Landscape Professional ..... Yeah or Nay???

I'd like to know how your experience has been with using a Landscape Professional to help in designing your landscaping master plan.
My yard consists of probably 70% lawn which I want to change into evergreen/conifer and perennial beds with specimen trees interspersed...
On an experience scale, I am probably a 6 on a scale of 1-10 when it comes to landscape gardening, but have never designed an overall master plan.
Would like to hear whar your experience has been and what suggestions you can share so I might more effectively use a professional....
I've played around some with computerized landscaping software but can't seem to do the overall master plan....what should be done first...etc.
Help...Also if someone from SW Washington has a couple of professionals they could recommend it would be greatly appreciated as well....
Thanks
Sandye
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After years of mistakes we decided to totally revamp our entire backyard garden area- dig everything, replace the fencing, and redesign the whole shebang.
I did hire a designer to give me ideas but I was on such a restricted budget that we had to do all of the work by ourselves. To save money I initially presented her with specific drawings and measurements, a list of plants that I already had and wanted to use, a list of plants I wanted to purchase, and a list of common plants I did *not* want to use. I had written down our dog concerns, our intended usage areas- in short had everything so ready that she did not have to waste time asking questions.
The plan she came back with (for something in the neighborhood of $325) was the "bones" of the garden and we certainly did make good use of it. We did change some species around but the height gradations, flow, and general layout remained hers. We purchased our larger trees from her company (it seemed only right to buy something) but most of our plant material came from local independent nurseries. It took us 6 months to do it, it was hard as hell, and was a very rewarding experience.
I could not have done it by myself and I considered myself a good gardener at that time. I learned a tremendous amount from her and later successfully did my own design in a different area.
I wholeheartedly recommend using professional help in whatever form your budget allows. It helped me achieve a "finished" looking garden in a short time- things just look more balanced and "right" than they would have without help. You can have them design only or design and totally install or anything in between.
I also thoroughly recommend days and days of driving neighborhoods with attractive landscaping. Once you find something you really love knock on the door. Anyone I have ever approached was happy to talk about their landscaping and it is a great way to get references. Also contact local smaller nurseries- they usually have referrals available and sample homes to visit.
Enjoy the process- it never ends!
-- Toni South Florida USA Zone 10b http://ww.cearbhaill.com
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About 10 year ago we moved into our first house. While I always had an appreciation for gardening, I lived in apartments and worked two or three jobs, so I had no experience. The property had problems - a wedge shape with a steep slope in the back and on one side, lots of shade, lots of low quality trees, and it abutted a woodland. I didn't think I had the skills or knowledge to solve the problems myself.
I hired a garden design firm that also had a well established, respected garden center. I compiled a list of wants and likes/dislikes. They came back with a design that was adequate but not exciting. I had a retaining wall installed a well as a paver path. The plant selection wasn't all that good in retrospect. About 70% of shrubs and perennials have died. I think it was due to a combination of poor choices and inadequate soil prep. Over time, my needs and wants have changed and now I am locked into the bones of the original design.
My advice would be to get several designs. Make sure that things like drainage are taken into consideration. Make some provisions for running utilities under walkways in the future, even if you don't think you will need them. You never know when you may want to install a pond, etc., that will use electricity.
I think doing as much of the work yourself is a good idea, especially when it come to doing to planting. You will probably take more care than a crew of landscapers who may actually be high school or college students with no experiences who are making a few dollars on the side.
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For my first house, I designed and installed the gardens myself (except for the lawn and the sprinkler system). It was beautiful. But it was also a high-maintenance landscape. Sometimes, I would work in the garden by the light of a full moon because there was just not enough daylight to do everything that needed doing.
For my second (and current) house, I had a design developed by a not-to-local local nursery. If I bought enough materials there (not only plants but hardware too), the cost of the plans was refunded. (More than 30 years later I still shop at that nursery.) The designer visited my house to check the dimensions of the front and back yards, the compass orientation of the property, and existing features (block walls, patio slab, etc). Then, we discussed what I like and dislike. When I saw the draft of the plans, I told the designer what needed changing. After having the lawn and sprinkers installed, I did everything else. It too was beautiful, and it was much less of an effort to maintain. For over 25 years, I generally followed those plans.
However, one feature of this do-it-yourself landscape was a shade tree in the back yard. It grew so large that plans for a garden in the sun were no longer appropriate; see my <URL:http://www.rossde.com/garden/garden_back.html#tree . Thus, three years ago, I had a new landscape design created for the back yard. The design incorporated existing trees and some of the existing shrubs (especially my roses and camellias). But it also reflected the fact that very few parts of the garden have full-day sun. Then, since I was already in my 60s, I had the designer (a landscape contractor) install the new design. Again, it is beautiful. Now that it is established and the weeds are under control, the major maintenance effort is grooming to remove spent flowers, pruning the roses and peach tree, and calling the lawn service twice a year to mow the ornamental red fescue. I actually do more than that; but I'm now retired and can take time during the week to renovate a bush by cutting it back severely, replace a dead plant, or fuss with potted herbs. (My gardening diary is at <URL:http://www.rossde.com/garden/diary/index.html .)
Should you use a professional to design your garden? Definitely, unless you are willing to accept the reality that mistakes mean extra ongoing work.
Should you use a professional to install your garden? If you not only have sufficient money and also are too old or tired to do it yourself.
--
David E. Ross
Climate: California Mediterranean
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