Landscape Design FAQs

Published on March 13, 2015

Dave Swearingen, Landscape Architect with The Site Group, Inc. of New Carlisle, Ohio, answers some frequently asked questions about landscape design and installation.

Q. How much should I spend on my landscaping?
A. This one really depends on several factors: How much do you enjoy landscaping? Are you concerned with exceeding the “maximum resale value” of your home? What are your outdoor entertaining needs? Many customers tell me, “we know that we may be overspending for our neighborhood, but we are planning on enjoying our yard, patio, etc. for the next several years, so that takes priority over resale value.” If you admittedly do not enjoy maintaining your yard and do not want to hire out the work (which is, by the way, probably more affordable than you think!), you should look into something simpler that will not require as much maintenance.

Generally speaking, your walks, patios, and landscaping should be 10-15 percent of the value of your home. If you don’t exceed neighborhood values, you should be able to at least get a 1:1 return on landscape investment, while obviously beautifying your home and adding curb appeal.

Q. What’s the difference between and landscape architect and a landscape designer?
A. A landscape designer may or may not have college education. Some designers have horticulture or landscape contracting education, but many excellent designers are “self-taught” and have great experience and skills.

A registered landscape architect in the state of Ohio must have a professional degree in landscape architecture (4-5 years of undergrad or 2-3 years of graduate school), three years of internship under the direction of another registered landscape architect, and have passed a three day exam. Does this mean they are a good designer? No!! Just like other fields, a degree and a license does not guarantee that someone can successfully solve the problems around your house. Do your research or get a referral from an architect, interior designer, or builder. These professions work around landscape designers and landscape architects every day and can tell you which ones would be best suited for your needs. Each firm or individual has a specialty, from residential design/build to campus planning to park design to public art. Take a closer look at the individual and/or firm you are hiring to make sure they are qualified to take on your project. Also, make sure your personalities mesh!!

Q. Why should I pay a design fee?
A. Like any other professional, landscape architects and designers are selling you their time, expertise, and experience. The old adage “you get what you pay for” really holds true in this circumstance. Most seasoned designers should be able, however, to give you some rough ballpark of the potential cost of the overall project at the first meeting; so ask!! An architect friend of mine likes to say, “There are three things that can be controlled in a project: size of spaces, budget, and detailing. Pick any two…” This is true also in the design market. If you want truly creative and custom ideas, you will have to pay for them. Along that same line of thought is the next question:

Q. How much will a plan cost?
A. This really depends on who you are buying the plan from. A consulting firm must make all of their money from design time, so hourly rates of $50-100 an hour are not uncommon. The advantage of this type of firm is that, theoretically, your project would be installed with exactly the same result by any qualified contractor. Many consultants offer some sort of construction oversight service so you can turn over installation questions and details to them. A design-build contractor will have opportunity to mark up materials and installation labor, so they may be willing to refund some of the design time cost toward the project installation. Typically their designs do not need to be as detailed, since they are using their own crews and would be responsible for communicating design intent during construction.

Q. I’m not sure how much I can afford to spend now – can you just do the front?
A. Sure, we can design any part of your project at any time. Generally, I like to encourage customers to get a conceptual master plan for the entire property. Get some rough ideas on paper for the entire “dream project” but only do what you can afford now. This will also introduce some ideas for future plans, for example, a shade structure that as you flip through design magazines you can look for different options for the detailing of this part of the plan. Then once future funds become available, you have ideas for fleshing out the rough master plan. Be careful, however, if you decide to do the front first, because you may have to tear part of it up with machines to access the back! It may be best to do the “heavy work” first, instead of thinking in terms of “front and back.”

Q. I’ve heard that you should always: ______________________
A. Fill in the blank here with “plant a shade tree on the south side” or “plant evergreens on the northwest side” or “not put mulch against the house” or “keep all plantings five feet away from the house (especially in the west for brush fires).”

While any or all of these rules of thumb can be fine, you are going to have to decide what your personal priorities are. In other words, if you lot has a great view out the northwest side, you may be willing to put up with some winter wind in order to accentuate that view. Each client, property, and project is unique, so you and your designer are going to have to work through your specific priorities. Another example: people tell me they want to attract birds and butterflies but not bees. Unfortunately, the same pretty blooms that bring hummingbirds and butterflies also attract bees, so you have to decide if you are willing to put up with one to get the other.

Q. Why does everyone use so many Stella d’ Oro Daylilies?
A. The quick answer: because they work! Stellas are easy to grow, have a long bloom season, and multiply rapidly.

