The key to realizing a condominium’s full value in today’s expanding real estate market is to realize its full exterior value. Developers often fail to unlock the landscape potential of a property — particularly when it comes to planting design — when they only carry out what the local municipality requires of them to gain site plan approval.
The problem is that unit owners who leave behind landscaped detached homes are demanding of what they see in the common area landscaping when they move into a condominium. This is the first scenario where renovation to condominium landscapes becomes essential.
The second scenario occurs in older condominiums where 15, 20 or 30-year-old landscapes become overgrown, ill-maintained and in need of updating. If these older properties did not begin with good planting design and have not followed proper maintenance, it becomes particularly important to renovate trees, shrubs, seasonal beds and turf areas.
A third scenario can occur if replacements or waterproofing of the structural slab affects whatever landscaping exists above. In some cases, this process wipes properties clean of all plant materials.
There is a misperception that landscape design planning should only take place in the early spring, for the upcoming season. While this is viable, it often rushes the design and budget process, which then overlaps with the installation itself.
Condominium managers and boards of directors should consider the planning for such renovations a year-round process. A good rule of thumb is to plan in the spring/summer for implementation in the fall and plan in the fall/winter for the following spring/summer.
Here’s how to plan a successful landscape renovation in three steps.
1. Take an inventory.
Analyze existing trees and shrubs, particularly in older condominiums, where certain plantings may hold sentimental value for owners, even if the plantings are overgrown or improperly maintained. In all cases, it is advisable to poll the residents for feedback about plant materials. Even if removal is the only solution, owners are less prone to becoming upset about losing what they deem to be valuable landscape plants, if they were given the chance to voice their opinions in advance.
2. Draw a survey.
Have a legal surveyor or a laser measuring company draw a legal survey or site plan of the property in AUTOCAD. Then have a certified landscape designer or landscape architect use the survey or site plan as a base drawing to develop a detailed blueprint.
CAD ultimately allows for quick changes and updates to a landscape plan, which are essential as the years go by on a property. This upfront work also helps to avoid mistakes and enables long-term budgeting and plan implementation.
3. Reduce turf and bedding annuals.
Adopt an approach that reduces turf grass and bedding annuals wherever possible. There is a wide misunderstanding about turf grass somehow being low maintenance, when in fact it is maintenance intensive compared to trees, shrubs and perennials.
While annuals are easy to appreciate, as they have instant effect, they are not cost effective, requiring replacement every year. Replacing bedding annuals with perennials and reducing the amount of grass cut to be fertilized, mown, trimmed and weeded on a regular basis can save any condominium thousands, year after year.
This approach was applied to two very different condominiums. The traditionally themed Governors Manor, a low-rise, row-house condo in Toronto, is 88 years old. The contemporary Applewood Place, a high-rise tower in Mississauga, was built in the early 1970s.
However, they shared a number of similarities when it came time to renovate their landscapes. They both had existing trees and shrubs that had to be removed and re-thought. They also both relied too heavily on bedding annuals and could afford the savings associated with new perennials.
Shrubs flowering as early as mid-February through to July replaced overgrown and ill-pruned junipers and blue spruce. The new shrubs included Witch Hazel, Eastern Redbud, Japanese Stewartia and Chinese Flowering Dogwood. The renovations also merged small existing garden beds into larger ones and eliminated awkward strips and tight corners of grass.
The design paid close attention to perennials and shrubs with long and repeat bloom habits. The planting plan incorporated Floribunda and Grandiflora families of roses and Geranium, Rudbeckia and Heliopsis families of perennials.
The design also took into account the damaging effects of de-icing salts used by snow removal contractors. Salt-tolerant Shore Juniper and a slow-growing low evergreen groundcover that would not creep onto the adjacent walk or driveway replaced sod strips next to walks and driveways that had to be repaired or replaced each spring due to salt damage. Salt-tolerant perennial families included Alchemilla, Armeria and Hemerocallis.
In the case of Governor’s Manor, the corporation saved $50,000 over 10 years using this approach. In the case of Applewood place, the corporation realized $10,000 in savings in the first year by not only avoiding annuals but reducing turf.
As these case studies show, it’s possible to unlock the potential of a condo property’s landscape with a view lowering long-term costs. All it takes is some upfront planning to set up these renovation projects for success.
Kent Ford is principal and founder of Kent Ford Design Group Inc., a Toronto-based landscape design and project management firm specializing in the renovation of condominium properties. He can be reached at email@example.com or by phone 416-368-7175.