13 Things To Ask Your Landscaper When Designing Your Backyard

August 05, 2017

13 Things To Ask Your Landscaper When Designing Your Backyard

Designing your home’s landscapes is extremely different from designing your home. There are some things to consider when designing your garden or yard, such as the type of plants that will thrive in your area. Like hiring an architect and an interior designer, working with a landscaper will help you achieve the design that’s fit for your location. And just like working with any other professional, you should prepare a list of questions to ask landscape designer to help you in your selection process.

1. What type of services do you offer?

Most professionals capitalize on different areas of design to be able to provide their clients a wide range of services. Some homeowners can’t afford a full package so they categorize their services. The best question to ask is: What is your experience regarding the work we want and can you design and oversee the project management?

Basically, a landscape designer may offer three types of services:

  • Design Only - In this service, they will only make plans for you. This will include an analysis of the site, preliminary plans that are based on your requirements and a final plan complete with detailed documents on how to construct it. This will then be handed over to a contractor of your choice or to you. This type of service is usually recommended if you do have some landscaping skills and just need a design idea or if you already have a trusted contractor who can do the job for you at a reasonable price.
  • Design and Build - Sometimes the landscaper is also a registered contractor and in some cases, they can offer both designing and constructing your landscape. The advantage of this service is that they will oversee the project from start to finish and will include purchasing of all materials and plants.
  • Full Package - This type of package will include both design and build with the addition of a maintenance program. This will be an on-going program where maintenance of your garden or landscape will always be done by the landscaper. 

Assess carefully what is included in each type of service and get a couple of landscapers to compare their costs and services.

2. What can be done to this space?

A landscaper will take note of where the sun and shade fall and if there are any existing features that can be utilized. They will also ask you your requirements so they can create their vision of your space from the information that they gathered. This is where you can help by having a list of what you want, what you don’t like and some inspiration that can further help them visualize your style. Do some research prior to your meeting so you can discuss openly. Remember that a well-designed landscape does not only include plants but will also be a space that will contain storage for tools, areas for lounging, and a place to grow herbs or vegetables.

After your first meeting, landscapers will usually create a mood board presentation along with some 2D and 3D computer-generated plans or free-hand sketches of their ideas.

3. Can I see examples from your previous work?

Each designer has their own style and landscapers are no different. A portfolio of their previous work will help you determine if they can design the style you want. If their samples don’t include a particular style that you are looking for, check their credentials for evidence of training or related degrees. If your landscaper is new to the field, you might want to take a risk and give them a chance and just check if they have the necessary requirements to do the job.

Take note that there is a difference between a landscape designer and a landscape architect. A landscape architect is someone who has a degree and has undergone a more formal training and is usually licensed. Landscape designers are those that are self-taught and not licensed but have undergone training and earned certificates that still make them just as much qualified as landscape architects.

In the end, what will matter are their past works, costs, fees, and the reviews from their previous clients.

4. Do you do on-site consultations?

While it is a must for a landscaper to do a site analysis, there are some landscapers who will only meet outside of your property and will only visit your garden after some agreement and payments have been done. There are also landscapers who are willing to do garden consultations. While these meetings may only be a few short hours, do not expect it to be free of charge. Garden consultations are a great opportunity for both landscapers and clients to determine if they can work together. Some landscapers will throw in a free consultation if you decide to get their services.

5. How does the whole process work?

The scope of work of a landscaper will depend on the type of service you will be availing. You also need to be honest with yourself. Is this something that you can manage to do on your own after your landscaper hands over their design or will you need your landscaper to manage and oversee the whole process?

A landscaper’s process usually involves snapping photos and measurements of the site. Preliminary plans are then done based on your first meeting. Once there has been an agreement between the client and landscaper, construction documents are then made which includes cost estimates and final plans. Bidding may also happen if you choose to get the services of a contractor separate from the landscaper.

Ask your landscaper the cost of each process. If you find the whole process too costly, you can go back to question number 1 and from there, decide which type of service you need.

6. What is the estimated cost?

Cost is perhaps the most important aspects of hiring a professional landscaper. One good thing about hiring a landscaper is that they can work around your budget. They can provide better and affordable alternatives if there is something you want but cannot afford. Just like architects, landscapers charge per square footage. Another question to ask is: How much is the charge if there are additional or unforeseeable changes in the scope of work?

