All About Design-Build Landscape Construction

All About Design-Build Landscape Construction

Top tips for a better investment and landscape, from design through construction

 

What is Design-Build Landscaping?

Design-Build landscaping is exactly how it sounds: one team provides both the design and installation of the landscape, rather than splitting those services between companies. Design-build landscaping is quite common and provides multiple benefits. Unfortunately, a homeowner or building owner will often hire a landscape contractor to install plants and irrigation without design. This is not the ideal scenario. As with any type of building, it is always best to begin with a design.

 

 

Why Design-Build?

When the same company performs both design and installation, their professionals work together often and can provide a more seamless delivery The teamwork involved in the design-build process for landscape construction can add a lot of value to your finished landscape. Often an integration of architects, designers, engineers, and builders, the design-build process takes advantage of professional, licensed experts working together from concept to finished construction. The goal of this integrated process is to fulfill your priorities of landscape design and budget. At Madrone Landscapes we believe strongly in the design-build process because the benefits are twofold: it allows us to do incredible work with and build great relationships with both our peers and our clients.

Design-Bid-Build vs. Design-Build: What are the Differences?

Design-Bid-Build: The design-bid-build process is common in the construction industry for clients who want separate design and construction firms. A landscape designer will provide plans for you, and then you will ask contractors to bid the plans. The design can go quickly if there are no cost limitations discussed. Once the contractors provide their costs to install the project, you may be shocked to see how much it will cost to build. This is when you or the contractor decides how to change the design to fit within the construction budget (this process is called value engineering, where items are removed from a plan or less expensive options are chosen to reduce overall cost). You may also go back to the landscape designer to re-design (typically for an extra fee). In design-bid-build, you select a contractor based on the bid price. It then becomes your responsibility to orchestrate all of the design and construction activities – including introducing the contractor to the designer.

Design-Build: At Madrone Landscapes, we specialize in the design-build process. Our landscape designers not only help you with the initial design, they also help navigate any obstacles encountered during construction. We provide construction cost estimates during the design process (for more information, see https://madronelandscapes.com/services/design/). This usually adds time to the overall design time, for good reason. Knowing construction costs during the design process allows you to make decisions on where to spend money and keeps the plan within the desired budget. A cost-informed design means the value engineering is done well before the project starts. The entire team will be working together with the landscape designer to make sure that there are few unforeseen lapses between designs or construction activities. For new construction, this will include your engineers, architects, and builders. For custom residential updates, your design-build team becomes your expert advocate through design and construction and we handle scheduling and coordination with all parties involved.

Five Tips When Choosing Design-Build Landscaping

1. Know what you need/want before you start.

Often, a client will come to us with a list of items they want designed into their landscape, such as a patio, wall, fountain, or pergola. What they may actually mean is that they need a shady place to entertain guests with pretty things to look at. While your spouse may want a fountain, he or she may appreciate boulders and flowers just as much. When you prioritize your goals before starting design, you can prevent being caught off guard during the design process. Design is almost always a team decision. If you and your family can align your wants and needs before the design starts, the design will turn out better and go more quickly.

2. Establish a construction budget.

Before starting the design process, establish a budget or range for what you intend to spend on construction, and share that information with your designer. This will help them design within range. Typically, the construction cost of landscapes is between 10 to 25 times the design fee, although this may vary.

3. Take your time with budget decisions.

During the beginning of the design process decisions are easy; we refer to this as the honeymoon period. You may find yourself saying, “I love that stone veneer, it looks just like the picture I saw on Houzz!” After construction costs are introduced, major design elements may be on the chopping block. Do you keep the outdoor kitchen, or the stone paving? Allow yourself time, so you don’t rush these decisions.

4. Trust your gut – and your landscape team.

Taking on a big project and the resulting investment of your funds will greatly affect your daily life. You need experts you can trust to help you achieve your goals. If you don’t have a level of trust with your landscape team, the relationship and project will not work. You need to feel comfortable giving them both positive and negative feedback, and they need to feel comfortable giving you good and bad news. Your designer will not only be helping you with the initial design, but also will be helping to navigate any obstacles encountered during construction.

5. Communicate often and clearly.

During design and construction, changes happen. To best facilitate these changes, we will ask a lot of questions to make sure we are designing efficiently. Whether you would like to give us artistic license on decisions, or you have particular opinions that need to be known, it is important you communicate your preferences clearly.

