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Frank Discussions About Reality

April 3, 2009


Maybe we should just talk about the elephant in the room. I read a lot of trade magazines, and there seems to be an “expert” consensus that we never, ever mention the “E” word- economy. Why, because clients will magically forget about it? Unless your only source of news is sporadically-posting garden bloggers in sleepy Virginia towns, you know what’s going on around us. So I’d like to share with you what I see from my end.

Yesterday, I spent fourteen hours on the road. I signed three new clients, measured two sites for exisiting contracts, and set appointments with three more prospective clients. I currently have seven large design projects in the “to be started” queue, as well as several smaller ones, and several jobs at or in construction. Business is good, but I’m doing a different mix of projects than I was two years ago. I’m certainly doing fewer pools, porches, and garages than I was even a year ago. There is a strong emphasis on growing food crops, at varying scales; one of the projects I’m most excited about involves a miniature orchard, strolling garden, and hillside berry grove, with an emphasis on beauty and function- hey, that’s what *I* do!

I’m also seeing a much stronger emphasis on very personalized spaces. When I was doing this in Phoenix, I’d always ask how long the homeowner planned to be in the house. The response was typically “three years tops, then we’re trading up!” Now, I’m finding that people are looking at ten, fifteen years in the home, and they want to really do something special for themselves, as opposed to resale. Needless to say, this makes my job a thousand times more enjoyable. Banging out a generic high-return landscape design that’ll push the buttons at resale can be pretty dull. Crafting a space that takes into consideration how a homeowner or family is going to live in it every day is what I love doing- and I’m getting a lot more requests for that. That’s very gratifying. I’m also having very honest discussions of budgets with my clients, which makes my job immeasurably easier. One of the advantages to hiring me to create a landscape master plan is that we can then see what our long-term goals are for the space, and we can phase in the parts of the project as resources allow and it will all still be part of a unified whole when we’re done. I’ve completed some plans that have been shelved for the time being. I’m ok with that, because I know that the homeowners and I worked so well together that down the road, I will get a call saying “ok, let’s get this built.”

Here are some of the typical projects I’ve been working on:

  • Front landscaping- Some homeowners are looking for any advantage to sell; others aren’t going anywhere, but for precisely that reason they want to have something more beautiful to come home to. Typically, it’s also a pretty small investment to completely redo your front landscaping, and it makes a huge difference.
  • Patios- I really dislike trendy buzzwords like “staycation,” but that’s something that factors into where people spend their money. I’m designing outdoor living spaces for folks who want to extend their family and entertaining spaces.
  • Edible landscaping- I’m getting a lot more requests to carve out a spot for herbs and veggies, even fruit trees and berry bushes. It’s a pretty small investment to make to get fresh produce, grown in the manner you’re most comfortable with.
  • Water Features- I’m getting a fair number of requests for these, which took me a bit by surprise. We’re not talking about the Bellagio fountains, but something that adds the sound of running water to a space, maybe even room for a few fish. I think it comes back to people looking to focus a little more on the small things that make their homes more enjoyable.
  • Landscape Lighting- A well-executed landscape lighting plan is relatively inexpensive, but it can make a huge difference in the function and appearance of your landscape. I’ve had many clients request a lighting plan as part of their master plan this spring.
  • Firepits & Fireplaces- These have remained popular. They are a great feature for entertaining, which is why we’re putting a wood-fired pizza oven in our backyard.

Is it all sunshine and puppy dogs out there? No, absolutely not. But there are some good things happening, and I’m finding that my clients are more personally invested in the process of developing their outdoor spaces. That’s turning out to be an absolute blast. Getting people the most value for their landscape dollar is what I do, and budget-conscious homeowners are finding that out. It’s actually turning out to be a fun spring.

Speaking of fun- Morningside Farm & Nursery opens for the season April 11th. If you feel like I mention them a lot, it’s because I like their plants a lot. They’re a little out of the way, but totally worth a visit.

The sun finally came out. I’m off to plant something!

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