Selecting Garden Materials: Quality vs. Price
Now more than ever, so many of our decisions are based on price. When making choices about garden areas here are some considerations:
1) What will the space be used for? Who will use it and how?
2) What are the materials of the house and pre-existing work done in the area?
3) What colors, textures, “looks/styles” do you (and anyone else involved) like?
4) Have you made a plan that considers and balances the above?
5) How much money do you have for the project?
6) What are the available choices given what’s already present?
7) How much time will you get out of each choice and is it worth it to spend a little more now if it means longer term resolution to the use of the space?
If you can make it through the first three questions, it should be easy to make a plan and execute it from there. Plans don’t necessarily have to cover exact materials, they can be what we call “concept drawings” that designate “I want a retaining wall here, and a tree there” but not necessarily the materials that will go into the wall or the exact tree. Once you have a concept that is functional then comes the budget. This plus the pre-existing conditions will help with the material selection. For example I have a back yard (currently being used to store lumber scraps and overgrown shrubs); I have come up with a plan/concept for it that involves planters, a patio area, moving and replanting existing material, enhancing the access to this area so we (our whole family) use it more.
Once you have a plan, as I do, there are usually three budgetary ways to execute it, high, low, and medium material quality and prices. In my case, all the previous garden work from the last owner was low end in terms of materials. Not that they look cheesy, they just were not premium selections and being a landscape designer, I think have certain standards (the joke being that inaction has caused this area to look worse than the lowest end solution). On the high end, you get quality materials that will in all likelihood last longer and look better let’s say stone walls which though lovely will add another material to compete with the stucco house and the pre-existing railroad tie retaining walls. On the medium, less so and less expensive-maybe block walls with stucco to match the house, and on the low end you get value but less curb appeal using a railroad tie wall. In my case, it seems like a no brainer, pick up the stucco or match the railroad ties but the price difference between these even these materials vs. the feeling and quality that each material exudes can make this a tough decision.
Having executed low cost choices and then redone them a few years later, I have kicked myself for not ponying up extra money and doing it “right” the first time. However, ultimately, if you have considered the seven questions above, you are better off opting for the inexpensive solution rather than nothing at all. Just make sure you thoroughly understand the lifecycle of the materials you are considering and make sure you can make the chosen material work for your needs today. Incremental improvement is still improvement after all.