Seven (and a half) questions about designing your landscaping

How do I figure my budget?

A landscape designer can spend wheelbarrow loads of your hard earned cash if not limited by a budget. In the same space, an elaborate patio and outdoor kitchen might cost tens of thousands of dollars, while a simpler patio design accommodating a portable grill might spend only a few thousand dollars. The skilled professional will guide her client to establish a budget, sometimes by offering examples of work she’s done in the past. Everyone’s interests are best served by designing a project that fits the budget, rather than one that is overly grand, or below expectations.

Who should I call? A big company or a small one? And, does it matter?

Every company should have reasons why they’re your best choice. If not, go in another direction.  Certainly, there are differences in quality and service from one company to the next, and in warranties. Consumer sites such as Angie’s List will help evaluate the service of both large and small companies. Though there are many outstanding small companies, the experience and stability of a large company such as Meadows Farms can be an important consideration when choosing between landscapers with excellent reputations.

Landscape architect or designer?

The best landscape architects and designers are good listeners, keying into designing a landscape that best suits your lifestyle, and your budget. If you’re looking for low maintenance, it does no good to use plants and materials that require regular care. The designer takes information gained from conversations, and with her experience and expertise, applies these to the landscape design.

As in just about any field (with exceptions for medicine and rocket science), the ability of the designer is not dependent on a degree, though most designers will have related education. Many outstanding landscape designers have no academic credentials in landscape architecture or horticulture, but all exceptional designers are able to expertly apply their knowledge and creativity to their clients’ needs. Check the designer or landscape architect’s portfolio of projects, and discuss their vision for your landscaping to determine the best fit.

Is it worthwhile to consult a professional for the design? And, what is the cost?

Though some homeowners have self-professed “black thumbs”, keeping plants alive should be the easy part. Blending plants into a cohesive and beautiful landscape is more difficult, and while some homeowners can do the creative work, many dollars are wasted each year from mistakes that are made. In the worst case, inappropriately placed trees might damage a property. For all but the simplest landscape projects, consultation with a professional is worthwhile.

The cost for consultation with a landscape architect or designer can range from free, to thousands of dollars for elaborate projects. However, a free consultation with an unqualified landscaper can be just as bad as you trying to design something that you aren’t capable of handling. Meadows Farms charges $49 for a consultation and design sketch, with the fee refunded in full when an installation contract is signed. A free walk in design service is available at many Meadows Farms garden centers in spring and fall.

Should I plant myself or hire a company to do it?

With a landscape design that places plants in ideally suited locations, taking into account sun or shade exposure, soil type, and moisture, planting can be very straightforward. Certainly, there are advantages to having a professional do the planting, or build a patio. A landscape company should complete the work in a fraction of the time, without your aching back requiring three days of bed rest.

The professional will also take care of details that make the landscape more beautiful and functional. Too many plants are killed because holes are dug a little too deep to allow for proper drainage, and basements are flooded when patios are constructed without pitch that drains water away from the house. A small additional investment can provide substantial savings in the long run, and better warranties for installed plants can quickly make up the difference paid for labor.

How can I help the landscape designer develop the best design for our property?

Some neighborhoods are fortunate enough to have well landscaped homes nearby so you can just point and say, “I want mine to look like that”. The designer can then adapt this garden style to your unique property and budget. If there’s no example to point out, search home improvement websites such as Houzz, or photo websites such as Pinterest. Save a few photos for the designer to see the style that interests you.

The landscape designer should appreciate your input, and should be able to integrate your ideas into the design, or tell you why they’re not appropriate. If something you’ve seen just won’t work, at least the designer has a starting point to work from.

What can I expect for warranty coverage?

Guarantees on plants range from several months, to Meadows Farms’ Lifetime Warranty that covers plants for as long as you own your home. Hardscaping warranties typically cover one to five years. Sod and lawn seeding are rarely guaranteed because shallow rooted grasses can die overnight if not regularly watered. The critical period after planting is the first six weeks. Longer warranties protect the homeowner against unusually cold winters or hot, dry summers.

When should I contact a landscape designer?

This only counts as half a question since the answer is so easy. Contact Meadows Farms, or any great landscaper, right now, while you’re enthused about the project.  We all realize that things happen in our lives, and these can get in the way of starting a project we really want to do. The sooner your garden is planted, or your pond or patio built, the sooner you’ll be able to sit back to enjoy the butterflies, or koi and goldfish, and your days will seem calmer and less frantic.


The Enthusiastic GardenerPlants that are a bit out of the ordinary, but deserve greater attention

Few plants are as varied in appearance as Japanese maples (Acer palmatum). Trees range in mature size from only a few feet tall, to over thirty feet. Most common are red leafed maples with deeply dissected leaves and pendulous branching, such as ‘Crimson Queen’ and ‘Tamukeyama’, but the dark red leafed ‘Bloodgood’ maple, which grows to twenty five feet tall, is also very popular.

While these are highly recommended, in a medium to large garden one of the less common Japanese maples might be ideal as a second or third tree. Many green leafed maples have spectacular autumn foliage, and the Coral Bark maple (‘Sango kaku’) has brilliant red stems for winter interest.

For small gardens, or close to a patio or walkway, in addition to weeping varieties there are red and green leafed Japanese maples that slowly grow to ten feet tall. Leaves of ‘Shirazz’ (or ‘Gwen’s Rose Delight’) emerge red with a pink border, and though the color fades in summer, it is spectacular for months. The Lion’s Head maple (‘Shishigashira’) has interesting, crinkled green leaves and exceptional autumn foliage.

‘Butterfly’ is a slow growing maple with variegated leaves of cream, white, and pink that performs well in sun or light shade. With dozens of Japanese maples readily available, the adventurous gardener can hardly go wrong choosing any of the less common varieties.

Because of their success, Meadows Farms attracts many of the brightest and most creative landscape architects and designers in the industry. They are certain that you will enjoy your experience meeting with any of their outstanding staff.

To better serve their clients, Meadows Farms Landscape Architects and Designers live and work throughout the Washington DC Metro area. You can browse the resumes of designers in your area at and feel free to request a designer, or they can select the designer best suited to your project. Schedule your appointment at 703-327-5050.

Dave Reed has been employed by Meadows Farms for 40 years, starting out digging holes and now as vice president of the 250 employee Landscape Department. His 1.25 acre garden in Warrenton, VA is his passion, and a test garden where legend has it, one of everything is planted. For more gardening tips and instructional videos visit Dave blog under the heading Ramblin' through Dave's Garden or visit him at the Meadows Farms Landscape Nursery in Chantilly, VA.