The Grand Design An Insider's Guide to Landscape Design

 Whether you live in a towering high-rise or a sprawling suburban development,  landscaping not only helps a condo or HOA increase and retain property values,  but has a positive impact on residents themselves—beautiful, functional green spaces and plantings increase pride of ownership,  influence morale, and just generally make a place more pleasant to be in for  owners and visitors alike. And unless there happens to be a master gardener or  landscape architect on a building board or grounds committee, chances are that  the community’s administrators will have to call upon a professional landscape specialist to  help make the most of their building’s potential. “With the real estate where it is, you want to have your property looking good as  you can, just because of the state of the real estate business,” says Brett Ashley, regional sales leader for ValleyCrest Landscape Companies in  West Palm Beach. “Curb appeal is good. Investing in your property’s look is about getting that first impression. You want folks to pull in and  have a sense of arrival. Wow—this looks great,” he says.  

 Before You Make the Call

 Everyone agrees a nice landscape is a positive thing for an association, but it’s important to consider when to hire a landscape designer, and have an idea of  what’s needed. For condos and HOAs, a landscape may be dated, a situation in which  some of the plant material has pretty much lived its life. There is, after all,  a shelf life on some plant material. “As it reaches that point, it stops performing, and the design plan as it’s kind of meant to be doesn’t work as well,” says Ashley. Landscape designers are also approached for other reasons besides  a dated look. “If there’s a weather event, either a cold snap, a hurricane, a bad storm, flooding, there’s usually a reason as it relates to weather that will drive the event. Sometimes  it’s even a pest—a white fly, or some sort of insect that’s gotten into the area,” he explains.  

 Landscape designers will tell associations that they need to have an idea of  what purpose they want a landscape to serve. “The old adage that form follows function, that’s a landscape term. I think it’s important to understand what the end result is, what is the space going to be  used for, what are the long term implications to what the expectations are,” says Ashley. If associations don’t have experience with landscape design, they can consult with designers to get  an idea of what they’re looking for. “Landscapers should be asking the property owners, ‘What's the use?’ Is it going to be aesthetic, is it going to be an area that’s going have pedestrian traffic, vehicle traffic? Is it going to be a play area,  or a designated park space? Those are the factors they need to take into  account,” says John Cross, owner of Lawn Care and Pest Control, serving most of the South  Florida area.  

 Especially for those who have not ever worked with a landscape designer, simply  finding the right one can be stressful. Part of the reason is because pricing  can be difficult. Much of the cost of a project depends on what materials will  be used, and how much labor is required. For that reason, competitive bidding  can be tricky because the lower bid might not be fulfilling everything asked  for in the plan. “Fill out a request for proposal (RFP). Ideally, the way that most business gets  done, is to get a referral. Ask other associations what their experiences have  been,” says Cross.  

 “Typically HOAs don’t go into much disrepair,” says Cross. Most associations in South Florida tend to be pretty well  maintained, but maybe the current lawn and those few trees just aren’t cutting it anymore, or maybe they’re just starting to look a little old. Once associations and designers are in  agreement on what the intended use is, careful planning should follow. “They should have a one-, three-, and five-year plan that they’d like to accomplish for the property. Let’s see what we need to do immediately, and then let’s look at five years from now,” says Cross. “Everybody has grandiose plans, but you need a way to pay for it. What’s your highest priority, what kind of funds do you have available for that?” he says.  

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