Landscaping done right takes some time. Creating a plan and implementing that plan is a process. It doesn’t happen as quickly as it appears on popular home shows you might see on HGTV. There is a great deal of work that takes place behind the scenes of those shows to make those beautiful makeovers happen.
It all begins with you deciding that you want to beautify your outdoor space. You may already have a pretty solid idea of what you want, and you have a vision in mind. On the other hand, you may not have a clear vision of what you want, and would like to explore ideas and possibilities.
There is a wide range of options for working with various landscaping professionals to create a design plan and install a project. For the sake of simplicity, this article will focus on the example of working with a landscape designer for the design portion of your project, and a landscape contractor for the installation. Some landscape contractors provide design and installation services, so it may be possible that your entire project would be handled by one company.
Outline of Process and General Time Frame
Initial Site Visit (One or two hours)
The first step in the landscaping process is usually an On-site Consultation with a landscaping professional. These initial site visits are typically scheduled for one or two hours. Some companies will provide consultations at no charge, others charge for their time. Many will charge for the consultation, and apply the payment to the design plan or the installation if you also hire them to create the plan and/or install the project.
One primary purpose of this visit is for you (the client) and the designer or contractor to get a feel for whether you would be a good fit for working together to create a design plan and/or an installation for your project.
The designer’s job is to get a clear understanding of what you want, and share information about him or herself and his/her ideas & inspiration for your space so you can get a feel for whether this person’s ideas, personality, qualifications, etc. will be a fit for you and your project.
The process often begins with the designer asking you to fill out a client questionnaire prior to your first appointment. Then when you meet for your consultation appointment, you’ll do a walk-through of your yard together. Typically, you’ll discuss your “Must-Have” items and “Wish-List”. The designer will share ideas on ways to incorporate some of your requirements, and present some plants that may appeal to you and work well in your project.
If after the initial consultation, you like the designer’s ideas and feel the person is a good fit for you and your project, you can request a price for the cost of having that person or company prepare a design plan and/or install your project. Usually at this point, a proposal will be prepared to specify the cost, process and payment schedule that will apply if you want to hire that company to design and/or install your project. Most companies require a deposit at this point before moving forward. Typically, once a deposit is received, the next step in the process is the creation of a Conceptual Plan.
Creation of Conceptual Plan (Typically five days or longer)
A Conceptual Plan is basically a rough draft drawing of possible ideas for your project, and is the first step in putting the vision for a space onto paper. Depending on the size of your project and your “Wish List”, more than one Conceptual Plan may be prepared.
To gather information needed to prepare the Conceptual Plan, an appointment will be scheduled to evaluate the site, and take measurements and photographs.
How quickly the Conceptual Plan can be prepared depends on the size of your project, the complexity of the features you want, and the availability of time in the designer’s schedule. Conceptual Plans might be completed as quickly as five days.
Conceptual Review (Usually one hour)
Once the conceptual plans are completed, an appointment will be scheduled to review them.
As mentioned, the conceptual plans are a representation of a general vision for a space that illustrates the major features and requirements expressed by the client. During the Conceptual Review, changes and adjustments are made if needed. The Conceptual Review is the best time to request any changes to the plan. Changes requested after the Conceptual Review appointment may delay the completion of the final plan, and may add to the cost. This appointment usually takes about an hour. Assuming the client is happy with the conceptual plan, and wants to move forward, the final plan(s) will be prepared.
Preparation of Final Plan (Usually two to four weeks)
The amount of time it may take for your final plans to be completed depends on the size and complexity of your project. Depending on the features of your project, plans for things such as lighting, irrigation and drainage, and construction details may be needed in addition to the planting plan which only shows the placement of the plant material. Once your project is scheduled, it may take anywhere from 25-35 hours over a period of two to four weeks for all the plans to be completed.
