Plan Now, Plant Later

It may seem ill-timed to think about designing a garden project this time of year but if you have a project that you want to tackle the next growing season NOW is the time to do your planning NOT in March or April when the sun comes out.

Why Fall and Winter?  The landscape trade has seasonal highs and lows – Take advantage of it!

Designers’ availability:  Fall and Winter tends to be the slow season for Designers.  They will typically have time available to work with you.  As Spring hits they get busy and may not be able to address your design needs for several months.

Get Bids when times are slow:  If you have a landscape design ready to go by January or February it is likely you will first in line to talk with Landscape Contractors.  And you will not only get bids back faster but you will you may very well get a less expensive bid in late winter or very early spring than in June when everyone in the landscape trade is swamped with work.

More Plant Material is available in the spring: Being ready with a finished design and contactor on board in the early spring means plant material will be more available and will be easier to find. This ultimately means there is less of a risk that substitutions will be necessary and you will get the design you want.

Allow Time to Design: 

Every design takes time but rarely do folks consider that in the scheme of things.  Whether you are doing the landscape planning or you hire a professional to design with you.

Expect to spend a minimum of 2 perhaps 3 months perhaps longer to produce a completed design start to finish – not including the installation.

Typical Design Steps if you are working with a professional designer:  

  • Initial meeting on site
  • Creating the Fee Proposal/ time for the client to review it and accept it.
  • Scheduling the project into the designer’s work schedule (which may vary depending upon the current client load)
  • Site Measuring, photographing the site, creating a base plan (+/- ½ a day)

ALL the steps just mentioned are BEFORE ANY DESIGN TAKES PLACE

  • It will take time for a designer to Create a Preliminary Design
  • Then you meet to discuss the Preliminary design – which would include both overall landscape layout and plant suggestions –sometimes that takes a couple of meetings
  • Then there’s Revisions to the Preliminary Design — this might take 1-2 rounds of revisions and meetings
  • Once the Prelim. Design is approved the Final Design documents are begun – depending upon the size and complexity of the project Documentation can take a 40 hrs or more of time on the designer’s end.
  • A Final meeting with the designer to deliver and explain the documents.

THEN CONTRACTORS  ARE CONTACTED AND THE BIDDING BEGINS – The bidding process can take to 2-4 weeks.  


 Show a set of completed documents:  Explain each piece.

Not all designers produce documents alike and the final product will vary in what it looks like but the information should be the same.

  • General Notes
  • Demo Plan (sometimes this not needed)
  • Hardscape Plan (if the design is simple sometimes this can be combined with the Planting Plan)
  • Plant Plan
  • Plant List
  • Lighting Plan
  • Irrigation Plan or sometimes this is handled as a description.
  • Conceptual structural Elevations of any structures (fences, gates, decks, trellises)
  • Plant images for the client

My clients get:

4 hardcopies of the drawings –1 for their records, 3 to give to bidders.

1 color copy of plant images for their records

And Electronic copy of the plant images and if they request it a pdf of the drawings too.

>>Talk about Negotiating with one contractor early in the design process rather than bidding. Explain the difference


Bidding vs. Negotiating

  • Bidding takes time —  Negotiating takes interviewing contractors for the best “fit”
  • Bidding doesn’t always mean you get the lowest price & sometimes the lowest price is not the best price — Bringing a contractor in early develops a relationship and a team so they have your best interests in mind.
  • Negotiating with a contractor means you and your designer can use their expertise during the design process (the best material for a rock wall// keeping the design in line with the budget)

If you use a landscape designer you should expect that professional to not only be available to answer questions from you and the contractor as the job is installed but ALSO be on site a minimum of once for a meeting with the contractor or project manager as the job begins.

I typically include 1-2 PERHAPS 3 site meetings during the installation in my proposals.  A meeting as the job begins// Another as the plants are installed and IF there is a lot of hardscape (patios, decks, paths) one more visit during that process too.

When you are doing your own design the process and steps are just about the same ESPECIALLY IF YOU PLANNING TO USE A LANDSCAPE CONTRACTOR. 

  • Measure the site locating existing property lines, buildings, paths and driveways, and existing plants to remain. Use this information to create a site plan drawn to scale for yourself so you have a base to sketch over.
  • Decide which functions you want in your garden.
    • A place to entertain?
    • A spot for the dog?
    • A play area for the kids?
    • A hot tub or fire pit?
    • A pea patch for veggies?
    • A place to meditate?

What is important to you?       Most urban properties are not large enough to incorporate everything we all dream of in our gardens soooo CHOOSE 3 FUNCTIONS AND PLAN FOR THOSE.

  • Create some preliminary ideas and discuss them with your family.
  • Once you have narrowed down your options and expectations, draw up a final plan and a list of the plants you want to use.
  • Include images of elements you like such as the
    • style of fencing,
    • gates and arbors,
    • lighting ideas,
    • water features etc.

To share with a contractor.


Warnings and Caveats:

If you ask contractors to bid on your project the only way to get accurate numbers from each bidder is to have drawings so nothing is forgotten and each contractor has the same information.

If you use a contractor remember BIG changes in the middle of the job will cost you money.  So take time to think through your design.

If you are doing the installation yourself design drawings will keep you on track and focused.

If you are doing the installation yourself, carefully think through what needs to be installed first, second, third etc. so you will not take 3 steps forward only to realize you have to back up a step and undo what you have already done!

DO NOT BUY PLANTS BEFORE YOUR DESIGN IS FINALIZED.  You may be limiting your ultimate design and regret it later

A good primer on garden design is Understanding Garden Design (Timber Press) by Vanessa Gardner Nagel.  She takes you through the process step by step.     QUESTIONS???