You've been trying to ignore it for a couple of years, but now you have to face the facts: Your home's landscaping has gone from chic to shabby. The snow's broken off countless azalea branches, the mulched beds have surrendered to an invasion of creeping charlie, and after you pruned the dead stuff off the old dogwood, it looks like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Yes, it's time to think landscaping. And it may also be time to seek professional help.
Depending on the scope of the job, and your willingness to get dirt under your nails, there are several options.
If you envision a high-end makeover with a pool house, myriad garden paths, or a re-positioned driveway, you'll want to call on a landscape architect. Once your new design is complete, the landscape architect will likely bid the construction and planting out to a contractor—a landscaping firm or a garden center with installation crews.
Another option is to go with a design/build firm like Bob Jackson Landscapes or Maxalea, which can set you up with a professional landscape designer to draw plans—from pool decks and pergolas—that the firm will then install itself. And most landscaping companies offer contracts to come back each year and maintain your yard.
If the job is simple, a visit to a garden center with a design arm, like Green Fields Nursery & Lanscaping Co. in Baltimore, might just do the trick. The Green Fields designers will help you sketch a plan for your garden, and even make a visit to your place, says general manager Peter Bieneman. Of course, you'll be expected to buy your plant materials from the store.
It all sounds expensive—and it can be—but it needn't be. While a design can cost as little as the designer's hourly fee—licensed landscape architect Sarah Trautvetter of startup Traut Landscape Studio, for example, charges from $75 to $135 per hour—the fee might also be collected as a percentage of the total cost of the project.
Finally, if do-it-yourself is really your thing, become a master gardener. Once a gardener has completed the course offered through the University of Maryland Extension service, says Bieneman, "they're usually inspired to go further."
We've done some research and built a list of some of the best residential landscape solutions in the area. And part of that research was asking the firms with the most industry awards whom they saw as their worthiest adversaries in the market.
Our two-step plan for your yard? Read this. Then pick up the phone.
Blue Water Baltimore
Advocating sustainable and native gardens, Blue Water Baltimore is happy to help you plan an eco-friendly yard, even offering rebates for homeowners who follow the advice of its free water audits, available in Baltimore City and County. The nonprofit, which holds native-plant sales several times in the spring and fall, has horticulturists on staff, as well as a list of sustainable landscape designers they recommend. 3545 Belair Rd., 410-254-1577, bluewaterbaltimore.org.
Bob Jackson Landscapes
Landscape designer Bob Jackson's design/build firm, whose trucks seem to be everywhere, takes on mostly larger residential and commercial jobs, as well as working with builders on site plans, and offering maintenance contracts. Influenced by English gardener Russell Page, who believed that every site "has a voice," Jackson works closely with homeowners to ensure a look that is sustainable, functional, and reflects the personality of the space. 11436-H Cronridge Dr., Owings Mills, 410-356-1620, bjl-inc.com.
This Annapolis-based landscape architecture firm does a lot of work with contemporary architects, creating sustainable landscapes to complement modern designs, as well as jobs for clients looking for more traditional or formal solutions. The firm—which serves clients from Northern Virgina to Baltimore and the Eastern Shore—has worked in recent years with the Severn School on an overhaul that includes playing fields, a ropes course, and environmental improvements overlooking the Severn River. 26 South St., Annapolis, 410-280-8850, campionhruby.com.
Creative Land Design
While this full-service design/build firm creates environments influenced by owner Joe Cramer's study of Japanese garden design, its specialty is "living" retaining walls. Using native boulders and plantings, the natural-looking walls help with nutrient uptake and groundwater retention while blending into the surrounding environment. 1736 Old Generals Hwy., Annapolis, 410-758-2455, creativelanddesignmd.com.
Green Fields Nursery & Landscaping Co.
More than a garden store, Green Fields has landscape architects and designers on staff to help you plan the garden of your dreams—even making a visit to your home to get the lay of the land. If warranted, the nursery will also help you contract with a designer or landscape architect. And they hold regular, free gardening classes on everything from houseplants to rose gardens. 5424 Falls Rd., 410-323-3444, greenfieldsnursery.com.
After working for the tree division of a prominent landscaping company, licensed tree expert Jason Davidov struck out on his own. A full-service tree company, J.D. Outdoors also designs and builds affordable landscapes for clients, and is an expert on deer-proofing. 5 Greenlea Dr., Pikesville, 443-691-3550.
Landscape architect and Roland Park resident Jean Mellott works with clients in the North Baltimore area, including many referred by Blue Water Baltimore's water audit team. Working with native plants, she designs landscapes that deal with drainage and storm-water issues, along with providing aesthetic appeal. She also works with schools to help reduce asphalt surfaces and create rain gardens and learning environments. 18 Midvale Rd., 410-905-8689, jeanmellott.com.
K Gay and Associates
Trina Gay's approach to landscape design is largely nostalgic. By channeling the pastoral spaces where she wandered as a girl on a family farm in Baltimore County, the landscape architect, who works out of her home, incorporates habitats and natural drainage systems, water gardens, brambles, and bird sanctuaries into her designs. A frequent subcontractor for Green Fields, Gay says she tries to re-create old Maryland landscapes with modern needs in mind. 410-483-8602, kgayassociates.com.
Mahan Rykiel Associates
While known best for urban planning and large projects for commercial and institutional clients, this award-winning landscape-architecture firm also designs residential gardens and master plans for homeowners. The Stieff Silver Building, 800 Wyman Park Dr., Ste. 100, 410-235-6001, mahanrykiel.com.
Its name morphed from Mac's Azaleas (dating to the 1920s), this design/build firm, run by the four grandsons of the original Mac, employs both landscape architects and landscape designers, as well as construction crews to install landscape visions ranging from pool decks and outdoor kitchens to flower gardens. 900 Oak Hill Rd., Towson, 410-377-7500, maxalea.com.
This 12-year-old company serves residential clients with a staff that's experienced in both traditional landscaping and environmentally sensitive restoration landscaping, but is best known for providing designs and installations that work with the local ecology. 13530 Manor Rd., Baldwin, 443-622-7076, natures-artisans.com.
Stone Hill Design Associates
This landscape architecture firm is familiar with the period homes and guidelines of Baltimore's historic residential neighborhoods. Stone Hill specializes in landscape restoration, water features, and theme gardens, as well as sustainable design. 5704 Bellona Ave., 410-464-2000, stonehilldesignassociates.com.
Traut Landscape Studio
Principal Sarah Trautvetter left Graham Landscape Architecture to start this small design studio, which specializes in small urban spaces and what Trautvetter calls, "an aesthetic of efficiency." 1124 Battery Ave., 410-980-0790, trautlandscapestudio.com.
Walnut Hill Landscape Company
This soup-to-nuts company specializes in high-end custom landscapes from country gardens and swimming pools to outdoor living spaces; many of its clients live in waterfront homes in Annapolis and on the Eastern Shore. Along with planning and installation, Walnut Hill offers maintenance contracts. 1563 St. Margaret's Rd., Annapolis, 410-349-3105, walnuthilllandscape.com.
The Master Gardener Program taught through the University of Maryland Extension service is for those deadly serious dirt-scratchers who want to turn their green thumb into 10 green fingers. Along with design advice, students are instructed in plant identification, soil health, composting, and sustainability. Beware, it's a heady time commitment, with about 10 weeks of evening classes, demonstrations, and a volunteer requirement. Admission is by application. mastergardener.umd.edu.