Hiring a landscape designer who specializes in native plants.
Looking for some expert help to design your garden, add native plants or both? Good news - there are a growing number of professionals who specialize in native plants. They have been very busy the past two years. Now is the time to contact them if you have visions of new garden projects this coming year.
Though I once consulted with a garden coach, I have not hired anyone to design and plant a garden. I do think about it a lot, as many friends think my DIY activities in the garden are over the top. It's the last thing they would want to spend free time on and they would like to know where to get help. I totally get that!
Back to that garden coach. Soon after moving to our current home 8 years ago, I went on a spring tour of gardens sponsored by Montgomery County. These gardens were spectacular, mostly large properties with incredibly gorgeous and well designed plantings and settings that inspired at every turn. One garden on the tour belonged to Barbara Katz of London Landscapes Design. Her home backs to a fairly steep slope which has an other worldly garden with a stream gracefully flowing through it. It features mostly ornamental plants. I met Barbara that day and she explained it was a garden she designed for a client and, later, when the home came up for sale, she took the opportunity to make the garden her own. We had just moved to our 1/8 acre row home and I could not stop thinking about that stream.
I checked her website and learned Barbara provides garden coaching, so I signed up for an hour. Barbara came over and we walked through our small garden, mostly lawn at the time, and talked about lots of ideas including adding a stream. The hour was fun, informative and enlightening. A garden coach, who knew?! Now, it is a more common service.
Types of Help:
A range of garden design services specific to native plants are available from coaching to design to full service design, build planting and maintenance. Nuts for Natives' Where to Buy page lists several talented garden designers who specialize in native plant gardens: Backyard Bounty, full service design/build, Lauren's Garden Service, full service design/build and owner of a mostly native plant nursery in central Maryland, Love and Carrots , full service design/build/maintenance/coaching serving the metro D.C. area and Drew Asbury Design, who provides coaching, design and plant sourcing in the Columbia to Silver Spring corridor. These are businesses I would hire in a heart beat if I were not an avid gardener. I have studied their portfolios, visited some of the gardens and checked their references.
Some people have ideas and just need someone to bounce them off of; others have specific questions about a particular issue -- for these circumstances, a garden coach could be just what you need. Others are gardeners who are able to plant but need a design or help getting plants. In this circumstance, you may be able to get a coach or a design that you implement, or both. Others are too busy for any of this but know they want their garden to come alive and for them, a full service design and build firm may be the best option.
There are professionals available for all of these scenarios and those in between as well. They welcome inquiries from people who want to phase in work too -- to spread out costs or make projects more manageable.
Questions to Ask:
Right now, native plants are having a moment and so, like good business people, many landscapers promote their support of native plants. To make sure you are getting someone knowledgeable about native plants, here are a couple of questions I would ask in addition to the standard questions you would ask anyone you were thinking of hiring.
What are your thoughts on planting local ecotype plants versus plants native to our region? Local ecotype plants are plants native to your immediate local geographic area (within 60 miles is common) and always preferred for projects like habitat restoration. Plants native to the region are a broader set of plants and what I am adding to our garden. I would ask this question just to gauge the level of familiarity the person has with native plants.
Where do you buy your plants? This is important because if your aim with native plants is to support pollinators and insects to feed bird populations, you want to make sure plants are grown without neonicotinoids, a class of commonly used systemic pesticides that may harm the very pollinators you are trying to support. Local native plant nurseries like Herring Run Nursery in Baltimore, on-line sources like Izel Native Plants and certain wholesale plant suppliers to our area like North Creek Nurseries have committed to being "neonic free." If your designer or landscaper isn't sure about this, you may want to ask that plants are obtained from a native plant nursery or wholesale grower who can provide this assurance. You may also want to ask if they can provide plug sized plants which are cost effective and readily establish.
You also might want to ask whether the landscaper will remove any invasive plants you have, or recommend someone to do this, as this is a common first step in creating a more ecologically sound garden. I'd also ask about whether the designer can make 70% of the design native, the percentage recommended by scientists studying the benefits of native plants. If not, due to your particular circumstances, can that be a phased-in goal? You may have even better questions.
If you are new to these posts, it is worth noting that Nuts for Natives has no financial connection to any nursery, landscape design professional or other business. Just promoting native plant gardening!
Have you worked with a professional to design a native plant garden you are enthusiastic about? If so, please let us know! I am talking to several landscape professionals to hopefully add very soon. The more native plant designers, the more native plant gardens!