Published April 2, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.
In landscaping design, a pro’s help can be cheaper than DIY
By Barb Gorges
December is not a month for digging a new garden bed—even if there is no snow—Cheyenne’s clay soils are frozen solid.
However, if you pay someone $3000 to dig a 7-foot-deep trench to fix an ailing sewer pipe, you may end up with a 4-by-10-foot mound of freshly tilled earth. The neighbors stopping by with Christmas treats all wanted to know who we buried in our front yard.
The juxtaposition of the new sewer cleanouts and our rain gutter downspouts presented obstacles for me as well as our mail and newspaper carriers, which got me to thinking about getting professional advice this spring.
When is it time to call a landscape architect? I asked David Ohde, of Ohde & Associates, who is licensed to practice in Wyoming and has been in business in Cheyenne since 1984.
Ohde said when you should call a landscape architect is for serious issues like drainage, steep slopes, erosion, stabilization and meeting regulations like Cheyenne’s Unified Development Code.
“We design outside spaces, not just plant trees and shrubs,” Ohde said.
Landscape architects deal with irrigation, grading, retaining walls, patios, outdoor kitchens as well as plant materials, however most of Ohde’s own business is commercial and institutional, rather than residential.
There is a limit to what licensed landscape architects in Wyoming can do. For instance, they can only design retaining walls up to 3 feet high without consulting a structural engineer.
Ohde knows when to call the experts for other situations as well. He said you can hire a landscape architect to do a verbal consultation at an hourly rate. You can also go further and contract for a design that specifies dimensions, plant species and other materials, complete with sketches and cost estimates.
You, the client, own the plans and can do the installation yourself or hire a contractor. You can hire the landscape architect to oversee the progress of the installation to make sure plans are being followed.
Perhaps the client wants to screen a view, or frame a view. Ohde can lay out the options, plant, trellis or wall, that are appropriate for the spot, based on whether it is in shade, sun or wind. If it’s a planting, does the client prefer something that grows slowly and needs little maintenance, or do they like yardwork?
Besides the nuts and bolts, landscape architects are creative. They interview their clients to find out what ideas they have already, how they might like to use their property, what their budget is, how much maintenance they want to do. They consider the architecture of the house and solve problems. Then they roll that all together into something functional and aesthetically pleasing.
(It is important to recognize whether a landscape architect has a trademark style, and if it matches your style. A minimalist designer fond of Asian aesthetics is going to be hard-pressed to make a would-be English-style cottage gardener happy.)
Be sure a landscape architect you hire is familiar with Cheyenne’s climate. Wyoming licensure is required for out-of-state landscape architects, but it is not necessary for working on single family residences (Note: an exemption is required).
If this sounds pricey for the average homeowner, you are right. (It is no wonder over half of the licensed landscape architects in Wyoming are in Jackson, in the county with the highest average income levels in the state.) However, without professional advice, Ohde points out that landscaping mistakes can be expensive, for instance, a patio installed without regard to drainage might cause flood damage.
The cost of hiring a landscape architect should be looked at, Ohde said, as “deriving benefit from professional service that has long-lasting benefits for the spaces we live with for years.”
If you don’t have a tricky landscape situation and you can’t afford Monet fine art-type prices and you’d still like some creative ideas, look for a garden designer.
Garden designers are not licensed in Wyoming. They range from the self-taught to the well-educated.
Sometimes they are independent and you can see a gallery of their work at their website. Often however, they work for a nursery or a landscape contractor.
Years ago, a local nursery sent out an employee to our house who measured our yard and drew up a plan for us at no cost. We bought the recommended trees and shrubs at that nursery.
For my current dilemma, a friend recommended Tyler Moore of Capital City Landscaping. He and his dad, Dan Moore, started the business in 2004. Tyler and his wife, Alicia, are now in charge of “creating your new piece of paradise.”
Tyler and his crew, like most landscape companies in town, can tackle just about anything, including the blank slate left by new construction. Tyler was in construction and carpentry earlier in his career and he likes building decks and pergolas (gazebos). He takes classes in the winter, learning about the latest trends in landscaping.
Tyler is also creative and pointed out that I could solve part of my obstacle problem if the downspout extensions were changed out for underground pipes that lead to a pop-up drain far from the house’s foundation.
What do his clients want? Often, low maintenance yards. But not always.
One eccentric, long-time client had Moore build multiple terraces with garden beds he filled with his plant collections. Later he added a faux mine shaft to feature an old ore car he found, and he had a windmill plumbed to provide water to wildlife, whether or not it was windy. (I was lucky enough to visit that wonderful garden, and gardener, a few years ago.)
Just as we don’t have to consult an architect or interior designer before remodeling the bathroom, we don’t have to consult a landscape architect or garden designer before planting a bush. However, if you want new ideas, a new perspective (and stay out of trouble on drainage and other serious issues), ask an expert.
Then the success of a project requires an expert who can imagine what the client doesn’t know about his profession and who makes the effort to explain things. And it takes a client who is open to ideas and bothers to check in frequently while the work is underway, avoiding expensive miscommunication. Over the years, I’ve learned the success of building and remodeling projects requires good communication.
Landscaping is the same.