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The Landscape Design Process: An Interview with Debora Katz of Fairway Landscaping & Lawn Care

By Debora Katz

Tell us a little bit about your company and its foundation.

Our company, Fairway Lawn Care Corporation, a full service lawn, landscape and snow management company for both residential and commercial clients was founded in 1987 by James Burns. Jim's vision was to establish a company in which outstanding customer service and attention to detail would be first and foremost for his team. Today, Fairway serves clients throughout eastern and southern Massachusetts, including Boston and the Cape. Our management team members include Massachusetts Landscape Certified Professionals who hold additional industry certifications. Our experienced design team strives to create outdoor living spaces for our clients that exceed their expectations and deliver on 'the power of environment' mantra we live by at Fairway.

We are headquartered at 28 Renker Drive in South Easton with a branch office at 126 Long Pond Rd in Plymouth MA which serves the Plymouth, Cape & Islands.

What are some important questions to ask the landscape designer before beginning the designing process?

You want to of course ask the normal questions you would ask of any contractor you are hiring such as:
How long has your firm been in the business?
What is the typical size job that you perform?
Does your firm have insurance (workers compensation and general liability)?
Do you perform the installation of the design in house?
Do you warranty the plant material and for how long?
What is your design process?
Can I see photos of your work?
What credentials do you hold?

Determining if the landscape designer is a good fit for your project can at times be difficult, by asking some general questions such as "What made you want to become a landscape designer or what do you love about your work?," you can often judge their enthusiasm for the design work they do. Just as important as asking questions of your landscape designer is also gaging whether they are good listeners when you and your family members are speaking. This can be an indicator of whether the landscape designer is truly designing for you and your family in mind. The benefit of hiring a professional landscape company and designer is that they can tell you how and if your vision will work for your property. They will advise you on the best plantings for your property given the topography, climate, and your family's use of the area, as well as, what will be necessary to maintain the continued good health of your plants.

If you could, please list the steps of the general landscape design process.

The design process takes into consideration the client's wishes, the environmental conditions, horticultural requirements, and the elements and principles of good design. The steps include:

a. Conduct a site inventory and analysis of soil, drainage, and climate conditions (which impact the plants such as temperature, humidity, rain, wind and direct sunlight), and the type and location of existing plantings and structures.
b. Determine the client's needs to be addressed in the design plan and where and how the family activities occur. How will the design increase the family's enjoyment and use?
c. Create a working sketch/diagram.
d. Develop conceptual design plans for review.
e. Draw the final design plan that will be utilized by the professional landscape installation team to implement the design and potentially the maintenance team who cares for the design after its creation.

The information gathered in steps (a) and (b) help the landscape designer determine the overall theme and style that the design should convey. The working sketch (c) helps determine the location of spaces where family activity will take place and the topography to create the conceptual plan. The final design will include all the details of the plantings, hardscapes and other structures such as pergola, fencing, outdoor kitchen, water and fire feature, hot tub, pool etc.

How do you suggest clients prepare for this process?

It is very helpful if the client has a full understanding of how they wish to utilize the property and who will be utilizing the newly designed areas including children and pets. Your yard is an extension of your home- just as you would plan out the details of say where to place your utensil drawer in a new kitchen renovation, you also need to consider the details of all your activities that will take place in the yard. We recommend to our clients that they flip through magazines and pull pictures of plants, colors, hardscapes etc. that they like. This gives the landscape designer an immediate sense of textures, colors and themes and helps the client communicate their vision to us.

Additionally the landscape designer will want to know if there any special requirements to incorporate into the plan such as a favorite plant and/or existing vegetation they hope to include in the overall plan which may require relocation? Are there any existing drainage issues that will need to be considered and addressed?

It is equally important to know what your budget is for your design plan and to convey that range to the designer so that your design meets your needs within your budget.

Something I think that often gets overlooked by clients is the importance of being realistic about your maintenance style. Are you likely to be hands on or hands off when it comes to maintaining your design? This becomes important in the selection of vegetation and the planning of green spaces.

What are some common issues you face when it comes to designing landscapes?

Proper drainage can sometimes be a challenge with properties, particularly if the issue is not obvious at the time of the year which we are designing in. It's important for the client to make the landscape designer aware of any areas that have drainage issues so that the plan can address that and proper vegetation can be planned for those areas. The pH of the soil can also be an issue. Certainly for our Plymouth, Cape and Island clients we have an understanding of the challenge that the sandy soil in those areas pose and we consider the soil content when selecting vegetation and designing the plan.

What advice do you have for the homeowner during this process?

Communication is key to developing a functional and aesthetically appealing design. Make sure at each step in the design process you are actively responding to questions your landscape designer may have and that you thoroughly review and understand your design project during all phases. Don't be afraid to ask questions; that is part of what you are paying a professional landscape company for, both their expertise and their thoughtful response. Circle back on your budget to understand if any new requests have resulted in a change in price so that you are not surprised later. A professional landscape company will keep you informed on changes and their impact on your design and the budget but if you are not receiving this information, ask for it.

What's the best way for people to get in contact with you?

You can reach us at 508-230-2433, emailing info@fairwaylandscaping.com or visiting our website at www.fairwaylandscaping.com.

I can be reached directly at 508-205-1065 or dkatz@fairwaylandscaping.com Debora Babin Katz, Director of Business Development, Fairway Lawn Care Corporation, 28 Renker Drive, South Easton, Massachusetts 02375.

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