Landscape architect a good investment for big projects

Designing your landscape can be a fun and rewarding project. But sometimes it makes sense to utilize the skill and experience of a professional, particularly when the project is quite extensive. The more you tell the architect about your vision, the better they will be able to design the landscape of your dreams.
Here's a recent e-mail from a reader that brought that situation to my mind:
QUESTION: "I'm trying to figure out how to sculpture stairs on a hill in back of my house. This is a grassy hill that I don't want to mow anymore. I have planted four apple trees so far but still have a lot of hill left. The stairs are what is bothering me: how to manage landscaping timbers or something that will look good and fit in. My house is set on rolling hills and the first hill is the problem I am thinking of a bird bath, flowers and ground cover. Can you help with ideas?" - Elizabeth Malloy
ANSWER: Stairs and graduated landing areas would provide much more interest than a rolling lawn. You might want to consider asking for professional advice from a landscape architect. It is not that expensive to get a plan drawn. However, it can get more expensive when you use them to execute the plan rather than treating it as a DIY project. We use the services of a landscape architect every time before we begin a project. If you plan to do the actual work yourself, be sure to tell the architect who can then fit the design to your skill level.
QUESTION: "Your column is a great resource. Thank you! I am trying to coordinate a small landscaping project for a woman at our church who has just finished chemotherapy (it worked, she is in remission). I have had the soil tested, and have done some research on the best native plants to put in. The soil doesn't appear to need much except compost. We want to dig new beds and plant three shrubs in one bed, ground cover in the second and decorative grasses in the third. What is the best way to get rid of the weeds in these new areas?
Also, would it be more efficient (because I'm working with a group of people and this garden has to be absolutely low-maintenance) to dig, improve or buy bags of garden soil. Thanks for your help." - Debra Locke
ANSWER: There are a number of ways to get rid of the weeds. However, I would recommend the following. First of all, it's important to check that you have good drainage in the beds. For the shrub bed, lay down a weed barrier mat that you can find at most garden centers. Cut an x in each location where you will plant the three shrubs. Dig the holes and plant shrubs per the supplier's directions, then cover the weed mat with mulch.
For the ground cover bed, an alternative process would be to lay down the weed barrier mat, cover it with mulch and/or a layer of soil, then plant your ground cover directly in it. For the bed allocated to grasses, my advice would be to handle it like the shrub bed. However, of course, you'll be cutting more x's.
The mats are a good way to eliminate the need to deal with any of the old weeds. If the existing soil has been tested and appears to be of good quality, you can use that, possibly augmenting it with purchased topsoil. Good luck with your project!
QUESTION: "I have a Chinese Fringe Tree and this is the second year in the ground. Last year it bloomed but not this year. Do you have any suggestions. The tree is healthy and growing." - Carolyn Sanders
ANSWER: I'm sorry to say that I do not have a really good answer for the question but will give a stab at it anyway! One possible cause could be fertilizing the tree too much, giving it all it wants and more. Reason: nitrogen produces lots of foliage but tends to cut down on the blooms. Another possibility could be that it set bud early and then went through a late freeze, killing the buds and not allowing blooms to form.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.org. For resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free weekly e-mailed newsletter, go to www.landsteward.org
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WHATEVER you do, get a few (at least three) bids...................these "architects" cost a fortune!
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