Once you have a design plan, your project needs to be installed. Depending on the size and features of the project, there are a few options you may consider for installation. If you are only adding or changing plants in an existing landscape, your plan is probably very simple in terms of landscaping. You may choose to do the work yourself, or hire a gardener to do it. For a small planting project, the work can probably be done in one or two days. Larger projects which may include the construction of new features such as planter bed borders, sidewalks, patios, irrigation, lighting, etc.should be done (and may be legally required) to be done by a professional landscape contractor unless you have the skills and abilities to do the work yourself.
Check with your city and state for regulations pertaining to landscaping projects in your area before starting any project. If your home is bound by the regulations of a homeowner’s association, be sure to check their rules also. HOA’s can be very restrictive, and they can require that your entire project be removed if they determine it is not in compliance with their regulations. Also, like other home improvement projects, a landscaping project may require a permit.
Contractor Interviews and Bid Collection (About one to two weeks)
Once you have your plan in hand, you can begin collecting bids from landscape contractors for the installation of your project. A landscape contractor holds a C-27 landscape contractor license, and is a landscaping professional. A general contractor may be able to legally perform landscape work, but is probably not a landscaping expert and may not have landscaping experience.
I always encourage people to collect bids from at least three contractors. Your new landscape is an investment. The design plan is just one part of the process. The plan is a drawing of a vision. It is the contractor who will turn that vision into a physical reality. You want that job to be done with professionalism and quality of workmanship by a person with landscaping experience. You also want to be sure that company is licensed and properly insured. Take the time to meet and interview several contractors, verify references and licensure, collect bids, and choose wisely.
Generally, it could take anywhere from one to five days to get a bid from a contractor once he or she has seen your property and received a copy of your plan. When you have collected all the bids you want, compared them, and chosen your contractor, let that person know right away so that you can accept the bid (sign the contract), and get your project on his or her calendar. It is not uncommon for quality landscape professionals to be booked several months out.
Project Installation (Two days to several weeks or longer depending on size)
The length of time it takes to install your project will depend primarily on the size and features of your project. Your contractor will provide you with an estimated time of completion.
Your contractor will let you know when your job will begin and about how long it should take to complete. Be aware that there are factors that may delay the completion of your project that the contractor cannot control. Such things may include rain, frozen ground, plants or other materials that may need to be special-ordered, materials that were ordered, but in error are not delivered when promised, etc. Also, landscaping projects can be similar to other home improvement projects in that other problems may be encountered that were not expected.
Depending on the size and features of your project, contractor scheduling, and possible delays, it could take a month or longer to complete the entire landscape design and installation process. Unless you have a very simple project, one that may only require the planting of five-gallon size plants or smaller, and mulch application (no installation or modification of irrigation, no construction of hardscape which is anything other than plant material such as sidewalks, planter beds, and patios), it is going to take some time. 🙂
What has been your experience in working with landscaping professionals? If you’ve had a project installed, I’d like to hear about how it turned out. How did you find the professional you chose? Was the work completed on time and on budget? Were you pleased with the overall outcome? What if anything didn’t go right? What was your biggest frustration or difficulty related to the project, or in working with the landscape designer or contractor? What would you do differently next time? What advice would you have for someone considering making an investing in a new landscaping project for their home? Do you have any tips on how to save time or money in the landscaping process? Please comment below with anything you care to share. Your comments may be used as inspiration for future blog posts. 🙂
If you would like to maximize your yard space for nutrition, wellness, and enjoyment, check out these sixteen plants, many of which are highly nutritious, support pollinators, provide year round interest, or attract hummingbirds and butterflies! Enjoy! 🙂
Citrus ‘Improved Meyer Lemon’
Lemons have a relatively low heat requirement in terms of citrus, and do very well near the California coast. All citrus is frost sensitive. Improved Meyer Lemon is one of the only disease free lemon varieties allowed for sale in California. Meyer Lemon can be easily maintained at 6′ x 6′. Lemon trees are evergreen and have dark green glossy leaves. Meyer Lemon is thin skinned, is very juicy, and has a less acidic taste than most lemons making it a great variety for juicing. Lemon is extremely valuable medicinally, and for preparing herbal home cleaning products.
