Landscape Design FAQs

Q: I want to hire Moscarino Outdoor Creations Inc. How do I proceed?

A: If, after thoroughly reviewing this web site (especially the FAQs on this page), and want to hire Moscarino Outdoor Creations Inc. to help you develop your landscape, then this is how you should proceed.

  1. Complete the Design Analysis Questionnaire and e-mail back to Moscarino Outdoor Creations Inc. Begin assembling pertinent documents and information, such as surveys, house plans, pictures, etc., that will be useful to our designers.
  2. Call and schedule an initial consultation with Moscarino Outdoor Creations Inc. to discuss your project. 440-236-9000
  3. Hold initial consultation to discuss your project; remember to bring pertinent documents and information. There is no charge for this meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to make a final decision with regard to hiring Moscarino Outdoor Creations Inc. to help you design and develop your landscape.
  4. Sign Landscape Design / Consultation Contract; pay the design fee.
  5. Begin the design process.
  6. Eventually settle on final plan.
  7. Accept Proposal to do the work; make prepayment.
  8. Begin construction and installation.
  9. Finish project – Enjoy!

Q: What is landscape design?

A: The process of building a good landscape involves three distinct steps: design; installation; maintenance. Failure to consider any one facet can affect the success of a landscaping project. An extremely well conceived landscape cannot succeed if it is poorly installed, nor can a poorly designed landscape be redeemed by good installation procedures. Development of the landscape throughout its history requires high maintenance standards.

The design process begins with a thorough design analysis, consisting of a site analysis and an analysis of people’s needs. (Homeowners Property Questionnaire) Until the needs of the property and the people using it are known, they cannot be met.

After all factors surrounding the land and its occupants have been studied, the designer can start to formulate specific design concepts. The property is divided into usable portions for the functions indicated in the design analysis, and necessary terrain alterations are planned. Shade, wind protection, screening, and enclosure can then be provided. At this stage of the design process it is best to make general choices, not choosing specific materials until all design criteria have been evaluated.

All circulation routes are also considered during this design stage. Again, it is best to determine the general size and shape of sidewalks, drives, patios, etc., without specifically determining the surface to be used. Aesthetic decisions come later.

After all general determinations have been made about area sizes and shapes, environmental requirements, and circulation routes, the aesthetic design factors can be considered. The design becomes more specific at this point. Choices are made: a wall, fence, hedge, or mass planting for a screen; ext. Ground-surface patterns take form as surfacing materials are chosen and lines of demarcation are determined. All elements in the landscape can be tied together effectively in a unified design that is aesthetically pleasing. Textures, colors, and forms are blended together to form a functioning landscape that is pleasant to view. Materials selection climaxes the design process.

Those ideas that have been conceived in the designer’s mind during the design process are recorded on paper in such a way that others can read and understand them: this is the landscape plan. The plan must communicate those ideas to the property owner as well as to any potential installer. Most importantly, the landscape designer uses the plan to communicate ideas to himself throughout the design process. Recording the various design concepts on paper during the design process allows the designer to relate one area to another, comparing concepts for compatibility.

*excerpts from Landscape Design by Leroy Hannebaum.

Q: How to buy a landscape the right way!

A: It is relatively easy for consumers to compare price and value in the retail marketplace where most vendors carry exactly the same or very similar products. Comparing price and value among service oriented companies is more difficult and requires a consumer to first establish a well defined “conceptual” product that all service companies can use as a basis for establishing their prices. In the landscape industry this conceptual product is the landscape plan with its accompanying specifications. All competing service companies must use the same conceptual product to arrive at their prices in order for the consumer to make valid comparisons. The first step in buying a landscape is to select a designer qualified to handle the size and scope of the intended project. The design process then begins, producing at some point a “plan” (i.e., Master Plan) and specifications. If the designer is also a landscape contractor, then a proposal to complete the project is usually submitted along with the plan. For all practical purposes bids, prices, estimates, and proposals are the same things. An estimate should be free (i.e., “free estimate”) because it is merely a price to do a previously defined job. Do not confuse estimating with designing: one task is done for free, the other is not. You can expect a good landscape designer to charge at least $75.00 per hour, plus expenses, to produce a plan: total design costs are directly related to the size and complexity of the job. After reviewing all proposals, the customer then contracts with a company to do the work, and the project begins. A customer should expect to pay 25% – 50% of the estimated project cost prior to initiation of work: this is called the deposit, or prepayment. Other payments (i.e., draws) are made at predetermined intervals if the project is of long duration, or the balance is made upon completion if the project takes less than a month. The following is a review of the proper manner and sequence for buying a landscape: 1. Select a qualified designer; 2. Initiate the landscape design process; 3. Settle on a “plan”; 4. Review the proposal; 5. Sign the contract; 6. Begin the project; 7. Complete the project; and 8. Begin to enjoy the new landscape.

