Ask the Landscape Architect Expert-The Planning Process-Part Two

PART TWO: the Budget Stage of the Process

When we began the “Ask the Expert” series with award-winning landscape architect Paul Brydges, we knew that it would be a smart idea, but what I didn’t realize was how much I was going to continue to learn from him; and the landscape profession as a whole.

For “Part Two” of this series, which is also the second piece of the landscape project process, we talk about everyone’s favourite topic … budget! While perhaps not the most dynamic piece of a landscape project, it’s certainly critical to both the overall, and long term success of your landscaping plans coming to fruition.

When Paul and I sat down together, I had four questions to discuss with him, and while this is a difficult subject, he was able to bring clarity and interest to a topic that most of us dread facing.

Paul answered the following inquiries that can be top of mind when thinking about, and preparing for your next landscape project.

Q: What are the core elements in a landscape design that a client MUST budget for?

A: “Much like we discussed in the previous article, the clients “needs” list items are the most important elements when considering finances. These are the essentials to the foundation of the plan, and can include things like proper drainage and grading. Sometimes it’s the things that are not the “eye candy” of the project that can end up being the most expensive. It’s a simple thought, but it’s certainly very clear cut.” Paul goes on, “The other thing that many clients don’t think about when it comes to the budget is the on-going maintenance and care for their new space, which could end up costing them much more down the road, or failing if not properly planned for.”

Paul gave me an excellent example of what he’s referring to. First, he clarified to me that sometimes budget doesn’t always translate to money. Sometimes with a landscape project it can translate into the client’s time. Recently, Paul and his team had a project that was a “re-build” for a client who had a mountain of issues with an existing garden. “The client had spent thousands of dollars on a landscape project a few years back, with no expectations set by the original contractor as to what sort of on-going maintenance the project would need. The landscaping deteriorated since the client didn’t know how to keep up with the work required. Now unfortunately, all that wonderful landscape work has been lost. The client has now called Paul and his team in to provide what will now have to be a “total renovation”, and sure enough, it’s going to cost the client more than the original project. “It’s important to know what you’re doing when it comes to the care for your landscape, or you need to hire someone who does.”

Q: What sort of contingency budget should a client consider including to deal with any potential “unknowns” that may arise throughout the project?

A: “This can be so different, and dependant on the project itself.” says Paul. “Professional designers will know how to guide the client, and help them understand what sorts of potential issues they may encounter. This is also indicative to having a solid plan to begin with. Once a client knows what they want, the potentials, or “unknowns”, should be minor.

Another landscape project budget issue for the client are the unknowns that are impossible to predict or plan for. Paul explains, “These are usually the things that are underneath the ground. Once we begin to dig on a project, there may be various unseen things like artifacts that could have historical value, gas lines or old oil tanks from previous developments that were not identified, and although thankfully this has never happened to me personally, the discovery of bones.”

Another good example of the unknown factor, is one where Paul had to consult on a project where the client wanted a pool, and the contractor hit bedrock when they began to dig. “This was an additional expense to the client that no one could have prepared for. So, with the clients’ support they went ahead, and extra money was spent on the removal of the rock so they could still have their pool.”

One final factor that Paul and I discussed was that life has its contingencies as well. Unfortunately, things happen. Automobiles break down, people get sick, and your life, as well as your financial circumstances, can change.”

What all of this means, is that we always need to be ready, and do our best to plan for as many circumstances as we can reasonably foresee.

Q: Why do most clients get their budget incorrect?

A: “Maxing out your budget is a big mistake” says Paul. “Some of the largest budget blowing activity can be the “so while you’re here and digging, do you think you could also…”. It’s the request for changes in the middle of a project that can be very costly to the client. There are many times where a client would like to have some add-ons in the middle of the project, and this can be great. However, the client needs to ask not just if the change is possible, but if they ask the contractor to do it, they need to ask for the price of the change, and to get it in writing.”

Paul is adamant about this, “The client needs to always be asking questions. Clarity and communication are essential between their landscape professional and themselves, and can prevent uncomfortable situations and budget disasters.”

Just as important, is to ask if the HST and/or any other peripheral charges have been included in the quote. It may seem like a small question, but it could have big implications if the answer has not been checked or verified.

Q: How does your landscape designer assist with the budget process?

A: “Experienced designers should be able to generally guide the client through the budget process  and educate the client on the cost of things. This is usually done at a high level, but is essential for the client to know what the various project tasks are going to cost them.”

Something else to consider when speaking with a landscape contractor; if a contractor cannot give you a clear answer when it comes to cost; that in itself may be a red flag. Make sure you don’t let anything start to affect your budget until all the numbers are known, approved, and signed off.


Planning the landscape project of your dreams should be fun, exciting, and give you everything you want to enjoy your outdoor space. Much like the planning stage of the process, the budget stage is essential to the success of not only the final outcome, but the way you and your loved ones enjoy your landscape project in the future.

Written by: Kelli M. Maddocks
Resource Material: Brydges Landscape Architecture Inc.

Author: Living Spaces

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