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Opinion: Don’t let unchecked designs ruin your build

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As a landscape designer with an eye for both beauty and functionality, I’ve seen firsthand the disconnect that often occurs between what’s planned on paper and what actually works in the physical world.

This gap isn’t just a theoretical concern; it can lead to problems that can be costly and frustrating.

Most failure points in a commercial landscaping plan can be broken down into four categories:

  1. Water and drainage. It’s crucial for underground drainage systems to handle heavy rainfall effectively. The choice of surface materials significantly affects water management. For instance, a retention pond with native perennials can absorb more water than an area covered in concrete. Taking these considerations into account in the planning stage can greatly reduce the risk of water damage.
  2. Elevation and grading. Proper grading is key to ensuring the usability of outdoor spaces, impacting activities like mowing and maintenance. Incorporating a retaining wall can optimize the use of space and enhance functionality.
  3. Privacy. In areas where a private office with windows is adjacent to public areas, adequate space for planting privacy barriers is essential to maintain seclusion.
  4. Plant selection and placement. Understanding the growth patterns and size of plants is critical to avoid wasting resources. This knowledge helps in selecting the right plants that will thrive through seasonal changes – like Missouri freezes and droughts – and ensures appropriate spacing in the landscape design.

I’ve worked on a number of projects that could have saved time, money and hassle by not skimping during the planning stage.

I was brought on to install an office-designed landscape that utilized native plants to help control water in a bioswale. As soon as I arrived on-site, it was apparent that there were design features that would lead to failure.

Despite alerting the contractor, I was instructed to finish the project as designed. Later that year, it just took one heavy rain to flood the parking lot and destroy all the plants and groundcover the client had paid for, not to mention the embarrassment and costs of repair the client had to bear.

On another project, the architects could have added a single step and eliminated the need for a $10,000 retaining wall.

Then, there was a case of a residential pool installation. The pool was slated to be placed at a level that would ensure constant runoff from the surrounding property, leading to a muddy pool. By simply raising the pool by 2 feet and adding a small retaining wall, we avoided a potential disaster.

These small adjustments are not just about saving money; they’re also about smarter planning. Such examples underscore the costs of overlooking practical aspects in the initial planning:

  • Monetary cost: Failing to address practical considerations can lead to substantial financial burdens, often exceeding the initial budget.
  • Aesthetic cost: The architectural integrity and visual appeal can suffer when modifications are made after construction to address unforeseen issues.
  • Spatial constraints: Making changes once a structure is in place is not only more expensive but might also be limited by space, compromising the ideal solution.

So, what’s the solution? The key is involving qualified landscape contractors right from the start.

Landscapers with experience can review plans, conduct site visits, provide insights on special features and offer a preliminary cost estimate considering all practical aspects of the project.

By combining the artistic vision with practical demands, a qualified landscape contractor can ensure that the beauty and functionality envisioned on paper are fully realized.

This approach not only saves time and money but also ensures that the final product is both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

It’s all about bridging the gap between plans and practicality, ensuring that what looks good on paper translates beautifully into our physical world.

Kevin Runyon owns Custom Creations Landscaping & Lawn LLC. He can be reached at kevin@customcreations417.com.

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