How we work

Consultation & Contract:

We come and talk with you and discuss your needs, likes and dislikes and walk around your property to see what’s what.

Our “normal” process begins with a consultation during which we discuss your needs, desires and preferences and walk your property to get a sense of the topography and see what is already there in terms of hardscaping (stonework, structures, walkways …) grading and plantings. The consultation is free and followed by a “Letter of Understanding” if/when you agree to proceed.  The “Letter of Understanding” describes the project as we understand it as well as any basic stylistic considerations, limitations, preferences and of course, priorities.  The Letter of Understanding (“LOU”) then goes on to describe our process and fee structure at that point in time, including designating our design fee/retainer for your particular situation.  The retainer is usually a one time fee if we map your overall area of concern and we are working on projects in phases.  The LOU also describes our limited guarantee and information about avoiding taxes by documenting  what work that can be considered as Capital Improvements on a government form (ST-124).

Site Analysis:

We measure the area you want to landscape and make a site plan in AutoCAD (that’s a computer program).

The next step is for us to create a site plan (bird’s eye view) of your property or at least the area of consideration for the project at hand.  The fee for this step depends on the size and complexity of the area of consideration and can vary greatly depending on what site information you can provide.  Any surveys, topographical plans and /or architectural plans for the structures on the property can be a great help and time saver.  If you happen to have these plans as AutoCAD files you can save even more time and money.  You should always ask your architect and surveyor if they produced these files as many do and they belong to you whether you know that they exist or not.  On numerous occasions we have prompted clients to check into this and have acquired the files to the great advantage of all concerned.  We use AutoCAD which is a standard software program used by architects, engeineers, surveyors, designers, etc. and can help us work with the other disciplines within a standard format that can be exchanged over email or posted on our website.

Creative Concepts:

We come up with some ideas based on the consultation, the site, our research, experience and creativity and put it on paper.

We then create a conceptual/functional  map of your property suggesting  what areas may be used for different purposes and more or less create outdoor rooms based on our consultation, experience and imaginations.  These areas may include lawn and play areas for children or sports, outdoor dining and congregating areas, destinations for privacy and repose, wet areas for bog gardens, sunny borders, shade gardens, woodland gardens, screening from neighbors, view creation and on and on.  We often conduct extensive research to identify appropriate materials and plants that will create the aesthetic we are seeking and thrive in the conditions of your property.  We strive to produce year round interest in the garden by always having something going on whether it be interesting  foliage and blooms, nice fall color, winter interest through the use of a variety of evergreens (conifers and broadleaf) and plants with attractive stem color, plant structure, berries and even blooms. We treat each garden as a new challenge and are constantly seeking individual solutions. It takes a lot of time and energy to produce a plan but the result is a truly custom garden designed to meet your needs and provide a beautiful external environment that you can enjoy year round.

Refine the Design:

Our concepts and basic design are discussed and we come to an agreement on specifics and parameters of a project.

After Zone4 has a broad brush stroke design we discuss it with the you (the client) and refine it based on your feedback.  This may take several site visits and rounds of discussion.  You are definitely an important part of the process of refining the design.

Detail Design:

After the specifics of a project are decided, a detailed design (and perhaps construction plan) is created including a plant/item list.

After we have agreed on the conceptual and functional design we flesh it out to create a detailed design before we are ready to proceed to the installation phase.   The detailed design involves refining the boundaries of the “rooms”, choosing specific plants, deciding on the exact hardscaping materials and specifications for walls, walks, and paved surfaces, garden structures, water features and whatever else we may have divined for the project.   If the plan involves the need for subcontractors such as excavators, masons, carpenters, arborist and whoever else we may need to provide detailed construction drawings or grading plans.  All of this is done in AutoCAD files may actually be exchanging between us and the specialists to make it a truly collaborative effort.

Acquire Materials:

We find the plants and other materials specified in the design. This can involve speaking to and visiting numerous suppliers and perhaps finding new ones.

Acquiring the material can be quite an effort depending on availability, which is dependent on the time of year and the popularity and rarity of the plant.  But on the other hand it is a very enjoyable phase as even guys like to shop if they are “exterior designers” and they are shopping for plants and cool materials.  We often have to draw upon many different nurseries or even online vendors to collect the materials necessary.  It can also be challenging to find the right stone, path edging, fence post finials or a myriad of other specific items to implement the design to achieve just the right affect. During this process we are probably already starting the Site Preparation phase as they can run concurrently.

Site Preparation:

Depending on the project and site we may need to prune, cleanup, remove sod and prepare beds, augment the soil, etc.

The site preparation phase depends largely on the project and what we are doing.  I may involve  general cleanup, removing vestiges of winter kill and dead or dieing plants, perennial cut back, general pruning, bed preparation, plant division, fertilizing, mulching and a myriad of other possible tasks.  If much hardscaping is involved it may include demolition and  removal of old paving, structures, walls, fences and who knows what else.

Installation:

We put in plants and hardscaping materials using professionally accepted best practices either ourselves or using a specialist for a particular aspect of the project.

During the installation phase we do everything from creating the beds, amending the soil, planting the plants, laying the patio, building the fence or arbor,   The installation phase can take from a couple of days to several weeks depending on the scope of the project.  If the project involves grading and/or hardscaping, steps in the installation must be done in a specific order and the dependencies can get complicated if there are subcontractors involved.  We try to leave your property looking neat during this process but as in any construction you sometimes have to be prepared for things to get worse before they get better.  In the end though you will have a beautiful landscape that realizes the design that we imagined together.

Maintenance:

We offer and actually prefer to maintain gardens that we install. Although most everyone wants a low to “no” maintenance garden, this is not really possible as gardens are ever changing and evolving (unless there are not plants!). A trained eye and knowledge of what is normal and expected and how to keep the garden healthy and looking good as it matures will assure much better results over time. We believe that it is well worth the expense to protect your initial investment and keep you property looking its best.

We like to maintain the landscape/gardens that we design and install in order to keep them looking their best for you and help them evolve into their mature state as envisioned.  Gardens are constantly growing and changing unlike other types of design, construction, art, etc.  The plants needs pruning, division, soil adjustment and maybe even need to be moved if they are truly unhappy in their current location.  There are many many factors that can have a bearing on the plants’ well being that need to be monitored and adjusted to keep the garden healthy and beautiful.   Although we do our best to implement hardscaping to withstand most of what nature dishes out, it may need adjustment after an intense winter with excessive frost heaving or ice and wind.