When you work with a landscape designer, chances are that they are going to ask you a lot of questions. But, what about the questions that you should be asking your landscape designer? How do you know that the landscape designer you have chosen is the best fit for you and your project? Does the designer have the experience he or she needs to guide you through the design and installation process from beginning to end? Is that designer going to be there for you after installation?
Landscaping projects, whether they be large or small, should be thought of as an investment in your home and/or property. A well-executed plan will increase in value as time goes on, not depreciate. Plants and trees will fill in. Brick or stone will weather. Once mature, the landscape that you and your designer came up with should look as if it's always been there. As if nature created it. Like your home was designed and built specifically for that very spot, nestled amongst it's surroundings.
There are not many home improvements that have the potential to increase in value over time. Or greatly decrease for that matter. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that your landscape designer is someone you can trust to make the most of your investment. After all, you don't want to have to do it all over again.
#1.) Do you have a list of references that I can look at?
If you are unfamiliar with the work that the landscape designer has completed in the past, always ask for references. The designer may even be able to take you to see projects similar to yours that have already been installed. Ask to see projects that were not just recently installed. This way you can get an idea of what yours might end up looking like a few years down the road. Let's face it. Landscaping is not rocket science. It doesn't take a whole lot of skill to make something look pretty upon completion of the project or until your landscaper gets paid. Time will tell the difference between a well thought out design and something that was just thrown together to sell work. When you look at previous work completed by the designer, how does the space make you feel? Does the space flow? Are there too many plants? Are they all grown together? Are there a lot of dead plants? Or plants that look like they were recently replaced? Have garden walls or walks settled? Take pictures of your likes and/or dislikes to refer back to.
#2.) Do you charge for your design work?
This is actually a great source of debate between landscape contractors in southern Illinois, as well as landscape designers in southern Illinois and just about everywhere else too! Many look at it as a professional service that they offer their clients, and they charge for that service. Others look at it as a way of selling work for their installation crews. Therefore, they absorb the costs of designing and working with the client in order to sell the job. Don't be afraid to pay for design work. Think of it this way, you wouldn't expect an architect or an interior designer to work on your home for free. If a designer is getting paid for their work, they will be more willing to work with you on your design. The benefit to you is that the finished product is more likely to reflect your lifestyle and cater to your wants and needs as the homeowner. The design becomes more of a process, making revisions to make sure you ultimate goal of the project is reached. After all, it is easier and less costly to make revisions during the design process rather than in the middle of the installation. If someone offers you a free design, why not take them up on it and pay for a design from another designer. This way you can compare. Not only the designs that they each come up with, but also the level of service they provide to you. Chances are you will find that your money is well spent.
#3.) How long have you been in business?
This is an important question. What if months after the completion of your project you start experiencing troubles with a certain plant, or your water feature has sprung a leak and you need to get in contact with your designer for help. Only to find that they are no longer in business and you cannot reach them. You are left high and dry and wishing that you had known that he or she had only been in business for a year before you'd hired them. If a company or individual has been serving your community for many years, chances are they will still be there in another few years, should you need them again. There must be a reason why they have been around for so long. Especially if they survived the recent recession. They must be keeping their customers happy!
#4.) Do you offer any warranties?
If you are working with a designer that does not offer installation services, than this will probably not be a question you would ask. However, if your designer works for or with a landscape contractor on installations, then don't you dare forget to ask! If an installer does not back up their work with warranties than why would you have any reason to believe that they do quality work? The typical warranties on plants can range anywhere from a few months to 1-2 years. Trees may have longer warranties than shrubs or perennials. Many types of hardscaping (patios, walks, walls, stonework, etc.) should also come with a warranty. When installed properly, retaining walls created out of wall blocks or sidewalks made out of brick pavers should not shift or move at all. The installer should offer a very lengthy warranty on these types of hardscapes, if not a lifetime guarantee.
#5.) Are you insured?
This is for your protection. Make sure that all of the contractors that will be working on your project are insured. Depending on the size of the project, it is likely that large equipment or machinery may be used. Should something happen on your property, you want to make sure that you will not be held responsible. Otherwise, your landscape project might end up costing you a lot more than your originally thought.
These five questions should get you well on your in selecting a landscape designer and/or landscape contractor for your next project. At the very least, it will give you a peace of mind, which alone is worth a pretty penny.