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Helping You Build Your Personal Haven: An Interview with Havenwood, LLC

By Kristen Bosse

Please describe a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

Havenwood llc is a licensed, award-winning Landscape Architecture Design Firm based in Rhode Island offering comprehensive Landscape Architectural services for Residential, Commercial and Public projects ranging from site feasibility to the initial design concepts, Master Planning and Budgeting through Construction and beyond. Its' principal, Alan R. Ahlstrom, RLA, CH, along with being a licensed Landscape Architect, holds a Certification as a Horticulturist, an Invasive Plant Manager and a licensed Contractor in the State of RI.
Havenwood llc can help you plan, budget, design, detail, construct and maintain all aspects of your landscape.

What is your position at Havenwood LLC?

Principal Landscape Architect and Owner.

Explain your philosophy that earth, water, plants, and light bring together a landscape?

Our design philosophy in short is to listen. We believe that the shape of a landscape comes from many voices. It is the voice of the client; the voice of the communities or the laws which govern our properties; the voice of nature - be it the plants, the soils, the sunlight, the wind, the water/rain, the stone or the animals within the garden; and of course, the voice of the designer. It is the duty of the Landscape Architect to not only listen but hear and honor these voices with the ultimate goal of achieving a balance which leads to the creation of the client's personal haven or garden.

The Garden elements of Earth/Stone, Water, Plants and Light are essential in the construction of a great landscape. The Earth/Stone is the spine or foundation of a garden bringing nourishment with good soils and a sense of permanence and age through the use of stone. They also begin to define the rooms of the garden. Water not only brings further life to the landscape, it brings the sky within reach through reflection, attracts wildlife and can fill a space with motion and sound. The plants are that living dynamic, bringing color and fragrance to stimulate our senses, directing views and attracting attention, and sheltering us from the wind, the sun, the rain and prying eyes. Light is the last element which illuminates the landscape, enhancing the spaces with secret shadows, showcasing the brilliant colors, providing warmth and showing us the way. Whether it is the sun, the moon, electric or fire, light sets the mood of a garden. Combined correctly in balance, these four elements will help your garden emerge unto its full potential.

What would you say is the most difficult process of the project? Master Planning? Design Development?

Depending upon the project size and scope, the longest part of the Design Process can be the time between the Master plan and the beginning of Construction. Some larger projects need to obtain approvals from one or more governmental agencies, such as Historical Commissions, Planning/Zoning Boards, Coastal Resources Management Commission, Department of Environmental Management, or Department of Transportation ? which type of approvals will determine the necessary amount of detailing needed to explain the project for such governmental approvals. If needed, these approvals can take several months before a shovel goes into the ground. The Landscape Architect's job is to represent the client and help them negotiate the mounds of red tape and paperwork which can be a daunting process even if you are unaccustomed to dealing with these agencies.

Also, on large projects it is best to create Details and Specifications which become part of the contract between the client and construction contractor. This will protect the client and ensure that they are getting precisely what they are asking to be built or installed. In addition, detailing also assists during bidding a project so the client is comparing apples to apples.

On many smaller projects, many of these steps can be skipped especially when working with trusted and knowledgeable contractors saving the client time and money. Having a Landscape Architect represent the client with the contractor can ensure that a project is completed correctly since they speak the same language which can alleviate many of the client's confusion and worries.

What are some of your design specialties?

One of the predominant specialties of Havenwood is the use of Natural Stone in the landscape and Boulder Arrangement in particular. Alan Ahlstrom learned the art of stone and boulder arrangement by working for 10 years under a Japanese Garden Master. It is highly specialized work requiring the designer to search out and find well-aged natural boulders and arranging them using nylon straps with coordination of heavy equipment or cranes in a naturalistic manner appropriate for the site. Often the final effect is that the boulders appear as if they had always existed in the landscape.

As a Certified Invasive Manager (CIM), Havenwood's Alan Ahlstrom works with the client and the RI CRMC (Coastal Resource Management Committee) in creating an appropriate Management Plan for the Coastal Buffer to eliminate Invasive species and maintain 50% of the Buffer zone. It is only with a CIM that the existing limit of managing 25% of the buffer can be expanded.

Sustainability in the landscape is a passion for Mr. Ahlstrom. One way to accomplish sustainability is to establish a Rain Garden. Rain gardens harness the runoff from roof tops and paved areas, creating gardens which require no additional water source while containing the water on site, reducing the environmental impacts on our wetlands and the strains on our public drainage systems.