 

A Better Investment and Landscape

It’s our experience that the design-build process produces a better product with stronger teamwork and a healthy working relationship. The process takes time to do well. Expect two to six months of design before construction for custom residential updates, and often longer for new home or new commercial construction. Being well prepared can shorten this time frame. If you have new construction, you should consider hiring your landscape designer at the same time that you hire an architect. We strongly believe that the design-build relationship you foster with us will make you feel good about the investment and the landscape you create.

Do you have additional questions about the design-build process and its benefits? Email us at [email protected] or give us a call at 805-466-6263.

 

Landscape Design FAQ

Landscape Design FAQ

How can we help? Here are answers to some of our most-asked landscape design and construction questions.

Committing to a new landscape or landscape overhaul for your home can be daunting. Especially if you haven’t done a remodel project before, there can be a lot of unknowns when taking on this type of home improvement project.

Our landscape designers do their best to guide clients through every step – making it as seamless, painless, and stress-free as possible. Every project is different and has its own unique variables, but the basic questions we are asked most at the beginning of the landscape process are often the same.

Have more questions? Review our design services or contact our landscape designers, [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.

We are building a new home and new landscape. When should we bring in the landscape designer?

For new construction projects, you can count on landscaping to be the final step. Planned correctly, landscape installation can begin during the final construction stages. Talk to landscape designers from the get-go so that they can get you on their schedule.

Sometimes landscape designers work concurrently with architects and civil engineers on landscape plans, but your designer will need a finalized site plan with building footprint and finished grading to work from.

TIP: Be sure that your general contractor helps plan for landscaping by adding sleeving underneath any concrete or asphalt for future irrigation pipe.

We are thinking of updating our landscape. How far ahead should we plan?

Landscape construction crews can book out anywhere from 2-6 months in advance, so make sure to get on your builder’s radar early. This is one major benefit of working with design/build companies like Madrone.

TIP: The best time to plant in our California Central Coast region is the fall, so that root systems can develop over the winter months.

Will we need permits for our landscape construction?

Check with your local municipality to find out if you need any permits for your landscape. Shade structures that are attached to your home or are built within a certain proximity to your home may need to be permitted. There may be water usage allowances for irrigation, and permits are often required for graywater irrigation systems. Permit filings can take 6+ weeks to be processed once received.

What is the design process and how long does it typically take?

The design process is the time that you, the client, spend with a landscape designer on the conceptual vision of your outdoor space.  Most landscape designs can be completed from start to finish within 3-6 months, while others can take up to a full calendar year.

Every designer or firm has a unique process, but generally will start with visiting your site and asking questions about your needs. The length of time spent on design will vary based on size of project, number of built elements, complexity of site constraints, and the number of changes made during the process. If a design isn’t agreed on at the first or second draft, more revisions may be necessary. 

Once the designer has developed an understanding of your project, they will create an overall layout on paper, then gradually start to specify treatments, finishes and building techniques as ideas are approved.

At the end of the process, the owner will receive a complete set of construction documents which will serve as a tool for estimating construction cost and to ultimately guide the landscape installation.

How much does a landscape cost? What are the variables?

The cost of a new installed landscape can vary widely. Just like designing a house, with all things being equal, it will cost more to design a large area than a small one. The price then increases depending on how many built elements you want to include and the types of materials you choose.

Click here for a basic outline of some of defining elements that will ultimately determine the cost of your landscape design and installation.

How much information/direction does a designer need from the client?

The more information you can share up front with your designer, the more likely they will be able to design an incredible landscape that reflects your personal flair while including your desired or required elements. We love hearing about what styles and elements you do and don’t like so we know what direction to start with on your design. Browsing Pinterest and Houzz boards can be super helpful for this.

On the flipside, there’s also no shame in not knowing what you want—that’s what we’re here for!

Whether you know exactly what you’re looking for or not, the most helpful thing you can do throughout the design process is provide your feedback. We try very hard to customize each design project to the personality and needs of each client, so when we go through our concept and revision meetings, we want to hear what you really think. Honest feedback during our meetings is the best way to help us give you the design you’ve been dreaming of!

How do we decide what to include in our landscape design?

There are two interconnecting pieces to consider: landscape design area and desired landscape features or amenities. For instance, if you are looking to include a veggie garden, new patio, pergola, hot tub, flower garden, and meandering paths, you’re going to need a relatively extensive landscape design area.

