An Elegant Garden Can Be Affordable

Many of us are overwhelmed by the prospect of designing the landscape for our own property — even a small one. Here on the South Fork, the challenge is marked by how expensive everything seems to be.

Then along came Tilly (named after the Tillandsia genus), a business launched in February that sells garden design and installation packages. 

Last summer a group of four friends — Heather Hoeppner, Alexis Sutton, Blythe Yost, and Sarah Finazzo — who had met in high school in Chicago were in Ms. Finazzo’s Montauk backyard looking around her garden “and talking about how landscaping is intimidating, expensive, and overwhelming if you don’t know much about plants,” Ms. Finazzo said. 

She is married to a Montauker and has lived in the hamlet part time for six years. Her Tilly partners have spent summers there and now meet there for a week every summer with their families. And even though they are spread out at other times of year (Chicago, Denver, Port Washington and Montauk, Pearl River in Rockland County) they communicate via Slack, a “collaboration hub.” 

Only one of the partners, Ms. Yost, is a professional, experienced landscaper. She confirmed what you might have suspected, that the “typical landscape design model is out of reach for so many homeowners,” and said she “would love it to be accessible to more people.”

They all had the usual questions: How do you create a beautifully arranged garden using annuals and native and deer-resistant plants? What about the soil? Why isn’t there an easier and more modern solution to landscape design? And, what seemed to surprise them most, “Why are there so few attainable and easy to use resources?” given that so much buying and selling takes place online. 

They established an online platform offering four design packages: The Mini tackles a problem area in the yard and supplies planting and growing tips ($95). The Front offers redesign of a front yard with recommendations based on geography, style, and the look of the house ($275). The Back provides backyard redesign to improve the client’s outdoor lifestyle based on the space and their outdoor plans ($375). And the Full is a complete redesign of an entire property irrespective of size ($575). Each design is personalized and tailored to the client’s preferences. (Ms. Yost has a team of other landscape designers.)

According to Tilly, the cost of hiring a more traditional landscape architect ranges from $2,000 to $7,000-plus, before even considering plant materials and installation. Something the partners seem to emphasize is increasing the value and first impression of a property by “updating a home’s curb appeal.”

Although landscape design is not exactly painting by numbers, there are parallels. The partners emphasize that they not only design but in certain markets install as well. And they say they hold a client’s hand all the way through the process.

For the Mini package, a list and images of plants are supplied that include installation and care instructions. For the Front, Back, and Full packages, clients fill out questionnaires, upload photos, and have a video chat. Once the design is set, clients have the option of taking the plans to a local nursery to buy plants and install them themselves (with guidance from Tilly’s “install instructors”) or using a local gardener.

On the South Fork they also have the option of hiring Tilly to do the installation.

The team uses different architectural programs to generate 3D renderings based on photographs supplied by clients. As of May 1, the cost of 3D renderings will be added to the total price.

Besides naming the business Tilly because of the fun, adaptable, and low-maintenance aspects of air plants, another reason is the verb “till” within it. Although three of the partners are not garden design pros, they decided that adding their combined spheres of expertise — artificial intelligence, communications and P.R., marketing, and philanthropy — to Ms. Yost’s 15 years of landscape design experience would offer clients just about anything they might hope to find.

A pond in Bedford, N.Y., designed by Blythe Yost
Photo of the four partners, from left: Heather Hoeppner (Chicago), Sarah Finazzo (Montauk/Port Washington), Alexis Sutton (Denver), Blythe Yost (Pearl River, N.Y.)