DIY vs. Hiring a Pro: Why I chose to Hire a Landscaper by Crystal Ortiz, Bluestone DecoratingI admit it. I was born with a black thumb. Have you ever met anyone who could actually kill a cactus? (raises hand) This girl. And while the interior of my home is coming together beautifully, the outside looked horrible. It was time for some professional intervention.

Was Hiring a Pro a Sign of Personal Failure?

Sometimes we just don’t have the gifts or talents to be great at everything. That doesn’t make us bad people! It’s a sign of strength, not weakness, when we get help for our “issues”. That’s why folks call me – I can see their home and the possibilities for it from the moment I walk in the door. Sometimes they want a game plan so they can do the work themselves, sometimes they find the value of spending their time on other things, and want me to do the work for them. So while I’m a hands-on kinda girl who likes doing specific types of tasks, landscaping and gardening are beyond what I’m good at, and it was time to just hire someone to at least pull the basics together and get me on the right track so I can enjoy my home. Especially because once the weather breaks, I spend more of my hometime on the porch than I do inside.

Where do you find a landscaper? The hunt began in late February, when I filled out a request via Thumbtack. If you haven’t used it, it’s like Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor, etc. I’ve gotten client referrals from it in the past, and figured it was worth a try. I immediately heard from 5 different companies. I chose two to come do a Consultation. I hired the one that fit my needs, my budget, and who I felt really listened to what I wanted to achieve – nice landscaping, on a reasonable budget, and stay true to the character of my house. My choice was Phil of Bent Oak Lawn Management of Elkton.

For once, I was the Client

Phil had some ideas I’d never thought of. We have this awkward, north-facing corner next to our front porch. Because it is 80% shaded, I’ve never been able to figure out what to grow here. The rain coming off the gutter washed away any mulch we put out. It was just weird and while I can design most any interior space, I had no clue what to do with it.

The awkward north-facing corner "Before"
The awkward north-facing corner “Before”

Phil recommended a small retaining wall. Lightbulb! Why didn’t I see that? Because that’s not where my training and God-given talents lay. And honestly, Willie and I would have no clue how to build a wall. We’d spend more money on tools than the labor to pay a pro to do it. It might not be done right. Phil even ran the guttering through PVC underneath to drain away from the house. We probably would’ve missed that step. And spent several days working , only to a result that wasn’t as great as what Phil and Jeanie achieved.

Here is the after shot, now that the wall has been built. Phil added just a couple of new plants, but mostly he transplanted some of my hostas and a rhododendron that wasn’t growing well in it’s previous spot (you know, the place I put it that was all wrong…).

The new retaining wall. Small enough yet it adds so much character and definition.
The new retaining wall. Small enough yet it adds so much character and definition.

I should also mention that before any actual lawn work began, Bent Oak Lawn Management spent an entire day power washing our house. We had not done that ourselves out of fear of doing it wrong and messing up the vinyl siding on the house. And at the garage end of our home, it’s a full two-story height, plus the roofline over the main part of the house requires you to get up on the roof. Something neither of us will do. How often do you not do projects for fear of making a bigger mess? The cost was under $350, and we would’ve spent about half of that just renting the machine to do the job.

The difference that power washing alone made was amazing. When I asked Phil, he said it should be done about every 3 years, so that will now be part of our game plan. Since we hadn’t done it in the 11 years we’ve lived here, the job will probably be easier (on him) next time.

Other tasks I requested of Phil & Caleb were to relocate plants that weren’t doing well where I’d put them, like the rhododendron mentioned above, and to trim the overgrown holly bushes and put a proper edge in the mulch bed, plus new mulch. I’d gotten out there in the very early spring and divided four hostas into about 20 plants, before I got tired and ignored the last two. Those are the really big ones you see in the photo above of the new retaining wall. I’ve actually kept those hostas alive for almost 20 years (we brought them from our old house when it was to be torn down). Hostas are obviously extremely hard to kill.

Our awkward driveway layout is hard enough, but previously I’d moved these two evergreen trees from the foundation of the house to the end of the walkway out front. I didn’t like them there, but what should I do with them? Phil relocated them to the opposite side of the drive, where those two scraggly rhododendrons were, and opened up the front of the house. I move furniture to open flow in homes, he moves plants. Here is the before photo of the front of the house:

Before: Evergreens make the walkway tight, the driveway coming across feels closed off, and the house feels small behind the trees.
Before: Evergreens make the walkway tight, the driveway coming across feels closed off, and the house feels small behind the trees.

You can also see in this photo that the mulch bed isn’t really defined and those holly bushes are definitely out of control. I looked at them one day to consider trimming them, but felt it was beyond my pay grade so they stayed that way until Phil got his hands on them. If you look above you also see the overgrown Knockout Roses along the side of the house, and an azalea that wasn’t growing or blooming tucked into the corner by the front door. And here is the after photo:

After: Holly bushes trimmed, Azalea moved to outside corner of house, Evergreen trees moved, mulching done.
After: Holly bushes trimmed, Azalea moved to outside corner of house, Evergreen trees moved, mulching done.
After: a side view of the house. The azalea is now on the corner, the knockout roses are trimmed back, and the rhododendrons are blooming beautifully.
After: a side view of the house. The azalea is now on the corner, the knockout roses are trimmed back, and the rhododendrons are blooming beautifully.

I love driving in now and seeing how everything turned out. Willie and I actually spent some time yesterday evening together, just walking around the property talking and taking in the beautiful evening. A little bit of “couple time”. It’s still early May, but soon I’ll get a few annuals to plant and in the fall I’ll add more bulbs (I finally put tulips in last fall and they did great), but I want enough flowers so I can cut them to bring them into the house. Irises. Gladiolus. Hydrangeas (the jury is out on whether I killed my hydrangea). And part of my arrangement with Phil is that he’ll stop by once a month to check over everything, pull or treat the weeds I’m busily ignoring, and make sure I haven’t killed another plant. WIN!

Do You Need Professional Help?

I want these same feelings for my clients. Walking in each day and feeling relaxed, not stressed, at how their home welcomes them. That everything is where it works best. That the colors make them happy. That it functions for their current lifestyle, which may be different than what it was 10 years ago. That’s why people hire me, a professional interior decorator – not because they’re a failure and don’t have a decorating gene, but because they just need guidance to do it themselves, or because it’s beyond their gifts & talents. So the question is, what is your decorating challenge that you need help with? Are you ready for a Consultation full of ideas you may never have thought of? Someone to tell you the best place for your sofa? A professional to bounce your ideas off and get feedback? A Decorator for a Day to come in and transform your home with things you already own? Call me and let’s have a chat and get your project on my calendar.

And call Phil to get on his calendar if your exterior needs a bit of help.
In full disclosure, I am in no way compensated for recommending his services, either financially or through any other benefit. All opinions and experiences are completely my own.

DIY vs. Hiring a Pro: Why I chose to Hire a Landscaper by Crystal Ortiz, Bluestone Decorating

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