Q: Do we give free estimates?

A: Before answering this question, let’s first define “estimate.” An estimate is an approximate price for completing a well-defined job.

If we receive a complete and accurate set of landscape plans, detailed construction documents, and project specifications for a project that we are interested in and qualified to work on, then “yes” we will sometimes provide an estimated price for completion of the project at no cost to the customer. In general, we do not seek to “bid” on work in which we are unfamiliar with the project designer, the customer, or some other aspect of the project; Moscarino Outdoor Creations Inc. does not get involved in this type of “free estimating.”

Most of the time when people ask us if we give free estimates, what they really mean is do we design landscapes/patios for free. Our estimate, or price, must be based on a plan and a detailed set of specifications, which are the end product of the design process. It is impossible for us, or anyone for that matter, to give a meaningful price without a plan that was generated through the design process. To do so would be merely guessing. At Moscarino Outdoor Creations Inc., we charge for our assistance in conducting the design process and in generating plans and specifications needed to develop the landscape.

So, the usual answer to the above question is “no” for the same reasons other professionals (e.g., doctors, lawyers, architects, webmasters, financial planners, consultants, etc.) do not provide their services for free. A qualified landscape designer has many years of concentrated education and experience behind his/her counsel. The landscape design process (see WHAT IS LANDSCAPE DESIGN?) is both time consuming and exacting. It requires skill, creativity, and the ability to communicate effectively with others using several different types of media. In order to be effective, designers must form a partnership with their clients; all parties must be committed to the project, and trust each other. Free plans generally do not have the client’s best interests at heart; they are usually at best a guess as to what the salesperson thinks they can get the potential client to buy – this is salesmanship, not design.

Q: Why do I need a design when I already know what I want?

A: Before answering this question, let’s define a few terms. DESIGN is an information gathering and problem solving “process” which is intended to culminate in a plan of attack for completing a project (see WHAT IS LANDSCAPE DESIGN?). A landscape PLAN is a communication device (it can be written, verbal, graphic, computer generated, etc.), which attempts to translate the results of the design process into a set of instructions for completing a project. The terms design and plan are not synonymous, nor are they interchangeable.

Our experience is that many people who ask this question, in fact, really don’t know what they want. They may think they do, but in going through the design process, come to understand that many of their ideas just won’t work on their site. Others may say they know what they want, hoping to shorten the design process, and thus reduce their design fees. Ironically, design fees for this type of client are usually higher because they try to skip vital steps in the design process, which leads to many time-consuming dead ends. They don’t realize that good landscape design does not cost, it pays. The bottom line is that if a person has the education, experience, talent, and creativity of a professional landscape designer combined with the installation, construction, and maintenance experience of a veteran field supervisor, then they don’t need our services; they can and should develop their own landscape. When told this many people realize they really do need our professional help. At this point, we have a client who is committed to working honestly through the design process with us, and the end result is well developed landscape and a very satisfied client.

A professional landscape designer asks questions about the site and the client that the client might not think to ask. These questions are the basis of the design process. The key to the development of a good landscape is the design process; this is the basic and founding premise on which Moscarino Outdoor Creations Inc. operates.

Q: The area I want to landscape is small. Can I assume the design work will take less time and, therefore, cost less?

A: There is a correlation between design fees and project size/complexity. The design process takes longer for larger, more complex projects, because there is more work to do: more information to gather, more measurements to take, more problems to solve, etc.

