HOW TO HIRE AN

INTERIOR LANDSCAPE CONTRACTOR

by Joelle Steele

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The art of using plants to accentuate the indoor environment is called interior landscaping, interiorscaping, or plantscaping. Whatever you choose to call it, it is an industry that began in the late 1940's and came into its own in the mid 1970s. By that time, it was a pseudo-business for many, lacking the sophistication demonstrated by many members of the industry today.

The 1980s brought with them a wider variety of decorative containers in ceramics, clays, aggregates, brass and other metallic options as well as a vast array of decorator colors to blend with every decor imaginable. As the demand for plants grew, so did the demand for new varieties of plant materials which continue to become available. Since interiorscapers have always wanted to bring the colors found in outdoor landscaping into the indoor environment, we now find mums, kalanchoes, cyclamen, azaleas, orchids and bromeliads, to name only a very few, accenting our interiorscapes.

Today, many interiorscape companies offer cut flower arrangements and for those areas where a live plant will not do well due to unsuitable environmental factors such as low light, interiorscape professionals will install some of the high quality silks and acrylic artificial foliage, many of which, when properly assembled, cannot be distinguished as "fakes" without close inspection.

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Many of the 21st century's interiorscapers have become specialists within their own field. Some handle only residential. Some have made their mark in malls and offices. Some specialize in the hotel and restaurant market. Interiorscapers have become professionals. They have certification programs that distinguish their members as qualified by their peers.

DO-IT-YOURSELF VS. HIRING A PRO

Of course, if you want plants for your office or home, you can always buy your own and install them yourself, but hiring a professional interiorscaper is the best way to go. They will select only healthy, insect and disease-free foliage and place each plant in the correct location for optimum growth and development. Their maintenance technicians will come by regularly and not only water the plants, but clean leaves, trim and prune, fertilize, and treat for any illness or pest before the plant becomes a fatal statistic.

Interiorscape only looks easy. In reality it is a fast-paced, labor intensive, highly technical profession. Those who have found a successful niche in this industry are usually a rare breed of individual who has mastered the complex horticultural technology, has a good head for business and detail, has an eye for design, and a personality geared towards service with a smile.

EVALUATING ESTIMATES

Unfortunately, many would-be interiorscape clients have a difficult time finding a competant firm to install and maintain their interiorscape. Part of the problem is that most clients do not have sufficient plant knowledge to make decisions about which estimate is the best. More often than not, the individual estimates do not reflect the exact same interiorscape installation anyway. For example, two six-foot dracaenas may vary in price from $95.00 up to $205.00. This doesn't mean that one interiorscaper is necessarily more expensive than the next. One six-foot dracaena may be more mature than the other. One may have thin, spindly stalks with only three or four "crowns" of leaves, while the other may have thick, heavy, cane-type stalks, and lusher foliage, hence the difference in price.

Other variations in price which are not so easy to discern with the untrained eye include the difference between solid metal containers and metal-look, ceramics vs. glazed terra cotta, inexpensive split bamboo baskets vs. solid willow. There is also a substantial change in price when a plant reaches the six-foot mark and some interiorscapers sell a five to five and a half foot plant as a six footer and then prop it up in the pot so that it reaches six feet in height. Their price will be obviously lower than a plant that is really six feet tall.

As a consumer, you can protect your investment by working closely with a competant interiorscaper during the design process. You can then purchase the design and can take the detailed specifications and give them to other interiorscapers for true competitive bids.

MAINTENANCE CONCERNS

Once your project is installed, maintenance begins. It's important to remember that during the maintenance process the interiorscaper is up against a myriad of environmental problems, many over which you, their client, have direct control. For example, do you leave you office locked with the drapes closed when you go out of town? Do you crank the heat up full blast in the early morning during the winter? Do you move plants from one room to another without contacting your interiorscape firm for the proper handling and location for each plant? Do you often mistake your ficus benjamina for a sink and dump your coffee into its delicate root system? If you are guilty of any of these plant crimes you could be a major contributor to the sudden demise of your treasured plants.

QUESTIONS TO ASK

Here are some questions which might help you find a reputable interiorsape company to green up your space and keep it growing:

1. Can the interiorscape firm provide you with proof of liability and workers compensation insurance? If they are a legitimate business with employees the answer to this question should be a definite "yes."

2. Can they provide you with references of projects they currently maintain that you can call about or look at? Just because they've been in business doesn't necessarily mean they do a good job. It pays to check up before signing.

3. Does their personality feel "comfortable" to you? Do you trust them or do you feel uncertain? Your "gut" reaction knows best.

4. What was their presentation like, both in-person and on paper? Were they neat, informative, and professional or were they sloppy, vague, and lacking attention to detail?

5. Did they answer all of your questions to your satisfaction?

6. Did their quote vary significantly from others received? Did it include the same services and the exact same plants?

7. Was insect control, trimming, and transplanting included or will they be billed as separate services? What looks like a good deal may cost you more in the long run so beware.

8. Are they giving you a full guarantee on their technical competancy by offering to replace at no charge any plants which die or become unattractive while in their care as a result of their oversight or negligence? After all, you shouldn't have to pay for a new plant if they install a ficus tree in a dark area and overwater it.

9. Are they state licensed for pest control? Many are not and often do not exercise proper safety procedures in the use and application of chemicals. Any chemical, including agricultural soaps and alcohol sprays require that the applicator be licensed.

10. How long have they been in business and do they have experience with installations similar to yours? A small company may be able to handle a large installation as well as a big company but most interiorscape firms specialize in jobs of a particular size and scope.

This article last updated: 08/19/1994.