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What is Landscaping and how does it work?

Per the website dictionary.com, the word “Landscaping” means:

To improve the appearance of (an area of land, a highway, etc.), as by planting trees, shrubs, or grass or altering the contours (shapes) of the ground.

The above definition is a little simplified in that modern landscaping includes many things beyond shapes and planting. There are many other aspects like patios, pools, walls, BBQs etc. that fall within the category of landscaping. In addition to improving appearance, landscaping is also done to improve the use and function of any outdoor area.

There are other terms used in conjunction with landscape that would be good to know:

Hardscape (the hard elements of an outdoor area like concrete or walls),

Flatwork (the portion of hardscape that covers the ground like concrete or brick)

Softscape (usually refers to the living elements of an outdoor area like plants, grass etc.),

Drought Tolerant (a landscape that has elements and plants requiring low water usage)

Xeriscape (pronounced “zerascape”, a type of landscape that requires very little to no water).

The basic concept is that most anything constructed or modified in the exterior of a building is under the domain of landscaping. There are of course variables to this, but the above statement is fairly accurate. This is one of the reasons that of all the specialty contractors in California, the landscape contractor with a C-27 license deals with a larger variety of trades. You can think of it like a General Contractor for the outdoors.

The C-27 contractor then can handle a complete remodel of a yard including pulling permits. That contractor then can do a lot of work in house and/or sub out work that is not covered directly under their specific trade license. Picture Build hold multiple trade license allowing us to do a lot of the work in house with our own employees.

Landscaping projects range from the very simple to the extremely complex. They are custom in that they are all unique. Even in large housing tracts, where they build the same home models, the outdoor areas are often bare requiring each owner to install and create their own landscape.

Because each project is custom, the elements and costs can vary quite bit. You can take a certain size yard and put in minimal elements like lawn and gravel or you can add outdoor kitchens and patio covers with outdoor TVs and so forth.

For these reasons, we always try and help a client work through the process to create the right balance of needs and budget. To do that, we first need to understand the basic scope of what we are going to do.

Common Elements To A Landscape Project

  1. Outdoor Demolition and Grading
  2. Patios, Walkways and Driveways
  3. Lawns and Artificial Turf
  4. Planting
  5. Irrigation and Drainage
  6. Walls and Steps
  7. Pools and Spas
  8. Outdoor Kitchens and Firepits
  9. Water Features and Lighting
  10. Outdoor Structures and Patio Covers

From this basic list you can begin to clarify what it is you want to get done. Some things may have to be done simply because of the layout of your yard and its usage, where some things are by choice.

To help you get a sense of the scope of your project, you should write down all things you want in a list. You can use things that you have seen or experienced in other outdoor spaces that you really enjoyed. You can also visit websites like Houzz and Pinterest for some inspiration.

Once you have made your list you may feel it is too much or will be over budget. In that case you should go through it and prioritize. That way during your designing and bidding step you can add or take away things according to priority.

As already mentioned, you will need to think about how much you want to spend on your project. Projects in each space can vary quite a bit in cost. Especially when it comes to the details. A lot of things that we admire have lots of detail. However, when there is lots of detail there is usually more cost.

Your Budget

Everyone’s budget will vary, and we cannot set it for you. All we can do is provide the costs and suggestions on how to keep a project within your budget.

When we ask clients for a budget, we sometimes have clients feel weird about saying anything. There is a concern that we will charge more because they gave us a number that is higher than the actual cost. We can say very confidently that this will probably never happen. Almost all our clients have an initial number in mind but as construction goes they usually end up going over. This is something you may have to prepare for. This is not because we are such a high-priced company that our clients overpay and bust their budget.

This occurs because it is sometimes unreal what the actual cost of materials and labor is. Especially when you add in the calculator effect. You may have experienced the calculator effect when buying groceries, everything may seem relatively inexpensive until you hit the total and then surprise!

A good rule of thumb is to come up with an initial target number and then add 25% to it. The 25% may feel a little uncomfortable but it might be what you need to confront when said and done. At least this way you have given yourself some room.

Even if we don’t hit your initial target number we will try and get your project to a number that you can live with. We often find with clients that there are certain got-to-have things that often push the number up. This is something you may experience as well. We also have had clients say no to things at first but later end up adding them in and doing a change order.

Our intention is to have raving fan clients. We don’t want to push you into a budget you can’t afford just to make more money on a project. We would rather have a smaller project and a happy client. However, on the flip side we don’t’ want you to be unhappy simply because your decided not go that extra distance. We will always try and provide the best possible solution money wise to get what you want.

The Process

The basic process for doing any landscape at Picture Build is:

  1. Initial Meeting with client.
  2. Assess site conditions (decide if a design is needed)
  3. Measuring
  4. Designing
  5. Finalization of Design.
  6. Bidding
  7. Contracting Work
  8. Handle any Permitting or HOA approvals

(includes engaging any outside architects or engineers required by the city)

  1. Changing Scope of Work and Pricing if Permitting and Engineering required changes.
  2. Handle any Outstanding Material choices or T.B.D. items.
  3. Installation Planning
  4. Scheduling
  5. Job Start Walk
  6. Install and Manage the Project
  7. Complete Punchlist items
  8. Final Job Walk

You can see that there are a number of steps that are needed to be done to ensure a successful project. Each step will vary in length depending upon the type and scope of the landscaping being done. We try to keep our clients well informed on what we are doing at each phase.