Like lemons, orange trees are beautiful in the landscape, and very valuable in the home garden. The orange blossom fragrance is very calming, and oranges are a wonderful source of vitamin C. There are many varieties of oranges that ripen at different times of the year. If you love fresh oranges, you might consider having one tree that ripens in Summer, and one that ripens in Winter. All citrus is frost sensitive. Citrus can successfully be grown in containers for years. Use a dwarf variety for container planting. Check with a nursery or citrus grower for best varieties for your needs and growing area. Four Winds Growers is an excellent source of information on citrus selection and care.
Pomegranate (Punica granatum)
Pomegranates produce a highly nutritious, fruit that is very high in Vitamin C and anti-oxidants, and is usually very expensive when purchased in stores. Many of the juice brands sold in stores have added sugar and other ingredients. Pure pomegranate juice will be the most expensive. The fruit ripens in Fall, and can be stored for several months in the refrigerator. For this reason, I consider pomegranate one of the most valuable trees to have in the yard if they can grow in your area. Pomegranates are one of those plants that I’ve often seen thriving in spite of neglect. Although they can tolerate considerable drought, trees grown for fruit should receive regular watering. There are many varieties available with differences in tartness or sweetness of juice, and some varieties are better than others for juicing. Pomegranate trees are deciduous, and usually grow as a large multi-stemmed shrub. Pomegranates can tolerate heat and many soils including alkaline. I’ve seen them produce well in clay soil as well.
Pineapple Guava (Feijowa Sellowiana)
Pineapple Guava is an evergreen shrub or tree that can take full sun. The plants can get quite large (to 15′ x 25′), but can tolerate heavy pruning. These plants are usually grown as large broad shrubs or multi-trunked trees. Flowers and fruit are edible, and attractive to birds and bees. The pretty flowers can be added to salads, and the fruits can be eaten plain or used to make jelly. The plants are drought tolerant, but should be watered regularly if grown for fruit. Improved varieties such as ‘Beechwood’, ‘Coolidge’, ‘Mammoth’, and ‘Trask’ will be self-fruitful. Older varieties will need a pollinator plant nearby.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary is a great culinary herb that also makes an exceptional landscaping plant because it is tough and easy to grow. Rosemary comes in spreading or upright forms, and is usually grown as a large shrub or mounding ground cover. Depending on variety, plants can typically grow to 6′-8′ wide and 3′ tall or more. Rosemary can also be used to create topiaries or shaped into small living Christmas trees which can be used year after year. Rosemary can be grown in full sun, and is a low-water user. The plant tolerates ocean spray, wind, heat, poor soils, and clay. Rosemary is also fire resistant and deer resistant. There are many varieties available with differences in growth habit and size. Depending on where it is grown, it may bloom off and on all year. Most flower in some shade of lavender blue, but there are a couple of pink varieties as well. To save yourself work, and maintain the attractiveness of the plant, be sure to plant it in a location where it can grow to full size without needing extensive pruning to control size. Variety ‘Barbeque’ is very upright and narrow. It grows only 2-3′ wide and up to 6′ tall. This variety would be great for small yards or for creating a natural living screen. Rosemary is attractive to bees when in bloom.
As an herb, rosemary is commonly used to flavor meat, pasta, fish, and other dishes, and has medicinal properties as well. Rosemary, like orange blossom, is another plant that makes me feel better instantly just by smelling it. Rosemary has been regarded throughout history as being uplifting and energizing, and has been used to relieve depression, exhaustion, and arthritis. The essential oil of Rosemary is believed to stimulate hair growth, and is an ingredient in many shampoos.
Purple Garden Sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurescens’)
Sage (Salvia officinalis) has long been associated with health and longevity. This is the plant referred to in the saying, “Why would a man become sick when Sage grows in the garden”. This is also the herb commonly used to flavor chicken. Some herbal references say that Purple Garden Sage (Salvia o. ‘Purpurescens) is more effective medicinally than the green leaved variety, Salvia officinalis. In the garden, both varieties are easy-care plants growing to about 3′ x 3’ with stalks of purple flowers that are loved by bees and hummingbirds. The purple tinged leaves on Purple Garden Sage will stay through the Winter in Central California. Both varieties can tolerate ocean spray, poor soils, clay, wind, deer, rabbits, and alkaline soil.
