Here’s a Shocker: You Do Need a Landscape Designer/Architect, NO DIYer Attitude, Please

Here’s a shocker. Most homeowners (especially women, sorry gal-friends) do not know if they live in the sun or the shade.

How do I know this? I work in a garden retail center.

Every Saturday couples wake up, and decide that today is the day they’re going to get their yard work done. Trees, shrubs, perennials, all planted and mulched (just like the Home Depot commercials). So, off they go to the nursery.

Now, mind you, they’ve already broken rule number one in any project. They haven’t talked about the yard yet. No late night or early morning breakfast discussions on what they both like, or more importantly, don’t like. (Couples live under the delusion, no matter how many years into a good marriage, that they like the same things.)

So, upon arriving at the nursery, the wife heads straight to anything that is blooming. Generally, the perennials (which are a ton of work). She starts picking up this and that, and saying, “Oh, how pretty.” Here’s where I step in. “Do you have sun or shade?” I ask.

The wife, “Full sun.”

The husband, “Some sun, more morning than not.” Then he looks at his wife as if she’s grown a third eye in the middle of her forehead.

I break the bad news to her. “That plant requires full sun,” I say.

She doesn’t hear me. She’s already envisioning a field of these perennials blooming in her yard. She’s imagining hosting weekend company (something she rarely, if ever, does), and cutting them to arrange artfully in vases for the guest rooms.

To emphasize, I say, “You know, like parking lot sun.”

This stops her (I am nothing if not descriptive).

I continue, “Like five to six hours of middle of the day, no trees around, no houses, no sheds, no garages, NOTHING but blazing sun, for five to six hours,” I have a very serious look on my face, because I know who will be back in the nursery in a few weeks, telling me that her flowers aren’t blooming.

She says, “We have that.”

Her husband nearly goes insane with this declaration, but but he maintains because I’m standing there. “We practically live in a forest,” he says.

“My peonies bloom,” she responds.

At this point, I suggest they talk a bit, while I go busy myself with something else. They agree, and head toward the back of the nursery, trying to communicate just like the counselor taught them. It does not look promising.

The back of my house faces the side of my neighbor’s house. Between our houses is a picket fence, a chain link fence, two very large cherry trees that completely shade my back yard (I mean completely), and a very large sycamore that completely shades her back yard (again, I mean, completely). Yet, without fail, in that space between our houses, she plants daylilies, cone flowers, shasta daisies, and roses. Basically, any plant that requires full (parking lot full) sun. I watch her from my bedroom window as she tends to these bedraggled, pitiful, non-blooming plants. Well, I’ll correct myself. Sometimes, they do manage one or two blooms. I suppose it’s all relative.

I want tell her, while gesturing with sweeping arms, this is ALL SHADE. I imagine myself saying SHADE like I would to an old person who is hard of hearing, although she is neither.

I have a client whose garden will be on tour this year. It’s a big deal, and I’m helping her get ready. We fight constantly over whether she has sun or shade. She swears she has full sun. I sound like the garden center husband when I tell her, “You practically live in a forest,” Actually, she does live in a forest. I’m just trying to be polite, and get paid.

She says, “My peonies bloom.”

And, they do. About three blooms per shrub, for which she paid $86 a shrub, for a total of three shrubs, or $258.

This isn’t the only reason why most homeowners need a landscape designer, but it is a very good one. If you don’t know whether you live in the sun or the shade, you need help, because that is going to determine what you plant (and yes, ladies, there are a lot of shade blooming plants).

The rule of thumb is 15-20% of the value of your home should be spent on the yard. Before your jaw falls open, especially if you are currently building a home in the range of a million or more, consider that the costs includes hardscapping (driveways, terracing, stone steps, patios, rock walls, drainage, etc.), and all this before you even get to plants and mulch.

So, before you consider a DIY yard, consider a designer. They need the work, and you need a happy marriage, which grows best in sun or shade so long as professionals are doing the work..

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