What to Consider for your next Landscaping Project

What are your reasons for Landscaping?

It's important to understand what you want or need. It helps the landscaper / contractor / designer understand what is expected from them. 

Some reasons are ...

  • Create Privacy                                                                 
  • An Inviting Space for Entertaining                      
  • Provide Space for Recreation                                   
  • Modify the Climate                                              
  • Beautify the Property
  • Grow a Kitchen Garden
  • Attract Wildlife
  • Reduce Water Use

What's important to you

Getting a Concept and Setting Goals

Form follows function—before you decide what it should look like, give some thought to whether there is something that the landscape can do for you. State your goal (function), decide what it will  look like (form), and decide the tasks or objectives that must be completed.  A simple example would be:

  • Goal - create a "slice of nature" in my backyard.
  • Concept - develop a native plant botanic walk that attracts wildlife.
  • Objectives - grade a switch back path up the rear slope, screen out all signs of civilization, establish plants with seeds, fruit, etc., that will attract birds year-round.
  • Budget - Make sure you have an idea of how much you want to spend.  


What sort of garden will best fit your lifestyle and the look of your property? Style comes from response to surroundings, the geometry of the layout, types of plants, colour schemes, selection of materials, and selection of furnishings and garden art. If your home has a distinctive architectural style, the landscape style should embellish it. If your house is more neutral, you may have a greater range of style which could fit.

A short list of styles: Mediterranean, formal, urban, modern, personal, southwestern, subtropical, rustic, cottage, Japanese, courtyard. Regardless of style, an entire garden or a portion can be based around a theme: sound (water, music, bells), fragrance, movement, water, nature, forest, meditative, colour, roses, herbs, edible, vistas.

Aesthetic Principles of Design

In this brief article it is not possible to give a thorough explanation of the many design principles involved in creating a fine landscape, but the following key ideas may help you. Try to give some consideration to them as you select both construction materials and plantings.

  • Unity - recognizable links between materials, colour, plants, patterns, etc.
  • Balance - use of colour, mass, form, texture to create equal visual weight.
  • Proportion - the scale of various elements as they relate to each other and to the site and its architecture. Be sure to consider the mature size of plants.
  • Variety/Contrast - there is a fine line between variety and being too busy. If every inch of the landscape is "special" the effect will be too disturbing.

Function—What should it do?

Bubble Diagrams and Outdoor Rooms - Think of the proposed use areas as rooms of a house. Do some quick sketches in order to explore the various configurations of patios, paths, screening elements, etc. It is far quicker and cheaper to move your patio, hot tub, and vegetable garden on a sketch than after the concrete has set up. Challenge yourself to develop as many variations as you can.

One of the toughest phases in a design is to start giving form to your ideas—determining the ideal size of the features you intend to create. Outdoor dining for 2 couples vs. the entire "clan" will require different solutions. Measure an equivalent indoor room, try to imagine the furnishings that will occupy the space and transpose this "room" outdoors.

Once you can think of areas of your landscape as outdoor rooms you may wish to consider what the "walls, floors and ceiling" will be made of: planted or built; opaque or dense; bright or receding. Even a small yard can often benefit by being subdivided or by creating controlled views. Each space can be "furnished" with a different, but harmonious theme.

Just as rooms are linked by hallways, garden rooms are linked by paths. The paths that connect various portions of your landscape must be functional, but they can also help to add variety and interest as they lead you through a sequence of spaces. And how do guests arrive at your front door? Driveways are for cars, not guests.

Construction Materials

Be certain that any new construction is compatible with the house and existing features that will remain in your landscape. Try to assemble a "family of materials" that work well with each other and the site and be sure that you can successfully build what you see in your mind's eye. If not, select a qualified designer or contractor to assist you in this phase.

A tour of some of the local building material yards or any area with new homes will help you to see what is available in the trades. Also, be sure to go through all of those back issues of garden magazines you've been saving, or hit the library.


In a professionally designed landscape plants are selected for more than pretty flowers. Plants can help to create shade, shape spaces, control movement, block bad views, hold slopes. soften winds, and retard fire. Consider these functional uses of plants as you continue to formulate your plans.

The placement of plants should first be dictated by the functional requirements of the landscape: shade, screening, erosion control, etc. Your planting design will be most successful if you first sketch out general massings of these plant categories in this order: trees, large scale shrubs, medium and small shrubs, perennial plants, and finally, annual colour.

Now for the fun part - plant selection. Choose plants that look good together even when they are not flowering. Paying attention to a plant's overall natural shape, foliage colour, texture, and density will help to create a garden with year-round structure. Select colours that harmonize with the house and surroundings. Colours are generally lumped into warm (yellow, orange, red) and cool (green, blue, lavender, purple). White and silvery act as dividers and as neutral brighteners. Flowers of similar intensities and brightness usually go best together. Save strong contrasts (purple with yellow, for instance) for special locations where extra "punch" is needed.

Remember that plants grow ! Be patient and do your homework. Work with your landscape contractor to select plants that can grow to their mature sizes in the space allowed without having to trim, shear, or have them jumble together. The plants will look better and it saves you work. Be sensitive to the various microclimates on the property. Within any site there are significant variations in growing conditions—sunny, west-facing walls or cool morning sun. Find the right plants for the right spot.

