1. Get a plan
Whether you draw it yourself, or have a drawing professionally prepared, it is best to have well thought-out landscape plan completed before any construction work or significant planting begins. To quote the American painter Jasper Johns, “Sometimes I see it and then paint it. Other times I paint it and then see it.” To relate this quote to garden design, sometimes the best solutions might be immediately evident, while at other times, the solution becomes apparent as the landscape plan is being drawn. Part of the value in hiring a designer is the time you give an expert to explore the best options for your garden plan. It is a lot less expensive to change things on paper than in the ground.
2. Hire the right designer for you
A relationship between a designer and client should work for both parties. All designers have their preferences and prejudices. Hire one whose tastes are most similar to your own. The best place to look for this is in their portfolio. Has the designer completed projects that you like? Projects that might be similar to what you envision for your own yard? If what you want is radically different from what the designer’s portfolio showcases, it might not be a good match. You can view our portfolio here by clicking the “Landscape Design” Button.
3. What you should expect from the finished plan
The plan you receive from your landscape designer should be a scaled drawing with labeling for patios, plants (including botanical names and cultivars), lighting, and gravel. The plans should be detailed enough that contractors will bid on an “apples to apples” basis. Keep in mind that landscape plans are drawn “plan view” which is a bird’s eye perspective, elevations and renderings typically are usually an extra charge.
4. How much will a design cost?
Most landscape designers make their money through charging for their time and expertise while creating landscape plans, although some make money through referral fees as well. A designer should be able to give you a written quote and timeline for completing their plans. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for. You might also ask the designer if they receive a percentage of the construction costs, which might make their design fee seem attractive, but might ultimately add to the construction costs. At Zona Gardens, we believe in transparency. We don’t accept referral fees from contractors and we publish our pricing online.
5. Talk about your budget
If your designer is independent (that is, not connected financially with the contractor installing the landscape), he/she can provide you with good neutral advice to help keep your project within your budget. Be realistic about what you can and need to spend. Remember that the goal is to create something you like, not a compromise. Consider phasing if needed. Construction costs vary greatly form project to project are very difficult to predict until the plan is completed.
6. Hire a contractor your designer trusts
There is no substitute for experience, and if your designer has trusted contractors, the resulting landscape is often more inline with what the plans intentions. Most good landscape contractors are licensed. Contact the Arizona Registrar of Contractors at 888-271-9286 or www.rc.state.az.us for more information about licensed contractors. It is illegal for unlicensed construction contractor to perform work totaling over $1,000. There is little or no recourse if you hire an unlicensed contractor and are unhappy with their work.
7. Retain the designer for finishing touches
As a project concludes, there are usually a few items that tie things together that were not included on the plan. These might include pottery and outdoor furniture upholstery selection. If you are unsure about making these decisions on your own, hire the designer to shop with you. Many designers also receive trade discounts that they might partially pass onto their clients.
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