Small spaces, however, frequently present bigger challenges on a per-unit-of-area basis. Many people think that since the space they are dealing with is small, it must be simple and easy to deal with. The fact is small spaces present complex and challenging problems for designers. When space is at a premium, there is little room for error. Larger spaces, on the other hand, can absorb more flaws without being severely handicapped, and, in many cases, the flaws are not even recognized except by the most trained observers. Most designers consider small spaces to be far more challenging than larger spaces.

The size of the task is usually inversely related to the size of the space. Do not confuse small with simple, where simple is equated with less expensive. As a general rule, small projects are considerably more expensive per applicable unit of measurement than larger projects. Small spaces do present big challenges!

Q: We decided to terminate the design process before completion. Do we still have to pay design fees even though we don’t have, or need, a plan? 

A: The design process can be terminated before completion for any number of reasons. Such reasons can include: a sudden job transfer necessitating an unexpected sale of the home; a client’s eventual realization that their wants and needs exceed their budget; discovery of a site problem or other situation for which there is no practical or economically feasible solution; etc. When a client enters into a design or consultation contract with Moscarino Outdoor Creations Inc., they are agreeing to pay for the designer’s time and expenses (see LANDSCAPE DESIGN / CONSULTATION CONTRACT for details). If the contract is terminated during the design process, the client is still obligated to pay for the designer’s time and incurred expenses at the previously agreed upon rates. Depending on when the design process is terminated, there may be little or much meaningful documentation to reflect the designer’s effort to that point. If terminated early (i.e., during or after the initial client interviews and site analyses, photography), there may be very little meaningful data or documentation to reflect the efforts of the designer. The later the design process is terminated, the more a designer will have to show for his/her effort. Such is the nature of the design process (see WHAT IS LANDSCAPE DESIGN?). It is not until the end of the process that the designer brings everything together and formulates a meaningful plan of attack.

It is important to repeat that, at Moscarino Outdoor Creations Inc., the client agrees to pay for the designer’s time, regardless of whether a plan is generated. The landscape plan (together with its unique set of specifications) is the culmination of the landscape design process; it is the vehicle used by contractors to estimate the cost of the project and drive it to completion.

Q: How much does it cost for landscape design/patio work? How long does the process take and what is involved?

A: This is a difficult question to answer, because there are so many variables that can affect the amount of time it takes for a designer to conduct the design process and arrive at a plan of attack for developing the landscape. Such variables can include the intended size, scope and complexity of the project; the quality of input from the client; the involvement and commitment of the client; unusual site problems; local or regional restrictions and ordinances; quality of communication between designer and client; etc

The normal procedure and course of events at Moscarino Outdoor Creations Inc. is for the designer to accumulate as much information from the client as possible before visiting the site. Such information would include a completed landscape design questionnaire (see LANDSCAPE DESIGN QUESTIONNAIRE) and relevant information about the site, such as surveys, house plans, neighborhood restrictions, etc. The designer would then visit the site with the purpose of interviewing the client and examining the proposed work area. During this initial site visit, the designer may begin collecting site data, measurements, and visual images (i.e., photographs), or he/she may want to come back and do this at a later date, depending upon the circumstances. Eventually, the client is thoroughly interviewed as to their needs and wants, and the site is thoroughly measured and photographed. Rushing the design process can have negative consequences; it is prudent to emphasize accuracy and completeness rather than speed. Once the site has been thoroughly analyzed, a base map is produced. The base map is simply an accurate recording of all, or at least the most important, details of the site. Once the base map is produced, it is used in conjunction with all other previously gathered information to begin developing preliminary drawings. The preliminary drawings are then presented to the clients for their input. Revisions, if necessary, are made, and a final plan is produced incorporating the results of all the efforts made to-date. Specifications for completing the project are produced. At Moscarino Outdoor Creations Inc., we usually include the specifications in our proposal for doing the job. Our proposal also includes our price, or estimate, for doing the job.

Q: Who owns the plans, ideas and information generated during the design process?

