San Diego native plant landscaping has now supplanted succulent gardens as the new darling of local garden design, a likely result of the drought and accompanying water restrictions. This new trend holds true up and down the state. I have always enjoyed designing natives into landscapes and have planted many species and hybrids around my home. But there are two diverging paths of thought when landscaping with natives, one for the purists who use only California natives, and the other for those who want a naturalistic look but don’t mind mixing in plants originating from other regions. There are certainly good arguments, both aesthetically and practically, for going either direction.
There are a few myths to dismiss when designing native plants into our San Diego landscapes. The first myth: natives won’t require water. To be sure, mature native as well as some non-native plants can survive without water, yet without water many native species will look like lifeless sticks through much of the summer and fall. An irrigation cycle once every three to four weeks will keep native gardens looking their best during the dry season.
The second myth: drip irrigation is best for drought tolerants. In reality, drip can be death for natives and it is wise to use a spray system with MP rotators when irrigating drought tolerant landscapes. Overhead sprays work more effectively to mimic summer cloudbursts and water the entire soil profile in the garden.
The third myth: native plants must be planted in late fall and winter. This theory plays along with the first myth that natives can’t tolerate supplemental water. Natives can be planted nearly any time of year, with the late summer to early fall as the possible exception. But while late fall and winter are exceptionally good times to install the native plant gardens, spring and early summer are also good times to install most natives.
One other myth needs to be mentioned; native landscapes only look good in the spring. The successful native garden comes together when the client’s expectations and the skills of the designer merge. While the native or mixed native landscape may not be full of vibrant new green leaves or fields of flowers year around, the well-designed native landscape can capture the flavor of each season. A effective mix of plants will offer a new palette of subtle delights as each season passes, keeping your outdoor space charmingly natural and inviting throughout the year.
Just starting to kick the tires on a landscape project? A landscape design, whether penciled on a napkin over dinner or fully plotted and drawn by a professional, will become the first step to creating that outdoor space of your dreams. It also results in your first out-of-pocket cost. The price of a professional landscape design will be a fraction of the total project, and ultimately depends on three factors: the experience and skill of the design professional, the services offered, and the amount of drawing detail necessary to depict the installation work to be done.
First meetings with designers and landscape architects allow the client and designer to get to know each other, discuss the scope of work to be done, look at portfolios, and walk the site. This meeting usually lasts from 30 minutes to an hour or more.
As designer, I can then assess the scope of the project, decide what kind of documents will be necessary to accurately depict the project on paper, decide how it will take to complete the project, and arrive at a price. With this information, I draw up a proposal that states what work will be done, the documents included, and the overall costs. If the client agrees, then we are in business together.
How do designers and architects arrive at the exact price? Most charge by the hour and add on whatever printing charges will occur. Some simply charge by the hour with no fixed total and then bill the client as those hours accumulate. I have found most people are uncomfortable with this arrangement, so I figure my hours in advance so that I can offer a set amount for the design. This way, my clients know how much they will ultimately pay before they sign the proposal.
Ultimately designs cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars if they are uncomplicated, to several thousand for complex plans that will take many hours of work. As mentioned, the price is ultimately determined by the number of hours at the drawing board. The average design takes about 15 hours to complete, counting site meetings. At minimum, a small, uncomplicated design takes 7 to 8 hours, while complex designs on large properties may take a week or more of dedicated work to complete.