BY JOHN CONNORS & DANÉE MARIE LAMBOURNE
This is Part 2 of a Series – Read Part 1, Choosing Your Landscape Professional, here.
You’ve found the perfect designer for your project and they have captured your ideal lifestyle and vision on the page, one that’s perfectly tailored to you and your project. It’s time to take the plunge and turn that vision into reality. It’s time to seek a contractor and team to carry it out.
There are a few different ways to proceed:
1/ Be your own project manager
This option is usually chosen as a cost-saving measure, but often leads to frustration and lessons learned with avoidable expenses incurred. In general, well intended designers will offer support and when not taken, homeowners set off with a completed design, interviewing, hiring and coordinating all the applicable trades.
A common conflict arises at this phase with the coordination of trade specialties and professionals. Anytime more than one company is involved in a project, there is the potential for delays, scheduling problems, finger pointing and general sequencing. Something as simple as building a new garden bed will involve grade planning, drainage considerations, retention, trucking, plant material sourcing, irrigation and quality considerations.
Let’s consider this, you’re building a garden bed. You’ve arranged for the various trades to begin. Your cousin has a gardening company, so he’ll dig out the area for you. He gets going, and you order the soil from the local Landscape Mart. It arrives, but you forgot to arrange to have the material you’ve dug out hauled away, And so, the truck will have to come back. OK, no big deal.
One of the irrigation lines got broken, but the irrigation guys won’t be here ‘till Thursday, so you just cover it with soil and mark it. Thursday comes and goes: turns out the sprinkler guys had an emergency and won’t be there ‘till Tuesday. Okay, but you have plants coming, so we’ll just have to skip ahead.
The plants go in the ground over the weekend, only to have them pulled out Tuesday when the irrigation crew arrives to run their laterals. So everything gets planted haphazardly (again), you mulch, and are ready to add the lighting. Your friend, the electrician, comes over, and tells you that you need a GFCI plug closer to the bed for everything to work. So your cousin comes to dig (again), and breaks another couple of sprinkler lines in the process…
I wish I was exaggerating.
Anytime you have to do something twice, or do something out of sequence, it is going to cost you; Whether it be time, money, a trade or resources, or quality; You’re going to make a sacrifice that you really shouldn’t have to. Mapping out your project means you value your time and money.
Producing a schedule and budget tracker, managing trades and site congestion, tracking overages and changes as they arise are all areas that need focus while we’re also in the belly-of-the-beast that is a construction job. Delaying a trade will result in them moving to a different project, which can in turn delays all the trades after them.
Canceling materials on the fly is unheard of, so your materials will begin to pile up on the boulevards or in a location where a feature is meant to be built. You begin to see how a construction manager is well worth their value, especially on larger projects.
2/ Hire a contractor that provides their own project management
Medium to large-sized landscape contractors often offer a management component in their contracts, where they hire the subcontractors such as electricians, plumbers, carpenters, gasfitters, etc., and coordinate them in a way that maximizes efficiency.
As well as scheduling and quality control, they will be responsible for locating buried services, contacting arborists and advising you of any permit requirements that might apply. A big advantage of this approach is that all the sub trades on your project will be pre-vetted; the general contractor will want to make sure any trade they bring on site will be reliable and produce good quality work. Also, because the larger firms often account for a large proportion of a subtrade’s work, there are often advantages with scheduling and pricing.
Many design studios will have one or two companies that they work with exclusively. Apart from quality assurance, this is because they have confidence that this firm will be able to make their vision, and therefore your vision, reality.
This comes from the familiarity of working together on numerous projects, ironing out challenges together as they grow together which benefits every project thereafter. Most importantly, they know each other’s expectations and share a common goal. This often works the same in reverse as well; contractors will often recommend a designer that they work with successfully.
Look for teams like this and you know you have a collaborative team on your side.
When you get those estimates and the project management or foreman line item tempts you to “do-it-yourself,” consider the above warning and what your sanity and the risk of added costs means to you.
3/ Hire a designer that provides project management
On this surface, this option will seem indistinguishable from the last. In fact, the only difference lies in how the management is structured. In option two, the design integrity is ensured by a number of site visits by the designer where they will meet with you and the contractor (sometimes just the contractor) to work through whatever changes may have arisen, and to confirm their interpretation of the plan is the same as yours.
These visits may be included in the design price, or simply billed on a per-visit basis. This designer-managed option means that in addition to the advantages of all the logistics being taken care of, the integrity of the design will be monitored on a real time basis, instead of after the fact, or when a problem arises.
Obviously this arrangement holds some advantages, but can prove hard to find. Design studios and landscape contractors are usually specialists in their fields, and while there are a multitude of businesses offering design / build options, they rarely excel in both.
Landscape firms and even development firms contract or have an in-house designers, and studios, like our firm, while a little less common, carry a landscape construction specialist like myself, on their design team; allowing us to carry out projects from design to build alongside our trade partners.
Whatever your decision is, always remember the goal: while the finished product is the ultimate goal, enjoying it, or at the very least recollecting the experience as one you don’t regret, should be as important as the space you hope to create – cultivating quality of life in everything you do by standing on the shoulders of giants.
You may also like: Incorporating Timeless Elements in your Contemporary Garden
John Connors is the Senior Design Associate and Construction Manager and Danée Marie Lambourne is the Founder and Creative Director for EDEN Projects and Inventing Eden Landscape, design, build and renovation firms operating out of the Greater Victoria area, designing gardens across Vancouver Island.