Often in design, we encourage creating a landscape master plan. If it makes most sense financially to proceed with construction in steps, a sitewide design will ensure a functional and cohesive final design and finished project. Even if you envision installing the veggie beds at a later phase, it makes sense to design their location, orientation, and aesthetic or “design language” from the start.

As far as design features go, it may help to draw up a list of your desired elements before an initial consultation. You can discuss these items with the designer and see if any other ideas arise out of the design process. Browsing inspiration online on places such as Houzz or Pinterest, flipping through design books and magazines, or taking a walk around your neighborhood are also great ways to pinpoint your list of features and amenities.

How do we determine what plants to include in our landscape?

To determine the plants for your landscape, also known as the plant palette, your designer will ask questions of style—Mediterranean, modern, xeric, Spanish, something else. During our design process, you will have opportunity to discuss planting selections, ask questions, and provide feedback.

Our designers are familiar with plant species that work well in the Central Coast, from Arroyo Grande through Paso Robles to Grover Beach through Cayucos and beyond. Each area has its own set of microclimates—unique characteristics including sun patterns, wind, humidity, shade, and more, that determine a plant’s suitability. Regardless of where the project is within our region, we strive to propose appropriate plantings that will use minimal water throughout the year, thereby promoting water conservation.

Don’t have a green thumb? That’s not a problem! Let our designers know, and they will be sure to propose the most low-maintenance options.

At what point will we know how much our desired landscape costs?

Our design process includes using cost information as a tool to help guide design decisions. Once we’ve established our initial concept plan, our next step is to revise and refine the landscape plan and provide the client with budgetary installation prices. This estimate includes individual line item descriptions, quantities, and costs for every element of the project. This means you can see clearly where every dollar is being spent, and where there are opportunities to substitute materials or methods with less expensive alternatives without sacrificing functionality.

On the Boards: Modern Family Retreat

On the Boards: Modern Family Retreat

With a modern design style, this family retreat features patio spaces, a deck, fireplace, water feature, lawn, play area, hot tub, retaining walls, and railing.

The main vision for this Paso Robles landscape design was to create terraced levels to accommodate family and entertain guests. This was naturally achieved using the landscape’s significant slope, which simultaneously introduced challenges and invited the opportunity for both integrated and distinctly separate spaces. With retaining walls in place and a design featuring railings and gates for the safety of children, we prioritized creating a secure design without sacrificing beauty and the natural aesthetics of the landscape.

The entertainment patio is tucked into a transitional space between an upper play area and lower deck. A fireplace and water weir feature frame two of its sides leaving it open on the third side to views of a native oak woodland.

The landscape’s functional and striking modern style was created using clean lines and uniform design elements such as concrete, cable rails, and a simple plant palette.

The Secret to Creating a Beautiful Outdoor Space

The Secret to Creating a Beautiful Outdoor Space

By Jill Bleher, Landscape Designer. Originally published in Living Lavishly VOLUME 14 Spring/Summer 2022.

As humans we seek habitats in which to dwell. This can be seen inside our homes as well as in our gardens. There are probably special things in your house that you cherish and enjoy. Maybe it is the family heirloom china displayed in a cabinet or the flat-screen TV that you use daily. These features help create an inviting space with their beauty, placement, and functionality. The approach is similar for designing an outdoor dwelling space. Have you ever visited a beautiful garden and wondered why it is so inviting? The answer is good design involving landscape features.

Landscape features are generally items that draw the eye, such as colorful pottery, a striking sculpture, or a beautiful tree. Features can also engage other senses, such as the sound of a fountain or the warmth of a firepit. Whether you have a small or a large yard, there are plenty of options for features to enhance your landscape experience. Here is an exploration of how to integrate features into your landscape retreat for the greatest effect.

Art as a Focal Point

One way to personalize and add dimension to a garden is to add artistic features. Artful focal points can be as simple as a beautiful ceramic pot or as complex as a large-scale wind sculpture. Good placement for an art feature is at the divergence of pathways, in a nook to the side of a patio, or in a space viewed from above. Uplight your art feature so you can appreciate it after dark.

When selecting art features, consider the theme of the setting. Pick a modern art piece for a contemporary landscape, place vibrant Talavera pottery in a cactus garden, or choose a stone lantern for your traditional Japanese garden. Additionally, art focal points may have sentimental value, such as a souvenir plaque from a trip or a garden statue that belonged to a family member. Ultimately, the purpose of garden art is to add meaning and beauty to the landscape.