The real issue, however, may be a lack of creativity of the designer, lack of customer knowledge for special care requirements of specific plants, or lack of willingness to give a plant time and care to let them mature and reach full potential. Let your designer know if you are a hobbyist and would like to try new, more exotic plantings. The general public is too often looking for a “one time fix” to gardening, but as with all living things, care along the way is needed! Look at your garden as a work in progress and realize that you may have to move some plants around to achieve optimum sun exposure, drainage, soil quality, etc. Or, just be happy with the “Stellas” of the landscape world: plants that look good, are easy to care for, and grow about anywhere. 

HouseTrends features The Site Group in their latest backyard landscaping challenge

Published on March 12, 2015

HouseTrends Magazine has once again featured The Site Group in their latest backyard landscaping challenge. Click here to view the article.

Planning for success

Published on March 9, 2015

“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential” – Winston Churchill

Perhaps Churchill had it right.  Maybe the reason we hesitate to plan, to write anything down, is that experience has taught us that our plans always change.  According to research by the University of Scranton, only 62% make new years resolutions, and of those who do, only about half have even infrequent success.  Yet the same research reveals that those of us who make some plans are 10 times more likely to succeed than those who don’t plan at all.  Plans, whether they are set in stone or not, are beneficial, even for your outdoor spaces.  What if there was a way to plan out the development of your entire property for the next 10 years, but be flexible if your needs change?

Is the problem really “planning” or “planning too hastily”?  What if a plan could be developed and worked toward without total commitment to areas of the yard that might not be tackled for a few seasons?  A good master plan can be just that, a rough outline reflecting where we hope to be eventually, but without binding us too tightly to details.

So why master plan your outdoor surroundings?  There are several reasons.  When the project is complete, you will have continuity and uniformity across the whole property.  A good plan will address and solve problems caused by drainage and wind, while accentuating good views, sun exposure, and properly sized entertaining spaces.  A plan will also help you prioritize different phases of the project(s) and make sure they are completed in the best order.

How detailed does a master plan need to be?  It really depends on your time frame and budget.  If you are ready to pull the trigger on the whole property, by all means plan it out in detail and do it!  However, if you time frame is a little longer, maybe you should consider preparing a rough master plan, then detailing out sections of it as you are ready to tackle installation.  A good designer should be able to give you ballpark estimates for each area, which will help you schedule to progress of the work.  Plus, if you know that a water feature, for example, is included in a specific location on your master plan, you will start to notice them and have a good idea of what you like when the time comes for that phase.

So what do you need to know to get started?  A good designer will spend 80% of the first meeting listening, so take this opportunity to talk about your likes, dislikes, dreams for your yard, and priorities.  Collecting photos of yards, patios, or water features you like will help give the designer a sense of your taste.  A list of priorities and problems that need solved is always nice and makes sure nothing is forgotten.  Some people don’t want to tell me too much, preferring that I use my own judgment, but my job in that interview is to get the overview and be able to show you varieties your basic ideas.  I also like to take a look at how you have decorated your house for clues.  An experienced or educated designer should be able to produce several conceptual plans, especially for built areas like patios, walks, and pools to give you options to pick from.  So even if you go in with a specific idea, you might want to consider alternate solutions.

Who does this type of master planning?  There are several paths into the master planning business, from horticulture to architecture to landscape architecture.  Each background offers a slightly different focus, so it is really up to you to decide who to engage.   Research websites, get referrals from friends and neighbors with yards you like, and ask to look at design work of a similar size and scope.  Look for a range of design styles - a qualified master planner should be able to accent the unique features of your house, not solve every problem with the same kit of parts.

A master plan is going to cost some money.  You want a plan that reflects where you are right now, but gives you flexible vision for the future.  Depending on how much area, how many meetings you require, and how many different elements are involved, a good master plan may start at $800-$1000.   Many designers that are associated with contracting companies are willing to refund at least part of the design fees back on future installations.    Other companies are set up as consultants, selling their time, not just a product.  Find someone you can work with and who has a range of work that is similar to your project.

If you are like most of us, you prefer getting things right away.  However, you have also probably learned that a vision of the future is worth developing and will benchmark progress along the way.  Taking the time now to get that vision on paper, at least in a rough form, will give you a goal and leave you with unified landscape and outdoor entertaining areas that will provide a backdrop for family enjoyment for many years.

Click here for a free consultation.

Dayton Outdoor Kitchen and Pool Patio Project Featured in HouseTrends

Published on April 11, 2014

We are very excited that HouseTrends Magazine has showcased our recent work for the Parkers' Outdoor Kitchen and Pool Patio project. We took the exisitng landscape of the Parkers' home and added a firepit and a pergola that would create a room-like space to the outdoor space around their pool.

