Though winter’s chill may keep you indoors for a month or three, you’ll soon be back in the garden. Now’s the time to plan for spring. Order plants and seed. Prepare your tools. Envision how you want your garden to look when the weather’s warm again. And above all, it’s time to get some thoughts on paper.

Water feature

Some landscape designs are more difficult to install than others. Be sure your designer has experience creating the type of theme garden you’re after.

Photo Credit: David L. Morgan

Front yard design

A reputable landscape professional should know what plants are hardy in your area and what would work well for your particular garden needs.

Photo Credit: Mark A. Miller

Turf and groundcover

Do you prefer turfgrass, groundcover or both?

Photo Credit: David L. Morgan

Iris walkway

Public garden plantings may be too large for your back yard, but they’ll give you some inspiration for what might work in your smaller space.

Photo Credit: David L. Morgan

Bold colors

Show your designer pictures of what inspires you – from plantings to color combinations to garden art. You might just see the real thing in your own garden!

Photo Credit: David L. Morgan

There are different ways to plan the garden of your dreams. Some homeowners like the challenge of designing it all on their own. Others gather inspiration from books, magazines and online before coming up with their plan. Some ask for guidance from their local garden center. And those who can’t even imagine trying to design their own yard seek the services of a landscape architect or designer.

If you’re a homeowner whose garden plan involves calling in a professional to come up with that great design for you, there are a few things to consider. For starters, a designer can’t do it alone. Whether you want a completely new garden or just some improvements made to your existing landscape, if you truly want to enjoy your yard come spring (and the rest of the year), you need to be part of the process.

It helps to start with some kind of idea of what you’d like your garden to be and how you’d like to use it. Once you have a few ideas, you need to ask – and answer – a few questions before any good designer can start drawing up that garden of your dreams. Not sure what to ask? Here are some questions to consider – as well as some that might be asked of you.

What you Might Ask a Professional Designer

  • Do you have experience designing and installing the type of garden I’d like to have (sensory garden, water garden, etc.)? Do you have a portfolio or photographs you can show me of your work? Do you have references?
  • How long have you been in business? What specific design training, education and certification do you have?
  • Are you also a contractor, or do you subcontract the job? Can I install parts of the landscape myself or select my own installer for certain parts of the design?
  • When can you start? Will your crew only be working on my garden, or will it have other jobs to complete at the same time? How long should the job take?
  • Can we meet in person to further discuss the ideas I’ve come up with, then follow up with detailed plans?
  • Can you give me an estimate of the total cost, and break down that cost for me (showing prices for plants, lighting, stonework, installation, labor, etc.)? Can we work together on making any adjustments, if necessary, to that estimate (reduce the number of plantings or path lights, for example) to fit my budget? Will you put in writing that the final fee won’t overrun the project more than 10 percent? Do you ask for full payment in advance, or can I pay a portion now and the rest upon completion?

Obviously keeping within your budget is an important goal. But before you sign on the dotted line, you need to ask yourself a few questions after you’ve spoken with a possible candidate:

  • Does this person seem to listen when I explain what I’d like my garden to be, as well as appear to appreciate the concepts I’ve presented?
  • Does this designer wait patiently for me to finish speaking, or interrupt with suggestions and criticisms?
  • Am I prepared to compromise and consider other recommendations based on the sun, shade and other conditions of my yard? Will this designer compromise with me when I insist on certain plants or features that aren’t recommended?

You should feel comfortable with your designer, as well as confident in his or her abilities. If you don’t, then interview other professionals for the job.

What a Professional Designer Might Ask You

  1. What do you envision for your garden? Is there a landscape model you have in mind or a picture you can show me?
  2. How do you plan to use your garden – family fun, entertaining, relaxation?
  3. Do you have a sunny or a shady garden? How much sun/shade does it get?
  4. Do you prefer a “mature” garden or one with smaller plants that you can nurture (at less cost)?
  5. Do you have particular plants in mind (or any you’d like to avoid)? Would you like to try growing vegetables, fruit trees, annuals, cutflowers, roses, herbs, etc.? Do you prefer native plants and ornamental grasses? Would you like turf or groundcovers (or both)?
  6. Are you interested in adding any hardscape features or accessories to your garden, like landscape lighting, a gazebo, walkways, etc.?
  7. Are you planning to add or build any other major structures in your yard – either now or possibly later – like a swimming pool, sauna or outdoor kitchen?
  8. Will this garden be a hobby for you and your family, or do you prefer a low-maintenance landscape? Are you concerned about the amount of water required to maintain it?
  9. What’s your budget for the design and installation?

Remember, you’re hiring someone to create your dream garden – not what he or she wants it to be. So be prepared to ask – and answer – good questions from the start. Then you’ll be on the way to making that dream a reality!