Q-1: How would you characterize your design style?
A: My landscape designs reflect the lifestyle and preferences of my clients, the natural features of the site, and are in tune with the home's architectural features. As such, my "style" is always changing. If there is one style which most characterizes what I have designed in the past, it might be called "Northwest Casual." That is, a style which reflects the natural beauty of our region, generally informal, yet sometimes with formal features. I like designing strong structural elements, or "bones", which create unique spaces within the garden. I like to use plants with interesting yet harmonious shapes, textures and colors.
The garden, done well, is an art form that is constantly changing. When designing, I pay attention to the changing light patterns throughout the day. I also like to feature different parts of the garden throughout the year, so that there is always something interesting to see, whether it is flowers, foliage, berries or twig patterns. And, of course, the structure and light patterns of the garden change over the years. When designing, I take this into consideration by creating plant communities that will grow in harmony and increase in beauty each year.
In general terms, my style is influenced by western gardens. The English, French, Spanish and Italian gardens in particular have had such a strong influence on our garden vernacular. However, I also have a deep appreciation for the principles of Japanese garden design, especially the way these gardens focus on textures rather than color. On a personal level I am interested in the spiritual aspects of the Chinese gardens and hope to someday have the time to learn more about them.
Q-2: Do you design for do-it-yourselfers?
A: Yes! I work with homeowners who want an overall landscape design that they can install over a period of months or years. I also offer a Construction Sequencing Plan for my do-it-yourself clients which breaks down the new design into projects and details what to do and the order in which to do it.
Q-3: How long does a project take?
A: Most of the time I have a waiting list. When you call my office I will be able to give you an idea of when I could start on your project. I love every job and I want to give each one the full attention it needs so that is why I don't overbook myself. From project start to completing the final drawings is usually a 4-6 week process
When I am very busy, I try to meet all my clients' scheduling needs by phasing in the drawings. Let's say that we have decided on the preliminary design and you want to start construction right away. I can draw up your arbor sketches. While the arbors are being built, I can draw up your Layout Plan so that you can install the concrete walkways. While the walkways are being installed, I can work on the Planting Plan. Thus, I can work on the drawings over a period of weeks rather than days, which allows me time to work on other projects, yet I have not slowed down your construction schedule.
The key is communication. Throughout the design process, I'll ask you "how fast do you want this? When do you need that?" Over the years I have found that every client is different and usually it works out that there is a balance of fast-track clients vs. ones without set schedules, so that everyone is accommodated.
Q-4: Why would I want to hire you, rather than drawing up some plans myself?
A: It’s true that many homeowners have created fabulous gardens all by themselves. I’ll be the first to assert that this is the best way to do it: to educate yourself (with my book, The Naturescaping Workbook), and learn by doing. The feeling of satisfaction that you get is beyond compare. On the other hand, you might not feel that your design skills are the greatest, your knowledge of plants may be limited, and you may be afraid of making big mistakes that will end up being costly. Furthermore, you have a LIFE! Working, shopping, cooking, soccer practice, walking the dog, playing in the community band, cleaning the house...who has time? And, in the meantime, that weed-patch outside is not getting any better-looking!
So you call me. There are a few reasons why this is a good idea, in my humble opinion:
Because I have studied and practiced the principles of good design (such as scale, color, contrast, balance and rhythm) I am able to visualize in these terms. I use walkways, trees, arbors, water features, garden art, walls, gates, fences, shrubs and flowering plants to create a harmonious yet diverse and interesting garden. And, I always do this with the functional needs of the homeowners foremost in my mind.
I am up-to-date on the local construction materials and methods. I'm also aware of hard-to-get materials and innovative practices that are being incorporated in our region and around the world. Because of this, I am able to specify the materials which would best complement the design and meet the homeowners’ budget. Also, I am acquainted with the local woodworkers, stonemasons, landscapers, artists and other artisans, and their work, and can recommend the good ones to my clients.
I am well versed in the plants that thrive in the Monterey Bay area as well as the Bay Area, throughout their life span and through the seasons, so that I can choose the perfect plants that meet all the demands of the situation. For example, the homeowners may need the plants to be deer-resistant, fire-resistant, and tolerant of acidic soil. They also may want the garden to look great throughout the year, with something of interest during every season. And perhaps they are only home in the evenings, so they prefer plants that look good in twilight and by candlelight or night lighting. I am used to working with parameters such as these.
In short, I have spent years learning all the skills that go into a good landscape design, through study and practice (and I learn a little more every day). I think that it would be a good investment to use this knowledge in the planning of your personal landscape.
Q-5: Why would I chose your firm, and pay design fees, rather than have a contractor draw up some plans at a lower cost (or free)?
A: Sometimes, a nursery or design-build firm offers landscape design services at a relatively low rate (or free). Although this may seem like a money-saver, it is not: they simply raise the rates of construction during the "bidding," knowing that the design will not be competitively bid. In the end, you pay for those design services. There are other advantages to hiring an independent designer such as Beth Young Garden Design, LLC:
The independent designer is dedicated to finding the most aesthetically pleasing solutions within your construction budget. The designer who is employed by a landscape construction company may be tempted to specify more expensive or easy-to-install materials because they create more profit for his or her employer. Also, that designer’s incentives to finding low-cost, creative solutions may be limited because he or she can only specify materials which his company can acquire or procedures which the company has done in the past.
