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Design And Budget Go Hand in Hand
How To Get The Most For Your Money

September 22, 2009
John Stuart Leslie

Budget is certainly a major factor in the design process. It is simply an exercise in design if there is not enough money available or allocated to construct it and implement the original vision and intent of the design. However, what is the price to achieve tranquility or serenity? Obviously, these more spiritual desires that may be designed into the garden as the prime objective, don't cost anything, but the physical materials and how they are designed and arranged must be done in such a way as to be conducive for the desired feelings.

If you are designing a garden yourself, you can certainly understand the subtle spiritual benefits and what you are trying to achieve during installation. If you are working directly with a contractor, make sure they are open to your spiritual criteria and not negate the value of these intangible values that to them, are not important because they don't add cost to the installation. How things are placed in a subtle way can make a big difference in how you perceive the space and its success in evoking the feelings you want. 

 landscape planning is critical to your budget So if you are working with a designer, don't be put off if you feel they are overly concerned about knowing your "budget". It makes the design process much easier and saves a lot of "pie in the sky" scenarios that will never get built. If you are paying a landscape designer for their time and want to explore different scenarios, that's fine, but always have an idea of the cost to build each of the scenarios. Working with a designer who knows how much construction costs are is very important. 

An efficient way to design with cost in mind as you go along, is to hire a design-build contractor. One who has the capability of providing costs per their design. If you pay them separate for the design process, you can explore variations in the design that meet your budget or to find out how much things cost so you can adjust you budget.

Not knowing how much things cost stops many homeowners from establishing a budget. Often they go through the process of getting bids (with "free" designs) so that they can get a feel for how much of a range they are looking at with what they told the contractors to design for them. If the range is way over expectations, then you now have an idea of how much things cost. 

Another way to work with a budget is to phase the construction to give you time to fund the entire project or as funds become available. The downside to this method is not getting the benefit of those items you are going to install later. They may be important for you to have immediately, so then you must defer some other part of the project. 

landscape plans

A good designer who understands construction can put together a phasing plan based on cost, but also on what makes sense in terms of construction logistics. Some components  have to go in the initial phase such as underground drainage, irrigation and sleeving.

Another factor is access. It doesn't make sense to defer items such as swimming pools, ponds or water features that require significant excavation and underground plumbing with equipment that will destroy half the yard just getting to the location.

The goal is to minimize the amount of disruption or having to re-do parts of the yard due to construction methods and access. One way of phasing is to install the underground piping such as waterlines, electrical, or gas lines and stub out the end for later connection. Trenching for underground lines is extremely disruptive and should always be done in the first phase. 

If you are to build your own landscape project or garden, do factor in the cost of all the materials and the amount of labor you will put in vs. hiring labor before you finalize your design. Knowing how much things cost will also allow you to possibly phase the installation if you intend to build the project exactly as designed but need to defer a portion of it until you have the money.

From a design stand point, the worst mistake to make is to spend all your "budget" on the pool and have very little left for the surrounding "softscape". If the pool contractor talks you into building the pool, the decking and the bbq but downplays the plantings and related components, the design will not be balanced. Work with a designer who looks at the entire yard thoroughly and doesn't defer decisions about what goes around the pool to another contractor or yourself to figure out.

That is why it is best to work with a designer who understands all the components of the landscape and is not biased towards any one component such as the pool. A pool is often the major focal point of the yard, and deserves special attention, but don't have blinders on when designing the rest of the landscape and know what the costs are for everything, not just the pool.

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