California White Sage or Sacred White Sage (Salvia apiana)
Salvia apiana is a California native with aromatic silvery white leaves and lightly fragrant white flowers growing on 2′ tall stems. This plant is loved by bees and hummingbirds. The silvery foliage shines in moonlight and provides a great background for dark purple or red flowers. This plant requires very little summer water once established, and tolerates poor soils, heat, deer, and rabbits. It is also considered fire resistant. Sacred White Sage has medicinal properties, and is the sage commonly used ceremonially by Native Americans. The plant should be located in full sun.
Blueberries are highly nutritious, and given the right conditions, can be grown successfully in the landscape or in containers. Being native to Eastern North America, Blueberries thrive in conditions that suit Azaleas (cool, acidic soil rich in organic matter with good drainage). There are now many varieties available for all areas of the country. Varieties also differ in size of plant, as well as size and sweetness of berries. Because blueberries require specific conditions for fruit production and to keep the plants looking good, I would encourage you to learn about them before adding them into your landscape. When receiving the right conditions, Blueberry plants look great in a landscape, and are a valuable addition to the home garden, especially if you are gardening with children. I live in California, and our native soil conditions are about opposite of what Blueberries like. However, we do have some Blueberry farms here where they plants are growing very successfully in the ground. I first tried growing Blueberries in containers rather than planting them in the ground. Ours have been in barrels for two years now. The first year, we hardly had any berries. The second year was great. The bushes were beautiful and loaded with berries. Blueberries can remain productive in containers for several years, and I know some people who have had some very impressive results here in California.
Lavender is water-wise, very beautiful, loved by bees & butterflies, and is very useful. Lavender has calming and antiseptic properties as well as a wide variety of medicinal uses. Lavender flowers are edible, and can be used to flavor ice cream, cookies, and pastries. Lavender is commonly used in sachets, perfumes, soaps, and baby products as well as cleaning products, and as insect repellents for pets.
Lavender is easy to grow, especially in hot, dry climates. Lavender can thrive in heat or cool climates, and requires little to no fertilizing. The most common causes of death or poor growth of Lavender are over-watering, over-fertilizing, frost, or humidity combined with heat. There are many varieties available with differences in size of plants, flower color, and strength of fragrance. Some varieties have been developed with better tolerance to certain environmental conditions such as humidity. Lavender needs full sun. If you are wanting to grow Lavender for medicinal or herbal use, plants with variety name beginning with Lavandula angustifolia would be best.
Oregano (Origanum AKA Marjoram)
Oregano is a valuable herb that also makes a great landscape plant. Most of us are familiar with Oregano as one of the herbs that gives the sweet taste to Italian pasta sauces. Oregano is one of my essential cooking herbs. I find the flavor kind of addicting like Basil and Dill! I also love oregano as a landscaping plant because it thrives in heat, is a low-water user, and grows only to about 2′ x 2′. It is also a butterfly attractor, and bees love it. Oregano can be used as a small ground cover, in rock gardens, and cascading over retaining walls. Oregano has really pretty flowers that can be cut and dried.
Thyme is another popular culinary herb that makes a great landscaping plant. The small mat-forming varieties make an excellent ground cover for small spaces. Most varieties prefer full sun, or afternoon shade in hot summer areas. Elfin Thyme has tiny leaves and only grows to 2″ x 5″ wide. This variety is a low-water user, and does not produce flowers, so it would work well between stepping stones. There are many varieties with differences in scent, flower color, and growth habit. My favorite is Lemon Thyme Thymus x citriodorus ‘Aureus’. The plant grows 1’x2′, and has grayish green leaves splashed with gold. Leaves have a lemon scent and flavor.