After having said that, I want to point out that, in my personal experience, people in the nursery and landscaping business are some of the nicest, most hardworking and above-board people I know. As with most things in life, research and gut-feel is your best way of knowing which choice is right for you.
Q-6. What happens when you come out to my home to meet me?
A: We meet for about an hour. First, we walk around your property, with you describing your needs and preferences. Then I show you my portfolio, resume, references, etc. After I have assessed your project, I can give you a ballpark figure on the design fees and the work schedule, which we can discuss. This is described in detail in the Bid Meeting section of The Design Process page.
Q-7. What is the difference between a landscape designer and a landscape architect?
A. There are many ways to answer this one. It's kind of an apples-to-oranges thing.
In the U.S., anyone can call himself or herself a landscape designer, just as anyone can call himself or herself a graphic designer. There are "good" ones and "bad" ones. The market determines who is good by who stays in business (I've been in business since 1998).
To be landscape architect, one needs to graduate from an accredited landscape architecture program (such as I did--the University of California at Berkeley) and pass the five-part licensing exam. The licensing process is set up to protect the public from health and safety problems that may arise from improper design. It’s to prevent things like failing walls and standing water situations. I have chosen to not seek licensing for a few reasons.
Number one, the skills and knowledge necessary to be a good landscape designer are not addressed in the landscape architecture exam. There is very little testing of design concepts and principles, if any. Plants are called "plant material" and planting design is only tested to the extent of "locating plant material to achieve the desired effect" (Council of Landscape Architecture Registration Boards, www.clarb.org, Oct. 2005). There is no testing of individual plant identification or knowledge.
Secondly, the exam tests for things that are rarely addressed on the residential level. Licensing is necessary for public designs, such as parking lots and playgrounds. The public wants assurances that a parking lot on a bluff will not crumble and fall down the hill, or that a school playground surface is adequately resilient. However, in residential work, we have a history of licensed contractors or the homeowners themselves taking on those responsibilities. I am an educated designer and I know when any drawings or sketches of mine need the approval of a licensed architect or engineer and I get that approval when necessary. This is so rare in my practice that it would be overkill to seek a license myself. Which leads to reason number three:
Achieving and keeping a landscape architecture license is pricey. Taking the exam costs about $1,000; re-taking parts of the exam would cost hundreds more. All the courses needed as prep for the exam would run about $1,000. License renewal and professional membership in the ASLA is over $500 annually. Landscape architects pass this cost on to the consumer one way or another. Landscape architects usually work for large firms that receive huge government contracts or work for deep-pocket developers who can absorb these costs. The landscape architects that do residential work usually have higher fees than landscape designers. They are not necessarily better designers, but they usually cost more!
Q-8. Are you registered to do business as a landscape designer with the state of Oregon?
Yes, I am registered with the state; I have an Oregon BIN (Business Identification Number) and a Federal EIN (Employer Identification Number) However, this is just a way for me to pay employment taxes for my employees. There is no state test or licensing for landscape designers as there are for contractors, architects and landscape architects.
I have numerous happy clients--past and present--and I think that is more important than the online registration I did one day. I have a four-year Bachelor of Arts in Landscape Architecture from U.C. Berkeley, and have had my own successful firm since 1998.
Thanks for asking. Choosing a landscape designer takes some effort to get the best fit for your situation.
Q-9. Do you receive monetary compensation for any products that you specify? How about kickbacks from contractors you recommend?
A. I do not benefit, financially or otherwise, from any product that I specify in my plans (such as a certain plant, or type of stone, or landscaping fabric). In fact, one of the reasons that I work for myself, rather than a nursery or landscaping company, is so that I can be artistically independent in what I specify. My motivation for choosing materials is for a beautiful, functional landscape that is within your budget; nothing more (and nothing less).
Nope, no kickbacks from contractors, either. I sometimes ask my past clients about the contractors who installed their projects and how they felt about how it went. Clients are happy to share good and bad experiences with me. I have compiled a "Recommended Contractors" list which I give to my current clients. Contractors are added to my list all the time. [Only two contractors have been subtracted from my list: one moved away and the other was dropped because a trusted client had excessive (and I mean excessive!) delays without any communication from the contractor. Some contractors are great artisans but poor business-folk.]
When a local contractor does consistently good work I want to share that with my clients; simple as that. No money or compensation changes hands.
Questions About Fees
Q-10: How do you determine your fees?
A: At our first meeting, which I call the Bid Meeting, I learn about your situation as we walk around your property together. I then show you what I can do for you, with past drawings as examples. After we have decided on how I can help, I estimate the hours of work needed.