A: All plans, ideas, and information generated or discussed during the design process, whether written, oral, graphically represented, or electronically recorded or transmitted, are solely the property of Moscarino Outdoor Creations Inc., Inc. until such time as all design fees are paid in full. Any use or implementation prior to payment in full is a breach of the LANDSCAPE DESIGN / CONSULTATION CONTRACT. Any publication, reproduction, or revision prior to payment in full is a violation of copyright laws.

Q: What if I don’t like your plan? Do I still have to pay your fee?

A: At Moscarino Outdoor Creations Inc., it is practically impossible to go through the entire design process and produce a plan that the customer does not like. The reason for this is that the design process cannot go forward without constant input and effective communication between the designer and the client. The preliminary drawings/plans produced during the design process are based on existing site conditions and information given to the designer by the client. The design process would never get beyond the preliminary plan stage without the approval of the client. The preliminary plan stage is where any remaining problems are resolved. The final plan is based on preliminary plans (modified, or not) which have been approved by the client.

Q: I want to install the landscape myself. Will you do the design work?

A: Generally, no. We believe that the best landscapes are designed and built by the same responsible party. We think this continuity is important. Our entire company is set up to manage a project from beginning to end.

Q: What is the average cost of a landscape?

A: There is no such thing. Landscaping is personal. Some people invest nothing in their landscape while others invest great amounts. However, from a real estate point of view, if a homeowner invests less than five percent of the value of their home (property included) on landscape development, then they are probably not doing it justice. A landscape investment will probably not significantly affect the resale value of a home unless it approaches ten percent of its value. Landscapes involving hardscapes and the development of outdoor living areas, water features, seasonal gardens, and various other construction elements obviously represent much greater investments by their owners, usually in the range of up to twenty percent or more of a home’s value.

Q: Why do you collect a fee for design services?

A: We collect a retainer to cover the initial costs of our design services. We feel it represents a solid commitment to the design process on the part of the client, and this is necessary for success of the project. Furthermore, it shows that the client has confidence in us and our abilities, which is also important for success.

Q: Why do I need a landscape designer? Can’t I do this on my own?

A: Most people can do anything they put their minds to. The reason we are not all experts at everything is because of limited time. We tend to be good at those things that interest us, because this is where we spend most of our time. A qualified landscape designer has many years of concentrated education, training, and experience behind his/her counsel. The landscape design process (see WHAT IS LANDSCAPE DESIGN?) is both time consuming and exacting. It requires skill, creativity, and the ability to communicate effectively with others using several different types of media. A professional landscape designer asks questions about the site and the client that an untrained person might not think to ask. These questions are the basis of the design process, and the key to the development of a good landscape is the design process. If a person has the education, experience, talent, and creativity of a professional landscape designer combined with the installation, construction, and maintenance experience of a veteran field supervisor, then they don’t need to hire a landscape designer; they can and should design and build their own landscape.

Q: What if I like the plan, but installation costs far exceed my budget? Do I still owe you for the plan even if I’m not going to use it?

A: Sometimes a landscape plan is produced that a client cannot afford to install. This can happen for a number of reasons. The client may have withheld accurate budgetary information from the designer. The designer may not have paid attention to the budgetary information provided by the client. The client may have requested, or demanded, specific features which were inherently expensive and beyond their means. The client may have wanted a designer to put together a “dream” landscape regardless of cost just to see if it’s affordable. Since pricing a project is about the last step in the design process, it is very easy to be over budget without knowing it until the very end. Obviously, one of the objectives of the design process is to try to develop a landscape that the customer can afford. Sometimes this is not possible. Unfortunately, some people want more than they can afford. The good news is that the design process eventually points this out, and can prevent a customer from starting a project they cannot complete. The design fee is a small price to pay to avoid a much bigger problem.

When a client enters into a design or consultation contract with Moscarino Outdoor Creations Inc., they are agreeing to pay for the designer’s time and expenses? (see LANDSCAPE DESIGN / CONSULTATION CONTRACT). If the designer produces a plan in accordance with the needs and wants of the client, then the client is obligated to pay for the designer’s time and incurred expenses at the previously agreed upon rates.