Pre-purchase professional assessments and site feasibility - Homeowners often hire building inspectors to assess the building and structures but rarely look at how the future costs of the existing landscape can burden the new homeowner. Havenwood provides an Assessment and estimates potential hazards to the buyer to inform them of the short and long term costs of the existing landscape, an area often overlooked in the value of the property. In addition, Havenwood will assess property and identify issues for building expansion or development.

As a winner of multiple honors for your Landscape installations, what do you think is required of a quality landscaping company?

Knowledge, Passion, Design Aesthetic, Communication and Trust are the four components imperative for a great landscape designer. In order for a Landscape to be lasting, there needs to be a knowledge of all materials and methods used for installation. If one area is lacking, the designer needs to know when they require the expertise of another. The Landscape Architect or Designer needs to be as passionate about the design as the client, if no more so. Lastly, when hiring any contractor, there is an inherent trust that is given especially when the project details are beyond the clients' knowledge base. Part of the role of the Landscape Architect is to be the clients Advocate. They have the knowledge and the vision to represent the clients' best interests with the contractor. Communication is a key to establishing this trust and to bringing the garden to fruition.

Do you offer landscape maintenance services?

We consult with clients on the proper ways to maintain their landscape, identify and remedy issues. As a Certified Horticulturist, I am well versed in my knowledge of plants but, as a Landscape Architect I also bring my knowledge of soils, drainage, lighting, paving, walls, furnishings, water or fire features, structures and governing agencies like zoning, planning, historical and environmental (DEM and CRMC). This knowledge can actually save clients money in the long run whether it is efficient watering practices, how often they really need to add or replace mulch or pruning practices. We can also help the client in finding the right Maintenance Professional for their weekly or seasonal maintenance needs.

In your opinion, how much can a newly landscaped exterior increase the value of a home?

Money spent on your landscape increases value in two ways measurable and immeasurable. The measurable is in the resale value of a property. A professionally Designed and Landscaped property gives the home a sense of place or "curb appeal" and can increase the home value by as much as 20% since it is the first thing any potential buyer sees. As a rule of thumb, investing up to10-15% of the current value of the home can be recovered with in a one to five year period depending on the market, even more so over a longer period. The immeasurable factor is that which the owner feels every day when they are greeted by a haven when they drive up their street and pull into their yard or every time they look out their window. These investments are definitely long term 20-30 years or more and can even be upwards of 50% or more of the home value since it is measured in your happiness.

Why consider hiring Havenwood, llc.?

One of the largest investments most people make is the purchase of a house. The last thing any one would intentionally want to do is devalue these investments. Bad choices in a landscape can do just that, causing increased maintenance and disjointed aesthetics, both can result in losses of time and money. For a commercial client or a developer, this can result in turning away future tenants or clients which results in lost revenue.

Three of the most common mistakes made by homeowners and even landscape contractors are choosing the right plant for the right spot, over mulching and planting too deep. The wrong plant can result in increased maintenance, diseases and even mortality necessitating replacement. Certain plants can be invasive establishing themselves in places where they should not grow or overwhelming a garden. Others can be too large or easily out grow the space, have aggressive roots which interfere with septic or drainage systems, have seeds/fruit or weak wood which can drop and damage vehicles, buildings or people, may be susceptible to specific insects or diseases, or may not be suitable for the soils, sunlight, or water on the site. All of which can lead to maintenance nightmares. Another common misconception is that mulch needs to be applied every year. In fact, applying mulch annually without removing the old mulch can suffocate your trees and shrubs causing you to incur the cost of removal and replacement of your plant investments. Alternately, the wrong type of mulch often in the guise of died mulch can result in artillery fungus which stains siding or painting on buildings and even on cars. Lastly, planting too deep can also result in early plant mortality and is one of the most common causes of plant loss in new landscapes. All of these seemingly small choices will result in increased costs over time and the devaluation of the property. This is where we can help by providing that guidance which will increase beauty and raise the quality of experience while decreasing maintenance costs. All of which can increase the desirability and value of your home or business.

Havenwood has the knowledge base to help clients avoid these pitfalls.

What's the best way for people to get in contact with you?

Either phone (401-727-9958) or e-mail via web site (www.havenwoodllc.com).

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