Written by Daniel Mazawa, General Manager
Originally published in Living Lavishly
Transforming a landscape can be overwhelming—there are so many places to find inspiration, and there are drastically different styles to consider. It can be helpful to work with a professional—landscape designers are trained to see the big picture and identify opportunities that elude most homeowners. Here are a few steps homeowners can take to understand the design process and get a grasp of what they want from their landscape:
Analyze the Site
On the Central Coast, there are several different natural backdrops that most homes enjoy. Whether it is a distant view of rolling oak woodlands or a beachfront bluff experience, it is important to understand the setting of a place as influenced by the natural world. Take stock of existing trees or plants on site as well as sun and shade.
The architecture of the home and the neighborhood aesthetic may set the tone for the landscape design style. Consider the experience of driving up to the house and walking around the yard. A guest arriving at the home should know right where the front door is and where to park. The movement around the landscape should be functional and beautiful. Where are the areas of interest? What is the flow and the circulation? Identify the opportunities and constraints in a setting before figuring out what to do.
Establish the Functions
It is easy for someone who owns a home to identify what they want, but it can be a little more difficult to define what they need. Everything takes up space, so prioritizing functions is extremely important. Figure out how much usable space is needed for parking, outdoor entertaining, open utility areas, connecting pathways, and any other high-frequency functions. Pools, hot tubs, sport courts, outdoor kitchens, vegetable gardens, and other secondary functions can be fun additions to fold in.
Consider the best locations for all functions as far as convenience, sun exposure, views, and feel. For example, both an outdoor kitchen and a vegetable garden are convenient near an indoor kitchen, but the garden wants open sunshine and the outdoor kitchen benefits from shade or shelter. Also consider the indoor/outdoor connection as perceived through windows and doors from inside. A pergola can feel like an extension of an indoor room, or a distant view can be framed to be enjoyed from inside.
Define Design Style
A good first step is to decide whether a landscape is going to be geometric and calculated or free flowing and natural. A modern home may work better with a straight-lined landscape, but these forms can deconstruct as they move away from the structure. A natural setting such as a woodland can work well with curves and natural pathways especially if preserving existing trees.
People who like control, simple bold design, or tidy surroundings gravitate towards straight lines with geometric configurations. People who like tranquility, natural settings, or designing with nature gravitate towards flowing curves. Bold Modern style utilizes straight-line end of the spectrum and Natural Style falls on the curved line end. Mediterranean, Southwestern, Cottage, and Japanese gardens fall somewhere between. Having a clearly defined style that repeats and transitions smoothly will make a landscape feel complete.
Design Spaces Before Features
While design features are important, the spaces they create are more important to the user experience. For example, a tree may be a beautiful feature, but the shade and shelter a tree grove provides can create a comfortable room complete with walls and a ceiling. Comfortable spaces are often perceived as a bit wider than they are tall, or 1 to 1.618 height to width per the golden ratio. A pergola 16 feet wide by 10 feet tall is a good example. The same comfortable feeling can be achieved with shrubs and trees.
Conversely, putting too many plants next to a front door entry can make it feel tight and uninviting. Open it up and make the path wide, prominent and inviting. Wide open views will feel more comfortable when framed with trees or from a comfortable viewing patio. The psychology of spaces can be overwhelming, but it is obvious when a space feels right.
Work Out Transitions
Landscape is the glue that holds together spaces and structures. Transitions can be the most dynamic aspects of a landscape, or they can be eyesores. Complex hardscape features such as patios, retaining walls, fences, pergolas, outdoor kitchens, water features, and fire features will often intersect and connect with one another.
Figure out how connections will work to make a seamless transition point. Formal landscapes will often transition to a natural area. Utilize decorative bunch grasses on the edge of the landscape to blur the line between mulched landscapes and natural areas. When utilizing multiple design styles, create transitional landscapes to blend gradually. For example, a contemporary landscape may transition to a natural area going from straight lines to calculated arcs and then to a curved path.
Iron Out the Details
Details in the landscape should emphasize the overall design style and theme. In most cases, color themes should be complementary, so they don’t clash. Choose colors for concrete, stone, wood, paint, mulch, and plant material that paint a picture that goes together.
Textures should also be considered. Fine texture details such as exposed aggregate concrete, small ledge stone, or small plants can feel lost in a large space. Bold coarse texture details like large boulders or big leaved plants can feel overbearing in small spaces. Perennial plants provide color, texture, and movement.
Plants should fit the design style with color as well as layout. Bold masses of plants work well with contemporary landscapes, while multi-species combinations can work well with natural areas. Finishing details can make the difference between a hodge-podge yard and a cohesive landscape.
There is a lot to think about when trying to maximize a landscape. A professional can help. Landscape designers can take ideas and dreams and turn them into a buildable design. Knowing the process before starting design or construction can be invaluable to being able to communicate goals and expectations to create a successful landscape to enjoy for years to come.
