My experience working for Blue Rose Gardening for the last eight years has taught me that what most homeowners want from a landscaper is someone who is competent to make the house look good: weed, mow, prune, fertilize, replace the occasional sprinkler: essentially be someone who will do the work specified and follow directions.
This limited expectation homeowners have is based on a static view of landscaping as an industry and the landscaper as a kind of minimally-trained laborer. It also implies a static view of the landscape, almost as if it were a kitchen sink, something that needs the occasional fixing in a mechanical sort of way.
You, your landscape, and your landscaper are all capable of evolving, and ideally, your landscaper should act as a guide in the process. Here are some areas where you can raise your expectations:
In the Southwest, and San Diego in particular, water is getting more scarce and expensive, and companies who manufacture irrigation products are constantly innovating to improve how water is distributed over the yard. To give just one example, Valvette Systems, has developed sprinkler stems that have a nut in them, allowing a much greater control over the radius of a sprinkler than can be achieved with just a nozzle.
It is a relatively simple and cheap procedure to change these stems out from an existing system, and having done so will cut down on the water applied to keep the plants happy. Educated landscapers will know about advances in irrigation technology, such as this one, and be able to recommend alterations. Try asking.
Fertilizing and Managing Pests
The view of how one maintains plants in the landscape has shifted in the last ten years from a chemical perspective to a biological one. Cutting edge farming and landscaping takes this new perspective into account and avoids using chemicals to control pests and improve fertility in favor of biological mechanisms. What do I mean by this? It turns out that plants, rather than being passively attached to the soil, are actively creating conditions around themselves, especially around their roots. In fact, these conditions are so different from the conditions in the rest of the soil that biologists have given it a name–they call it the rhizosphere. So for instance, it has been observed that certain plants can emit chemicals that attract predator nematodes (a kind of microscopic worm) when their roots are being attacked. You can learn about the soil food web on your own, but you can also learn from a competent landscaper how to apply principles gleaned from this branch of knowledge to the specific conditions in your landscape to make it healthier–that is, less risk to you and your pets to chemicals–and more sustainable.
New Plant Introductions
Growers are constantly introducing new hybrids and ornamental plants into the landscape. Some of these have advantages beyond aesthetics. Many of the new rose hybrids, for instance, have much greater disease resistance than older plants, and thus require less inputs from you to keep them looking good.
As your landscape evolves over time, your landscaper should have recommendations for plants in places where other plants have not done well, or where some plant has gotten too big or is no longer viable.
Plants as Food
The old thinking about food was that once one had achieved a certain level of economic prosperity, food production could be relegated to the farmers and acquired at the grocery store. Experts in nutrition, however, now tell us that plants produce complex chemicals, called “phyto-nutrients” that are key to maintaining our youthfulness and health. Many of these phyto-nutrients rapidly degrade once a plant has been picked. So while we can get healthy organic food at the farmer’s markets, there is still no substitute for picking arugula from our own gardens and eating it in salads a half hour later.
A landscaper should be able to help you create a garden and manage it over the course of a year. Here in San Diego, we can grow food every single day of the year. A three foot by eight foot plot is plenty of space to grow fresh food for two people.
As citizens and homeowners, all of us have a duty to manage the land we have available to us responsibly. Just as many of us put placards in our yards for the candidates we supported in this last election cycle, how we manage our land is also a political statement. Of course our lives are busy; our ability to stay on top of technology and science is limited; and we have many obligations. But give your landscaper the credit for what he or she brings to your yard. Hopefully it’s more than just a blower and pruning shears.