager. In my search for topics for journal entries, I often ask people what they’re interested in learning about. In this case, Elizabeth already has first-hand information on this topic, but reminded me that many of our clients don’t before they first call us. In fact, I can recall questions specifically related to these topics from my own parents, as well as other friends and family. So enough beating around the bush (all puns intended), today’s journal entry is about initial planning for a variety of landscape related projects. That’s why I chose the Beatles song, “A Beginning” for the title of todays entry. Little did I know when selecting the title, that the song is actually composed by Beatles’ producer George Martin using an orchestra (so no Beatles were involved with the song, but it made its way to be the opening track of Beatles Anthology 3).
There is a huge swath of various landscape related projects. Looking at the Rolling Acres website, we have listed 14 different services offered, and all of them can be considered standard for our scope of work. But, since most of the services fall within three major categories, outdoor living, landscape planting, and landscape management, I will focus on how clients should best plan for those three types of projects. Since I’ve covered outdoor living at length in previous entries, I’ll assume you’re all experts by now, and will save that for last. Let’s start instead with landscape maintenance/ management, which would technically be the last item to accomplish after a major landscape renovation.
I wanted to start with landscape management, because I feel it is the most important and most ignored component of landscaping. Every year, I see clients allocate a budget for a project, but don’t include proper management post-construction into that budget. Just remember that we, the landscape architects and designers of your residence can promise you low-maintenance, but we can’t promise you no-maintenance. After installation is completed, the following items will require some sort of maintenance:
- Landscape Plantings
- Landscape Planting Beds/ Soil Prep
- Lawn/ Grass
- Swimming Pools
When I do discuss landscape management with clients, I always base the conversation off of budgets. At a minimum, I recommend spring cleanups for plants and planting beds, as well as year-round lawn/turf care. Spring cleanup is definitely a service you should consider hiring a quality landscaper (such as Rolling Acres) to perform. Our spring cleanup services will include mulching, fertilizer, weed preventer, and edging of the beds. We will also include pruning of shrubs and trees (as needed), as well as dead-heading of perennials (as needed). The costs of these services will depend on the amount of planting spaces that need tending to, so it’s best to consult with a professional early before the spring, so you can have a good idea on what to budget beforehand. Additionally, some clients elect having these services done every month to maintain a clean look, but spring cleanup is the big one because it includes mulching, fertilizer, pre-emergent, and edging.
In my opinion, year-round turf care leads the way in “bang for your buck”. Depending on the size of your lawn space, lawn care might be the most cost-effective practice in the landscape industry. Unfortunately, the do-it-yourself option doesn’t really exist for lawn care because many of the applications require a license to spread. There are other applications that you can buy and spread yourself, but to do the full process, you do need to hire a professional. A professional (such as Rolling Acres) will be able to provide your lawn with a six-step application that provides nutrients, fertilizers, and weed and pest control at the appropriate times of the year. In addition to the applications, lawn aeration and overseeding each fall, will go a long way in maintaining your lawns’ health. As with your landscape cleanups, it’s best to get pricing for this service before the season starts in March, so you can properly budget, and get signed up early enough to receive the first treatment.
In planning for spring cleanup and turf applications, I recommend that you start thinking about these items by mid-February. Most companies already have a set list of clients that are signed up from the previous year, and a wait list can easily extend as far back as May. So, the earlier you get signed up, the better. And always remember, that shortcuts do exist for management related items, hence cheaper is not always better.
A landscape planting project can be as small as new plants in a garden to as large as all new trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals around your entire yard. It’s impossible for homeowners to estimate what their planting job will cost, but many landscape companies have minimum client budgets that they adhere to for selecting which work to bid. Therefore, prior to inviting a designer out to meet with you, you should have a max budget in mind (don’t forget about landscape management when thinking about your budget). With planting designs, it’s much easier to work with various budgets than with other landscape installation components. The reason for this is because you can always change the size of the installed plant if you want to revise costs. Smaller plants = smaller costs.
These are some other items to consider when getting started with a landscape planting project:
Scope of Work- What areas do you want to have work done on? Some projects, if small or simple enough won’t require a design. For example, if you are looking to install a row of screen trees, we could get you pricing for the number of trees you need and come out and flag the installation locations prior to planting. If your proposed scope of work requires planting of many plants which number more than a few varieties, then a design will likely be needed. If a design is needed, think of it as a good thing; a way to be organized when the work starts. With a design, you will know what will be planted and where it is going to be located. Having a design will also allow you the ability to plan accordingly and possess the knowledge to phase the installation, if needed.
Existing- Do you have a plat (site plan), a grading plan, or a planting plan that shows any of the house, property lines, grades, planting beds, etc.? The more information you have available before meeting a designer, the better. If you do need a design, but don’t have an existing site plan, etc. you might end up having to pay for the designers’ time to take measurements and create a base map.
Selecting a Company- Some companies have consultation fees, but most are free. Some companies have design fees and some offer free designs. Some companies will include travel time in their budget pricing if the job location might be farther away from their usual base. Some companies have incredibly talented and professional designers/ architects, and some companies make most of their money doing landscape management and might not have an experienced landscape designer on staff. Additionally, make sure you know what kind of warranty you will be getting with the planting. As always, cheaper now does not always mean cheaper in the end. Do your homework before hiring somebody just because they gave you the best price.