Top tips for selecting
a landscape maintenance team
From weekly to seasonal maintenance, to event preparation, or landscape enhancements: here are the top questions to ask to ensure you hire a licensed professional who will meet your needs.
1. How long have you been in business?
A company that has been in business
ten years or more is likely a reliable, trustworthy contractor. Whether you are
a homeowner who needs weekly maintenance or a commercial property owner who
needs pest control, check the company’s portfolio to see whether they have
expertise on projects like yours.
Madrone Landscapes has been in business for over 40 years. We offer weekly gardening services for residential clients in North San Luis Obispo County and estate maintenance for the broader San Luis Obispo County, Northern Santa Barbara County, and Southern Monterey County. We also offer high quality commercial, municipal, and HOA maintenance services for all of San Luis Obispo County.
2. What kind of insurance and licensing do you have?
Your landscaping company should
have workers compensation insurance, general liability insurance, bonded
workers and appropriate state licensing. For weed, pest, and disease control,
your maintenance contractor will need to be spray certified.
Madrone Landscapes has workers compensation insurance and general liability insurance. Our landscape maintenance crews are bonded, and we maintain a California state landscape contractor license.
3.Do you have specialists on staff?
Professional landscaping firms will
employ experts with degrees in landscape architecture and horticulture. They
should have expertise in landscape irrigation, as well as thorough knowledge of
the type of plants you have growing in your landscape design.
At Madrone Landscapes, our degreed and trained landscape designers and horticulturists establish and maintain our clients’ landscapes in superior condition. Our landscape maintenance teams are led by Taryn Via, Maintenance Manager. With a background in property management, Taryn has over 13 years of experience working directly with homeowners, HOAs, and commercial property owners.
4.What services do you offer?
Homeowners, commercial property owners, and HOAs all require different services for different properties. Ensure the company you hire provides the services you require. Traditionally, maintenance projects may include mowing and editing, irrigation repair, fertilizing, dead-heading, and mulching. Larger projects may need specialized maintenance at different intervals throughout the year. Consider whether you need seasonal maintenance, event preparation, and/or regular landscape enhancement.
5.How do your maintenance crews practice sustainability? Do you offer alternatives to chemicals?
If sustainability is important to you, be
sure to ask about alternatives to fertilizer and chemicals. Companies at the
forefront of landscaping will employ methods such as compost tea fertilizer,
integrated pest management, and organic fertilizers, ensuring your yard is a
safe and healthy place for your family.
At Madrone Landscapes, we are known for sustainable practices. We focus on plant health and the effective use of water. Our Healthy Gardens program introduces organic methods to fertilizer and weed, pest, and disease control.
6.Can you provide us with an estimate?
A professional landscape contractor will
provide you an estimate tailored to your individual needs. After visiting your
project, listening to your needs and requirements, they will ask you questions
to determine your exact needs.
Madrone Landscapes provides a customized written estimate for each project.
7.What does my contract include?
Once you’ve accepted your estimate, your
landscape contract will provide you a contract outlining what to expect on each
visit, ranging from weekly maintenance to seasonal maintenance, plant
replacement, and irrigation repairs.
At Madrone Landscapes, each contract is different – just like each project. Once we’ve discussed your estimate, we put together a custom contract specifically for you.
8. How do you communicate with clients?
Will you have an account manager assigned
to you? Will they call you to schedule appointments, or simply send notices in
Our Maintenance Manager, Taryn Via, is the one point of contact for our maintenance clients.
9. Will you provide references?
In addition to checking Yelp to see how the company ranks, ask for references, including addresses. Check the properties to see if they are maintained at the level you expect for your own property, whether residential or commercial. Madrone Landscapes recently was awarded “Top-rated Local” for ranking in the top-five landscape companies in the state for customer satisfaction.
We are happy to provide a list of references for you to call and testimonials for your review!
Do you have additional
questions? Call us at the office and ask for Taryn Via, Maintenance Manager at (805)
A better investment and landscape, from design through construction
What is Design-Build Landscaping?
Design-Build landscaping is quite common. 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. When you hire a landscape team that does both design and installation, that is design-build landscaping.
When done by experienced professionals, 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.
Two Major Types of Landscape Construction: 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. 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 engineers, architects, and builders will be working together with the landscape designer to make sure that there are few unforeseen lapses between designs or construction activities. We become the expert advocate for you in design and construction and we handle scheduling and coordination with all parties involved.
Five Tips for Clients in Design-Build Landscaping
1. Know what you need/want before you start.
Often times 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 can align your wants and needs before the design starts, your design will turn out better and go more quickly.
2. Establish a construction budget.
Before starting in 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 will affect the ambiance of your daily life and the investment of your funds is hard to do alone. You need experts you can trust to help you achieve your goals. If you don’t have a level of trust with your landscape designer, it will not work. This means 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. In order 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. We want to establish a good relationship with you so that it can last through the design and construction. Since we’re nearly wrapping up the first quarter of 2019, getting a landscape designed and built in 2019 starts now. 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.