The medicinal and nutritional qualities of Garlic make it essential in the family garden. Garlic is one of the most valuable plants on the planet. Garlic has several medicinal qualities, and is an essential cooking herb for flavoring meats, dressings, sauces, and many other foods. Garlic can be used in home made pest repellent and pest management recipes for the garden, and is said to be a good companion for roses. Fresh Garlic is far superior in flavor and nutritional quality than Garlic typically found in stores. In mild winter areas, plant in Fall for early summer harvest. If your winters are cold, plant in early spring.
Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis)
Aloe is another of the most medicinally valuable plants on earth, and it is not difficult to grow in relatively frost-free areas. Pure, raw Aloe Vera juice and gel can be expensive to purchase. If you are using Aloe juice on a regular basis, you might consider growing your own. You can’t get fresher than harvesting from your own plants, and by growing your own, you know it is 100% pure and contains no chemical additives. It takes several years for Aloe plants to grow large enough for harvesting significant amounts of gel or juice. A couple of years ago, I was growing my own plants, and harvesting the gel and juice. My plants were doing very well, and I was amazed at how fast they were growing. I had them all in large containers filed with soil from the yard. They were receiving mostly indirect light in a spot that received sun around noon and maybe a little again in late afternoon. Do your research on how to properly harvest, store, and use the gel and juice. There is an irritating and fowl-tasting sap in the leaves that must be drained prior to juicing. Aloe is frost sensitive.
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Borage is a beautiful annual plant I fell in love with the first time I saw one. I’ve never grown it myself, but would love to give it a try. The following is information I’ve learned about the plant through books and other resources. Borage grows to about 3′ x 2′, and has bright blue flowers, and fuzzy green leaves. Borage doesn’t transplant well, so direct seeding in late spring is the best way to get it started. The plant will self-seed, so you should be gifted with new ones each year!
According to the Sunset Western Garden Book and other herbal references, the leaves and flowers are edible. Flowers are often used in salads. The plant also has a wide variety of herbal uses. Borage is know to stimulate the adrenal glands, reduce stress, soothe cough, and more. Flowers can be used in fresh arrangements. The plant tolerates poor soil and some drought. It needs afternoon shade in hot summer areas, and needs frost protection. Seeds are commonly available in retail stores, nurseries, and online sources.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
The sight of Calendulas growing in Winter always brings joy to my heart. Come to find out, ancient herbalist used to recommend Calendula for “clearing the head, and encouraging cheerfulness”! Calendula is a plant I love not only because it blooms during Winter here, it is medicinal! Many of today’s modern homeopathic remedies contain Calendula. Herbal handbooks and internet sources contain instructions for making a variety of home remedies including teas, compresses, and creams. Calendula is super easy to grow, and can be started from transplants in Fall or grown from seed. Calendula provides masses of dependable color from Fall through mid Spring in mild Winter areas. Use calendula in flower beds, along driveways, or plant some seeds in a sunny spot where you just need some quick and easy color. Calendula comes in orange, yellow, as well as other new shades. Calendula is great in children’s gardens and play areas, and the flowers can be used for cutting. Remove spent flowers to prolong bloom. Allow some plants to go to seed at the end of the season, and they will self-sow for you year after year! 🙂
Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus)
Like Calendula and Borage, the sight of Sunflowers always bring me joy. Sunflowers are among the easiest plants to grow. They are often found growing wild along roadsides and open areas. There is a wide array of varieties available in a wide range of colors, sizes, and growth habit. Some are annuals, and others are perennials. Sunflowers are great in the family garden and child play areas. A friend of mine planted some of the giant ones in a half-barrel with Zinnias in front, and they looked great. Many varieties make great cut flowers, and birds love their seeds. Sunflowers bloom in Summer and Fall, and need full sun. Most non-native varieties need regular watering. Plant in early Summer.
To find out if these plants will thrive in your growing area and to see ideas for how you might use them in your garden, click here: http://www.plantmaster.com/share?id=59ebc8f51a9ec
Take care, slow down, and enjoy!
