Quality, Not Quantity

05 Jul 2017

Tips and advice from our garden experts

I think often of a quote from Mr. Henry Royce of Rolls Royce Fame: “Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble.” While our pursuits in the landscape world may not be construed as being noble, I do think there is inherent value gleaned from Mr. Royce’s message.

All too often, I’m scraping away previous attempts of landscape installations that had fallen victim to numbers over value, shortsightedness, and material choices that simply fell short. Obvious fix? Choose the best of the best wherever possible. “Doesn’t that immediately cost more?”, you ask.

Immediately―yes, in the long-run, a resounding No! But it’s really not always about simply choosing the most expensive. You really must invest time, as well as your landscape budget, in tandem. One must be informed to make wise, calculated choices, based on education and valuation of their qualities. Let’s look through a few examples.


Two major culprits: cheap, flimsy bed edging material and lackluster, “been-there, done-that” surfacing materials. I encourage you to visit a place like SiteOne Landscape Supply, to look and feel and generally take in all that is available to see. The difference between cheap metal edging and a quality, heavy-duty product is so easy to see. As well, the quality of a product like Bluestone has an everlasting, classic feel that is hard to beat. So, perhaps that back patio will be a few square feet smaller. Or consider this trick to keep costs in check: Utilize a more expensive, quality material paired with a more budget friendly one such as poured concrete. Use the expensive stuff as a border or as the grout joints in a pattern or even a “medallion” at the center of the patio. And don’t forget about “upping” the quality factor of a seemingly “run of the mill” material such as concrete. Have it tinted prior to the pour, acid-stain it afterwards, add oyster shells to make “tabby” or finish off with rock salt. Scoring a tile-like pattern after it cures is another fabulous way to gain interest at a minimal, additional labor cost.

Plant Materials

Several major complaints occur regarding plant material choices. Firstly, education is again a key to success. Travel to LowCountry Nursery in Awendaw, or SiteOne Landscape Supply in Summerville as two possible destinations. I would rather clients or do-it-yourselfers choose less, but better-quality specimen plantings. The impact is great and cannot be replicated by alternately planting more, but smaller trees or shrubs. Added to this, placement is key. Rudimentary placement smack-dab in the middle of the front yard isn’t always beneficial. We are seeking “highest and best use” of all materials that are brought into a project. Burying the foundation with multiple plantings isn’t always successful either. Allow the architecture to be complimented and shine, address negative sight lines, and be impactful in placements.

One rule breaker that should be mentioned: most small plantings truly are best in greater multiples than I usually see. African Iris, Muhly Grass (Sweetgrass), Plumbago, Creeping Rosemary, and many others are best in groupings. Decrease the variety, perhaps, but do increase the quantities of these smaller plantings for much more successful beds around the specimen plantings. And, to address one big plant, the Sabal Palmetto, the symbol of our state: it is a great value. Up to about 18 feet in height they cost under $400, installed. Impact and value is a great combination!

Other Stuff

There are “projects within projects” as residential landscapes are concerned, and all benefit from the quality over quantity axiom. For instance, use less fixtures as needed, but utilize high-quality, commercial-grade brass and copper. Building a deck or porch, Ipe wood is hard to beat with its durability and elegance quotient. Also consider it for boardwalks and pool surrounds. In the realm of water features, consider something that is custom built by a local mason instead of an off-the-shelf variety. It can become a long-lasting centerpiece of a memorable space. And lastly, punctuate your spaces with grand, well-built pots and planters. Scour some of our local antique and consignment stores, or a store like Elizabeth Stuart Design. Plant it simply with a classically-formed boxwood, or fill it to the hilt with tropicals and color. The payoff will be exponential and the Rolls you have sitting in the garage won’t be the only added value to your property.

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