Choosing a Landscape Architect

Landscape architect plan
Choosing a landscape architect to design a garden or a landscape for you is a daunting task. There seem to be hundreds of companies to design whatever you want. I can frame some of the questions you should ask before you  get quotes. Keep in mind that such firms are in business to make money, and their natural tendency is to make as large a project as possible. A clear definition of what you want to do and a realistic budget can help smooth the process. Your first line of refinement questions should be:
  1. what exactly do I want from my landscape?  Be incredibly specific about the feel and result you want to get out of the finished landscape, ( shade, sun, grass, water features, stone areas, vegetable gardens, etc.)
  2. what is your budget ?  Have you priced some of the items you want ?
  3. are your expectations realistic for the money you want to spend ? 
  4. have you researched the plants you want to install ?
  5. have you visited other public or private gardens to get ideas ? Photographs help define your interests.
  6. do you want a garden enhancement or a full re-work of the area, including irrigation and drainage?
  7. have you "looked into the future" to predict how the trees and plants will look in 5 years?
  8. do you plan to be at that house for a long time ? If not, then the design may change to reflect the short-term ownership. Many designers like top pack a lot of plants into small spaces for the finished look the day it is completed, but the long term maintenance of overly dense landscapes is a big problem.  
  9. do you really need a landscape architect, or just a good landscape contractor ? The price will differ markedly, just as with a building architect versus a building contractor.
  10. Many landscapes need a reduction in plantings, and perhaps a change-out of plants to reduce maintenance. Sometimes you need to look at what to remove and not what to add.     
These are basic questions to ask before you get quotes on a landscape with a hefty price tag, plus a set of plans written by a qualified architect. Certified Landscape Architects have the initials CLA after their name, or ASLA ( American Society of Landscape Architects). The training and education requirements are long and comprehensive, so be prepared for a price tag commensurate with the experience.
Landscape architect plan graphic

Landscape architects are trained in many facets of landscaping, including details such as drainage, composition, electrical and irrigation installation, landscape lighting, pools, aquatic areas, elevation problems, urban landscape laws and many others. Landscape Designers are usually concerned with just plants and landscapes, sometimes diversifying into "hardscape" items like lighting and ponds. A Landscape Designer may be just what you need for a garden enhancement, as opposed to the more structured training of a credentialed architect.

Computer graphic landscape design

In short, an architect may be the perfect person or firm to hire for a landscape with multiple details, or for a full scale re-design. A Landscape Designer may be the right person for a garden area or enhancement project, and a qualified landscape contractor will help with installations of pre-set plants, providing installation services plus guaranteed survivability. Choosing the right person for the right size job is as important as choosing the right plant for the right place.

     Craig Morell
     Pinecrest Gardens      
Landscape design, small scale


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