Before you begin a landscaping project, there’s one question you need to ask yourself, what type of landscape design professional do I need for my project?
The answer to that question mostly depends on the size of your project. Unless it is fairly simple and limited in scope, you’re going to want to be sure to speak with a landscape architect first. Here’s why.
Landscape Architect, Landscape Designer, or Garden Designer?
Should we hire a landscape architect or a landscape designer? Before you can decide, you need to understand the differences between the three types of landscape design professionals. Although portions of their expertise and training overlap, each design professional has a specialized area of focus, and you want to be sure you choose the one that is best suited to your project.
A landscape architect is registered as a Professional Landscape Architect (PLA) and licensed by the state in which they practice. They may also be a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). They have training in site analysis & engineering that enables them to identify and resolve complex grading and drainage issues. They have expertise in construction methods and materials for hardscaping and structures and possess extensive knowledge of plant materials in regards to local ecosystems.
A landscape designer is an expert at designing hardscape features such as patios, retaining walls, and walkways. They are also skilled at plant selection and building structures such as fences, arbors, and pergolas. They may have a degree in landscape architecture, but they do not yet have a license from the state.
A garden designer is focused primarily on horticulture. Their skills lie in designing, planning, and installing garden plants. They are best at designing the layout for planting areas, selecting plant varieties, and focusing on the artistic and sensual characteristics of a garden.
Benefits of Hiring a Landscape Architect
College degrees and licensing credentials are by no means a guarantee of talent. That being said, a landscape architect is trained to be the most thorough evaluator of a site. They weigh the challenges and opportunities available on your entire property to create a master landscape plan that ensures your home and outdoor spaces work together harmoniously.
Assuming that talent and creativity are evident in the architect’s design portfolio and in the ideas they discuss with you, here are some of the benefits you can expect a landscape architect to bring to your project:
1 Master Design Plan
A landscape architect can help you see both the big picture and fine details to create a landscape master plan that takes all your dreams and ideas and transform them into a finished, well-balanced pièce de résistance. Their value is in their ability to break down your landscape into the key elements that make up the whole.
2 Overcoming Site Complications
A landscape architect is capable of creative problem solving when faced with a complicated site. Steep slopes may have to be terraced or worked creatively into a design. There may be mature trees that must be preserved and fruit trees or large shrubs that need to be moved to a better location. A landscape architect can fully assess your site for what can be preserved, replaced, or moved.
3 Grading and Drainage
Before you can plant the first perennial bed or lay down your first slab of bluestone, you need an expert grading and drainage plan. While you’ll never see this work, it must be done if you want your landscape to thrive. Proper drainage will keep rainwater from pooling on your hardscape surfaces and creating a nuisance. And it ensures your plants get the moisture they need without drowning them. Adjustments to grading are often critical to get all the features you want in your landscape to lay out properly.
4 New House
If you are building a new house, a landscape architect can assist the residential architect to strategically position the house on the lot. They consider multiple viewpoints when assessing how a house will relate to its surroundings by analyzing existing grades, sun exposure, and asking how you expect to spend your time in the various outdoor spaces.
Finally, a landscape architect’s trained eye will heighten the visual impact of your front yard by determining an approach to the property that shows off the house and makes the front entry inviting.
Does It Cost More to Work with a Landscape Architect?
Sometimes, yes. It depends on whether your landscape architect works for a “design-only” landscape architecture firm or landscape design-build firm.
If you hire an architect from a design-only landscape architecture firm (no construction services), you’ll often pay a premium. They start at a higher price point for design services because that’s all they do. And some people are okay with that because, once they have the design, they can shop it around to different landscape contractors to get pricing for the implementation. There will be a range of cost estimates depending on how accurately the different contractors interpret the design and how they do their pricing. This approach leaves you open to a greater margin of error.
The advantage of working with an architect from a landscape design-build firm is that one company—specializing in landscape architecture and construction and project management—will be accountable for all parts of your project from start to finish. And their cost estimates can be extremely accurate because they are already anticipating construction/implementation requirements while they are developing the design.
In either case, a landscape architect is best equipped to evaluate the assets and challenges of your property and work with those characteristics to develop a landscape design that accomplishes your goals. Unless your project is limited in scope, it is to your advantage to speak with a landscape architect.
If you’ve been thinking about investing in a landscape design project, our eBook: Expert Guide to Planning the Landscape Design of Your Dreams, is full of valuable information to help you get started.