When you're considering a landscape project in your yard, the first step in the process is developing a plan. A well thought-out plan can make the difference between a successful project and a money pit of mistakes!
A rough guideline for homeowners is to invest about 10% of your property value into the exterior of your property, specifically anything that is not part of your house itself, including things like your driveway, lawn, plants and patio. Obviously, if you factor in a pool or other major outdoor feature, the percentage will be considerably higher. You would never consider doing an interior remodeling job for that kind of an investment without a plan in place and the same concept is crucial to your outdoors as well.
Have you ever seen a friend or neighbor's yard where they do a new project or two in their landscape every year? Maybe they've decided to put a vegetable garden in one corner of their yard one year, maybe a water feature somewhere else the next year, maybe a firepit the following year, then decided they wanted a swimming pool, but the firepit was in the way so they had to tear it out… you get the picture! All of their projects may be well-done and beautiful in and of themselves, but they are rarely part of a cohesive plan, so the overall look is something of a hodge podge instead of a unified design.
A landscape plan allows you to see what the finished vision of your landscape looks like down on paper. Plans come in many forms – some are hand-drawn, others are computer generated, some are in black-and-white, while others are in full color – some even are done in 3-D! Whatever they look like, they should include some basic elements:
- Hardscape features like patios, walkways, fireplaces, retaining walls, lighting or swimming pools – whatever you have in mind
- Softscape features like planting beds and foundation beds and the specific plants to place in the beds (sunlight and water needs, color and size at maturity should all be considered in the plant selection process)
- Elevation changes designed for your yard
- An irrigation / drainage issue plan of action (if needed)
Example 1: Complete landscape design done by GreenView Landscape Design that details specific plants, hardscape features including a new paver path and a screened porch and patio addition, as well as irrigation needs.
Example 2: Landscape plan by GreenView Landscape Design that focuses on a hardscape patio and outdoor kitchen. This plan details pavers, elevation changes and retaining walls.
Once a preliminary plan is drawn, it's much easier to take those features and arrange them – or re-arrange them or even change your mind! – on paper than it is once they're actually built or even partially built.
In the design process, the designer will ask you lots of questions. How do you plan to use your outdoor space? Do you do a lot of entertaining? Will it be used primarily by adults or children? Do you enjoy spending time working in your yard or do you want very low maintenance? Do you want to include privacy screening from neighbors or the street? He or she will spend time evaluating your yard to determine any problem areas you may have that need to be addressed and get a feel for what will work well in your specific setting.
Plans done by a landscape designer or a landscape architect do cost money; you are hiring them for their time and expertise. A good design takes hours to prepare, so depending on who does the design and the degree of complexity, a good plan will run anywhere from $400 - $800 or more from a landscape designer or $1500 - $2000 or more from a landscape architect. Consider this plan to be an investment – if you're going to spend thousands of dollars on plants and/or hardscapes, a road map of where you're going and what it's going to look like when you get there is a small price to pay to get what you want.
Remember to do your homework before hiring a designer – talk to friends who have used a company or ask for referrals and then check them out. The staff at Blue Max Materials can offer names of reputable companies in your area as well.
Once you have purchased a plan you like, you own that plan and can do one of several things with it:
- You can do the work (or part of the work) yourself based on the plan,
- You can hire the company that did the design for you to do the work, or
- You can bid the work out to several companies.
If you choose to bid out the work, the advantage of having a plan is that all of the companies will be bidding the same work, so you'll truly be able to compare prices. If they're all bidding off of a different plan, you won't be comparing apples to apples and it will be very difficult to determine fair pricing. With a common plan, if you have bidders that are considerably higher or considerably lower than the others, a red flag should go up in your mind and you should proceed with caution with those companies!
The benefits of a good design are numerous:
- You have the ability to work off it in stages – maybe doing parts of it each year over several years or perhaps doing some of the work yourself and hiring some of it out to a contractor.
- It saves time and money in costly mistakes – planning out the sequence of installing projects as well as the space and necessary materials will save you time and money. You don't want to put a patio in this year only to find you need to tear it out to get access to the area you wanted to put a water feature in next year!
- It allows all parties to work towards a common goal – one that you've thought out and approved in advance and that you know will look great and include the features that are important to you!
If you are a die-hard do-it-yourselfer, you may not want to have an entire landscape plan drawn out for you. Many designers will offer consultations for an hourly fee – find out in advance what they are and are not willing to do during that consultation, but many of them will take an hour or so and walk your yard with you making suggestions and pointing out considerations. It will most likely be your responsibility to take notes – they will not come back to you with a written plan, but they can offer invaluable advice on plant selections, irrigation and drainage issues and design aesthetics. From their suggestions, you will still want to draw out your own plan for all of the reasons stated above.