The landscape design/build process

By Dave Heinen of Heinen Landscape & Irrigation
Kansas City Gardener

You want a new landscape design.  Where do you start?  You need a plan.  Where do you turn for help?  Lets take a closer look at the process.

Many options exist:  1) hire independent professionals to help you with each phase of the design and installation process, 2) hire a firm that can handle both the design and installation or 3) develop a hybrid solution.

Perhaps you’ve seen information about companies offering design and/or installation services.  In the industry, companies that do both landscape designs and installations refer to themselves as “design/build” firms.  However, designing and building landscapes require two distinctly different skill sets and incorporate two different industries – architects/designers and contractors.

Landscape Designers/Architects

Landscaping design reflects style and artistic talent.  Styles of design vary, such as formal, English garden and colonial to name a few.  In addition, the education and exposure of the individual designer also greatly affects their style.

Keep in mind ten different designers can look at the same property and come up with ten different landscape plans.  So before selecting a designer or a design/build firm, examine their portfolio.  Make sure they have the expertise on the style you desire.

Budget also influences the types of materials and plants specified in a design.  You will want to share this information to ensure you receive a design you can afford to install and maintain.

Ultimately, be sure to select a designer you are compatible with and who understands your lifestyle goals.  You’ll want someone who will listen to your ideas and will take what you are saying about who you are, your home and how you use your outdoor space and will incorporate this information into their plan.

By hiring an architect/designer, you should receive the services of someone who does not have a vested interest in the products or materials used or the method of installation.  Thus, you should receive the best design possible for a price.  On the downside, you will have to pay for this service and sometimes the components of the design may not be the best method of construction from the cost standpoint.

Building Your Landscape

Likewise, on the contractor side, many different talents, capabilities and cost structures exist with each type of construction work.  Interview the individual or design/build firm you want to hire, talk to some of their references and look at some of the projects they have installed.  Do you like what you see and hear?

Three common factors affect the work of all contractors:  cost, quality and service.  Some questions to consider:

Cost – Will they bill separately for the design from the installation?  Will it be hourly or a percentage of the project?

Quality – Are the design specifications complete?  If there is a deficiency, who will pay for the error/omission?

Service – Will the company be able to provide all plans, documentation, samples and licenses/permits to complete the process start to finish?  How about on time and on budget?  Also, how much of the work, if any, must the contractor subcontract?

Design/Build Firms

By putting both of these professions together, design/build firms offer one stop shopping.  The communication process flows from designer to installer because you are dealing with one firm that rallies the expertise of each of their departments to deliver you the best possible project.

You may want to hire a “design/build” firm to avoid conflicts between architects and contractors.  Doing so controls your overall costs and will also generally allow you to save on design fees.

However, design/build firms do have a vested interest.  So, you will want to make sure the individual who designs your project is not influenced too heavily by the capabilities of the construction company for which he or she works.

To avoid this conflict, you may choose to hire a design/build firm and pay for your landscape design separate from the installation.  In this case, you would decide on your landscape design and then secure independent bids, which would include a bid from the design/build firm who created your landscape design.

Often a design/build firm will suggest this alternative as a way to offer both an independent design and installation process.  Some situations may lend themselves to paying for the design independently of the installation.

However, if you have a good working relationship with the design/build firm, you may feel perfectly comfortable having them handle the entire project thereby eliminating any gray areas between the trades and minimizing any miscommunication about your project.