Water and Fire Elements

Ambiance is a fundamental part of the garden setting. A well-designed landscape invites the visitor to linger and appreciate the space. Two elements that are especially good at adding ambiance to any garden are water and fire features. Consider the welcoming glow of a fire or the peaceful sound of water. It’s no wonder that both are common aspects of an inviting landscape sanctuary.

Deciding where to place a fire or water feature in the landscape is significant. Locate a fireplace or fire pit in a space where people can gather. If designing a new space, consider building a fireplace wall to partially enclose and warm a seating area. Moveable fire tables can be added to existing patios for an inviting element. Whether for roasting marshmallows or just adding light and warmth, fire features are ideal for inviting people to gather.

Since water features are sought out mainly for their sound, they can be tucked against walls or into nooks. Alternatively, they can be placed out in the center of a large space as a focal point. With so many options to choose from, it is best to match the style of your landscape. Select a steel water wall for a modern look, choose a core-drilled boulder fountain for a natural setting, or pick a tiered fountain for an Italian garden. Whatever the style, a well-placed water or fire feature will add dimension to the garden space.

Plant Selections that Pop

Perhaps the most obvious garden feature is plants. However, by their very nature plants are dynamic and not as easy to highlight as a static fountain or statue – they grow and change throughout the seasons. For this reason, picking the right plants to showcase can take some thought.

Trees and large shrubs make excellent features due to their size and often interesting forms. Some of the best trees to draw attention to are olives and oaks as they have beautiful branch structures and grow more majestic with age. A favorite large shrub to feature is the Western Redbud which bursts into bright pink blooms in early spring. Large Manzanitas or Arbutus trees are also excellent selections to choose with their red bark and gnarled forms. Accent trees at night with either uplights or hanging moonlights.

If you don’t have space for large trees, consider plants with striking architectural form such as Agaves or grasses to feature against a wall or along a pathway. Perennial blooming plants will delight seasonally. Try interplanting bulbs between other plants to add extra pops of color in spring!

Borrowed Views

One powerful tool for creating a beautiful landscape is to incorporate views. A “borrowed view” is when a distant landscape is included in the garden design. For instance, build an arbor to frame a view of neighboring vineyards or leave space between trees to view the mountains beyond. It might be years before your newly planted oak trees can be considered features, but you can highlight the view of a magnificent oak tree in the field beyond your property.

Ultimately, borrowed views are a great way to make your immediate yard feel larger and grander. It’s similar to adding a mirror on the wall in an interior room. Even a small yard will feel less enclosed if there is a view of the world beyond. Don’t lose sight of the greater landscape!

This exploration of landscape features and their applications applies to every person and every garden setting. Include one or many elements in your yard, but do it purposefully and make it personal! Seek out art features that catch your eye, add a fire or water feature to create ambiance, select plants to delight the senses, and borrow views when possible. In the end, don’t hurry the journey but enjoy the process. In so doing, turn your landscape into a dwelling space that is an expression of yourself.  After all, genuinely superb gardens are dwellings that evolve with the time and ponderous consideration of a magnificent tree.

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Jill Bleher is a landscape designer and Cal Poly Landscape Architecture alumnus. She is passionate about designing unique landscape sanctuaries for others. When not designing yards for other people, she can most often be found in her own garden or inside creating crafts. For more information, visit Madrone Landscapes or call (805) 466-6263.

On the Boards: Atascadero Oasis

On the Boards: Atascadero Oasis

Designed to succeed in the Atascadero climate, this Mediterranean-style oasis provides ample space for play, multi-functional entertainment features, and the tropical airs of the lush plant selections. The 7,000 SF design-build project is shaping up to be an inviting retreat for family and friends.

Its multi-purpose entertainment spaces include a pool, fire feature, outdoor kitchen, and reduced-footprint lawn that transitions to a patio. The custom kiva fireplace wall is built to warm colder nights and cozy up the recessed seating area just past the pool and mountable movie projector screen. The outdoor kitchen and bar seating make for picture-perfect socializing and party hosting.

Chock-full of fun elements and smooth transitions, this thoughtful and cohesive landscape is sure to be a delightful retreat for both family and guests.

Interested in talking to us about your landscape design? Contact our team at [email protected] or (805) 466-6263.