Working With a Landscape Designer

December and January are an excellent time to put your thoughts down on paper and begin researching resources.

One of the most frequent requests — and sometimes desperate pleas — that I receive is how to find resources and professional help to design a landscape.

I completely understand why this is a common request as it can be quite bewildering to begin such a project. Taking the first step is often the most difficult. Similar to finding an arborist, the process may require some searching and asking lots of questions.

Fortunately, after many years of pondering these same questions, one of my colleagues finally embarked on her landscape redesign journey. I thought it would be helpful to hear her story and eventual success via this quick Q&A.

Describe the original state of your backyard.


I’m lucky enough to have more than 30 large cedar elms and live oaks in my yard. That’s great for shade, but not so much for a lawn or even most flowering plants. By the time I re-landscaped, my backyard had dirt, trees and some overused hardscape. It really needed help!

What was your vision for the backyard?

I’ve lived in this house for about 25 years and raised children here. We’ve had inflatable pools, swing sets and dog runs, but I felt it was time for a more grown-up approach. I frequently entertained friends and family, and enjoy a fire pit and Adirondack chairs, but it was situated in the middle of dirt.

What did you use as inspiration?

GardenStyle San Antonio, of course. There were plenty of great design ideas for low water use landscapes and hardscape. I also saved photos from WaterSaver Landscape tours and curated a Pinterest board with hardscape and garden ideas.

How did you find and select a landscape architect?

It wasn’t easy. I wanted someone with strong experience in developing a plan to work around my trees and shade, and still incorporate plants that would be low water use, and low maintenance. Someone who would let me add my personal touch to the design was also important to me. I wasn’t in a hurry so I took time to read Yelp reviews, talk to several potential landscapers and looked at their websites.

How did you work with them to incorporate your vision?

I expressed how I wanted the yard to feel — lush, in a low-water use way, and private. At the same time, I wanted to have a little grass for my dogs. I also learned from to aim for 1/3 hardscape, 1/3 grass and 1/3 garden beds. Finally, while the designer would handle the perennials, bushes and trees, I wanted space to plant fun annuals in the front of the flower beds.

How did you choose the plants for your design?

The landscaper measured and sketched out my yard and came up with a list of plants that work in the shade. We discussed it and modified the list with some plants I preferred, but I really loved most everything he selected. We also decided on a drip irrigation system. I wanted something I could use often enough to keep the plants alive, but not waste water.

The results?

I love my backyard now! Working from home, I look out at it every day. The plants and grass are all settling in, and I’ve added some flowers that are looking great. I’ve also made a mini-pond from a large pot with a splashing fountain to add some sound and light — the birds seem to be enjoying it. I can even sit outside by the fire pit and enjoy family, at a safe distance of course. I’ve spent more time outside in the last few months than I have in the 25 years I’ve lived here.

Have you noticed a change in your water use yet?

It’s been a little high, but primarily because I’ve been getting my new plants established. I’ve backed off the time and frequency the irrigator programmed in. And I use a Flume water flow sensor to see how much water I’m using and when.

A successful experience takes patience and diligence, but it can be done. And December and January are an excellent time to put your thoughts down on paper and begin researching resources.

Of course, you can always visit for weekly watering amounts and landscaping tips to keep your yard looking great using less water.


Picture of Mark Peterson
Mark Peterson
Mark A. Peterson was a conservation project coordinator for San Antonio Water System before retiring. With over 30 years of experience as an urban forester and arborist, Mark is probably the only person you know who actually prunes trees for fun. When not expounding on the benefits of trees and limited lawns, you're likely to find him hiking San Antonio's wilderness parks or expounding on the virtues of geography and history to his friends.
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