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Landscaper Bob Thorne shares his suggestions for finding and working with a competent landscaper.
1. Ask for referrals. There's no better advertising than a satisfied client. Ask your friends for their recommendations, certainly, but don't be afraid to ask strangers who did their yards -- they'll be flattered.
2. Check references. Once you've got some names, ask the landscapers to show you examples of their work. Pictures in photo albums and magazines are good, but it's best to have a chat with previous clients and a firsthand look at their gardens.
3. Don't give away your bottom line when getting estimates. "There are some people out there who'll charge you $5000 for a $3700 job because that's what you told them you had to spend," says Thorne. Better to give the landscaper a detailed wish list and let him or her come back with a price in line with your budget.
4. Get a contract. Once you have agreed on a price, fix the details in writing. Your landscaper will probably ask for 50 per cent up front and the rest on completion, but a credible landscaper will not walk if you ask to hold back 10 per cent until 30 days after completion (or sooner if you are satisfied with the work). Ask the landscaper to spell out a specific guarantee for all work.
5. Inform yourself. The more gardening books and magazines you read, the more botanical gardens you visit, the more effectively you will communicate your specific desires to your landscapers. Unlike landscape architects, whose university education includes formal training in design and botany, landscapers tend to be generalists with a lot of practical rather than theoretical knowledge behind them. With your knowledge of plant specimens and garden design, and your landscaper's practical team, you become a formidable team.
6. Consider alternatives to the instant garden. If you're prepared to do a lot of the work yourself, over two to five years, consider hiring a landscaper or landscape architect to draw up plans and a planting schedule. (Late spring and early fall are ideal seasons for landscaping in most parts of the country because the damp, mild weather makes the ground malleable and also minimizes transplant shock). Some nurseries offer this service for free or at a nominal fee.