Landscape Design Questions

FAQ #1:

Sarah Ray Landscape Design offers design and construction services; do I really need a landscape plan? Why can’t I just show you a picture from a magazine and have you build something similar?

- Joan, Berkeley Hills, CA


GREAT QUESTION! It is a fact that the Number One reason gardens fail to thrive is due to the lack of a plan. But before launching into why it is worth having a plan, let’s first define what a plan is:

A plan is a tangible, visual design document showing the overall layout of the garden and locations of plants and other landscape elements. A plan is a vital and necessary communication tool used to outline deliverables, leaving little room for “open interpretation” and ambiguity.

Three reasons why it is worth investing in a plan:

  1. By and large the projects always turn out better!
  2. The homeowner gets a unique, custom design tailor made to meet their needs- not a boilerplate cookie cutter design. Our designers work closely with each client to create a personalized plan that is best suited for that particular client. By listening to our client’s ideas and priorities, we are able to translate their needs into realities. With Sarah Ray Landscape Design, you are getting access to our advanced horticultural knowledge, graphic and design skills and hands on experience.
  3. In what can be a very complicated process, with Sarah Ray Landscape Design, our clients feel confidant that they are getting an advocate- a coach who is looking out for our client’s best interests. This saves them time, hassles and in the end - MONEY!

FAQ #2

Why should I pay for a design when other landscape companies will do the design for free?

- Cynthia, Menlo Park, CA


There are two types of landscape design / build companies: Ones that charge for their designs and ones that do not charge for their designs.

There is an assumption that a designer who charges for a design is no different than the person who does it for free. To dispel this assumption, let’s use the following analogy:

There is an orchard and at that orchard you can get some apples. Some apples are free and some apples are for sale. The ones on the ground are free. The ones for sale have been washed, bagged and taken care of. Which apple do you want to eat?

Smart homeowners understand the value of design and, to them; it is worth paying for it.

Sarah Ray Landscape Design proudly and confidently charges for its designs and here is why.

To put a value on something, in this case - the design - it must have value. Unfortunately, there is a trend today for companies to give away their designs as an incentive to land the job. This desperate, fear-based approach seriously undervalues design as a tool and, in the end, is quite dishonest.

Moreover, for companies claiming they do not charge or offer a rebate for the design are, in fact, charging you for it somewhere. It may not be a line item charge, but it is always somewhere - either in their overhead, or designing around what products are in their inventory, or in cutting corners during construction. We do the opposite to that. Our clients value our transparency and honesty and in so doing, we put the needs of our clients first and design what is best for them, not for our bottom line!

FAQ #3

I’ve never hired a landscape designer before. How does the design process work? And, generally, how long will it take?

- Jackie G., Lafayette, CA


It’s very straightforward. Depending on the size and complexity of the project, it usually takes a few weeks. Here’s how it works: After you’ve signed the contract, (you checked our references, etc.), and we’ve discussed your needs, your aesthetic, your budget range, then we begin the design process. The design process is threefold:

  1. Conceptual Design
  2. Final Design
  3. Construction Documents

Conceptual Design: We begin with a detailed site analyses, take measurements and create a scaled drawing of the existing site and its conditions. Once we have a scaled drawing of the site, we sketch out some concepts. Images of plants, features and styles are assembled into a presentation. Then, we meet with the client to present our ideas. The conceptual phase is an iterative process and may take several efforts and follow up meetings until everyone is pleased with the direction of the plan. From that point, we move into the final design phase.

Final Design: The final design incorporates all that has been discussed during our client meetings and draft a plan that will transition into construction documents. Also, during this phase, we can begin to get a more concrete idea of the probable costs of the project.

Construction Documents: Once the Final Design is approved, we draft the construction documents. Depending on how complex the project is, there may be multiple construction sheets, including a Planting Plan, Irrigation Plan, Lighting Plan, Details Sheet, and Layout Plan. At this point, we can translate this information into a bid presentation, breaking down the costs for each line item.

FAQ #4

Of all the landscape companies out there, why should we choose you? Why is your company better than the next one?

- Matt B. Berkeley, CA


Thank you for asking! True, there are many good landscape companies out there, many seemingly offering the same services.

What sets Sarah Ray Landscape Design apart from scores of other companies is our single point of contact, attention to detail, our exemplary quality and delivery, our unwavering dedication to customer service, and clear and honest communication with our clients.

Let’s be realistic: Oftentimes what determines which company will land the job comes down to who can do it the cheapest? At the risk of being overly dramatic: Personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable driving across a bridge, parking in a parking garage, or living in a house built by the lowest bidder. Would you?

The same goes for your landscape project. Of course, you could always find someone who will design and build it cheaper, but in the end, you’re compromising quality, creating hassles working with someone of questionable reputation, and - speaking to the bottom line - may cost more than expected with shoddy workmanship, expensive change orders and unreliable crews.

Sarah Ray Landscape Design knocks it out of the park every time! Our reputation means everything to us and we work very hard to keep our clients happy.

FAQ #5

I’ve killed every plant I ever owned. What happens if my new plants die?

- Catherine, Albany, CA


We have a motto at Sarah Ray Landscape Design: “A garden is only as successful as its maintenance plan.” As such, we offer a 90-day warranty for all new plants. If a plant dies, we replace it with a new one at absolutely no charge.

Secondly, our professional designers and plant installers are expert horticulturalists, so you can be certain the upfront plant selection and installation follow industry standards. After your garden is planted, we provide you complete care instructions so you know your plants’ requirements and growth habits. If you have no interest in maintaining your new garden, we can refer you to a qualified and trustworthy gardener who will keep your garden thriving all year round!

FAQ #6:

We plan to sell our house in the next few years and want to make effective improvements for maximum selling price. We were thinking about remodeling the kitchen, but my brother-in-law told us re-landscaping is a better investment. What do you think?

- Jerry D., Orinda, CA


Life is short. If you’ve always wanted a new kitchen, then do it! Beautiful kitchens are a great asset to any house. However, at the risk of fueling familial tensions, I agree with your brother-in-law, and so does the marketplace! Besides the personal enjoyment you receive from a prettier yard, landscaping adds more value to a house than almost any other renovation.

A recent study in Money magazine states landscaping increases the recovery value of a home by 100 to 200 percent at selling time. Kitchen remodeling increases value by 75 to 125 percent, and bathroom remodeling brings 20 to 120 percent recovery. Another study reported high-quality landscaping adds about 15% to its price.

If you don’t have immediate plans to sell, all the better. Landscaping is the one home improvement that actually appreciates over time. A mature garden adds even more to your home’s value. So plant now, enjoy your beautiful outdoor space, and then reap the benefits when it’s time to sell.

FAQ #7:

Money is tight for us these days, but we don’t really want to wait to begin our backyard project. Instead of doing the entire project at once, can we complete different parts of the project in phases?

- Estelle, Menlo Park, CA


Yes we can work with you in phases! Many of our projects have been completed incrementally. How we implement your project depends on your needs and constraints, your time and financial ability. Often, the first phase is creating the plan.

For example, without knowing the exact details of your project, the Phasing Plan might look something like this:

  • Phase I: Design and Cost Analysis
  • Phase II: Demolition and Infrastructure: This phase may include installation of drainage systems, hardscape elements, irrigation lines and retaining walls.
  • Phase III: Construction of a deck or trellis, installation of plants and water features, finalizing irrigation components.

Another example of phased projects:

  • Phase I: Front Yard and Sidewalk Strip
  • Phase II: Backyard
  • Phase III: Side yards

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