A Legit, Unpaid ShrubHub Review–Scam, or worth the money?
In today’s blog, we will deep dive into a first person, unsponsored review of an extremely popular and affordable digital landscape design service called ShrubHub. But first, a little background as to why Water and Earth is taking the time to do a comprehensive ShrubHub review in the first place.
Why are we reviewing ShrubHub?
As a professional landscape design business operating both here in Richmond and across the country in California, we’re of the mind that it’s important to keep an eye on the world of landscape design at large. After all, we are as much consumers of great outdoor design and innovation as we are creators. So when the COVID-19 pandemic began and the already growing demand for digital landscaping exploded, we were obviously interested.
Yardzen, Shrubhub, Tilly, BAQYARD–there is no shortage of digital landscape services to choose from. What is lacking for many of these companies, however, are reliable, comprehensive reviews. Online forums such as Reddit can capture some of this honest feedback, but lengthier, unpaid and unsponsored evaluations of these services can be hard to find.
Our Initial Thoughts
It may surprise you to learn that we are not against remote or budget landscape design services. We believe these platforms fill a gap in the market that has been previously underserved.
We’ve already captured our general thoughts about services such as these in a previous Yardzen review, but here’s the gist: Not everyone has the budget to have a luxury backyard professionally designed. For homeowners looking for an affordable alternative, or just looking to see what is possible in their space, digital landscape design services such as ShrubHub hold appeal. However, problems quickly arise when expectations and the reality of a service fail to align.
From Reddit to the Better Business Bureau, Shrubhub reviews across the internet lean from mixed, to negative, to flat out scathing. But is the experience as bad as many consumers will lead you to believe? Is ShrubHub really a scam? A total waste of money? Or are most bad reviews simply a case of poorly managed expectations. We wanted to find out for ourselves.
We want to devote the first few sections of this review to talking about the overall experience of receiving a complete landscape design from a ShrubHub designer. At the beginning of this process, we reached out to a client in Richmond whose backyard was a relatively blank canvas. They were equally as curious about what a remote, budget design service would offer them, and were kind enough to offer up their space as a test subject. After procuring photos and detailed dimensions, we reached out to ShrubHub to begin the process.
As a whole, this process was fairly simple. First, ShrubHub has prospective clients create an account. From there, you pay the standard $300, upload photos, details, and dimensions of your space, and schedule a consultation with a ShrubHub designer.
We found the user experience and online interface to be slick and easy to navigate. Was it full of uncompelling stock photos and uncited design photos? Some might say that. Was it ripe with repetitive sales pitches and questionably written copy? Sure. But at no point were we confused about how to navigate the website or how to upload the materials needed for our upcoming consultation. This was good to see.
As a digital landscape design service, your entire customer experience will take place on your website. Thus, making your platform as navigable and user friendly as possible is critical to a positive initial experience. To their credit, ShrubHub does this well.
After uploading all of the necessary materials, we scheduled a call and waited to see how things would play out.
The ShrubHub Design Consultation
On the day of our scheduled call, we were connected with a ShrubHub designer who listened to our client’s goals and aesthetic preferences for the space. The wishlist was in line with what many Water and Earth client’s are looking for–updated pool, covered seating, outdoor kitchen–all set within a modern, sleek design.
To the designer’s credit, they were kind and receptive to the homeowner’s ideas for the space. The call was smooth, uninterrupted, and straightforward. We had warned our client of online reviews that reported slick upselling tactics, but we didn’t run into any difficulties there. While very brief and pretty general, the consultation did not raise any immediate red flags.
Upon speaking with the designer, our clients were curious to know where they were located. We’ve previously discussed how a common downfall of remote, outdoor design work is a lack of familiarity with local markets, codes, and conditions.
The designer was hesitant to tell us exactly where they were working from. First, they stated they were in California. Our client asked where in California, to which the designer replied “East California ''. This struck us as strange–in all our time working in and around the state of California, we’ve never heard a local use this descriptor. Still, remote work is remote work and despite where our ShrubHub designer was really located, they were prepared to talk to our client about their space.