Watering- When planning for planting, you must also plan for watering. Will you be hand watering after the plants are in the ground? Is your investment in plantings worth the cost of an irrigation system? Think about that now, so you’ll be prepared whether or not to include irrigation in your scope of work.
Timing- Depending on the season (with spring being the busiest), it could take a while before your phone call for a consultation turns into plants in the ground. At a minimum, you should allow for two weeks to a month for consultation, design, pricing, acceptance of proposal, and start of work to take place. If you go the route that many people take, and wait until spring to call, it could be two months or more to get from start to finish. If you can, plan ahead and call before the spring rush starts.
If you are interested in any facet of an outdoor living project, assume that you need a design. Facets of outdoor living projects include pools, patios, decks, kitchens, fire and water features, and so much more. As I mentioned prior, some companies have design fees and others don’t. Proper design for these types of jobs is crucial to the long-term success of the project. So, as always, cheaper now does not always mean cheaper in the end. Rolling Acres does have design fees, but we will also credit up to 50% of the design cost back into the installation, with a signed contract for a certain amount of the installation work.
These are some other items to consider when getting started with an outdoor living project:
Scope of Work- What are your end goals for your outdoor living space? A place to swim? A place to cook? A place to relax? Entertainment for family or friends? A cozy fire to enjoy? A water feature to view and listen to? Are you going to include new plantings, lighting, irrigation, etc.? Is the whole yard up for redesign, or is the focus only in one area? These are all questions you should have answers to prior to meeting with a designer. Depending on the scope of work required, you may be able to get budget numbers at the time of the consultation, before a design is in place. However, these will be ballpark estimates at best, and will swing in any given direction once a design and materials are established.
Budgets- I urge you to share a budget you’re comfortable with, with your designer, prior to design work starting. I know many people are afraid to share this information because they feel like they might get ripped off if they give a number too high for the scope of work they have in mind. As a designer, knowing a client’s budget allows me to maximize the amount of incredible landscape beauty that goes into the design. Just remember that my name is on that design and I want a beautiful project to gloat about and show off in my portfolio. Also, if our budgets are not in line with each other’s (and that isn’t communicated prior to starting the design) the ramifications can be dreadful. Time and money are wasted, and the client /designer relationship is usually shattered at the time this all comes out, because you’ve fallen in love with a design and now you know you can’t afford it. The feeling is horrible for all involved, so that is why I’m kindly urging you to discuss budgets before design.
Existing- Just like with planting designs, if you have a plat (site plan), grading plan, or landscape design that shows existing features, please provide that to the designer at the time of the first consultation. In addition to saving time and money on having to measure existing features, some plats and grading plans will have crucial information about the jobsite. Items such as easements and building restriction lines (shown on plans as BRL), will become invisible barriers to what you can do with a space. Additionally, popular outdoor living items such as pools, pool houses, and decks will require a permit from the county prior to construction. And as such, having these drawings becomes a requirement for county approval and permits. Finally, if you don’t have any plans that show them, make sure your designer is aware of underground utilities, irrigation and lighting lines, as well as anything else that might be buried within the scope of work. (And for the record, after the work is completed, ask your contractor for an “as-built” so you and future homeowners can know what is underground and where!!!)
Selecting a Company- Outdoor Living Projects can often carry a big price tag with them, so do your due diligence when selecting a company to do the installation; check portfolios, check referrals, and make sure you’re comfortable with the company (not the salesman) doing the work. One of the advantages of working with Rolling Acres for installation services is that every project is hands on for John, Tucker, Brent, and myself. Not only do we represent a huge swath of knowledge and experience, but we are able to lead our team in a meticulous and detailed manner. With many other companies you will see a salesman once, and when they have your signed contract and deposit check, the project will be turned over to someone else in the field (and the salesman will be on to the next sale). I have seen this method of construction, time and time again, and it leads to communication failures and the final vision of the designer is rarely achieved to its full potential. Additionally, there are many shortcuts contractors will take at the time of installation to save money. Not all contractors are guilty of this, but the ones that are typically more expensive than others have usually thought out every aspect of construction and are proposing to provide an honest install.
Timing- Try not to rush to get your outdoor living project to fruition. Yes, there are times that we can design and install projects very quickly upon request. But, these are often only inclusive of items that don’t require permits. If your project does require a permit, depending on the scope, the timeline could be around 3 or 4 months from first consultation to start of construction. Additionally, some outdoor living projects can be installed in a week, but others take months, and the longer that a project is proposed to take, the more that weather delays will be a considerable factor. Until you have that first consultation, it will be impossible to know around how long a project will take. That is why I always suggest setting up a first consultation in the fall. By starting in the fall, a designer can see what the lay of the land looks like before all the leaves come down and the yard is covered in snow. This will also allow you and your designer the entire winter to get the design done, prepare pricing, get permits (if needed), and start preparing for delivery of materials that might not be readily available. By having every detail prepared and planned for, the installation of your outdoor living project will be one of the first ones on the list for when the weather becomes appropriate for that type of construction.
As always, please let us know if you have any questions about preparing for your landscape investment. Additionally, I welcome requests at any time for future journal topics.