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Why communication with customers is key to ornamental success

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Landscape experts offer proven strategies to make intelligent ornamental choices while satisfying client expectations.

Open dialogue is paramount in selecting the ideal ornamentals for residential and commercial landscapes. Savvy contractors have honed their strategies for guiding clients toward choices that not only enhance their properties for the long term but also complement the client’s aesthetic vision.

More is better

Chad Oberson
Chad Oberson

Clients often believe planting one or two flowering shrubs will significantly improve a space. They may assume a single tree they admired at the local garden center will transform their landscape, or a few bushes will suffice to populate a barren landscape.

Instead, it’s prudent to direct them to adopt a bold planting scheme utilizing large quantities of a few plants to make a dramatic impact or achieve a desired aesthetic, says Chad Oberson, president of Cincinnati, Ohio-based Oberson’s Nursery and Landscapes. Oberson’s service portfolio is around 50 percent maintenance, 30 percent snow and ice management and 20 percent landscape construction.

“One of the first things I try to communicate when working with a client is the value in mass plantings, and that a tree here or a bush there isn’t practical,” he says. “I encourage them to look at really well-designed landscapes and notice that it’s not a lot of different (plant) material, rather a lot of the same material.”

A large commercial building or a large residential home can visually overpower a landscape, Oberson adds. Employing consistent ornamental representation throughout the landscape provides much-needed balance.

“I can do a big, mass planting of knockout roses, and that’ll give you a lot of color and visual appeal,” he says. “And I can fill a border up with a bunch of boxwoods, which will look really nice. I try not to make a sales pitch to the client (about plant variety); rather, I advise them to keep it simple and to plant it up. More is better.”

Plant prudent choices

When choosing appropriate plant material for a space, client conversations, whether commercial or residential, must include establishing realistic expectations based on what the environment will support and sustain, says Eric Brown, director of agronomy at Orlando-based Massey Services. Lawn, tree and shrub care comprise about 90 percent of Massey’s service portfolio, with the remainder a mix of installation and landscape renovation work.

Initially, clients are often enamored with plant materials that will provide intense colors or contribute a unique or exotic presentation, Brown says. However, he says the space in question usually can’t support that type of plant life, or it won’t survive over the long term.

“You can certainly plant anything anywhere, but often that’s not sustainable, and it’ll be a waste of (the client’s) money over the long term,” Brown says. “They need to choose the right plant palette for the space, so I encourage clients to pick plants that will do well with the native soil type and climate conditions where they’ll be planted. And native plants often fill those requirements.”

In addition, it’s essential to discuss with clients how the plants will grow over time and whether they may quickly outgrow their space. Another issue to review is whether the sunlight will meet or overpower the plant’s needs. Will plants under consideration require special nutritional and irrigation needs? Or is the client willing to devote the time, care and attention to high-maintenance ornamentals?

“It takes vision for clients to see the future,” Brown says. “Mother Nature does all of the heavy lifting, so you need to encourage clients to choose the right materials for the specific location.”

Honest options

Whether a contractor is dealing with a client with a specific ornamental vision or a customer who doesn’t know a perennial from an annual, education is an important component of a landscaper’s dialogue.

“Communicate what you know about the site with your client,” says Sarah Pitcher, a landscape designer with Davis Landscape, a full-service landscape design, build and maintenance company based in Lisbon, Maine. “Then, present them with a list of the plant materials, trees and shrubs appropriate for their space. It’ll help them narrow down their choices.”

She adds that it’s a contractor’s responsibility to provide the knowledge and background the average homeowner wouldn’t have about plant choices.

“Even though they may want that specific tree, they also want you to tell them that it’s not a good idea, that it won’t work, but ‘Here’s an option that accomplishes the same aesthetic goal and will work in that habitat,’” she says.

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