The important thing to note is that the client must be honest and up front with the designer about their finances. It is often uncomfortable or awkward discussing budgets early in the design process. But a successful landscape plan demands realistic budgetary figures from the clients early on. Many clients give mixed signals. For instance, a client may request a swimming pool, gardens, deck extension, and a split-rail fence around their yard and then tell the designer they have a ten thousand dollar budget. This is unrealistic; they know it and the designer knows it. If the design process moves beyond this point it is with the understanding that such a project will cost far more than ten thousand dollars.

There are other ways to handle over-budget projects. One way is to phase the project. Most projects can be separated into distinct parts. These parts can be completed when the client can afford to do so. Another way to handle an over-budget project is to change it. Sometimes this can be as simple as using smaller plants or less expensive varieties. Less expensive construction elements can also be substituted for those originally specified. Rarely is a project so far out of line that it can’t be salvaged; the design process simply won’t allow it.

Q: When the landscape project is completed, will I get a finished plan drawn on paper?

A: Normally, at the end of the design process, we submit a proposal to the client for development of the landscape. This proposal contains whatever written specifications and drawings are necessary for completion of the work by one of our crews. These can be extensive or minimal depending on the nature and size of the job, and the instructions of the client. Usually, however, in an effort to keep design costs as low as possible, we only generate documents in the number and quality necessary for completion of a project by one of our crews. If we were preparing plans for unknown parties, they would have to be much more detailed than those we would prepare for our own crews. As a general rule we do not get involved in design-only situations.

During the course of most projects, changes are made to the original plans; these are made for a multitude of reasons and always with the knowledge and consent of the client. Original drawings are almost never completely revised at the end of a project to reflect all of the changes that were made. This would be time-consuming for a designer and therefore costly for the client. Nevertheless, if a client wants a finished plan drawn on paper we will provide it. The cost would be based on the designer’s time to produce a second copy for the homeowner.

Q: Can I hire subcontractors to do some of the work instead of your company?

A: It depends. We usually insist on hiring our own subcontractors, if needed, so we can control the overall quality of the project. However, there are times when we welcome a client’s help and participation in the role of contractor. This might happen if the client has a previously established relationship with a particular subcontractor, or is for some reason in a better position than we are to coordinate the work of a subcontractor. Such instances are rare, but they do happen.

Moscarino Outdoor Creations Inc. is a design / build Landscape Company. We believe that the best landscapes are designed and built by the same responsible party. We think this continuity is important. Our entire company is set up to manage a project from beginning to end. We generally do not provide design-only services for people who want to complete the project themselves, or with the help of subcontractors.

Q: Can I visit previous clients to look at your work firsthand?

A: If, after thoroughly visiting our Internet web site and meeting with us at you property, you still need convincing that we are the landscape contractor for you, then we can arrange visits to some of our job sites.

However, our website has been carefully designed to make it easy for potential customers to evaluate our work without the need for lengthy and inconvenient field trips. The Internet and modern photography allow us to bring our jobs to you in your own home or office.

Q: Can you do the work in stages/phases if I am unable to afford it all at one time? What needs to be done first?

A: Phasing the work is a great way to develop a landscape, especially the larger, more complex and expensive projects. At Moscarino Outdoor Creations Inc., we are glad to phase projects for those customers that request it; in fact, we often encourage customers to phase their projects. However, phasing does add to the overall cost of a project due to extra mobilization costs and other work related inefficiencies. Despite the extra costs, sometimes phasing a project is the only way a client can afford it.

Phasing a project cannot be done haphazardly. It must be done in such a manner that work completed in an earlier phase is not affected by work done in later phases. Compare the phasing of a landscape with painting the floor of a room having only one exit; you must start at the furthest point and work towards the exit, otherwise you will be trapped, or ruin your work trying to get out. In general, construction work (i.e., hardscapes) must be done before planting work.

Each project is unique and has its own logical phasing scheme. Once a landscape plan is developed, it is easy for the designer to define a phasing plan to suit the needs of the client. It is important to note that often the landscape element the client wants most, or that is the main focal point, cannot be included in the first phase, because doing so would make completion of later phases impossible or prohibitively expensive. Phasing requires patience.