Some landscapers won’t charge costs if there are minor changes but it’s best to be clear beforehand of the different terms and conditions. Read your contract carefully to make sure that everything is clear between you and your landscaper.

Another question to ask regarding cost is: Is there a way to reduce costs to fit my budget?
Landscapers usually offer their clients different options. You may decide that you want the project done in phases so discuss this with your landscaper. You can also inquire about different options for plants and materials.

7. How long will it take to complete?

The timeline of a landscape project will depend on many factors: the length of time the selected plants will grow, the ordering of materials, and some unexpected setbacks like rain or storms. Instead of setting a deadline for your landscaper, be reasonable and ask them for an estimated date of completion factoring unforeseen scenarios.

Along with asking the date of completion, ask your landscaper when will the garden grow? Certain plants may take some time. Large trees will take some years before full maturity. Ask your landscaper which plants will grow quickly and which ones could be an extra feature and are worthy of a splurge.

8. Will my landscape be high or low maintenance?

Different plans will require different levels of maintenance. Prior to starting work with your landscaper, be honest and upfront with them about how much time and care you can allot to your landscape. Don’t choose high maintenance plants just because it looks good. Ask your landscaper if they can recommend some gardeners you can hire once in a while to keep your garden looking fresh for the years to come or if they provide maintenance services themselves.

9. What type of plants will thrive in my area?

Perhaps you live in a place where it’s largely populated with different types of herbivores or a place with limited shade or an area with too much sun. Maybe the soil in your area is always moist or always dry or a plant you’ve been eyeing won’t thrive in your location’s existing conditions. Whatever the problem, a landscaper must always be aware of these issues as they must design a landscape that will not only thrive but also adapt to weather conditions. Some of your desired plants may not be locally available in your area. Importing plants from other places may add up to the cost so do not hesitate to ask for alternatives.

10. Are you aware of the city codes in my area?

No matter how good your landscape looks, if it doesn’t follow the code, then there has to be something done about it. Your landscaper may need to work with another professional like an architect or engineer before starting on your garden. Ask if your landscaper can visit your local municipality with you to ask about these laws. It’s more expensive to reset or alter a foundation or structure that has already been done and fixed just because it doesn’t conform to the laws of your municipality.

11. Can you recommend a contractor?

If your landscaper only does design, then you can ask for their recommended contractor. This helps save time on bidding and looking for options. Oftentimes, a landscaper knows a lot of trusted contractors. They should be able to give you a few options which will highlight their pros and cons. Of course, it is always best to meet with these contractors and not just take your landscaper’s words. Don’t forget to ask them for contacts of other professionals you might need like an interior designer or architect for your home.

12. What sustainable attributes can you incorporate into your landscape design

With everyone conscious of climate change, this is a good question to ask your landscaper. Some questions to ask are: Which plants can benefit the ecosystem and which plants can encourage encourage birds and butterflies to come to my garden? Can this design help reduce cooling and heating in my home? Can you design an efficient eco-friendly water system for my plants? Can you incorporate the use of rainwater in your design?

Being aware of how your landscape can be sustainable will not only reduce costs in utilities but benefit the environment as well.

13. Can you help me pick my outdoor furniture?

While this isn't the job of a landscaper, it may help a lot in making sure the right type of furniture for your open-air settings. Talk out your furniture selections with your landscape designer. You don’t want a sectional sofa that’s too large for your patio. Give them the measurements of the furniture you plan to use let them be the ones to adjust their measurements and not the other way around. Furthermore, if there are any installations to be done, like a hanging swing or bench, you can utilize their services and ask for their assistance in finding a location for its installation.

Doing your Part

While these questions will serve to help you decide on hiring a landscaper, do your part as well. Because this is an extended area of your house that you will live in for years to come, you want to invest in a good landscape artist. Over-communication is never a bad thing when it comes to projects so prepare a list of all the things you want to say and ask your landscaper. Do some research yourself and more importantly, ask yourself: "can I imagine myself working with this landscaper?" This along with the other questions should help you make an assessment of your would-be landscaper. Have a few options available so you can compare their services and costs and remember to choose wisely.

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