Interested in a free consultation - click here.

Check out Site Group Landscaping on Houzz

Published on January 3, 2014

If you haven't heard of Houzz, it is kinda like Pinterest but just for the home. Our customers love Houzz for gathering photos, landscaping inspiration, planting ideas and more. They often bring these ideas to our consultation meetings to share their vision for their landscaping project. Start your landscaping idea book on Houzz today!

Historic Eaton home landscaping project featured in HouseTrends

Published on October 30, 2013

Once again, our landscaping work for a historic Eaton home was featured in HouseTrends Magazine. The project included the creation of an outdoor grilling area, recreation space, putting green, paillion, slate florring, clay pavers and more. View the project in our portfolio, or click here for a free consultation.

HouseTrends Magazine Features our Willis Courtyard Project

Published on October 1, 2012

We are very pleased to announce that our work for Mark and Kathy Willis' home in Eaton, Ohio was featured in the October 2012 issue of HouseTrends Magazine. The article captures our design process as well as the outcome – creating an outdoor living space fit for the beautiful historic home.

As a historic landmark, the project held many challenges but we were able to capture the unique character of this home in the outdoor space. Want to see more - check out the Willis project in our portfolio or read the full article in HouseTrends Magazine online.

Get to Know The Site Group

Published on September 29, 2012

Interested in what working with the Site Group looks like? Get to know us, our process and hear first hand about the Sullivan project. Ready to get started on your dream outdoor living space - get in touch with us today.



Outdoor Gas Firepits and Fireplaces

Published on July 10, 2012

Imagine walking out your backdoor and relaxing in front of a beautiful roaring fire just minutes later. Outdoor fireplaces are a quick fix for those days and nights when you want to relax in front of the fire in the privacy of your own yard without fighting the wind or other elements that sometimes make igniting a fire difficult. These outdoor landscape features enhance the ambiance of your outdoor living space and light-up instantly. They add a cozy, inviting look and feel to your overall outdoor living space and contain many benefits over traditional wood-burning fire-pits.

How many times have you thought relaxing in front of the fire, toasting marshmallows and engaging in thoughtful conversation with family and friends would be great, only to decide having a fire is just too much mess and too much trouble? If so, an Outdoor Gas Fireplace may be the solution you've been looking for. These beautiful outdoor fixtures are convenient, start-up instantly and – unlike a traditional fire pit – there’s no fussing and waiting to get the fire started. Gas fire-pits are also safer than their wood burning counterparts; they are less of a mess and do not emit embers. You’ll also enjoy the fact that gas fireplaces are less smoky and, therefore, produce less of a smell.

As far as safety is concerned, there are no smoldering ashes, wind-related fire-spread or flying sparks to worry about.  That’s a huge plus over traditional fire pits, and an investment you can feel comfortable about.

You’ll also find that outdoor gas fireplaces are an incredible source of warmth with several options to choose from (range or BTUs). You can also pick a design to suit your style; there are many looks and varieties to choose from– traditional fireplace, fire pit, and fire ring.  Finally, you’ll be pleased to know that outdoor fireplaces run on liquid propane or can be hooked up to your home’s natural gas output making installation and operation that much simpler.

Enhance Your Curb Appeal With LED Landscape Lighting

Published on July 5, 2012

Are you thinking of enhancing your property’s curb appeal this summer? Landscape lighting with LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) is a great way to accent your outdoor living space and dramatically improve your home’s curb appeal. LED lighting isn’t just a trend – it’s the future of lighting – and it’s making its way into every area of our lives, including our outdoor living spaces!

LEDs illuminate any outdoor space with show stopping brilliance and beauty that will give your home the positive drive-by drama you’re looking for! These light features are a popular pick to brighten driveways, gardens, and patios alike.

You’ll be pleased to find that LED bulbs are beneficial because they last longer than traditional halogens, thus saving you time and money on bulbs and maintenance. Who doesn’t want to beautify their home while also conserving resources? Here’s another surprising LED fact - you can fit more bulbs on one circuit, thus reducing installation time (even more time saving!). Additionally, these low-wattage bulbs are considered green technology and not only can you feel good about using sustainable resources, you’re sure to love the related cost-savings shown on your monthly energy bill!

Aesthetically speaking, these lights are typically smaller and harder to notice during the day – even the smallest aspects of curb appeal count!, you know? LEDs are also brighter and provide different color tones than traditional bulbs.

If you’re thinking through an outdoor lighting project, be sure to consider adding LEDs to your list. They’re a great way to beautify your space while conserving time, resources, and the environment at the same time!

Page 2 of 3 pages  < 1 2 3 >