By Steve Harbour
What is a landscape consultation and why do I need one? As a landscape designer working in San Diego, I begin all residential landscape projects with a landscape consultation meeting. It always begins my process forward. Why is this step necessary? Most consultations become the first step in designing and drafting a landscape plan for the project, but in some cases, homeowners simply want advice on improving and maintaining their outdoor landscape and nothing more. Either way, the consultation is the best method to get an affordable , honest, and thorough analysis of your outdoor space, along with many suggestions for improvement. Additionally, it is an excellent way to learn about the landscape construction process, how it works, and how to avoid common problems.
Here are answers to common questions about a landscape consultation.
How long does a landscape consultation last? The meeting typically lasts up to an hour. In fact, after about an hour, we will have covered so much territory that clients have as much information as they can absorb and more time is not fruitful.
What happens during the consultation? First, we decide if we need to sit down and discuss the project before walking the site, or if we start looking at the site right away. Often, and this is very helpful to me if a landscape design will follow, the client has photos of landscapes they like and we review those pictures before walking the yard. When we walk the yard, we’ll discuss what can stay and what can go, problems areas, and of course what, where, and how to add plants and hardscape features to the landscape. We define what it will take to build the beautiful and practical space you want.
How do I prepare beforehand? Some people like to write down a list of prepared questions. As mentioned, those thinking of moving forward with a design have collected photos, or have photos on their computers, to show me what design styles and elements they like. This preparation is very helpful but is not required. We can also improvise without prewritten questions with good results. I can send you a questionnaire beforehand which helps – just let me know if you would it sent.
How much and why charge for a consultation? I currently charge $125 for the first hour of consultation, which includes travel to and from the site, within 30 miles of my office. Further distances are slightly more to cover time and expenses. Why charge? There are many reasons. Basically, I want to arm my clients with the necessary information to successfully complete their projects to their expectations, The fee for this initial service will, by far, be the least anyone spends on their landscape. These consultations ultimately save clients money.
Do you leave a list of suggestions? I leave a suggested plant list for those who would like one. I do not leave notes of other suggestions but encourage my clients to jot down notes if they wish.
Do you price the design during the consultation? If you are interested in moving forward with a design, I send a formal proposal to you within a day or two after the consultation. The proposal has the total price and payments, and describes the design process and scope of work.
What about follow up? If a design is in the works, we will have plenty of interaction and can discuss anything you wish during the steps of creating the landscape plan. Otherwise, I suggest periodic consultations when necessary.
I was recently asked to contribute to an article querying what would be the most important advice I would give new, novice landscape designers. It is a tough question, because there are so, so many tidbits of imformation to succeeded in landscape design. But success won't happen at all unless the designer knows how to work with clients: developing a relationship and finding out what their clients want, then building the design around those ideas. The designer is only as good as his or her clients, and I consider myself truly fortunate to continally work with terrific homeowners. Maybe its the San Diego sunshine, but my clients are simply the best.
See the full posting below:
Steve Harbour, Owner at Steve Harbour Landscapes“The unique advice I give to budding designers does not pertain to learning the nuts and bolts of actual design concepts and drafting at all. This should be more than apparent; anyone learning this profession needs as much education and experience they can obtain to become proficient at landscape design. I believe one essential aspect that turns a good designer into a great designer – not taught in classrooms — is the art of working with each client, not assuming to know what they want, or worse, deciding what they need without their input. The designer needs to take the proper time to really get to know clients, listening to them, and work jointly together throughout the design process.”
“Each design is a collaborative effort. The process begins with lots of questions: welcoming questions the clients have (and they will have plenty) as well as asking a slew of questions to draw them out and learn what they really want to accomplish. I was originally trained as a newspaper journalist, so the ability to ask questions has become second nature, yet I still like to work from a list of set questions and then ask any other questions specific to the project that may seem pertinent. I also welcome any pictures or sketches they have saved that show landscapes they like, and then ask what it is they like about them.
Lastly, it is helpful to get to know each other on a personal level, which brings a comfort level to each unique job. I have gone to dinner, to concerts, and to parties at my clients’ houses, staying in touch for years after the project is completed which, as a bonus, allows me to see my design work as the landscape matures. There is no such thing, in journalism or in design work, as gaining too much information.”