After wrapping up the call, we felt some degree of relief. Horror stories in other online reviews describe disaster design consultations featuring bewildered designers, significant language barriers, and missed or dropped calls, none of which we experienced. Now all there was to do was sit tight and wait to see what kind of designs ShrubHub would deliver for only $300.
The Wait Time
After hanging up with our designer, we entered a waiting period. On their website, Shrubhub states that clients should expect to wait between 15 and 30 days to receive their designs from the point of consultation.
On forums across the internet, users have reported meeting with designers, discussing their project, only to enter an unending waiting period, never to hear from their designer again. Some clients only receive designs after constant follow ups and inquiries. Some report that they never received their designs at all. In all honesty, there was a small part of us that was prepared to be ghosted.
But again, the worst case scenario did not come to pass. After 22 days, the client was delivered their designs.
Reviewing The Final ShrubHub Designs
Hold onto your hats, folks! This is where things get interesting. From the very beginning of this process, this was the point we were most excited to reach. While everything else matters, if ShrubHub delivered us a decent landscape design for only $300, we were willing to forgive other parts of the process that were less than stellar. So when the client forwarded us the designs they’d received, we were waiting with bated breath.
From poorly drawn outlines to unreadable 3D renders, online reviews regarding ShrubHub design quality run the gamut. We were hoping for the best but braced for the worst. What we actually got was somewhere in the middle. Let’s dive in.
In the design deck we received, the first item is the 2D design and material key, as seen below. Upon first glance, we were honestly surprised at the initial quality. True to the homeowner’s request, the designer had pieced together a space that included all of their big ticket items within a modern aesthetic. This appeared to be a fairly fully realized design concept, and definitely was not simply some lines drawn over a Google Maps view of the property as the worst of ShrubHub’s reviews detail.
Beyond the 2D design, there were a few keys including a plant legend, a hardscape material guide, and a general legend of the design itself. It was clear that these legends were supposed to help give clarity to the homeowner regarding what materials to proceed with if designs were brought to a contractor. However, we’re not sure how well they would serve this purpose.
While the planting key is fairly specific, the material legend varies from indistinct to entirely vague. The cedar decking is made of stained driftwood, while the pergola has no specific wood variety indicated. Grass is listed here, but whether they’re recommending a seeded lawn or artificial turf is unclear. The materiality of “Pool & Spa”, and the meaning of the numbers beside each item remains a mystery to us.
Still, all this considered, we admit that we were initially impressed. Certainly this was nowhere near as bad as we were dreading. It was a real design including all of the key items the homeowner wanted, in the modern style they requested. On its face, it seemed fine. From here, we moved into the 3D renderings.
We will always give credit where credit is due, and for a $300 price tag, the quality of these 3D renderings met and even somewhat exceeded our expectations. They match what is detailed in the 2D layout, they are clear and easy to follow, include all design elements, and even include a fairly decent rendering of the client’s home.
The design, shown in the above image carousel, is shown from multiple angles and vantage points, and the designer has taken the time to bring all elements, including plants, to life. Flipping through the carousel below, there’s not a whole lot we can fault them on in terms of quality of renderings.
Of course, this isn’t the end of the story. While we didn’t actually plan to use the designs that we received, we imagine that most customers do. And while there were a handful of things we appreciated about the designs we received, further inspection unraveled a whole host of problems that would be meaningful to any client intending on using ShrubHub’s design concepts.
The Follow Up
After receiving their designers, the homeowner was curious about additional steps, revisions, and next steps that ShrubHub offered clients after designs were delivered. While “shopping the design”, we were curious about the process of actually purchasing products featured in the design. To test this, our client looked into ordering plants. They found that a minimum purchase amount for any ShrubHub order was $800. And in most cases, this amount is not nearly enough to cover all the plants listed in the homeowner’s design.
