While most developers and planners of commercial, governmental and institutional design projects well understand the importance and role of a landscape architect, many homeowners do not.
What is a landscape architect?
In nearly all states, including Maryland, an individual cannot call themselves a landscape architect, or practice landscape architecture without a license. Landscape architects are trained to deal directly with health safety and welfare issues and must pass an exam in order to be licensed to practice. This is the difference between a “garden designer” or “landscape designer” and a licensed landscape architect. A garden designer can certainly assist you with planting plans, but if your project is more complicated, or requires an understanding of the work of other licensed professionals such as architects and engineers, you should obtain the services of a licensed landscape architect. For example if your planned project will include working with architects or engineers, possible changes in grade, patio or terrace design, deck design, retaining wall location and design, swimming pools and spas, drainage design and management, or difficult site issues, you should consult a landscape architect.
Why not just get a contractor to do the design and construction?
Your outdoor environment is an extension of your personal home. The landscape architect will take the time necessary to custom design the project for your lifestyle, including how you use your property. The landscape architect will work with you, and will explore options and materials for you to consider that may not occur to a contractor. He or she will examine your property and home, determine views that should be highlighted or screened, determine sun and shade conditions, and examine such things as existing materials, existing site conditions, and opportunities for sustainable design. Your landscape architect will not have a “model” that they would like to use on your site simply because it has worked elsewhere.
How to choose a landscape architect for your project.
While many landscape architects are generalists, whose practice includes both commercial and residential work, it makes sense to engage a landscape architect who has completed projects similar to the work you are contemplating. Interview several and ask questions regarding similar work, references, and compensation expected for the proposed work. If you are interviewing a larger firm, make sure that your project will be given proper attention and that the design work will be completed by the individual you are interviewing rather than being handed off to staff. If you are considering a smaller firm, confirm that they have the resources and schedule to complete your project in a timely manner. The design process involves a great deal of communication between the client and the landscape architect, pick someone who listens to you, and with whom you feel comfortable. Ask how the prospect would approach your particular project. In the interview the landscape architect should outline the entire design process for you, and clearly state what services are included. Have a general budget in mind during the interviews as this is one of the questions that will be asked.