HOW TO WORK WITH
YOUR LANDSCAPE DESIGNER
by Joelle Steele
A landscape designer creates a landscape that is planned for aesthetically-pleasing growth and development, an environment which you and your family can enjoy and admire for years to come. Hiring a landscape designer is one of the best things you can do to ensure that your landscape will be attractive, that it will complement the architecture of your house, and that it will make your home an asset to the neighborhood. A landscape designer will also be practical about how they design your landscape so that it can be easily maintained by you or by whomever you may hire to do it for you.
LANDSCAPE DESIGNER VS. LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT
There is a considerable difference between a landscape designer and a landscape architect. They both do landscape design, but a landscape architect is trained to do more than just design. A landscape architect is what you need if you have either a very large project with many complex built (hardscape) design elements (e.g., pools, tennis courts, outdoor kitchens, etc.), or if there are safety issues to be addressed (e.g., drainage, slope management, etc.). But, if you're just looking for a new or revised design of an existing landscape, possibly with the design of small architectural features such as ponds or pergolas, a landscape designer will probably suit your needs just fine.
THE DESIGN PROCESS
Designs and re-designs both begin with the same approach. The landscape designer will meet with you to assess your existing landscape (or the bare dirt surrounding your new home), and to discuss your landscape needs, aesthetic requirements, and budgetary concerns. Designers need to know how you are going to use the space, so you should tell them if you have children or pets, if you like to entertain, if you want privacy, what kinds of plants you like, if you want a pond, a deck, a rose garden, etc. This information helps the designer work with you to establish a reasonable and workable budget for the ultimate installation of the project. Also, you should let your designer know if you are going to maintain the landscape yourself or hire a service to do it for you. Maintenance costs should always be considered by a designer when they are creating your landscape.
With re-designs of existing landscapes, your landscape designer will often recommend an initial clean-up. It is often the case that many landscapes are suffering primarily from neglect or inadequate maintenance, and a clean-up can make a significant improvement in the overall appearance of your landscape and also will help the designer get a better sense of what needs to be done. Such a clean-up can involve, but is not limited to, extensive weeding, removal of dead or unwanted plant materials, fertilization and amendments to the soil, and pruning and trimming of shrubs and trees.
Your landscape designer will make sketches, take some preliminary measurements, and may photograph the landscape after the clean-up is done. In this way, they don't have to rely on memory alone to remind them of what is where on the property. They will first begin their design by utilizing any existing plant materials, possibly designating that some shrubs or trees be relocated to areas more appropriate to their needs and aesthetic appeal. After that, they will create a schematic (a detailed sketch) of your existing landscape and where they recommend placing new materials. The schematic will come with a list of plant options for those new materials based on their suitability to the existing landscape and the growing environment, as well as to your tastes, wants, and budget as previously discussed with the designer in your initial meeting. In addition, if there are any built elements, such as a pond, deck, or dog run, your designer will include some small sketches of those features, possibly with some construction details.
Your designer will meet with you to discuss the schematic plan and to make any last-minute adjustments to that plan to obtain your approval. Once you have approved it, the designer will work with you, your landscape contractor of choice, or a design/build landscape company with which the designer is affiliated, to ensure that the design is implemented to your satisfaction. The designer will probably assist you in the selection of plants and overseeing the installation.
Most landscape designers charge on an hourly basis for design, consultation, plant selection, and oversight of the clean-up and installation. The cost can be as little as a few hundred dollars for a simple landscape or re-design, and could be thousands of dollars for larger projects. You may be paying the landscape designer directly, or their costs may be included in the installation fees if they work for or with a design/build landscape contractor who bills for them.
Every good landscape starts with a carefully thought-out design plan. If you want the very best results for your landscape, hiring a landscape designer can set you on the right path. It's a wise decision and one you won't ever regret.
This article last updated: 06/21/1995.