Gardening Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Think Twice about Cookie-Cutter Landscapes

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Cookie-cutter landscapes don’t show any personality.

Who doesn’t need help from a professional from time to time? A plumber when the toilet keeps backing up? An electrician when the wall outlet makes sparks? A dentist when you have a toothache? When it comes to landscaping, too, there is nothing wrong with calling in a professional landscaper to guide you when you’re not sure where to start or you have a problem that you think is insurmountable.

There are of course many factors to consider in choosing a landscape contractor: cost, availability, experience, etc. But my personal belief is that the most important thing is to find someone who is willing to listen to you: who will adapt the landscape to your needs, your tastes and your budget.

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This is my own front yard. I like to think it practically screams “laidback gardeners live here”.

Let’s be honest here. Not all landscape contractors put a lot of effort into creating personalized landscapes: some take approximately the same plan with about the same structures and pretty much the same plants, then scale it up or down so as to suit almost any terrain: what I call a cookie-cutter landscape. I’m not saying such a landscape can’t be attractive, but it can certainly be a bit monotonous, and worse yet, it rarely reflects the people who live in the home. Such a landscape could belong to anyone. Don’t you want a yard that says “I’m Joe Blow and this is what I’m like”? I sure do.

Look for Examples

Before hiring a landscape contractor, then, ask to see his portfolio. Does he show a wide range of styles or does every photo somehow seem similar? Ask for references and go see the results firsthand. Above all, try to see some landscapes he put in not just last month, but 4 or 5 years ago. Too often you see landscapes that are quite attractive at first, but don’t hold up over time. And question him about the plants he intends to include. It is shocking to see how little some so-called landscape experts know about plants other than sod and “cedars” (Thuja occidentalis). If you’re not a plantsman yourself, get an opinion about any plant suggestions from a friend who is.

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If you want to put a vegetable garden in your front yard, why not?

And before you even see the potential contractor, hold a family council. What do you really want? If you want an English-style flower border, a perfume garden, and a front yard vegetable bed and the contractor presents you with a plan featuring a lawn, paving stones and a pergola, you’re talking to the wrong person.

Custom Design

As a laidback gardener, I want my landscape to require only a minimal amount of maintenance. Mowed lawns are what require the most care in any landscape; shrubs and trees, the least. So if the plan is 90% lawn, I certainly wouldn’t be interested!

And I don’t mind getting my hands dirty and that might be your case too. Ask the contractor if he can develop a multi-step plan you can achieve yourself over several years, of course with assistance for any complex work (better to leave certain structures, such as the main entrance and stairs, where security is vital, to an expert).

Good luck in your search: there are good landscape contractors very open to personalized landscapes out there. You just have to find one!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

2 comments on “Think Twice about Cookie-Cutter Landscapes

  1. I like that you suggested checking the portfolio of the landscaping contractor that you’re interested in so you can gauge if they can offer a wide range of styles. This is something that I will make sure to remember because I’m planning to improve the appearance of my garden. I want to hire a landscaping contractor that can prove to me that they have the skills to provide what I want by showing me their past works.

  2. It was nice that you suggested asking the landscaping contractor that you’re interested in to show you their portfolio to determine if they can provide a range of landscaping designs. My husband and I are planning to hire a landscape that offers a free turf removal and can redesign our garden. We wanted to hire a landscaping contractor that has the skills and craftsmanship to provide what we’re trying to achieve, so we’ll make sure to consider all your tips.

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