The Boards Role in Landscaping Examing Your Building's Needs

With spring around the corner, many co-op and condo boards and HOAs start thinking about giving their landscaping design a fresh new look but they want to keep it within their budgets. How can this be accomplished? Some common sense questions will help to accomplish this.

The first and most important question should be: what is your ultimate goal? Once you know what your goal is it it'll be far easier to choose the right landscape company, that is, the best company to suit your building’s needs.

Once you've identified the ultimate goal and are ready to negotiate with landscapers, the next question that needs to be answered is: Do you want to keep the design intent after the project has been installed and the maintenance phase is over—or are you looking to just accept the lowest bid?

Creating Curb Appeal with Green Spaces

With so much new construction of landscaped outdoor spaces happening these days throughout the Garden State, the question of maintenance becomes just as important as the design and construction. Boards and HOAs need to know how complicated and expensive it is to keep the beautiful, healthy and local greenery looking as lush and manicured as the day it was installed. This is the challenge facing landscape contractors and garden maintenance specialists on a daily basis.

In the last decade, as a landscape professional, I have seen a breathtaking array of different types of landscape applications from traditional extensive rooftops to intensive sedum carpets, as well as the two mixed together. I’ve seen rooftops with sod applications, and some with pools, barbecues, jogging tracks, intricate stone installations, and reflecting pools. I’ve also noticed many green walls, undulating sedum slopes and trees planted in an amazing variety of ways and sizes.

Some of the newer installations are quite complicated, using unique planting systems that may require specific pruning skills.

The use of plant material continues into courtyards, second floor levels, foundation planting and tree wells. Even some interior lobbies are beginning to utilize green walls and other interesting green applications.

These green spaces have become a must for any building whether rental, co-op, condo, townhouse or brownstone. As people have begun to demand green spaces as part of the amenities that they expect when buying, green spaces are becoming much more visible throughout Manhattan and northern and central New Jersey as well.

There has even been a surge of commercial spaces utilizing terraces that feature not just typical planter boxes but elaborate green roof systems.

Building owners are faced with a decision: Once the construction phase is over, the new installation is complete and the routine one-year guarantee is over, what do they need to do to maintain these green amenities? How will they pick a landscape contractor to take care of it?

One thing I notice with new construction: owners and developers are asking the construction companies to include in contracts a longer maintenance period to ensure that the landscape contractor, who did the installation, remains involved past the usual one-year period. With this requirement, the original landscape plan and design intent should be properly maintained for at least the first few years—as long as the landscape contractor who completed the installation is skilled at maintenance and is committed to retaining the landscape architect/designer’s intent.

I have also recently seen roofers doing green roof installations. This can create a problem since roofers generally know little about plants and don’t offer the needed maintenance. So if the client isn’t working with a trusted landscape company to come in and provide the upkeep what will happen?

Working with the Board

It’s never pleasant to see a landscape not being well kept. Secondly, one must remember that great precision and painstaking hours went into the design, planning and installation and it's sad to see this vision ruined because the initial contract ended and the new landscape company decides it knows how to handle the upkeep better and dismisses the landscape designer’s original plan. This is exceptionally painful to me as a professional yet I have seen this occur many times. This is often the result of a board/HOA selecting the least expensive company, a company that may have a different vision than what was planned.

Sometimes someone on the board of directors decides to change direction. Of course this is the board’s prerogative, but unless the original plan was unwise it’s generally advisable to leave the design intent fairly intact.

So, what can a board/HOA do to insure proper ongoing maintenance and preservation of the original design intent?

Have the landscape architect generate a scope of work that outlines the long term specifics of care required. This should be very specific with regard to turf maintenance, tree care, soil testing, mulching and so on. The board/HOA should include the scope of work when requesting a bid. This can become very tedious and the landscape contractor may balk, however it introduces the importance of establishing a deeper understanding of what is required to insure longevity.

The same should be true for seasonal plantings: There should be a detailed outline of the recommended seasonal plantings. This works better than allowing the landscape company to plant whatever is available at that moment. The landscape architect is the expert on his/her design, and that professionalism should be honored.

Get references from trusted sources.

Always ask to look at the work of the company before hiring. Also, make sure that the board/HOA or management company doesn't “tie the hands” of the landscape maintenance company in order to save money. If this becomes the case then the landscape contractor won’t be able to do its job.

Though all of this research and investigation may be time-consuming, by following these steps your board/HOA should yield the desired results: green spaces that will stay fresh and beautiful over time.

Teresa Carleo is the president and CEO of Plant Fantasies, Inc. (PFI), a Manhattan-based full-service landscape contractor and landscape designer.

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