Houston can be a very difficult environment for garden designers. The heavily compacted, clay-like soil of our landscape makes it hard for the roots of certain plants and trees to gain a sturdy foothold in the earth. Heavy rains can suddenly flash flood yards and streets in a matter of hours, drowning and killing plants that lack professionally-installed drainage systems. These are not the only challenges that garden designers are faced with, either. In summer months, high humidity often pushes the heat index well over 100 degrees and creates a breeding ground for plant stress and illness.
Such climatic extremes ultimately take their toll on both organic and inorganic elements of the landscape. Pool patios, outdoor decks, landscape lighting, masonry, and brickwork all suffer along with plant life during these wide swings in temperature and barometric pressure. To better counteract these negatives, Houston garden designers have to bring more to the table than simple cultivation skills. They have to understand construction and architecture, and they must have in-depth knowledge of what types of materials will best work in different parts of the Houston landscape. Irrigation and drainage expertise are two critical skills that absolutely must be integrated into any organic designs that professionals create. Water delivery and runoff must systems must be concealed unobtrusively, but still work with impeccable effectiveness, so that ornamentation, functionality, and structural components all blend seamlessly into an aesthetic that continues to grow and thrive in spite of wind, rain, and temperature changes.
Garden designers can be categorized into four basic types of companies. Each type offers its own unique level of expertise and quality of service.
1. Conceptual Garden Designers
These professionals create a master plan for your garden, but they do not handle of the construction of outdoor structures or the planting of vegetation. Such a master plan is truly a valuable tool to begin with. However, without someone to help the client launch the logistics of the plan, complications invariably develop when the homeowner attempts to transfer the conceptual to the actual. Unexpected variables such as the costs and viability of specific building materials, labor costs of construction, attempting to deal with subcontractors more comfortable working with general contractors than clients direct, and the attempts to establish some form of ongoing maintenance soon transform the deceptively simple into the frustratingly complex.
2. Landscaping Garden Designers
These professionals specialize in the installation and cultivation of garden plants, and they are excellent at meeting client expectations within the parameters of a specified budget. However, few of these companies have any advanced training in formal garden design. Clients looking for the sophistication of a parterre garden, traditional French garden, Italian garden, or Japanese garden will probably have to look elsewhere to locate a company with experience in installing these very complex forms.
3. Horticultural Specialists in Garden Design
Horticultural experts normally work in nurseries and garden centers and offer consulting services to the community at large. These people truly know a great deal about soils and plants. They even know what types of plants will grow best in certain locations within a yard. Some have also gained training and experience in building irrigation and drainage systems, and many have picked up basic construction skills in planter and patio design. You must be cautious, however, not to allow their expertise and enthusiasm to oversell you on the number of plants you need. Horticulturalists love to create variety through species diversity, not necessarily ornamental design.
4. Landscape Architects as Garden Designers
These professionals specialize in combining advanced design and horticultural expertise with a sophisticated understanding of advanced construction and general contracting. They are able to take a garden design plan, subcontract the specialists needed for each element of that plan, then manage a team of teams in the construction of outdoor buildings and hardscapes. These companies can harmonize inorganic forms with the complex, organic patterns of carefully selected and cultivated vegetation. They can weave the entire landscape into an outdoor living experience that respects home architecture and compliments functionality with superior aesthetics. Landscape architects plan, initiate, manage, complete, and preserve the garden through a program of ongoing maintenance. The only negative for many Houstonians is the higher fees these companies tend to charge. As a general rule, landscape architects such as Exterior Worlds do most of their work in the wealthier neighborhoods of River Oaks, Tanglewood, Bellaire, and Rice Village.
Ultimately, you always have a choice when deciding which type of garden designer you want to work with. Carefully weigh your options beyond the basic consideration of cost before making a final decision. Such factors as plant life, maintenance, aesthetic sensibility, and uniqueness of design all represent both tangible and intangible factors that play a great role in determining what will ultimately work best for you.