Archive for May, 2008

Whose Designing Your garden?

Monday, May 26th, 2008

Getting Help With your Landscape
Richard Heller, CLP, CLTDuring a design consultation, I asked a client how they selected their landscape gardener. “He’s very honest” she told me, “ and he’s reliable, he comes every week and cuts the grass”. That sentiment is very common, and though honesty and reliability are important qualifications for any contractor, a little knowledge and expertise are helpful as well. This particular individual had been caring for a lawn that was all weeds and it was evident that despite his reliability and honesty, he was doing little to build the soil, and remove the weeds.When selecting landscape help, consider what your needs are first. The landscape industry is divided into three basic categories, and though there is often overlap between the areas of specialization, for the most part, quality landscapers operate within specialized niches. These are lawn care,  landscape maintenance, and landscape design and build. Often, landscape companies will perform well in two of these areas well, but rarely all three.Distinguishing between landscape contractors can be difficult. Price and location are often the motivators for many people’s choices, and this can be a mistake. First, you want to know what perspective landscapers do best. If they say “everything” doubt it immediately. There are very few landscape companies on the face of the earth, much less in Westchester that do everything well. Do they have clients who recommend them? Pictures of their work? What is their training? Certification? Association affiliations? How long have they been in business? Are they insured? Registered  with the county? Do they soil test? 

Qualified landscapers will have positive answers to all these questions. Landscapers who are members of associations, have some landscape education,  and have attained some level of certification, are registered and insured, will also tend to be honest, reliable and knowledgeable. These are individuals and companies that have proven their commitment to the industry and have proven their integrity.

If your not sure where to find qualified individuals, contact the Plant Landacare Network or PLANET, which is the national association of landscape and lawncare professionals. They have thousands of landscapers listed on their web site along with information regarding their areas of specialization, certifications, and the PLANET website can be searched by city and state at Also  try the New York State Turf and Landscape Association at The NYSTLA will  have listings of companies that are certified organic lawncare specialists. 



Sunday, May 18th, 2008

One of the reasons we at Greener by Design have slowly wiped the word sustainable out of our vocabulary, is that this word takes on a completely different meaning in the garden. The word sustainable in association with technology implies technologies that are minimally damaging, if not supportive, of the environment. Landscapes, on the other hand, are of nature. Yes, there are invasive plants and non-natives etc. but left on its own, ecosystems adapt, while the damage done by technology is much harder to cope with. Because landscapes are “green” by definition, sustainable comes to imply something more. “Sustainable” landscapes would tend to themselves more or less, with minimal intervention by man if any.


Sidestepping the invasive plant issue, let’s focus for a moment on what a sustainable landscape would look like; a sustainable landscape, would be one that would support the local ecosystem, adapt to available light, water, and soil conditions, and whose plants reproduce and replace themselves. It would by definition be sustaining itself. In fact, every ecosystem in the world has or had sustainable landscapes before to much human interaction.


 Considered in that context, the gardens of man are sheer arrogance and waste. Our gardens require constant maintenance and care, regular interventions in the form of feeding the soil, providing water, pruning and cleaning. Many of the materials we use are not hardy and could never survive in the climates we plant them in without human intervention. Worse yet, the invasive plant issue, pesticides in the ecosystem, fertilizer in our waterways, these are all the result of our ignorant efforts to sustain our gardens and create spaces that are unique to who we are.


Given that perspective, in order to be a landscape professional, one by implication would have to be very arrogant. Though there may be some truth to that view point, most landscape professionals revere nature and the diversity of plant material within nature. Though are landscapes may not be sustainable, they can be environmental enhancements that not only beautify, but soften the impact people have on the environment. Greenroofs for example, are a fabrication of man, taking plants and growing them over rooftops as a living roof cover. Fabrication or no, they contribute to bio-diversity, save energy, reduce stormwater runoff. Basically, they mitigate a good deal of the problems created by removing all those trees and plants that were sustaining themselves, and slapping a building in their place.


Greenroofs, organic garden practices, utilizing natives, banning invasives, recycling rainwater, utilizing drip irrigation, these are eco-friendly, if not sustainable practices and so we toss out sustainable when talking about landscapes and focus on eco-friendly.

How Do You Balance Budget & Vision?

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

The smaller the project, the harder it is to balance vision and budget. This is due to how difficult it is to make a small space work without spending a little more, the budget a client has in mind for this space, and the difficulty of bringing architectural elements in harmony with the taste of the client. Once you throw in environmental concerns, local materials, FSC certified woods, the little details that make a garden go from average to really interesting, the price per square foot can go way beyond what the client ever hoped for, and actually much higher per square foot than a larger space..

 In the end, it always comes down to the value the client feels they are getting. If the client buys into the design and falls in love with it, they will find ways to make a higher budget work. This always starts with prioritizing the structural elements of the garden; Deck/hardscape, Pergolas or Gazebos, planter boxes plant materials and furniture.

Starting from the ground up is the wisest choice, however, often clients lose sight of the fact that treating the “ground” with detail and interest before anything else is really vital to the process. Most folks want a garden now, not a finished patio/deck/groundcover area. Once the “ground” is handled, whether it be patio, decking, or plantings is established one has a firm base to build on.


Structural elements like pergolas, arbors, and trees would be next, Irrigation and the basis for lighting would be followed by shrubs, perennials, garden ornaments, water features and finally annuals and pots would fall on the end of the list.

Of course some of these elements can be interchangeable, but always think structure first, detail second. In breaking the basic elements of a garden down into pieces, the budget can be more manageable and spread over years.