Bringing in the Coach

There are more reasons than ever why people are choosing to invest in their outdoor space. Not only does landscaping add beauty and curb appeal to your home, it can also be a fun entertainment space, create habitat for local wildlife, and be a great investment. As landscape features become more complex, it is increasingly important to have someone who can help you navigate the intricacies of planning your dream yard.

What you need is a coach: someone who’s in your corner and invested in your success. A landscape designer or landscape architect can provide inspiration and help you realize your vision.

It is never too early to engage a designer. Whether you are building a new home from scratch, or are looking to update an existing landscape, there are many ways in which a designer can help ensure your project is a success. Without having a comprehensive plan, projects rarely finish on-time or on-budget, and with limited flexibility for future plans. A professional landscape designer will have the experience and expertise to be able to take a wholistic view of your project over the long-term. They can help find creative solutions to your unique site challenges and plan for how all of the individual landscape features fit together. They can also provide advice on budgeting, timelines, project phasing/sequencing, and priorities.

In particular, a landscape designer can help you identify, sort through and prioritize your landscape wish list: what your perceived needs, wants and wishes are with respect to the project. “Needs” are generally practical but essential aspects of the project, such as ensuring proper drainage, dealing with existing site problems or challenges, conforming to local bylaws and regulations, utilizing good soil so plants and trees can flourish etc. While not flashy or exciting, addressing these types of aspects help to ensure the long-term durability, functionality and safety of your project and so are absolutely essential.

“Wants” are aspects that begin to bring excitement into the project as you and your designer start to work toward what features you want to see and how you want to use the space. These aspects include things like entertaining space, a covered area for bad weather, shade structures, space for vegetable production, gardens and play space for kids etc. Wants are generally things a client is considering in order to meet their immediate goals with respect to the use of the space.

“Wishes” are the part of the plan that includes dreams for the future of the design. They may include things like a desire for a future pool, hot tub or cabana and require planning now in order to facilitate their incorporation in the future. It is essential to design future elements that are not only placed accordingly, but also work with the existing plan. This can help ensure that different pieces blend seamlessly regardless of whether they were implemented at different times. In addition, understanding future wishes ensures that projects are phased accordingly. For example, it would not make sense to install a garden and pergola in an area that would restrict future construction access to install a pool. A landscape designer can help you save money by phasing a project in a way that makes sense in order to avoid damaging existing features or having to redo features that are in the way.

In addition to taking a wholistic approach to your project, a professional landscape designer will also be able to help deal with the intricacies and details of a project. Landscapes are becoming increasingly complex as homeowners seek to create backyard oases and spend more time at home. This means that many landscapes now include things like water features, pools, ball courts and structures such as cabanas, pergolas and arbors or even sheds and garages. With the increasing sophistication and costs associated with these types of features, it becomes increasingly important that you have an equally sophisticated plan in place to ensure that the project moves ahead smoothly and finishes on time and on budget.

Speaking of budget, a landscape designer can help you understand both the monetary and time costs that are associated with the installation and long-term maintenance of a project. Returning to the “needs” discussion above, it is important to understand that it is often the practical and essential aspects of the project that can be the most expensive even though they are not the most exciting or even visible. Also, there is always the potential for unknown challenges to arise that can increase costs significantly. For example, while digging for a pool, an excavator may find a buried oil tank or may hit bedrock, requiring anything from environmental remediation to specialized heavy equipment. A designer can help you deal with issues that arise, plan for contingencies or adjust project phasing to manage budget constraints.

A designer can help a client understand not only the initial project installation costs, but also the on-going maintenance costs and requirements of a project. There is no such thing as a completely maintenance free landscape, and one of the reasons landscapes fail over time is because they are not properly cared for. Having realistic expectations of the costs to hire someone to maintain the space or the time the client will need to personally invest to maintain the space is essential to ensure long-term success.

In addition to planning and budgeting considerations, landscape designers also have a number of technical competencies that can be essential for a successful project. Designers will start with a detailed site analysis to help identify challenges and constraints as well as opportunities for exciting or unique features. They can provide advice on grading and drainage issues and suggest solutions for water flow and management on site, make recommendations on water, electric or gas requirements for proposed landscape features, and ensure the right plants are chosen for your unique site conditions. Designers can also help coach a client through permitting and approvals processes and prepare documentation for any number of permit applications.

Designers often have relationships with other professionals or technical experts that may be required for certain features and the experience to know when additional help and advice is required. For example, they can engage engineers to complete the detailed structural design for retaining walls and cabanas, or work with city staff or planners to confirm things like bylaws, setback requirements, height restrictions or local conservation requirements.

One of the great things about having a landscape designer as your coach is that they can help you narrow down and focus in on your design choices. The process doesn’t stop with the presentation of a design concept. The designer and client work through changes together, refining and tweaking the design until a satisfactory plan is in place. This process of revision and tweaking is essential: by working through the ideas and completing revisions during the planning stage, you avoid costly changes during construction.

Finally, your designer can help you find a reputable contractor to complete the work and assist with the implementation and project management aspects of the project. While some designers work directly for a landscape contractor as part of a design/build firm, many designers work independently and would need to be formally engaged to work throughout the implementation and construction phases of the project. Retaining a designer during this phase of the project has several benefits. First, most designers will have developed strong relationships with local landscape contractors and will be able to help you determine which contractors have the experience and expertise to undertake your project. Second, a designer can help you evaluate quotes to ensure you are getting good quality and value. In addition, while not necessarily needed everyday on site, having your designer assist during construction means having someone available to help as unforeseen issues arise. For example, designers can confirm the layout on the ground, suggest alternate materials when supplies are unavailable, or help with plant placement etc.

As our outdoor spaces continue to evolve to include more complex features, having an experienced landscape designer or architect on your team can help you ensure your project meets all your needs, wants, and wishes and that the finished project is high quality and completed within budget. Whether you are starting from scratch on a new property or refreshing an existing or mature landscape, consider bringing in the big guns and hiring a professional landscape designer or architect.

WRITTEN BY: PAUL BRYDGES & MEGHAN MacLELLAN | RESOURCES: BRYDGES LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE

Author: LivingSpaces

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