The homeowner scheduled a follow up call with ShrubHub to talk more about purchasing plants and ask some questions about the varieties suggested in the design. Again, the individual on the other end of the call was on time, polite, and seemed to do their best to navigate our questions. He confirmed that the minimum order amount was $800, suggested some questionable alternatives to a few plants featured in our design, and admitted that he was an administrator for ShrubHub–not a working designer.
Other follow up items to note are that, while ShrubHub notes that they will connect or provide you with a list of local contractors who can build your design, this list never came. While we aren’t sure exactly who would have been on this list, or the reputability of the people ShrubHub works with, not receiving this list could be a major setback for those who are really looking to move on their design. Having the plan ready to go is only so helpful if you are at a complete loss of who to call.
Today, our homeowners have still not received their list of suggested contractors. Overall, this full experience has given us an up-close look at this service that has exploded in popularity and presence in the last few years. Our curiosity has been satisfied, and we feel ready to give our thoughts about whether or not Shrubhub is worth your money.
What We Liked About ShrubHub
Before we get into our major issues with ShrubHub’s designs, we want to take a second to review some of the high points of the process and designs as a whole. As stated earlier, our experience with the platform was fairly seamless. The backend of the website functioned smoothly, we were connected with a designer quickly, and our wait time was within expectations.
In terms of the designs, we appreciated that the designer on the project took into account our client’s wishlist. There are no missing elements, and the homeowner’s personal aesthetic was considered as well. The 2D design is clear and navigable, and the 3D renderings do their job of bringing the space to life.
It’s clear that someone with real design knowledge worked on this project. While perhaps not everything is to our taste, we do feel that what was received could serve as great inspiration to show homeowners what is possible in their space. Essentially, we appreciate what was delivered as more of a design inspiration, or a jumping off point.
All in all, our positive ShrubHub review includes the site’s:
Ease of Use
Timeliness of Design Delivery
Low Initial Cost
Overall appearance of 2D/3D designs
However, dig any further than surface level inspiration, and major issues begin to appear.
The Biggest Issues With Our Shrubhub Experience
When you have been primed to expect the worst, anything above those low expectations is exciting. However, the longer we looked at the designs we received, the more issues we began to scope out.
The very first major issue we noticed with the designs we received were regarding the dimensions. When you begin this process, ShrubHub asks you to deliver exacting measurements of your backyard space so that your designer can properly scale your designs. We took these measurements on behalf of our client and delivered these numbers to the designer.
Upon receiving the 2D rendering, it quickly became apparent that the dimensions that were given were not the dimensions that were used. While the numbers are close, they aren’t the ones we delivered. This means that essentially nothing in the design is at a comparable scale. To be used, the dimensions would have to be reworked, demanding additional time and energy.
Ignoring Essential Design Regulations
Speaking of dimensions, there are some instances where incorrect dimensions will absolutely make or break the viability of the project. Instances where dimensions are not a matter of design, but a hard and fast matter of rules and regulations are one of them. So when we realized that our designer had failed to adhere to one of the most important dimensional regulations there is, the viability of these designs all but disappeared.
When designing an outdoor space, it is required that features must be set 5 feet from the perimeter of the yard. If you look closely at the designs our ShrubHub designer delivered, this rule was not accounted for. The pool is mocked up at around 3.5 feet from the back edge of the yard, and the grill at an even closer distance to the perimeter. The pergola seems to spring directly from the backyard’s edge. This is no small issue.
Failing to account for these required distances when initially designing the space means that every element in this design will have to be moved and adjusted before the layout can be approved. And in landscape design, every feature that you move has a ripple effect on the rest of the space. Bumping the pool inwards affects its relationship to the deck. Bringing in the grill and pergola means adjusting their surroundings to accommodate.
