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Planting for the future

We profiled Landscape Architect David Font four years ago and were so impressed with his residential work we kept him on our radar. Last summer, Font popped-up on “Brother Vs. Brother,” a design and renovation competition show hosted by HGTV’s “Property Brothers” duo Drew Scott and Jonathan Scott.

We followed the competition each week and soon realized Font would be the clear winner. Ultimately, he won, though not for landscape design. He won against 9 competing interior design, remodeling and real estate professionals in the six-episode interior design renovation challenge that included remodeling 12 houses in 30 days. This actually marked his second win for the network. In 2012, he was the winner on the network’s “White Room Challenge” competition show. Font’s consistent success has garnered him a contract with HGTV for future projects.

A 1998 graduate of landscape architecture from the University of Florida College of Design, Construction and Planning, Font’s education and experience in construction renovation served him well on the shows, as well as in his own business, David Font Design. Prior to “Brother Vs. Brother,” Font’s landscape architecture business was singularly focused on designing commercial, hospitality and residential exterior living spaces. Now, receiving requests for interior renovations, the firm has added interior design to its offerings and an interior designer to the staff. One can imagine the beauty of having interior and exterior living spaces flow seamlessly.

“But,” says Font, “landscape architecture will always be my passion; it’s second nature to me, and I excel at that.”

We asked Font to provide advice to our readers who seek to create new outdoor areas in South Florida’s tropical landscape. He provided some key points to ensure the experience and final project will be successful.


Design Challenges

It takes a lot of restraint to plan for the long-term beauty of a landscape design, Font says. That’s where landscape architects excel. Landscape contractors get paid for installing plants and nursery employees don’t always have the knowledge to give sound advice. Below is Font’s advice for homeowners seeking create an outdoor retreat.


How much is too much?

One of the greatest challenges in hiring landscape contractors is the tendency to plant for immediate gratification, dismissing the maintenance and plant growth that will ultimately affect the mature design. Experience and expertise gives landscape architects knowledge of how to plan ahead. Initially, the plan may look sparse, but will look great in a year as plantings mature.


What goes where?

This is one of the many values of hiring a landscape architect. It’s difficult for homeowners to select the right plants for the conditions of different areas. Take or collect pictures of what you like and search for information on those plants. This may add an extra day or an extra trip to your schedule, but is well worth the exercise. Otherwise, down the road, it’s either going to be extremely high maintenance or you will have to tear it out due to overgrowth.

It’s important to design outdoor spaces keeping in mind the amount of sun or shade, as well as humidity, water, salt and wind conditions. There will be specific needs depending upon the area. Near the coast, for example, anything bearing weight, such as pavers, patios, hot tubs, kitchens or trellises, will need pilings. Your landscape architect or architect will utilize the services of a structural engineer to determine how much weight the ground can bear without pilings.

If near water, also make sure plants can tolerate wet feet (wet roots). Not only for the roots, but also because of salt spray off the water that will burn plants that aren’t salt tolerant. Some plant materials like sea grapes can actually sit in saltwater.


Coastal remedies?

The coast is a rough environment for plant materials, with issues like iguanas, salt, sand, water and wind. You’llwant a waxy or thicker leaf to withstand these elements. (Note that no plant material will withstand iguanas, but they especially like feeding on flowers.)

In South Florida, irrigation is almost mandatory – whether manual or automatic. However, our average rainfall is about 60 inches per year, so after the first several weeks, you can let most plants go and they’ll be fine – if chosen properly. Keep in mind that grass is the biggest consumer of water.

Don’t forget the lighting. LED is a huge game-changer, a technology shift that eliminates the need for running electricity. LED lighting costs more up front, but lasts longer than electrical light bulbs, and it offers more flexibility. However, it’s a different type of light, with a brighter, blue hue. There are some colored or filtered LEDs available, just make sure to test lighting first in your own environment.


Privacy controls?

Many of our clients don’t have great views or have smaller lots they want to enclose the landscape to create a personal Shangri-La. My work with hotels and resorts gave me valuable insight into creating intimate pockets of space for people to gather — creating outdoor rooms without walls. Green privacy walls and structures help create intimate areas that add lushness and an escape from the world beyond.


High maintenance?

In South Florida, there isn’t “no maintenance.” Following the guidelines above will help prolong the beauty of your investment. But remember, lighting, watering and trimming are key elements to consider when budgeting and planning an outdoor paradise that will mature beautifully.


Hiring Professionals

If you don’t have a lot of landscape knowledge, do your homework. Ask potential contractors for references, and follow up on their references. Also, don’t just look at pictures taken right after a project’s completion; ask references how the project looked a year after installation.


Who does what?

With a large project, seek out a landscape architect to provide design and plant specifications, and a general contractor to oversee construction, permitting and subcontractors. Expect to pay 10 to 15 percent more for a general contractor to oversee the project. For smaller projects that don’t need structural or architectural planning, get contractor recommendations from landscape architects, general contractors and friends. Homeowners who want to hire and supervise their own tradesmen should set bi-weekly meetings with all the trades together to ensure the project moves forward on a coordinated schedule.


Background check?

Contracting has such a bad reputation due to poor subcontractors. Obtain and follow-up on solid references and look for general contractors who have long-standing relationships with their subcontractors. When problems occur, good contractors and subcontractors will get the job done. Make sure the contractors are licensed, bonded and insured. Also, scrutinize the contract to ensure the contractor accepts liability for its subcontractors.

Next, check out the State of Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation website (MyFloridaLicense. com). Determine the services you need that require a license, and research your general contractor, architect, electrician and other tradesmen to make sure they haven’t been fined or lost their licenses.


What to ask for?

Make sure your contractor understands your lifestyle preferences and knows the purpose of your project. Will the project objective be to convey your lifestyle and personal design style, increase long-term property value or is it a shortterm investment for resale purposes?

Knowing the objective up front will help them design to meet your objectives.

Finally, always plan a healthy contingency in the budget for unexpected overruns or changes.