Are you considering a new landscape installation or re-design? Whether you are planning to DIY or hire a pro to complete all or part of the project, one of the first things you’ll need to do is to get a good idea of what you want.
When people ask me where to get ideas for plants to use in their yards, my favorite resource to suggest is one of the Water Smart Gardening Websites created by a company called Garden Soft. There are over 50 Water Smart Gardening Websites created for various regions of the Western United States. See the Water Smart Gardening Websites here: http://www.watersmartgardening.com/
Garden Soft gardensoft.com created the professional plant database and online plant presentation program that I use called Plant Master. The Water Smart Gardening Websites are a free resource available to the public. The websites assist with plant selection, provide amazing examples of beautiful landscapes, as well as links to many excellent resources for irrigation and garden planning.
The reason the Water Smart Gardening Websites are one of my most recommended plant selection resources is because they are so easy to use, and they provide many of the same plants, photos, and features I use in the professional program that I pay for.
As a user of a Water Smart Gardening Website, you can browse photos of real life landscapes organized by category such as Front Yards, Back Yards, Lawn Alternatives, Low-maintenance Landscapes, CA Native Gardens, Parking Strips, Water Features, and many more!
Photos of plants are also organized by categories such as Plants That Attract Butterflies, Ornamental Grasses, Unusual Foliage, etc. The plant database is searchable by common or botanical plant name and has a guided search feature to help you choose plants to meet your interests or specific growing conditions of your yard. As you search, you can save plants you like and create your own printable plant list.
If you’re planning a new landscape project, be sure to check out this fabulous resource for design inspiration, planning tips, and irrigation resources. Click here to access the Water Smart Gardening Websites:
Slow down, take care, and enjoy!
Choosing plants for a landscape plan or even a small garden project can be overwhelming. There are so many plants! It is easy to find examples of landscapes and plants we love, but how do we know that the plants we like are going to thrive in our garden?
There are many factors to consider when choosing plants, and if you want your plants to be low-water users, developing your plant list can be challenging.
When researching plants, we see terms like, “water-wise”, “low-water use”, “drought tolerant”, “no summer water”, “medium water”, “moderate water”, “water regularly”, “keep evenly moist”, “keep on the dry side”, “let dry between waterings”, “let dry somewhat between waterings”, “deep and infrequent waterings”.
Seriously?! How do we know what these words really mean in terms of how to choose and water our plants? This is like trying to figure out how much light a plant needs: low, moderate, high, bright, indirect, part sun/part shade, half sun/half shade, dappled shade, filtered shade, etc.!
Introducing Waterwonk! Waterwonk (www.waterwonk.us) is my absolute favorite Must-Have tool I use when choosing plants for a California garden. The water needs of any given plant will vary depending on the climate region where it will live. To make sure the plants I’m considering are appropriate for the location, I look them up in the WaterWonk database. WaterWonk is the WUCOLS online California plant database search tool.
What is WUCOLS?
Water Use Classifications of Landscape Species (WUCOLS) provides a guide to estimating irrigation water needs of landscape plantings in each of 6 distinct California climate regions. WUCOLS was developed by the University of California Cooperative Extension in cooperation with landscape professionals and funded by the California Department of Water Resources.
What I love about WaterWonk is that it is so easy to use. You simply type in your city, and the tool will pull your search results from the correct WUCOLS climate region. You can view the entire list of plants appropriate for your region, or you can filter the list by entering other search criteria such as type of plant (tree, shrub, succulent, etc.). You can even select CA native plants only, or plants that require less summer water once they are established. The database also provides clickable links to Flicker photos of each plant so you are able to get a really good idea of what the plant looks like. Enjoy!
If you check out the WaterWonk search tool, I would love to hear how you liked it. Let me know in the comments below!
If you’re gardening in a state other than California, check with your county Cooperative Extension Service, or do a Google search to find landscape water efficiency resources for your region. Many water agencies, native plant societies, plant nurseries, and other organizations publish plant lists online. You might start by entering search terms such as “low-water”, “drought tolerant”, or “water-wise” plants for (your city/state).