What to Expect in Working With a Landscape Professional

When you choose a landscape designer or architect to enhance the appearance and value of your property you enter into a partnership with someone who will help define your needs and wants and then design the landscape to meet them.

As Chicago-based landscape designer Harry Schuster explains, the process he follows is fairly standard for the industry.

*He first meets with you at the property. At this stage he helps crystallize ideas in your mind as well as his own. To this end, he asks many questions, such as, Do you want a largely sunny garden or one with plenty of shade? Are you an active gardener who likes to sow seeds and plant, or is your idea of gardening limited to mowing the lawn? Do you have young children and need a play area? Do you want to create private nooks for outdoor living, or is the yard to be a broad canvas for everyone to appreciate?

*He then establishes how much you are prepared to invest in the project and whether you wish the landscaping to be completed at once or in stages, spreading the investment over a longer period.

*He draws up an outline of the property with several (up to 10) tissue overlays of designs that can be placed on top of the basic outline. At this stage you choose one design or perhaps, after discussion, you may opt for a composite of several.

*He draws up the final plan and suggests appropriate plant varieties. Now it's up to you to take the plans to a landscape contractor and get prices for the actual work. Or, for an additional fee, he will act as your agent, getting quotes and overseeing work.

How much does all this cost? Mr. Schuster charges anywhere from $250 to design a simple patio to $10,000 for an estate of several acres. But for the average lot, the range is somewhere between $750 and $1,500. This, in turn, translates into $20,000 to $100,000 for the actual landscaping. The hourly fee to oversee the project can range from $50 to $100 an hour.

Is all this money easily recouped when the time comes to sell the house? "The cost of things like tennis courts and swimming pools are not readily recouped, so you better enjoy them while you're there," Mr. Schuster says. "But you should get dollar for dollar out of the rest of the landscaping." And it can even go up in value. "Remember, a six inch [diameter] tree becomes a 10-inch tree after a few years," Schuster explains.

"It appreciates in value where everything else in the house depreciates. Eventually you have to re-shingle the roof, but you never have to re-leaf the tree!"

Still, landscaping does have to be maintained. "A crab apple," he cautions, "can grow to 30 feet tall. That's more than the width of some lots, so you must keep it trimmed on an annual basis." Do that, and the landscaping should last for many decades, even the better part of a century.

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