What is a Landscape Contractor?
A Landscape Contractor would usually be a Landscape Architect: A professional whose area of expertise is the planning, design and preservation of the land, especially in relation to man-made constructions. Many Landscape Architects are employed by the public sector in city and parkland planning and other aspects of urban design. A great number of these professionals work in the private practice, being involved in everything from golf courses to small home gardens. They aim to provide the best possible living environment for the rest of us, and to do this they work with materials termed:
- soft – shrubbery, lawns and other natural plant life; and
- hard – buildings, footbridges and similar man-made structures.
Some even specialise in designing indoor ‘landscapes’, such as office plant displays. Whichever job you hire a Landscape Architect to do, he or she should ideally be accredited by the Landscape Institute (see website below).
However, not all Landscape Contractors are architects. If you choose one that is not, it’s best if they are accredited with a professional body, such as the British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI, see website below).
How do I hire one?
First, consider if you really need one. If you have a small back garden and don’t plan on building any permanent structures, then your own ideas and creativity might be enough, along with expert advice from your local nursery or garden centre. In any case, it’s always good to look around for inspiration in the many architectural magazines available. Not only will this help you decide on a favourite style, it will give you ideas that you can eventually suggest to your contractor. Plus, it’s always fun to daydream!
If the job demands it, then there are literally dozens of accredited contractors to choose from, and many excellent ones can be found in our Property Pro directory. Landscaping is all about visuals, so most contractors and architects will have websites featuring many photos of their best work. Use this to your advantage, as browsing through these pictures can help you decide which style you relate to the most.
Also, don’t underestimate good old-fashioned word-of-mouth to help you choose a Landscape Contractor. Ask friends, family or neighbours for recommendations (or warnings!) regarding local contractors. You can also ask them if the work was completed in schedule and within budget.
What happens next?
Once you have decided on a particular style and chosen some prospective contractors (ideally three, in order to compare estimates and quality of service), then it’s time to contact them. All of them would have provided a telephone number, but nowadays you would usually fill in an online Enquiry Form and receive a prompt reply. Let’s see what happens after this:
- Inspection – The prospective contractor will arrange with you a visit to your home. He or she will need to do this in order to give you a more accurate estimate of the project’s scope and cost.
- Layout – The fun bit! Here you will see the designer’s ideas, as well as contribute some of your own. Many contractors will charge a fee for both the layout design and the initial visit services.
- Quotation – If you like what they have come up with, then it’s time to look at the costs. As with any contractor, insist on a written estimate and see if it includes the exact amount and type of material to be used, as well as any extras. VAT should also be included. Ask if you are dealing with the contractor who will actually do the job, as some companies will sub-contract to nurseries and other suppliers. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s good to know. Make sure you understand the Terms and Conditions section of the contract, and don’t hesitate to ask your contractor about anything that isn’t clear enough.
- Construction and planting – After all the financial details have been worked out, work can begin and start/completion dates can be set. Be patient, trees and other plants will take some time to mature to their full splendour, but it will be well worth the wait!
- Aftercare – Some contractors will offer garden maintenance services after the project is completed.
Once you have chosen a contractor, allow for some time before work starts, usually a few weeks. Start and estimated completion dates should be specified in the final draft of the contract. Be cautious of a contractor that is willing to start immediately, as this may mean he/she has few clients.