I give free estimates, but I charge for advice.
Let me make this distinction clear: If you call me and you want me to come and look at your yard and give you an estimate for a planting, or for replacing a walkway, or putting in a new stone wall, I will do that for free. But I will not give you professional advice on how to do your specific project without charging you for a consultation.
This surprises a lot of people, which, in turn, surprises me. For some reason, people equate landscaping with home improvement, like roofing or painting. Roofers and painters provide free estimates, so people expect me to, as well. But creating a landscape that complements your home is quite different from putting shingles on a roof or changing your exterior paint color.
If you need to replace your roof, a roofer comes over and measures it, and then gives you an estimate based upon its square footage. Same with driveway sealing — it’s all about the size, because the size commands the amount of work.
Landscaping is about size, too, but it’s not as simple as ‘the bigger the yard, the higher the cost.’ If it were that simple, I would gladly provide free consultations. But it’s not.
When I go to someone’s home to assess their yard, I cannot just drive by and look at it. I have to spend time walking around the space. Because in addition to the size of the yard, there are a lot of other factors to consider.
First, there’s the yard’s actual terrain: Is it level? Is it uneven? Is there a problem with drainage?
What about the natural light? Is the yard mostly shade? Do they want more sun? Or, do they have too much sun and need some shade? Are the homeowners happy with most of their landscape and just want to fix a small part of it, or do they dislike the whole space?
When I am looking at a yard, I have to make note of all these things, as well as looking at the existing plant material. Do the plants look healthy? Are they placed correctly? How is the soil? Does the yard look finished? Is it cluttered with random plantings that do not work well together? Does it look half-done?
But most of all, what do the homeowners want? Are they trying to put in a play area for their children that blends into the rest of their landscape? Or are they new empty nesters who want to take that area out and put in an entertainment area?
I need to walk around and get a real look at your yard. Then I need to find out what you want. For example, here is one question that can alter an entire landscape plan: How much maintenance are you willing to do? If you love gardening, but you want a new look for your existing landscape, I would recommend very different plant material for your yard than I would for someone who wants to do little or no maintenance.
Here are some other questions that can alter a design for your yard. How long do you see yourself living in your home? How old are your children? If you have young children and you intend to stay in your home until the children graduate from college, I will create a different plan for your home than I would for someone with the same amount of space who has teenagers and intends to move in three or four years.
I can create a yard for your budget that will suit your taste. It’s just like mixing cocktails. Did you know that one of the most expensive cocktails in the world is the Kentucky Derby Mint Julep served at Churchill Downs? It costs a cool thousand dollars — because it’s served in a limited edition (only 73 were made) silver cup from Tiffany & Company, and is filled with Woodford Reserve bourbon, turbinado sugar, mint grown in Louisville, Ky., and ice from a 10,000-year-old Alaskan glacier.
I’m sure that it’s delicious. But I can make you a Parker Mint Julep, served in the glass tumbler of your choice (ours are from Target), for far less money. Here’s my recipe:
• 8 mint leaves, plus mint sprigs for garnish
• ½ ounce Mint Simple Syrup. Mint simple syrup is made by boiling a cup of sugar with a cup of water and a cup of loosely packed mint leaves, then letting it cool. It can be kept in the fridge for a month.
• 2 ounces bourbon — I like Knob Creek
• Crushed ice
In a chilled glass, muddle the mint leaves and simple syrup. Add the bourbon and ice. Set a swizzle stick or bar spoon in the cup and spin between your hands to mix. Top with additional mint leaves for garnish.
Once you’ve got your Parker Julep in your hands, take a nice healthy mouthful. Take a look at your yard. Couldn’t it use a fresh look? A real look?