THE TEN QUESTIONS

More than half of my business comes from redesigning sites that originally were done by someone else, putting to rights landscape projects that may technically be fine but aren’t what the owner envisioned. How can you keep this from happening to you?

Ask to see the designer’s favorite projects: if they all look vaguely the same, the designer’s own style is being showcased and your style likely will be pushed aside.

Ask to see some sites that were done a few years ago: if the plants are growing in well, if they seem to have become part of the property, you’ve got someone who knows how to select the right material for the site. If the stonework has settled but not shifted, you’ve got someone who knows how to choose the right stone, and the right installer, for the job.

Ask to speak with other clients: find out if they were happy with the way the project went. Find out the best aspect, and the worst aspect, of working with that person. Landscape projects are like mini-marriages, and the same issues of compatibility and communication can make or break the relationship.

Ask for what you want: if you want a landscape that’s peaceful and serene, say it, and resist the temptation (your own or the designer’s) to shoehorn that description into any one style. Maybe a Zen garden is the perfect thing, maybe it isn’t; there are all kinds of ways to create tranquility in the landscape. Talk about what those terms mean to you, and ask how that meaning can be interpreted in color and material as well as in design.

Ask why the designer is drawn to your property: if there are particular features that you adore, either in the terrain or in the architecture, you’ll want to work with someone who appreciates them.

Ask how the new plan will fit into the property: if there’s one thing worse than cookie-cutter gardens it’s ‘orphan’ gardens, installations that seem as though they don’t belong to their surroundings. Also ask how the plan fits into the ‘borrowed’ landscape, those elements of neighboring properties that are part of your visual field.

Ask how the design relates to the interior of the house: if the two styles are wildly divergent, you’ll feel an emotional disconnect that will make you uneasy in either space. Ask how the design will look from different rooms, as well, and from different levels. Downstairs, a mid-story ornamental is a tree, upstairs, it’s a flower.

Ask how much time is required to maintain the installation: if you truly only have an hour a week, be honest. Don’t let the excitement of having something new and beautiful blind you to the constraints of your real life.

Ask how much it will really cost: if you’re on a budget, you’re on a budget; both you and the designer need to feel comfortable within those financial parameters. Ask about phasing in the plan over time; good stonework and some well-placed trees can make a huge difference even to an otherwise bare property.

Ask if the designer will be on site during installation: if problems occur or questions arise, as they usually do, you’ll want the designer there to make certain that your interests prevail. The installer often is more focused on getting the job done than on maintaining the ethos of the design.

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