Many people don’t know that there is a difference between a landscape architect and a landscape designer. The quick response is that landscape architecture is a licensed profession that is regulated by a central registration body at the national level and administered at the state level. A landscape architecture degree is typically 5 years, followed by an internship. A landscape designer often has a 2-4 year degree in ornamental horticulture or landscape design. They also tend to have more experience installing and maintaining landscapes as well as knowledge about the best plants to choose for a specific site.
1. Landscape architects polish their skills in school by working on large civil or corporate projects. They spend a lot of time studying large scale space planning and hardscape. Landscape designers often specialize in intimate, residential landscape construction.
2. An educated, experienced landscape designer often has a more intimate, thorough knowledge of local conditions and plants. A 2 year landscape design degree often requires 4 different plant identification classes. A 5 year landscape architecture degree usually only requires 2 plant identification classes.
3. Something landscape architects don’t want to emphasize- they’re usually much more expensive. A landscape architect often charges by the ‘sheet’. A ‘sheet’ refers to a single page in a plan packet. It’s not unusual for a landscape architect to charge over $1000 per sheet. Depending on the L.A.’s approach to a project, they may want to provide separate sheets for grading, hardscape, irrigation, lighting and planting. Often landscape designers operate by providing straight quote for the design process or they charge by design hour. A simple equation to keep in mind- don’t spend more than 10% of your entire project budget on design (whether it’s a landscape architect or a landscape designer providing your plans).
4. Do some research through your municipality before you contact a landscape designer or architect. Many cities have areas that are designated ‘slide sensitive’ or ‘critical’. A city may require engineered or architectural plans and permits before you’re allowed to work in those areas. Also, if your site requires large scale retaining or roofed structures you may want to start with a landscape architect. In all these cases a landscape architect will generally have a CAD program and familiarity with the local building codes. Not only do permits often require an engineers or architects stamp, the CAD plans can simplify the city review & permit process.
No matter what the accreditation a person claims, do your research. Talk to family and friends about their projects- who ‘designed’ them, how did the installation go and how are things maturing? Don’t hesitate to ask a designer or landscape architect for personal references and gardens/projects that you can drive by. Don’t be fooled by fancy titles. Experience is key. As we often say, the proof is in the planting!