March 30, 2012
A look at Landscaping
Designing a garden can be a challenge for gardeners – Steve Whysall has some suggestions and advice on how to avoid the pitfalls.
How do I find a reliable, competent landscaper? How should I go about getting a garden properly designed and built? What are the major pitfalls I should avoid?
These are three of the most common questions asked by home-owners looking to hire a professional landscaper, either to design and build a total garden or to do specific one-off landscape projects, such as installing a patio, deck, walls, irrigation system, lighting or a water feature.
“Even the installation of a good hedge can raise the value of your property by 2.5 per cent.”
executive director, BCLNA
The first step is to have a clear idea of the look and style of landscape you want. For instance, you may want an English-style flower garden or a minimalist, low-maintenance Japanese-style garden or perhaps a jungle-like subtropical garden. This involves looking through books and magazines and perhaps taking a local garden tour or picking up ideas from a garden show.
Once you have shaped and settled your thoughts over the style of landscape you have in mind, you can start looking for the right people to make it happen for you. Finding a qualified, competent landscaper is not difficult. There are many of them, but there are also people posing as qualified landscapers. You need to sift the wheat from the chaff.
What you want is a landscaper with plenty of experience, verifiable professional credentials and a proven track record, ideally with plenty of references from satisfied clients. Don’t be fooled by appearances. Just because a person looks like a landscaper and has a pickup truck with a wheelbarrow and shovels on the back doesn’t mean they are a competent landscape professional.
It never hurts to ask if they are a certified member of the B.C. Landscape and Nursery Trades Association. This professional organization only certifies landscapers who have passed a challenging standards test.
But it is also true that there are talented landscapers who do not belong to the BCLNA. In this case you should still ask if they observe the B.C. Landscape Standards, a set of technical guidelines for quality work drawn up jointly by the BCLNA and the B.C. Society of Landscape Architects. You will find a list of reliable landscapers for your area on the Green for Life website at www.landscapebritishcolumbia.com. This is also a great site to pick up design and plant ideas as well as see the winners of the BCLNA’s annual awards contest that identifies excellent landscape work, some of which often features cutting-edge design.
It is also pays to check the list of accredited landscapers posted at the Better Business Bureau’s website at www.mbc.bbb.org. What you are trying to do through this process is minimize the risk of something going wrong. Lesley Tannen, executive director of the BCLNA, says studies have shown that quality landscaping can increase a property’s assessed value between 12 and 20 per cent. “Even the installation of a good hedge can raise the value of your property by 2.5 per cent,” she says.
“However, bad landscaping can reduce value. This is especially true where trees are planted too close to the house or too many trees have been planted, raising concerns about possible damage caused by invasive root systems.” The most important thing, she says, is to get a signed contract detailing precisely the work to be done, materials to be used and completion dates. “If things do go sideways, a contract can be your best friend,” says Tannen.
For homeowners who cannot afford to have all the work done in one go, it is a good idea to have a complete plan drawn up and then have the work done over a few years as funds become available.
- The golden rule of landscaping is that the permanent structures (hardscape) go in first, and the planting is done second, never the other way round. First get your design drawn up, then install the hardscape and lastly soften it with your plant schemes to achieve the beautiful finished look you envisioned.
- Think ahead and consider incorporating irrigation lines and lighting into your landscape design before the hardscape (pavers, walls, arbours, etc.) are installed. Many people forget about this and wish they had done it at the same time as the main installation work was done.
- Ask your landscaper for proof of liability insurance and also get an assurance that certifies sub-trades will be used to do technical work, such as installing gas-lines for outdoor barbecues and kitchens.
- Ask if the person you are talking to when discussing the project will be the one on-site overseeing the project. There can sometimes be confusion at this point that results in a breakdown of communication, frustration and disappointment.
– Steve Whysall