Friday, December 21, 2012

Don't Just Fall for the Latest Fad!

     I have watched over the years as popular trends have swept through the 'landscape industry.'  These are things that have become the latest fad that landscape contractors and landscape designers find as money making items that they push and sell.  They are not necessarily things that the land and sites need.  Fortunately, they are most likely to be employed on single family residential property.  Larger sites tend to require, because of municipal codes, licensed Landscape Architects and therefore are less likely to sport these frivolous trends.
      Several years ago, the trade publications came out with the idea that easy money could be made by selling irrigation.  People like to see green grass they reasoned and it is pretty easy to install.  Design is fairly simple and does not need to be sealed by a licensed professional if it is for small applications like single family residential use.  Companies jumped on the bandwagon and irrigation systems were sold with a vengeance.  Then drought hit various parts of the country and people were urged to shut their systems down.  Municipalities began to give incentives to their citizens for using plantings that did not require water and even hand watering was severely restricted.  In reality, even if water shortages had not curtailed this sales pitch, the use of irrigation in this kind of setting is very rarely warranted.  In my nearly thirty years of private practice as a landscape architect I can count on one hand the number of projects that I have been involved with that actually needed irrigation, and those were grossly impacted sites with vast areas of roof and pavement.
     With irrigation on the outs, the industry moved on to lighting.  Every site should be lighted for safety from intruders and for safety of passage through the site at night became the argument.  Again this was a fairly easy service to provide and it generated a good deal of profit to the company that was selling it.  Energy shortages fortunately slowed down the progress of this sales gimmick.  Excessive site lighting actually creates deep shadows at the edges of the lighted area with lighted areas causing the eye to dilate. This creates great places to hide and actually works to aid the criminal element in their work.  In addition, it makes leaving the site much more difficult because the eye takes time to adjust to varying light levels.  It is actually safer to not have a brightly lit site.
     More recently the trade publications have been pushing two money making schemes.  One is a no-brainer in that there is virtually no way to make a mistake and the work is temporary and will return annually.  That is the selling of outdoor Christmas decorations.  The idea is that a client is sold the decorations and services the first year.  In subsequent years the contractor will store and then reuse the decorations, charging only for the time to install them.  For some people this is a great idea.  The contractor most likely has a good deal more experience doing this kind of job and also most likely has better equipment.  It is an expensive extra, but if you have money to burn it can be a time saver.
     The second scheme that I am seeing often recently is the sale of retaining walls.  I am not talking about 10' or 20' high walls that hold back massive amounts of hillside.  Landscape contractors and designers cannot place retaining walls that are structural into a site without the design of a licensed professional.  As a result, they are selling walls that are no more than three feet high and are acting merely as decorative features.  In most cases they have no other function.  If you are being pressured to add retaining walls, or if the Jones down the street have added them and you feel the need to keep up with them, my advice to you is to give it a good deal of consideration.  If you really want to add them, go to a licensed professional - like a landscape architect - and get professional design help.  Don't let the 'garden center' down the street sell you a bill of goods.  Too often these walls, while costing the poor homeowner a great deal of money actually act to devalue their property.  They are often not needed, cause a confusing and unattractive site and create a hazard.
     The advice that I would like to leave with you is that you think before you act on the advice of a landscape contractor or designer.  Decide if what they recommend is really needed or just a ploy to separate you from your cash.  If it is really needed, consider hiring a licensed professional.  The up front fees might be higher, but the long-term value to your site will more than be paid off by this action.

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