How to Update Your Landscaping: An Affordable & Easy Solution for Busy Families

How can I Improve My Landscaping?

Increasing curb appeal and remodeling your home

When we bought our house south of San Francisco, in the vibrant heart of the Silicon Valley… nobody else wanted it. Which, frankly, is hard to believe in a small, beautiful city smack dab in the middle of the Bay Area’s Peninsula where properties barely stay on the market a week. 

But, as the real estate market goes in this area – there were only three houses on the market at that time that fit our criteria (budget, bedrooms and location – basically. You can’t be too picky around here). The house just down the street from ours was one of these three. It was a dream starter home – fruit trees growing in the front yard, a remodeled kitchen, huge master bathroom and cute, updated backyard for year-round outdoor living. Because of all of this, it was a lot of people’s dreams too. Unfortunately for us, there were roughly 15 offers on that house – with all the things you expect around here – above asking price, no contingencies, all cash. 

Hands down – we were losers from the start. 

There was no way we could compete to buy that beautiful little home against all the others who could turn in such sweet deals. So, we ended up bidding on our house. The one down the street painted lime green, touting dead plants in both the front yard and a grassless backyard (thanks to a California drought). There were laminates of all colors, shapes and sizes throughout the house, along with dark red carpeting and no overhead lighting. The spaces were choppy and some areas, useless. From the inside out, we had a big project on our hands. Oof, the outside… 

Just about the same time that we completely finished with the whole remodel project, a girl friend of mine was excited to tell me about a company she started,  Tilly. An affordable, online, professional landscape design company. It was exactly what I needed…9 months earlier. Although the timing wasn’t great for me, the idea stood out. There are so many of us trying to balance a circus act – kids, work, friends, jobs, meals, marriages, school commitments and extracurriculars for the kids – finding time and energy to devote to updating landscaping or remodeling a walk-way, front yard or even making a side yard useable is not only daunting, it’s in the impossible bucket. No matter how much Fixer Upper I’d consumed in my life, it was all easier watched than done. 

While it really was a pain, I am happy with how it all turned out in the end, we love our little house and know it is a better fit for us than the house down the street. We got to pick all the finishes, the colors, the countertops that we wanted and even were able to move walls and update windows to give the space a fresh and open feel. It took a long time to turn the inside of our house into a real home. One of the hardest parts about the process wasn’t actually the inside, but the outside. 

Our backyard and front yard were complete disasters and I wasn’t even sure where to start. If you have ever thought about updating or completely re-doing your own property, you probably know what I mean. Who do you call first – a landscape designer? What’s the difference between a landscape designer and a landscape architect? And you mean they are different from a landscape installer? And if I go with a company that does everything – where do I find them? How much does this all cost? 

I called seven companies in total. Most of their bids were outrageous and others didn’t even show up to our walk-through. With the professional designers themselves, I had to call, multiple times just to get in touch with someone and explain what I wanted to do before they told me they were too busy or the project was too small for them. When they actually agreed to “take my job”, we had to schedule a time to meet, after I sent them pictures of my yard and exterior as well as some ideas I had. I had to take time off work to meet them at the house for a walk-through, and then they would get a proposal back to me within two weeks. When it came back, I couldn’t afford their work anyway. What a waste of time and energy. 

In the end, I found an awesome local guy who was able to go with my “general” vision and work with me throughout the process, but he wasn’t an expert on plants, pricing, or design and a lot of the work was left up to me – researching, re-thinking and walking around nurseries asking people about plants. 

Tilly makes it all doable. Really.  I wish I had the option to utilize Tilly for my home. Just think of all the time I could have saved.   With the expertise and professionalism of a high-end design company that is also fun and approachable, they address all of these headaches and more.  

Alexis Sutton (mom of 2 girls, Denver, CO),  Blythe Yost, (mom of 2 boys Pearl River, NY), Sarah Finazzo, (2 boys and a girl , Port Washington, NY), and Heather Hoeppner (mom of 2 boys and a girl Chicago, IL) began Tilly together just over a year ago. I love an all-mom company. I really do. If anyone can get stuff done, it’s moms. 

The Tilly team works their butts off. Most of them, as full-time professionals. Alexis as the Director of a San Francisco-based family foundation, Blythe as the founder of Yost Design and Hudson Home & Garden, Sarah as a Freelance Publicist and Heather managing Customer Success Manager for AI Tech. On top of their careers – Tilly is taking off. I had the chance to chat with Alexis about the company and her role as co-founder and COO. 

Me: “ So, Tilly. How did it come to be?”

Alexis: “The idea for Tilly was very much a collective effort.  A casual conversation in one of our backyards turned into a great business idea and shared passion for all of us!   We were basically interrogating Blythe for landscape advice when we realized how lucky we were to have a ‘Blythe’ in our lives.  Which led us to wonder, what does everyone else do who can’t afford a designer? Then we just kind of ran with it and have spent the last year or so trying to fill that gap for homeowners.

Me: “I think for most of us, we have great ideas – whether the projects are personal or professional but ignition can be a roadblock. What was the hardest part about getting started?” 

Alexis: “There were a few critical points along the way that could have stopped us in our tracks or sent us down the wrong path.  One of the first challenges was clearly defining everyone’s roles and level of commitment. We all have different strengths we bring to the table and varying flexibility in our schedules.  After 20 years of friendship, in one way this was easier because we understand each others’ situations; but it was also very delicate with the stakes being so high. 

We also thought long and hard about funding – where were we going to get it?  With venture capital and IPOs and 10x growth targets being such a part of today’s business culture, we weren’t sure if we wanted to go down that path – especially with all our other obligations.  But whenever those decisions have come to a head, we’ve tended to go with our gut and do what makes sense for us. So no outside investment…for now anyway.”

Me: “It is such a great name. How did you pick it?”

Alexis: “Thanks! Picking a name was hard, but we knew right away that “Tilly” was a keeper.  It started as a play on “tilling your land” and the idea of really caring for and taking pride in your outdoor spaces.  We also wanted to make it friendly and accessible and the name Tilly just worked on all fronts. It’s like she’s your new best friend in landscape design.” 

Me:  “So your service is entirely remote.  What does that mean for homeowners? How is it different from my painful experience?”

Alexis: “First of all, I am so sorry we didn’t get our act together nine months earlier!  What a hassle. But unfortunately that’s a very common experience, where professional design is entirely cost-prohibitive and most designers don’t even want your business if it’s under $10k.  Our model meets homeowners where they are in terms of budget, experience and time commitment. With our flat design fees ($375-675) we have no incentive to inflate the cost of your project, and we help you plan your install in phases if you can’t do it all at once.  We can also turn around a complete design within 5-7 business days if you’re in a crunch…so you can forget 2 weeks lost waiting for that proposal!

Me: “It sounds like Tilly has had some early success…what’s next?”

Alexis: “We have some pretty grand plans for Tilly and want to become the go-to resource for all your landscaping and outdoor needs.  Check out our blog for gardening advice and tune in to our Instagram for design samples, inspiration and advice.”

Me:  “Anything else Practiced Mom readers should know?

Alexis:  “Yes! Because we love you and your blog so much, we want to offer your readers a 10% discount to check out our services. Just use the code: PRACTICEDMOM.  (Codes are case sensitive, valid through December 31, 2019).”

Tilly 10% discount for Practiced Mom followers: PRACTICEDMOM.  (Codes are case sensitive, valid through December 31, 2019).

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