Yard Calls

Garden consultants rescue your ho-hum yard

Are you and your garden stuck in the mud? Choked with choices? Dead in the bed? Overgrown with the obvious? You need help, but you want to do the gardening and control the design yourself?

To find answers that will resurrect your ho-hum yard, local nurseries offer the services of garden consultants. A consultant visits you and listens and reacts to your garden plans. Then you and the consultant tour your garden as this walking, talking green encyclopedia discusses your landscape, drawing on his or her expertise (usually in-the-dirt experience and innate design sense). The consultant will quickly evaluate your landscape and desires and offer solutions, affirmation, and alternatives if your best-laid plans are not garden-wise. In the basic session, which lasts one hour, this verbal advice is usually limited to design and plants; lengthier sessions may address arrangements for contract work such as maintenance or watering systems.

Most consultant packages, such as the one offered by West Seattle Nursery, consist of one-hour sessions costing around $65. Limiting the service to an hour prevents client overload from the intense, information-packed session. Other nurseries, such as Lynnwood's Emery's Garden, offer consultations ranging from two to four hours, with a minimum charge of $125. To ensure that the client gets the maximum benefit from the longer sessions, Emery's sends a prep package, and the designer sketches out the plan discussed during the consultation. Emery's also offers a 45-minute session that can be conducted in the nursery, working from your photos or sketches, for $45.

Many nursery-based designers work in the nursery's immediate neighborhood, thereby becoming experts in the local microclimates, soils, garden tastes, history, and budgets. They can deliver advice and plans that work locally. For instance, West Seattle Nursery's Pam Richards knows that some of her clients will be longtime homeowners with gardens crowded by junipers and rhododendrons, while others will be young, first-home gardeners taking their first steps in gardening, wanting to create "rooms" in their established yards or rehab their barren parking strip.

Up north in Lynnwood, Emery's Linda Johnston works with gardeners who want change in their over-mature landscapes. Her clients also include homeowners in new developments, struggling with front yards that contractors left minimally landscaped and with back yards left as "blank slates."

Garden designers offer the following tips to get the most out of a consultation. First, ask your questions and state your wishes, but if you find yourself talking more than the consultant, close your mouth and listen. Second, take notes as the consultant talks, since most one-hour consultants do not leave notes. Then, when you are alone, flesh out the notes. And finally, read: Sunset's Western Garden Book discusses your garden's hardiness zones and is a general guide to plant types and colors. Nicola Ferguson's Right Plant, Right Place can help you prevent the sacrifice of too many green lovelies. And Ann Lovejoy's books always impart the spirit of Northwest gardens.

Ann Spiers lives, writes, and gardens on Vashon Island.

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