Mark and Stephanie from Fair Oaks ask:

"We have just had a pool completed in our 4 year old home in Fair Oaks. We now find ourselves in the position of needing to redo the front and rear yards, but are having a difficult time finding someone to create a landscape plan. We plan to do the work ourselves and would like to use more native plants, but can't seem to get anyone to call us back. Any tips on where to turn?"

Yes, finding a landscape designer/contractor who returns calls can be a daunting task. But consider the fact that they probably run the rest of their business the same way they ignore your calls: inefficiently and unwisely. You are probably better off without them. Even if a designer is busy with work, there is no reason why they cannot return your call to tell you they are all booked up. What a lot of these poor business people are forgetting: someday, due to a change in the economy, they will be begging for work. It's not a question of IF there is a change in the's WHEN. By tossing aside future prospects, they are tossing aside steady employment.

So much for that rant.

It has been my experience with landscape designers that they are more interested in implementing their dreams...not yours. As a result, there are none that I recommend; you are better off doing it yourself, if you have the time and the strength. Otherwise, your best bet is: ask your neighbors, friends and relatives if they can recommend someone who has worked on their yard.

Second best bet: In the Yellow Pages, look for display ads under "Landscape Contractors" who are licensed, bonded and insured. At least you know they are serious about their business. There are a lot of so-called "landscape consultants" out there who are nothing more than gardening aficianados with a computer landscape program.

What I would do: tour as many yards with pools as possible, seeing how they did it. Usually, there are plenty of these types of organized tours in the spring. Then, when you see what you like, copy it!

Some good books to refer to include Sunset's "Western Landscaping Book" and "Landscape Plans" and "All About Landscaping" from Ortho Books.

Home Shows and Home and Garden Shows, many of which are held throughout the year at Cal Expo and the Sacramento Convention Center, are good places to find qualified landscapers as well as get some tips from the pros. There are usually a few landscape designers at these shows, who may be for hire or may at least offer you some tips, especially if you take along some blueprints or detailed pictures of your existing yard.

Also, check with the person who sold you your pool in the first place. They will usually be glad to give you the names and numbers of previous customers who may have had extensive landscaping done.

In order that it is your dreams that are implemented, and not the dreams of the landscape designers, there are a few questions to ask yourself that can guide you to a better landscape:

Landscape Questions You Should Ask Yourself

The following questions will help you evaluate your needs and requirements, and determine the characteristics and limitations of your site. This will help you develop a workable plan so you can design your own ideal landscape environment.

1.What uses do you currently make of your garden and landscape?

2.What do you like most about your site?

3. What don't you like about the existing landscape?

4. What specific uses do you want to plan for?

5. How do you and other members of your family plan to use the landscape and its new spaces?

6. If you have children, what specific uses will they be growing into and out of?

7. If you have pets, do they have specific requirements that will influence your design? For example, do you want to shut them out of or let them into specific areas?

8. If you were to think of various parts of your landscape as outdoor rooms or extensions of your living spaces, what would you call them? Kitchen? Storage? Living room?

9.What is the architectural style of your house? What aspect of it do you want to carry through into the landscape?

10. Is there some particular landscape style that you want to use? For example: Formal? Natural? Japanese? English?

11. Are there any special plants you want to use?

12. What colors of foliage and flowers do you want to use?

13. Are you or any members of your family allergic to any plants or to bees?

14. What sort of paving surfaces do you like? Brick? Wood? Stone? Concrete? Other?

15. Does your site require any specific screening to ensure privacy?

16. How do you feel about the look and feel of the entrance to your house?

17. Do you have a special need or desire to save water? To attract birds? To screen the wind?

18. How much money have you budgeted for improvements?

19. How much time will you have to work on the project?

20. How much time will you have to maintain the landscape once it's installed?

21. Are materials easily available? Any materials or objects you want to use to create a special feeling?

22. Are there any easements, setbacks, or zoning regulations that will influence what you do?

23. Are there any underground utility lines or old water pipes you should be aware of? Can you locate them from old plans or by digging sample holes?

24. Will local building codes apply to any of your work?

25. Do any of your potential plans influence your neighbor's interests? If so, have you discussed your plans with them?

26. Are there any "Heritage Trees" (trees protected by local ordinances) or other special elements you need to take into consideration?

27. Are there any other considerations that will influence what you want to do in building your landscape? For example, grading or terracing requirements?

28. Any pest or recurring weed problems?


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