Style and substance can extend to the spaces outside your doorways with the help of a landscape architect. Above and below ground can benefit greatly with some expert know-how. We asked Graham Kimak about what he and his team at Graham Kimak Landscape Design bring to dozens of homesites each month…and what every homeowner needs to know to get started. 

Q: How much help can a homeowner get (and what if you don’t know what you want)? 
A: Our expertise happens to be creating outdoor living spaces that a family of four can enjoy or creating a park that hundreds of people enjoy every day. Also, our scope goes well beyond knowledge just dealing with plant material. A professionally designed landscape not only creates curb appeal, but it can also raise the value of your home. We provide a client with the big picture. Designers provide the vision and detail that an average homeowner can’t imagine. Finally, some firms like ours provide construction project management. Our motto is “From Consultation through Completion.” We write specifications, create contractor bid packages and oversee the project during installation until the final punchlist is complete.

Q: What type of planning can a landscape architect provide?
A: When designing a landscape, we take so much into consideration. We are thinking about what style and color of hardscapes for terraces, walkways, patios that go with the architecture of the home. We do a lot of listening at the first consultation to determine the scope of work, the likes and dislikes of the client and best fit for their lifestyle, so our designs are a translation from words to a drawing. In that drawing set, we can include the following: drainage, hardscapes, lighting, pools, retaining walls, fencing, fireplace, firepits, covered porches, cook stations, signage and even more.

Q: What if you don’t know what type of plants you like?
We pride ourselves in plant knowledge. I have always said there are yards, landscapes and gardens. The vast majority of work is designing landscapes; the client already has a yard and we make it into a landscape or garden. Clients often say, “we want low maintenance”, which is totally achievable, but plants, irrigation and lighting all have some maintenance. One aspect of our plan set is a maintenance schedule on the plant list. It tells the homeowner what do to and when. I started providing this information when I walked up to a client’s garden and noticed a maintenance contractor shearing a gardenia into a green ball that probably had 200 blooms weeks away from peaking with color and fragrance.

Q: How important is it to consider the growth potential of shrubs before adding them to the landscape?
A: This is a major consideration during the design phase. We design for maturity of the plant material. It may look slightly undersized when it is installed, however, we have to plan for what the plant will look like 10 or 15 years down the road. We look at spacing between plants. We look at how far a plant should be installed off the house walls and how many plants work in this space. It might look great when it is first installed, but if you are removing or heavily pruning plants three or four years down the road, then too many plants were used. Plus, the benefit of proper placement and size translates to less money during the installation and less money out of pocket for removal and over pruning in those years to come.

Q: What do you wish homeowners knew about that they may not?
A: A very important part of a successful design is maintenance. A review of the irrigation system a couple times a year can save lots of money and time dealing with either over-watering or under-watering. Irrigation should be run early in the morning, so a client rarely knows if a head is broken or not spraying properly. Either run the system during the day for a full review or have a contractor do a service call a couple times a year.  Also, we require rain sensors with our installations. This wireless gauge saves the client money and plants by not over watering after a rainstorm. 

Q: What does a homeowner need to have in mind before meeting with a firm such as yours?
A: All we need to know is how you want to use the space. We ask for any likes or dislikes. I once had a wonderful client say, “I don’t have a stitch of yellow in my closet, I don’t want a yellow flower in my garden.” This kind of input is really helpful when we go to design. We do a lot of listening at first, then once we get into the design and details, that’s when we do a lot of talking.

Our expert:

Graham Kimak
With a Bachelors of Landscape Architecture from Clemson Graham Kimak has been designing in the upstate for 28 years. GKLD focuses on residential work of all sizes and the six person firm will celebrate their 10 year anniversary in July.