The Rule of Threes

Selecting plants for your landscape that will look good together, be compatible, and grow to the right size can be confusing. Start by deciding where the main trees should go. Then find three plants that work well together and pretend that you will only be allowed to use these three plants—one type of tall shrub, one medium and a colourful small shrub, perennial or ground cover. Decide which parts of the yard need tall, medium, and low plants and draw them on the plan in large masses. Coloured pencils can be a help. You can then go back and find two low plants that go together, and chances are they'll still work with everything else. Continue subdividing the main groupings, but be conservative. You will be more successful with a large quantity of a few species, than with a scattering of a great variety of plants.


When you work with  a professional designer or landscape contractor, do go through these steps on your own. You will be a more informed and more clearly directed consumer. By understanding that your well-designed landscape can be both beautiful and functional, you will get the most out of the effort and money that you decide to invest around your home.

How to Choose a Landscaper

A beautiful well-kept landscape adds value to your home as well as your immediate neighbour's homes. Well designed landscaping, like a newly remodelled kitchen and bathroom, can increase the value of your home dramatically. When it comes to selling your home, your front yard landscape is at the core of what "curb appeal" is all about - it's the first impression people will have when they see your home.

A landscaping service or landscape contractor can provide a variety of services. Some may just do monthly maintenance, others may do installation of sprinkler systems, walkways and decks, and others may strictly do landscape design or landscape architecture (design/build companies). And many companies provide some combination of these services.

Here are steps that will help you as you move forward in choosing a landscaping service.

Define Your Needs and Your Budget

Are you looking for someone to just help you with the mowing of your lawn and weeding twice a month or are you looking at replacing a cracked walkway or replace your lawn completely? Or are you ready to act on your latest and greatest landscaping inspiration and totally level your existing yard in favour of your new ideas. Know in advance what you want to do, and "why" you want to do it. Also, clearly define your budget. Talk to your landscape professional, they may have some great ideas that fit in your budget.  Also find out what method of payment they accept.

Do Some Inspirational Research

If you haven't already done it, spend some time looking through various landscape design books at your library or purchase some to browse through. Take time to drive around your neighbourhood and check out what your neighbours have done in their yards. Look at layouts, colour combinations, walkway and driveway patterns, types of trees and flowers, etc. You may think you know exactly what you want but the more you see, the more research you do, the more comfortable you will feel with your  final decision moving forward.

Roughly Plan Your Timeline

Once you find a landscaper, they may be busy two weeks out, six weeks out, or six months out. Their schedule needs to coincide with your schedule. If you're using multiple services, i.e. a designer and an installer, and you're doing the sub-contracting, there are multiple 
schedules you will need to juggle. Ideally, depending on where you live, you want to have the work done outside the rainy season so plan accordingly and give yourself plenty of time. If you're planting new flower beds and foliage, you may want to  find out when the best time of year to plant those items are and consider that in the equation as well. You don't want to rush things  unless it's imperative, i.e. you need to sell your house within the next couple of months. That decision alone will will play a part in who you  select as your landscaper. While everyone wants their projects finished  as quickly as possible, patience and careful planning will clearly cause the least amount of stress. 

Lastly, find out how many other outside jobs they'll be working on at the same time they're doing your job. Ideally, you want them on your job from start to finish but sometimes this can't be helped. If they juggle multiple (which is quite common in this industry) jobs, you may see them only a couple of days per week and the job could drag on for longer than expected. Especially with the unpredictable weather in Nova Scotia Express your concerns to them regarding delays.

Research Landscaping Services

There are many ways to research landscapers...from online directories like the one provided by Landscape NS, to the yellow pages, to asking friends and family. Over 40% of landscapers or services are chosen based on referrals. The second largest piece of research pie is done via the Internet (a close second), with the yellow pages and direct mail a distant third. Wherever you begin, it's important that you shop around.

Key Factors in Your Research Include...

  • How long has a company been in business
  • How many employees do they have and how many of them will be working on your job
  • What services do they provide and what are their specialities
  • Find out their contact information, hours of business and the best time to reach them.
  • What professional affiliations they belong too (i.e. BBB, landscaping associations, etc)
  • Are they industry certified? Being certified implies that some or all the companies employees  have passed tests which prove a higher level of education, professionalism, and quality of work.
  • Are there any Journeypersons working on the job?
  • Are they insured. VERY important. If not insured properly, you could be liable for accidents or injuries during their time on your property. Make sure you check for proof of insurance (make a photo copy if need be). Make sure the company's name is on the policy, make note of what the policy number is, expiration date, insurance company's phone number, etc. It is wise to call the insurance company ahead of time and verify that the policy is valid.
  • What guarantees do they have, what specifically is covered and the length of the guarantee. Remember somethings may have guarantees and other parts of the project may not.
  • Get references from them. Drive by the locations if at all possible and/or look at photographs of their work. Take notes if necessary. If you feel comfortable, contact the people they did work for and ask questions regarding their overall satisfaction, quality,  and if they did what they agreed to do and in a timely manner.
  • Make sure the company provides a written contract with details  of your project clearly laid out and prices for each detail. If you can get a detailed graphical layout of the work as well, do so. Also get a  quote on changes or possible problems or unseen factors that may arise during the job.

Last But Not Least...

Make sure that you're there for the majority of the work in process.  It's important that you constantly examine the quality of work, that they're doing exactly what you asked them to do, and that they are there when they're scheduled to be there. When the job is completed, make one last walkthrough with the lead contractor, possibly with the contract  in hand making sure that the job is completed to your satisfaction.  

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