How Much Should You Know About The Specifics Of Landscaping?

As a landscape contractor we have years of experience and training giving us a firm understanding of landscaping. Our clients of course rely on that knowledge. We try and guide them with the best input as possible. However, even with our guidance, your project will require decisions to be made by you.

One decision could be as simple as telling us to make all the other decisions. In that case you must be willing to accept whatever we decide. That is not something that everyone is willing to do. What usually happens is that we provide information to you and we work through it together. In addition, it is always a good idea to get some independent information for yourself. That may mean going on the internet and doing a little research or reading a basic book about landscaping.

But we must also clarify something. Just because you get some information from a couple of web pages doesn’t always mean that it is accurate or correct. You will want to get knowledge that can be used in conjunction with the information you get from us. If the info conflicts with what we are telling you then you must decide which source seems more proven or accurate.

You can also suffer from information overload and research things you may never use. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself “Do I need this information to make a decision?” The answer will vary from person to person. Some people feel confident in running with a decision with a little less data while some feel the need to know everything before making that same decision. It really comes down to your own personality.

Some people have gotten so burned in the past with a previous contractor that they often doubt their own ability to even make a decision. After all, they were the dummy who picked that guy in the first place. This is one of the worst possible lessons. It puts clients in a sort of decision-making paralysis causing a whole lot of extra stress. Even if you have had a problem in the past it is still always better to make decisions, even if some are bad, then make none. The highest ideal then is to be able make independent decisions in the present without being emotionally stuck in the past.

More On Water Use In A Landscape

Southern California experiences drought conditions and how much water you use often becomes an important topic to landscaping. You can design landscapes with large variables in water usage.

If water usage is a concern for you, there are several things you can do with landscaping. This includes things like new irrigation systems, mulching beds to keep moisture in, more hardscape and inorganic material like gravel and of course changing the types of plants you have.

Your current water usage can vary greatly in yard layout, types of plants, climate, soils conditions etc. We have prepared a basic but extremely rough estimate of average water consumption per year for different items in the landscape.

Landscape Element Average Water Usage Per Year
1000 sq foot lawn 60,000 gallons in Los Angeles area
35 ft x 16 ft Pool 40,000 gallons for evaporation only
Non-Drought Tolerant Trees 2,000 gallons for (1) 4 inch trunk tree
Drought Tolerant Trees 650 gallons for (1) 4 inch trunk
Non-Drought Tolerant Shrubs and Plants 100 gallons for 3-4 foot plant
Drought Tolerant Shrubs and Plants 10 gallons for 3-4 foot plant

Now this does not mean that you are providing all that water. Some established trees can survive completely off ground moisture. However, in certain situations you may have to augment that quite a bit.

Drought tolerant landscapes can look beautiful with balanced designs. With that said, it can also look very bland and plain ugly with an improper layout. We want to avoid things like a sea of gravel with a few plants in them. To do this, we can add several elements to make it more interesting. Things like multiple ground surfaces all laid out in one design, with DG, Mulching, multi rock, artificial turf and some hardscape.

How Much Time And Attention Does A Landscape Project Require?

Not only do landscape projects require funding from a homeowner or business but they also require time and attention. How much can vary on several factors. Especially, since landscape projects can range from a small plant job to acres of outdoor features.

Any construction project will impinge on your life to some degree. There are decisions to be made, issues that can come up with permits, issues found with site conditions during construction and of course just dealing with a project at your home or business mid construction.

The other factor here is that especially with busy lifestyles adding something else to your plate can add some level of stress. Everyone has a different tolerance level. If you work a lot, or have a busy social life, or both, putting your attention on something else may just push you into some level of overwhelm. This is a common problem today even without construction projects going on.

If you have a busy lifestyle, and don’t have a lot of available attention, it can still be okay. Just realize that it means you must be willing to defer more decisions to others and accept the results. If this is the case, we will of course make every effort to provide what is expected from you.

The other solution is to free up your available attention. That may mean giving up something else you are doing or becoming more disciplined about the things you are doing.

If you find that it is still tough to get to all the decisions, we recommend some simple life practices to help. One is to just get any incomplete things in your life completed. This will free up some of your attention that can get stuck there. You can start that exercise by just making a list of all the things that you have to do on a regular basis and a separate list of any unhandled things. Then tackle each list one by one, if you are good you can prioritize it and get to the most important ones first. Especially if it makes other things on your list unnecessary. Then, if possible, you can delegate some of things you do on a regular basis to someone else.

We will of course make every effort to have a project go smoothly and with as little amount of attention from you as possible. We just want to make sure that everyone is aware of these variables because we are building a custom type of product together. It is not something that can be ordered from Amazon. This is unique for every home or business layout and every taste and function.

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