Four Steps To Your Professional Landscape
By: Mitch Kalamian

1. Define your needs.

The first step is to identify what purpose the landscape must serve. Stop and think for a moment…why are you considering this investment in your home?

  • To increase your property value?
  • To enhance your enjoyment of your property?
  • To save energy or water?
  • To provide a safe environment for your children or pets?

 What outdoor activities will your landscape support?

  • Nurturing your green thumb in a rose garden?
  • Entertaining family and friends?
  • A place for your children to play?
  • A quiet spot for you to “get away from it all”?

Do you have a particular theme in mind for your outdoor living area?

  • English Garden?
  • Mediterranean villa?
  • New age respite?
  • Mexican resort?

Do not underestimate the importance of the design process when it comes to your landscaping project. Your “outdoor paradise” should be just as comfortable and functional as the rooms inside your house.

Come up with a “wish list” and include any theme and features that you might have in mind. A good landscape designer can usually suggest a theme as soon as they visit the property and get a “feel” for the yard. If other suggestions or opinions are not offered, you may want to consider another designer.

If your house has a very distinct or strong style, you may want to let that style dictate the theme of the landscape. Alternatively, you may want to consider places that you like to visit or your own personal style, and let that guide your landscape project.

What features to you want to include?

  • Outdoor kitchen?
  • Water feature?
  • Pool/spa?
  • BBQ console?
  • Fireplace, fire pit?

What materials do you want to use?

  • Brick or Stone?
  • Colored or Acid stained concrete?
  • Sod or Synthetic Turf?
  • Wrought iron or Wood?

2. Realistically consider your budget.

  • What is the overall size of the area to be landscaped?
  • What features are to be included?
  • What is the current state of the area to be landscaped?
  • What materials will you use?

You should never tell your landscape designer/contractor is that you “have no budget”. Your budget is a very important part of the project. Being truthful and upfront with your landscape designer defines the way they will proceed with the design of your landscape. A realistic budget also prevents an over or under design of your space.

3. Decide who will design your landscape.

A Design/Build Contractor? This is a professional licensed by the state who can design – and then create – your landscape. This is usually your best bet as the designer who has the initial vision regarding how your backyard paradise should look will be overseeing how their design is brought to life. Often times if you hire a designer to create the look and someone else to construct it, there can be mixed signals or miscommunications resulting in a less-than-perfect project.

A landscape architect? This is a professional licensed by the state who can develop plans that can be put out to bid by contractors. This is certainly an option, but results may vary.

Landscape Designers? Unlicensed individuals who provide ideas, conceptual plans and planting plans.

Licensed contractors are regulated by laws designed to protect the public, are bonded and must complete four years of journey – or higher level - experience in the same trade to apply for a license. Unlicensed persons typically are not bonded and may not have liability or workers compensation insurance. If you hire an unlicensed person, you may be financially responsible if injuries, fire or other property damage occurs.

Although your project may not seem complicated, a good job requires skill and knowledge of landscape and irrigation materials, as well as proper installation methods. Be sure to ask your potential landscape designer questions regarding irrigation controllers, plant sizes and grounds preparation. Discuss any potential inconveniences to you and your family, i.e., covering outdoor patio furniture, temporarily relocating your pets, storing your vehicles, etc.

4. Hire the right professional.

Not only are you buying a landscape, you are buying the services of a landscape contractor to install and construct the project for you. One of the best ways to select a contractor is through recommendations from former customers. You may also want to contact your state’s Landscape Contractors Association for their referrals.

However, regardless of the recommendations before making your final decision, you should:

  • Ask for the contractor’s state license number and call the Contractors State License Board to verify that it is issued for landscaping and is in good standing.
  • Request a list of similar references. Try to visit the jobs and speak to the homeowners. Find out if the contractor stuck to his budget, was on time with the completion, how problems were handled, etc. Nearly every project encounters some type of problem, it’s important to know how the contractor handled them. Did they communicate thoroughly with their client?
  • Verify that the contractor has liability and workers’ compensation insurance. Request certificates in writing.
  • Be cautious of contractors who ask for large sums of money prior to starting the project. If a contractor does ask for a down payment, remember that on home improvement projects (including landscaping) the legal limit that may be asked is ten percent of the full price of the job (excluding finance charges) or $1,000 whichever is less, this may vary by state. Be certain that any down payment or schedule of installments payments is specified in your contract.

Choosing your landscape contractor is not always about price or how they portray themselves. Do your homework, complete your due diligence…ask many questions.
Regardless of the size of your project, its success may ultimately depend on some careful planning and the hiring of a professional landscape contractor.

Homes that have been professionally landscaped can fetch 15 percent to 20 percent more at the time of resale than homes that lack landscaping.

Homeowners should spend between 10 percent and 20 percent of their home’s value on landscaping.

Landscaping is one way to increase a home's value. The general rule of thumb is that you get back 100 percent to 200 percent of what you invest in landscaping when you sell your home.

According to the National Gardening Association, homeowners spent $36.8 billion on lawns and gardens in 2003, of which $11.4 billion was spent on landscaping. And no wonder—it offers the best return on investment of any home improvement you can make. Many savvy homeowners are hiring landscape architects to help them realize their dreams. Here are some tips to help you make an educated choice: Think about what you want and how you will use your landscape. Formal entertaining, herb gardens, and children’s playgrounds are all possibilities. Don’t limit yourself to plants and trees; maybe you would like a fence, a fountain, a deck, a patio, or other outdoor element.

  • Make a realistic budget. One rule of thumb is to invest 5 to 10 percent of your house’s worth. If this seems steep, consider that appropriate landscape improvements are estimated to return 100 to 200 percent of their cost when a house is sold.
  • Look at books and magazines for ideas and start a file of plants, trees, gardens, yards, pools, patios, decks, fences, etc., that you like—or dislike—to show your landscape architect. This will help you communicate what you want to achieve—or avoid.
  • To find residential landscape architects in your area, go to Firm Finder. Credentials are important. Landscape architects are licensed to practice in 47 states and must pass a rigorous exam. Members of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) have met their membership requirements and keep up with the latest technology and trends through ASLA publications and continuing education programs.
  • Interview a few landscape architects and ask for references. A good designer will walk around the home and ask a lot of questions about your lifestyle, what you want to accomplish, and your budget. They will not hesitate to provide references for you to call or to answer questions you may have about their services and fees.
  • Ask about maintenance. Some homeowners enjoy working in their yards and gardens, some hire a service to do it, and others don’t want to bother with it at all. Be sure to let your landscape architect know how you feel about the upkeep of your investment.

Since 1987, Mitch Kalamian has worked with celebrities, professional athletes, entrepreneurs, and executives, creating “ultimate” gardens for his clients. His ability to capture each client’s tastes and style make him one of the country’s most exciting and sought-after landscape designers.

Mitch was featured on HGTV’s Landscapers’ Challenge (which he won) and has an episode of The Seasoned Gardener, contributed to articles for HGTV, The New York Times and other local and national publications. He was showcased on the cover of a national landscape magazine as a “Primetime Contractor”.

He has completed numerous inspiring landscapes for clients spanning the southern California coast, including winning the California Landscape Contractors Association award for 2009. Last year, he won three California Landscape Contractors Association Landscape Beautification Outstanding Achievement awards.

If you would like more information or would like to see pictures of some of the projects we have completed, please visit our website or view our Facebook page.