From the Ground Up

Proper planning for optimal landscaping.
Somewhere at the top of our wish list is the instantly perfectyard. Landscape professionals claim it's our needfor immediate gratification. We know better. After enduringmonths of wind chills, lake-effect snow and a landscapeso lacking color that it looks like an Ansel Adams photograph,we need signs of life.
So we create our list of landscape demands. We want tulips,daffodils and blooming bushes by March. Our landscape designers,in response, utter the dreaded four-letter word: PLAN. Infact, all of the landscape professionals we spoke with agreed thatwithout proper planning, homeowners will be dissatisfied withthe outcome, and may incur significant additional cost.

Dan McClaren, director of design for Impullitti LandscapingInc. in Chagrin Falls, says that it all comesdown to knowing your property. "Whether it'sa new home or a renovation of existing landscaping,try to live with it for awhile," he says.

"The longer you can live with what exists, themore you learn about the idiosyncrasies of thesite. Look for good views. Be aware of unsightlyviews. If you live in a subdivision, consider thata deck will make you feel like you're on stage.Consider drainage properties on the site."

Mark T. Stanek, certified landscape designerfor T.L.C. Landscaping Inc. in Solon, emphasizesthe importance of asking questions. "Wesee the same problem over and over again," hesays. "People rush into an improperly designedjob. If they are not getting what they want doneand they're paying for it, it's not a good value. Get a companyhistory. Get referrals. Do your homework."

It's also important to think beyond the aesthetics. While havinga lush lawn and beautiful flowers are factors, consider howthe yard will be used. Think about your family's entertaininghabits, whether young children will use the space, whether youlike to cook and whether you want a pool, deck, patio or waterfeature.

When building a new home, Roger A. Myers, president andchief executive officer of American Beauty Landscaping inBoardman, advises that conversations with a landscape professionalshould begin "sooner rather than later." Conversationsregarding the home's placement on the property, which treesshould remain and considerations about location of swimmingpools and patios all should come into play prior to building.

Myers stresses the importance of involving the landscape designer,especially when planning the driveway. "The excavator builds a path so that the builder can start the construction. The result, according to Myers, is that by the time the landscape companyis contacted to design a walk or patio, the driveway mightbe out of square. "If they had talked with a landscape professional,they would have options. They could have a serpentinedriveway and a walkway that accommodates two people, not anarrow walkway. Now they are faced with the decision aboutwhether or not to make changes."

The word "change" can be synonymous with "increased cost,"another reason for doing advanced planning. Mike Vitou, seniorsales executive and branch manager for the Avon branch of The Pattie Group, says that education helps to alleviateany misconceptions about outcome orcost.

For instance, clients of The Pattie Group respondto an in-depth questionnaire while perusinga portfolio of the firm's work. Representativesdiscuss how the plan will develop whiledetailing budgetary requirements. "Our clientshave an understanding of the project up frontand we stress the value of a plan. They wouldn'tremodel the interior of their home without aplan; they need to think the same way about theoutside of their home."

Discussions should also incorporate thehardscape. As Mike Mazzurco, president of H&M Landscaping Inc. in Newbury, indicates,"Homeowners should sign off first on a drawing of the conceptualhardscape - the decks, patios, pool and water feature -."He cautions that looking at too much, too fast is often confusing.In order to provide a "comfort factor" for his clients, Mazzurcoadds the softscape or planting portion of the drawing after thehardscape has been approved. "It's too much on one plate otherwise,"he says.

Mazzurco takes the same approach when discussing budgetswith his clients. While many building new homes are rollinglandscaping costs into their mortgage, others who can't afford tohave it all at once are finding that planting in phases works well."Seven to 10 years is the typical life of a landscape. Consider howmuch you like to garden and whether you are taking a proactiverole in the landscaping. Once you've considered all factors, createa budget up front." 

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