At the end of the day, it’s apparent our ShrubHub designer either was not aware of this universal design regulation, or simply failed to take it into account. Either way, failure to heed it means that the designs that were delivered would need to be fully adjusted and rescaled before being used as a reference or guide for contractors.
Poorly Thought Out Design Choices
Earlier in this ShrubHub review, we stated that the overall design of the space felt on par with what the homeowner was looking for elementally and stylistically. This is still true. However, the longer we looked at the design we received, the more questions we had about the reasoning behind some of what was proposed.
Examples of under or undeveloped design can be seen all around the space. The pool, while modern, features a stair entrance that is cramped at the back of the property. The correct number of steps leading out of the home and into the space has been ignored entirely. An enormous Virginia Pine has been poorly situated between the pool and the house.
Speaking of the pool, it is positioned beneath a major power line that was pointed out by the homeowners in their initial images of the space. Even the materiality seems varied without purpose; the stone in the feature wall, retaining walls, and the proposed concrete of the outdoor kitchen all differ giving the design a lack of continuity.
One of the most interesting and baffling design missteps is in regards to the deck. Most of the deck is divided from the space by a continuous railing. However, this continuity is broken in favor of a small area, graded down from the rest of the deck by a single step. The purpose of this lowered area is unclear. While the designer has rendered some cushions, using this small space as seating or a tanning deck feels strange and impractical. Not only is there no way to exit this space that doesn’t involve going back the way you came, but we can’t imagine that many people would enjoy dangling their legs into a swath of proposed landscaping.
Essentially, while the overall aesthetic of the design delivered on point, the actual functionality and intent behind the layout, materiality, and details of features feels sloppy or rushed in some places, and completely accidental or random in others.
Where are ShrubHub’s products sourced?
One of the biggest complaints online about Shrubhub as a company is their seeming lack of transparency. Admittedly, we had not been unfortunate enough to encounter some of the worst claims. Our designer was on time to our scheduled call. We received our designs within the allotted time. The plants, while poorly positioned and a bit one-note, were all geographically appropriate for a Richmond, VA landscape design.
However, the more we have interacted with ShrubHub as a company, the more eyebrows we have raised. One of the best instances of this is in regards to ShrubHub’s product lists. A proposed benefit of working with ShrubHub is the “shopping list” they give you alongside your finished design. The idea is that, if you like what you see, you can directly shop Shrubhub’s list.
Our clients were interested in how this would work and moved to purchase a few plants utilized in the design. However, the homeowners quickly realized that simply buying a few plants off of ShrubHub’s list wasn’t possible. In fact, the company has a minimum purchase amount of $800 dollars.
This number took us aback when we heard it. Not only did this seem like an incredibly high barrier to entry, but ShrubHub provided no insight into where this $800 of plants would be coming from. High shipping costs suggest that they were not from local nurseries, but there was no indication of where they were coming from either. In fact, there was no easy way to verify where any of Shrubhub’s recommended products were sourced.
The client asked several times where their plants and materials would be sourced from. After a little bit of prodding, the ShrubHub representative on the other end of the call suggested that all plants and products were ShrubHub branded, shipped from the company’s own nurseries.
Still, from trees and shrubs to furniture sets, shopping ShrubHub’s list feels like a shot in the dark. We can’t imagine that any wary consumer would feel comfortable spending a minimum of $800 on items they can’t assess for quality.
Our Final Thoughts
All of this being said, our final ShrubHub review does not quite align with the worst of what is seen across online forums, but is by no means glowing. Did the client receive a design that was in line with their wants and needs for the space? Yes. Did it arrive in the allotted time? It did. Was the quality of the 2D design and the 3D renderings acceptable? We think so.
We can see how a homeowner would receive this design deck and think they made a great choice opting for a low budget alternative to a local, professional landscape design company. However, once you scratch the surface of the design, ShrubHub’s usefulness as a service begins to fall apart.
