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N.Y. Times needs to tell “The Rest of the Story”

“Landscaping With a Lighter Touch”

In an article published on October 28, William L. Hamilton describes how “A new economy and a new state of mind have changed the way homeowners are landscaping their properties”.  While the photo example used at the top of the article does reflect a design simplicity, a closer look reveals that the image does not depict a truly low-maintenance landscape.

A SUBTLE GREEN A garden in Southampton, N.Y., designed by the landscape architect Perry Guillot (image by Maxine Hicks for The New York Times)

A SUBTLE GREEN A garden in Southampton, N.Y., designed by the landscape architect Perry Guillot (image by Maxine Hicks for The New York Times)

The hedges are sheared.  Why plant something that needs to be touched by maintenance personnel at least 12 times annually, rather than selecting a plant that is genetically programmed to stay at the desired size and may only require rejuvenational pruning once a year?

The lawn panel requires mowing, edging, blowing, and chemical fertilization – and most likely supplemental watering by an automatic irrigation system.

Mr. Hamilton quotes Andrea Cochran, a San Fransisco landscape architect , as being concerned that while her clients are environmentally “aware”, they often tend to eliminate the added up-front expense.  The exact quote from the article is:  “They’re definitely aware, but when people look at the amortization — the payback — they tend to cut it out. I’ve become a little jaded about that.”

Let’s clarify “financial-speak”.

The term “amortization”, according to investorwords.com, refers to “The gradual elimination of a liability, such as a mortgage, in regular payments over a specified period of time.” It can also mean “Writing off an intangible asset investment over the projected life of the assets”.  In the case of landscape investments, we are dealing with tangible assets, living assets, not liabilities.  Their value increases over time.

While Andrea’s clients may be “aware”, they should be considering their Internal Rate of Return (IRR) when approving or disapproving her design decisions.  Another factor that can be quite enlightening is the Net Present Value (NPV) of the dollars they may be too quick to “cut out” of the proposed landscape project.

Our Living Asset Management Program™ (LAMP) does those calculations by taking into account both the ongoing maintenance costs associated with the design, and the expected life-cycle of the landscape.

While the New York Times article focused on residential landscapes, the really big returns can be found in the likes of college campuses, corporate office parks, health-care campuses, and retirement living communities.  These large scale properties can realize significant cost-savings – particularly when relatively straightforward changes in the design of an existing landscape can result in IRR values in excess of 200%!

And that, as Paul Harvey always said, is “the rest of the story”!

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