What kind of yard person do I need?
January 6, 2016 10:36 AM   Subscribe

We're looking to have our front yard re-done, and I'm not sure what type of person we need to hire. There are a variety of things that need to be done, and I'd like a single person to oversee it all, but I'm not sure what those people call themselves so I don't know what to search for.

We want to keep the basic layout of the yard, so there (hopefully) won't be any changes to the existing stone or concrete work. But we do want to:

1. Rip out all existing lawn, shrubs, plants, flowers, etc. and replace them with new stuff that looks great. We need this person to do the design work of what goes where, with thought both to what will look good, what will do well in our climate, and what is easy enough to maintain (we have a weekly gardener, but I don't want them to have to be pruning roses and sculpting animal topiaries).
2. Update/replace the irrigation as necessary.
3. Add landscape lighting that's both useful and attractive.
4. Do all of the above within the rules of our HOA, and ideally overseeing the HOA approval process. I can drive the approval if needed, but I definitely DON'T want to work with someone who is going to try to convince me to skirt the rules, game the system, etc. This needs to be someone who is used to working with this kind of process and is comfortable with it.

Do we need a landscape architect? Designer? Some kind of General Contractor who will sub out the individual tasks? Do those people call themselves something other than a "GC"? We have an interior designer we've worked with, and she claims to do yards too, but clearly it's not her specialty. I want someone who specializes in this stuff. If this first project goes well, we'd hope to work with the same person to re-do our back yard which will include additional stuff like a built-in grill, a pergola, and potentially a pool or hot tub.

I really don't have the time to be managing this myself with a myriad of subs. I need someone who will take my ideas and budget, get my approval of their plan, and execute on it with a minimum of headache. I am more than willing to pay a premium for this.
posted by primethyme to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
We hired a landscape architect, who was fantastic! He did tasks similar to what you need, as well as creating a phased vision for our whole yard (including front & backyard). He then oversaw the implementation of the first phase of the plan, acting as the GC on them, and making sure they did exactly what was in the plan.
posted by apennington at 10:41 AM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

You don't need a landscape architect for this. You basically need a good design/build landscape firm.

They can act as GC for the irrigation stuff. As a general rule if you don't need grading, walls, hardscapes you don't want a landscape architect.
posted by JPD at 10:49 AM on January 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also a lot of landscape architectects will actually subcontract a GC or have a relationship with a GC who pays them a vig for the business.
posted by JPD at 10:50 AM on January 6, 2016

You need a good landscaping firm. Ask around, get referrals from your neighbors (who presumably hired someone who could work within the HOA bylaws). Talk with several contractors, let them know the kinds of things you'd like to see done, the sort of timelines and the budget range you're interested in working within. Get bids, and go with the contractor that gives you the right amounts of the right sort of warm fuzzies for the whole process.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:54 AM on January 6, 2016

You don't specify that you want to change the basic design/layout of your yard, i.e. adding or subtracting hardscape, changing locations of planting beds, etc. My city is known far and wide for their rigorous HOA rules, regulations and enforcement. And they don't require any approvals if you are just updating what is there (changing plants/trees, updating irrigation and lights) rather than redesigning the yard (moving walkways or planting beds, adding retaining walls, etc.). So check with them before assuming they are going to want to be involved.

If you're not changing the design, a landscape contractor is what you want. If you are changing the design then a landscape architect is more appropriate.
posted by cecic at 10:54 AM on January 6, 2016

We had a landscaper. She did everything you described with just a helper.

I can recommend someone if you're in Atlanta.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:55 AM on January 6, 2016

If you're not changing the design, a landscape contractor is what you want. If you are changing the design then a landscape architect is more appropriate.

Well, this is some of where I'm running into a bit of trouble. What defines "change the design"? We definitely want different types of plants in different places. The concrete and existing walls aren't moving, and I don't think we'll do any grading, but the "design" in terms of what living things are in the yard should be changing drastically. Does this mean architect or no?

(BTW, our HOA definitely requires approval for adding or removing any plant in the yard unless it's exactly the same kind of plant in exactly the same spot. I've read the rules carefully.)
posted by primethyme at 11:02 AM on January 6, 2016

I meant that changing out plants is not changing the design of the yard. If the hardscape is staying put and all you're changing is plants and trees, sprinklers and lights, I would say no need for an architect.

One caveat: If you are looking for really imaginitve use of plants, I could see consulting an architect (for example, you want a really unique drought tolerant xeriscape and the number of people in your area who know how to do that well is limited).

One possibility: Check with a local nursery (not like a Home Depot). They will often offer the service you want and really know their plants and what will grow well in your area. And they can often contract out for irrigation and lighting. Thr bonus is you can walk through the nursery with them and point out what you like and don't like.
posted by cecic at 11:11 AM on January 6, 2016

We used a landscape architect and substantially improved the value of our home when it came time to sell it. It cost us, but the result was extraordinary. The project requirements were to level the ground as it was on a slope, figure out plantings (including removing dead or useless trees and replacing them with others), create a vegetable garden, sort out irrigation, build a fence, a shed, a play area for the kids, a deck, lighting and create custom pavers for a path from the front of the house to the garden.

Within two years the yard was fully mature and a haven in the middle of the city. I am now a big believer in using a quality landscape architect.

Having moved to the country, though, we now have more land and some garden design needs for which a landscape architect would be overkill. Instead we used a design service from a garden store - for under $300 their designer came to our place and a couple of weeks later sent a detailed garden design blueprint which they would be able to execute for us once we are ready to start the project.
posted by Dragonness at 11:16 AM on January 6, 2016

Basically, if you're not building things (and sometimes even if you are), you don't need a landscape architect. A landscape designer will do what you want. Typically, with a designer, they'll interview you, come up with a few design concepts, and then do a couple revisions.

You could also go with a landscaping contractor if you're looking for a fairly standard design in terms of plant selection. This will still be aesthetically pleasing but not as personalized; they're not going to sit down with you and figure out the yard of your dreams, but maybe you don't need that.
posted by snickerdoodle at 2:33 PM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wanted to add that if you're thinking about pools and pergolas and are in a town with stringent permitting requirements and environmental review, it may be worth getting an architect just to deal with that process.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:53 PM on January 7, 2016

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