While the design delivered can absolutely serve as an inspirational jumping off point, it is nearly impossible to use as a literal blueprint. Not only do many of the proposed design points make little functional sense, but even if they did, no seasoned contractor would build this design with the coding and dimensions as presented. This means that at the end of the day, the homeowners have spent $300 on a design they must pay another designer to rework or simply use as inspiration.
The alternative to this is even more concerning to think about. Say these designs are received by homeowners on a budget who are looking to DIY their project, or hire cheap contractors to complete the space. We shudder to think of a scenario where elements such as the pool, pergola, and kitchen are all constructed as shown in the 2D design, only for the city to come in and announce that all the time, money, and effort has been a waste because their new pool isn't far enough away from the property line and has a powerline running overhead.
So, is ShrubHub worth it? It depends on your expectations.
At the end of the day, we think ShrubHub may be a realistic option in a limited handful of scenarios. This includes:
Homeowners looking for design inspiration, personalized to their space
Clients with short, simple, or limited wishlists
If you are not relying on the designs delivered to serve as a 1:1 blueprint for how your backyard will be brought to life, then spending $300 on a design that is fit to your specific space might make sense. However, based on both our experience and the consensus of others online, it seems unrealistic to expect that the design you are delivered will be able to be given directly to contractors without meaningful revisions and a professional review.
Additionally, the less complicated the design, the higher your chance for success. Pools and outdoor kitchens are nuanced, intricate, and introduce a wider range of rules and regulations to a space. However, if all you’re looking for is a simple patio and some upgraded landscaping, it’s harder for even a less experienced designer to create a design that is completely unusable.
When to Skip ShrubHub
By the end of this experience, we came to the conclusion that ShrubHub’s main goal is less about designing great spaces, and more about delivering designs just compelling enough to prompt homeowners to order plants or additional products.
Of course, the goal of any company is to make money. But this heightened focus on prompting customers to purchase expensive plants or outdoor furniture only subtracts from the integrity of their overall design prowess. After all, if your designers only have to put in enough attention to convince and unseasoned homeowners to buy $800 worth of Green Giant Arborvitae, then important things like viability of the pool you designed are bound to get missed.
Among what lacks in ShrubHub’s designs are clear design intention, attention to scale and detail, and an overall awareness of general contracting rules and regulations. All of this makes ShrubHub a reasonable deal for a very slim sample of people. In order to benefit from this particular digital design service, you have to be happy with the notion that you may be paying $300 for a bit of compelling design “inspo”, rather than a real plan you can hand off to a contractor.
However, if you’re looking for something especially thoughtful, actionable, or instructive, we just can’t give our seal of approval. Thankfully, when it comes to more affordable remote landscaping, consumers’ options are greater than ShrubHub. Sites like YardZen or Tilly boast better general reviews. Sure, they’re a bit more expensive, but if you’re looking for a design you can use, that’s money worth spending.
You Get What You Pay For
As with most things in life, our experience with ShrubHub has led us to believe in the classic phrase “you get what you pay for”. If $300 sounds too good to be true to deliver a seamless, workable landscape design that includes all your individual preferences, wants, and needs, then it probably is. If you’re serious about moving forward with an upscale, customized outdoor living space, you’re better off spending your money with a local designer you can trust.
You’ll pay more, but more often than not the result will be a usable design that has clear intention, style, and is up to the codes and regulations in your area. Not to mention these designers can help connect you with contractors who can help bring their designs to life, and there is a significantly lower risk of manipulative upselling, ghosting, and $800 minimum plant purchases from ambiguous sources.
We went into this ShrubHub review expecting the very worst. While no point of our experience is what could be classified as a horror story, it also is not something we would recommend for the vast majority of people. We hope at least some part of this in depth review was helpful to you, and that relaying our experience can help other homeowners make a judgment call before they spend their hard earned money.
Check Out Our Blog
For more honest reviews, design advice, FAQ's, and project walkthroughs check out our blog. For daily design inspiration, follow Water and Earth on Instagram.