I have a very competitive design rate. Every 15-minute segment I spend on your project is counted.. I feel that this is the most fair to you and to me. Also, because I have been meticulously counting my hours for many years and on many types of projects, I am able to accurately estimate the hours that your project will entail--so there are no big surprises in that final invoice.
My design fee is especially a bargain in light of the fact that I have a bachelor's degree in landscape architecture from UC Berkeley, I have worked in landscape architecture firms, and have owned and operated my own business since 1998.
I keep my hourly rate low because, frankly, I'm not about living large. Also, I love what I do and keeping my rate low keeps my clients happy--and they tell thier friends, so I stay employed, doing what I love. Also, I want all types of people to be able to "afford" me--I don't want greedy fees to stand in the way.
For more information, see Services and Fees.
Q-11: Do we sign a contract?
A: Yes, a bid is prepared for every project; when you sign it, it becomes our contract.. The bid details which services will be performed, the work schedule, the fees and payment schedule. For more information, see Services and Fees.
Q-12: Do I pay you before, during or after the project is complete? Can I pay in installments?
A: Payment for Full Landscape Design Services are as follows: 20% of the estimated design fees are required prior to starting the design work (the retainer), and the remainder is paid at intervals outlined in the contract, usually 40% (of the estimated design fees) at completion of the Preliminary Package and 40% at project completion.
For more information, see Services and Fees.
Questions About Plans
Q-13: What is a Preliminary Landscape Plan?
A: The Prelim is the drawing that illustrates the proposed hardscape features (paths, walls, arbors, decks, patios), planting areas and lawn. It is usually in color and looks like your land from a bird's-eye view. For two examples, click here.
The design is based on your needs and preferences, your landscape budget, the site, and local regulations. I take all of these things into consideration and figure out where certain activities and features would work best and how to gracefully tie them together. Sometimes, I add a idea or two that the client had not thought of, but I feel would work.
I like to emphasize the word "preliminary," reminding the client that, although this plan is certainly viable, it can also simply be a starting point from which other ideas and re-workings follow.
Q-14: Do you do irrigation plans?
A: I no longer offer irrigation plans. Although an important part of the garden's maintenance and a basis for plant selection, I feel that this is best left to the contractor who is installing the irrigation or the homeowner. I know of a good contractor specializing in irrigation, as well as a good supplier for the do-it-yourselfer. I have books on hand for my clients to borrow. The following are great books to use: Reliable Rain, Ortho's All About Sprinklers and Drip Systems, and Drip Irrigation for Every Landscape and All Climates. (Click here to go to the irrigation department of my little online bookstore).
Q-15: Do you know how to design with a septic system in mind? Our system is in our back yard and we want to design so that we can access it when needed.
A: Yes, I have designed with/over septic systems. There are three parts to the system: the septic tank (10' from the house), the distribution box (20' from the house), and the leach field. One must maintain access to the septic tank and distribution box.
Most people plant grass only over their leach field, but it's ok to plant shrubs, perennials, wildflowers or ornamental grasses; just be sure the plants don't naturally seek out water (such as river birches or willows). Also, you would not want anything expensive over your field such as an outbuilding.
If the leach field fails and you don't have enough land for another leach field, the whole field might need to be dug up, taken away and re-done with imported soil. There are newer, more expensive systems that don't use leach fields.
Questions About the Installation (Construction) Phase
Q-16: What happens if there is a drainage problem which shows up after construction?
A: Sounds like you’ve had this problem in the past. If a contractor did the installation, you should give him or her a call so they can remedy the situation at no cost to you.
I can’t foresee you having this problem if you installed the landscape yourself based on my plans. That is because I note the low spots in the yard and general drainage patterns when I do the site analysis. In a case where water will be trapped as a result of a new walkway, for instance, I would have talked to you about any measures that need to be taken before construction to facilitate proper drainage.
Q-17: Is your finished product the construction documents, or do you oversee the contractors?
Q-18: I don't want to deal with hiring and working with a contractor. Will you deal with that for me?
A: It is up to you. Usually my work ends when I finish the drawings. They are clear enough that they can be used by the client or homeowner, now or years from now. However, some clients want me to help them with bidding and/or oversee the construction process. I do not act as a general contractor. Rather, I act as your proxy, looking out for your interests and making sure that the project is being installed per plans.
If you are installing the landscape yourself, I can help you outline walkways, patio edges and lawn edges. I can also help you with plant selection and plant layout, among other things.
Either way, I would encourage you to avail yourself of these services which help ensure the smooth transition from drawing-board to reality. These services are billed on an hourly basis; please see Services and Fees for more information.
I also maintain a constantly-updated list of Recommended Contractors which I give to my clients; please see the next question.
Q-19: Do you recommend contractors?
If I see a certain landscape element that I like, I'm not shy about asking the homeowner "who did that? Do you mind me asking what it cost?" and "how did it go?" etc. I learn about the good ones that way. I will also take a name off my list if I've heard a legitimate complaint from a reliable source or sources.
Beth Young Garden Design
Sustainable landscape design since 1998
Copyright (c) 2005-2013 Beth Young Garden Design. All rights reserved.