Do-It-Yourself Gardening

By Nancy Moffett

They make it look easy on those DIY television shows. A crew shows up with lots of plants and hardscape material and within two days, someone’s backyard has been transformed into an outdoor paradise. However, no one talks about the cost or the planning that goes into a real landscaping project, DIY or otherwise. To get the scoop, we consulted Bryan Smith, owner of Landmark Landscape Contractors, Northampton.

Smith graduated in 1993 from Delaware Valley College with a degree in Ornamental Horticulture and Design. While in college, he did work-study with Glenmar Nursery & Garden Center, Bath, then was employed by them until 1996 when he took over their landscaping business. He bought a 25-acre property in Allen Township and has been operating there as Landmark Landscape Contractors. He is uniquely qualified to address the needs of people who want to tackle outdoor projects themselves, having developed a “Let’s Work Together” program that helps DIYers get started.

Q: I know what I like, but how much does it cost?

A: Let’s put first things first and look at the big picture. Considering everything you want to do to your home, work backwards and figure out what you can afford. What is the total investment you feel comfortable making in your home? When you have a total budget in mind, you can start to assign a number or percentage to each project. Your budget then guides you in making decisions and gives you the comfort to feel good about them.

Q: Where do I even begin?

A: Any investments you make you want to grow, right? So the question is, do you want, your investment to become a liability in a few years, or do you want it to increase in value and look better as time goes on? It becomes expensive when landscaping has to be redone after several years instead of becoming a mature part of your property. I would consider hiring a professional to develop a design that meets your needs, wants and your budget as well as growing conditions on your property. By professional, I mean a person who has credentials such as a college degree in horticulture and design or state certifications such as PCH (Pennsylvania Certified Horticulturalist) or CLT (Certified Landscape Technician).

Q: Once I have a budget and a design, how much of the project should I do myself?

A: I would say anything you can do with hand tools. Don’t try renting the big equipment unless you have experience with it. If you are second-guessing yourself, it’s best to hire a professional. Let them do the big things, such as planting trees. You can do most of the other plantings yourself. Hardscapes, such as patios, require removing soil and handling tons of aggregate, pavers, etc., something most DIYers aren’t prepared to handle.

Q: Tell me about the “Let’s Work Together” program.

A. If you buy $500 worth of plants from us, we will develop a landscape design for you at no cost. The design could include hardscaping, such as a patio. We’ll deliver the plants free and spend an hour of field consultation with you to get you started.

Q: What about caring for the plants afterwards?

A: Our plants come with a one-year guarantee. And, we have a large section on our website (see “Aftercare” on with information on watering, pruning, fertilizing, perennials and insects and diseases. We pride ourselves in providing the best plant material available. Our 10 acres of nursery and display gardens are maintained by a state-certified horticulturist who gives customers all the information they need to keep plantings happy and healthy.

Q: I’m thinking about putting in a water feature. What do you recommend?

A: The larger they are, the easier they are to maintain as they create their own ecosystem. If designed correctly and there aren’t too many fish, a water feature may not need a filter. However, I’m finding that water features are waning in popularity as they can be hard to clean and maintain if they’re not designed properly. Here again, it pays to consult a professional before you get started.

Q: Any other tips for DIYers?

A: We have a questionnaire on our website that can help homeowners figure out what they want to accomplish and what kinds of plants they prefer. Also, we’ll be presenting a series of seminars throughout the season on such topics as “Top Ten Plants in the Lehigh Valley,” “Maximizing Color” and “Low Maintenance Landscaping.” Check our website for dates and times. We’ve added a retail display area at our location in Allen Township that features groups of plants (pre-packaged) for shade, edible and perennial plantings. These packages are designed to make it easier for you to improve different areas of your landscape.


Landmark Landscape Contractors
902 Mud Lane
Northampton, PA 18067
Nancy Moffett was corporate communications editor for Rodale, Inc., a leader in organic gardening, before becoming a freelance writer.

Follow @LehighValleyMarketplace on Instagram