Making Your Own DREAM GARDENS
(MONEY Magazine) – TAKE YOUR PICK: You can spend $10 a year for an attractive acre of prairie wildflowers or more than $10,000 annually for a 10,000-square-foot lot of clipped hedges and seasonal plantings. It all depends on the resources that you're willing to commit -- bearing in mind that time and water count almost as much as money does. To start right, decide on a master plan that you can implement over the years. You won't enjoy re-laying a patio once you can finally afford the swimming pool, for instance. There's no need to get locked in, though. Any plan can be edited and refined to fit your changing inclinations and bank account. Here are five further tips, garnered from a legion of green-thumb veterans.
GET THE HELP YOU NEED. Some nurseries offer planning kits at low or no cost, complete with charts and a grid for your dimensions. You fill one out, then they suggest a plan. For custom work, many garden centers have designers on staff who will sketch ideas to suit your plot for about $75; detailed schemes showing where your plants, patio and pool will go, with their exact dimensions, run $150 to $500. In both cases, the nursery will discount the design charge if you spend about 10 times the fee on plants, says Dick Campbell of Campbell's Nurseries & Garden Centers in Lincoln, Neb. Thus if you spend $2,000 on plantings, you'll get a $200 credit against your design fee. Among independent contractors, landscape or garden designers typically charge $50 to $100 an hour. Landscape architects, who are trained in site planning, grading, land-use laws and similar issues, as well as detailed blueprint designs, are the most skilled. Typical rates: $100 an hour and up, or 12% to 15% of the final landscaping cost. If it's a major job, solicit at least two bids and compare. For a list of pros in your area, write the American Society of Landscape Architects, 4401 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008. Once you've landscaped, you might need a gardener for routine maintenance: he or she rakes in $18 to $40 an hour. A typical 75-foot-by-100-foot lot of landscaping can require 20 to 40 hours of maintenance during the growing months. To treat an ailing tree, a consulting arborist charges $20 to $50 an hour. Expect prices on the East and West Coasts to be higher than in the Midwest and South.
DON'T DRAIN YOUR SAVINGS. For a big job, the best solution is a home-equity line of credit that you draw down as you need it. You can deduct the interest on a loan of as much as $100,000. The loans have been going recently for around 8.4% -- which means an after-tax cost of 5.8% to a homeowner in the 31% bracket.
CONSIDER THE PAYBACK. A 1987 Gallup survey found that attractive landscaping adds 7% to 14% to a home's resale value, but these averages conceal many individual differences. So-called hardscaping -- that's a gazebo or other permanent addition -- provides more of a payback than perishable flora that may vanish with the first frost. Remember, though, upgrading ought to suit the house and neighborhood: a $150,000 home can't support a $50,000 garden, says Temmy Walker, president of a real estate agency in Studio City, Calif. As a guideline, she says, you can probably recoup the cost of a garden that's worth as much as 10% of the value of your house.
LOOK TO PLANTS FROM THE PAST. Heirloom plants and heritage seeds are becoming the new collectibles. Blowsy, fragrant old roses, in particular, are making a big comeback, says Ken Druse, author of The Natural Shade Garden (Clarkson Potter, $40). One source: Antique Rose Emporium (Rte. 5, Box 143, Brenham, Texas 77833; catalogue: $5). Seeds Blum (Idaho City Stage, Boise, Idaho 83706; $3) offers annuals and perennials, along with advice for gardeners wanting to test vintage seeds.
GARDEN THROUGH THE MAIL. Many local nurseries offer only standard plants. For a comprehensive compendium of what's out there, from antique apples to wildflowers, consult Gardening by Mail by Barbara J. Barton (Houghton Mifflin, $16.95). The listing of plant and seed sources alone covers 117 pages. For advice by video, gardeners give high praise to Get Ready, Get Set, Grow, aimed at parents and kids (Brooklyn Botanic Garden; 718-941-4044; $33.70 by mail).