The Art and Science of Landscape Design

5 minutes reading time (989 words)

Working with Landscape Professionals Some Guidelines:


Who to look for?
Review “Defining Landscape Professionals” to appreciate the range of individuals and expertise involved in this field. Who you need to work with will depend upon what kind of project you have in mind. If you are looking to fill in a few spots in the garden or plant some containers a visit to a local garden center may suffice. Designing and installing a flourishing landscape, however, often requires a knowledge of design, installation techniques and materials that is beyond the scope of the average homeowner.

If you are planning to install or renovate an existing garden, professional help can save you money and heartache. Good designers have extensive plant knowledge and experience with material and installation that can help you update and maintain your landscape. If you have larger plans—installing a patio, building a deck, adding lights and large trees and shrubs—find an experienced designer who has managed projects of this scope. Some designers develop plans for the client and then leave the installation details to a separate contractor. In most cases, even if the designer does not install the garden, they work with the client and contractor to insure that the finished project matches the specifications on the plans. Today, most firms are design\build, meaning they handle the design and installation of the project from start to finish.

How to prepare for your project?
Understand the needs and dreams involved in your design objectives. What is the scope of your project? What kind of challenges do you face: space, accessibility, sun\shade, soil, and budget? Take pictures and note the addresses of gardens you like. It will help you develop your own ideas and give direction to your designer. A good designer will listen to your goals and preferences and help you make the best decisions about the investment. Remember, a well designed landscape saves money, saves resources, and saves the homeowner from disappointment.

How to find a Landscape Professional?
Ask for referrals. Notice existing landscapes in your neighborhood. There is no better advertising than an existing garden. Our member database can help you find professionals who work in your area. Many company websites showcase past projects and describe their service profile.

What should I expect from a Landscape Professional?
A good designer will help you refine your needs and realize your goals for the project. They should have questions for you that you did not consider before the project. They will introduce ideas and options you may not have considered before the project. Expect a professional to have a portfolio of past projects that you can review and possibly visit. Look for professional affiliations with organizations like LDA, American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), or the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association (ILCA), Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD), Midwest Ecological Landscape Association (MELA), Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG), Morton Arboretum (MA) and Master Gardener program. Many professionals continue to take courses and continue their professional development at programs and workshops organized by these associations. Visit our Program History [LINK] to see the kinds of programs LDA members have enjoyed in the past years.
If you decide to install a project with a professional, confirm their references and that they are properly insured to protect you and their employees on site.

What should I expect to spend on my project?
There is no simple answer to this question. There are many different variables involved in a design build project. A project may involve extensive design time, permitting fees and coordination with other contractors before a spade hits the dirt. There is wide a range of material choices, standards and costs. A well designed and installed project is often no less complicated than remodeling a kitchen or bathroom. In new construction on a standard suburban lot, a rule of thumb is to expect to spend at least five to ten percent on the landscape. A well built landscape is an investment in the value of your home and pleasure you take in it. A good designer can work within your budget and help you set priorities. Often a landscape project can be installed in stages. In such cases, having a good plan is the foundation of a successful project. Don’t wait to contact a landscape professional until the end of your (re)building project. An experienced designer will help you maximize the investments you made in the house and the transition to the outdoor space.

Should I expect to pay for a design?
Yes. The question is when and in what context. Every designer and firm handles this issue differently. Some charge a flat fee for a limited design scope or charge an hourly rate for design work. If you are simply looking for a design with a plan and specifications, expect to pay for the time and experience involved in preparing the information. Once you have a plan, you can take this information to other contractors or install the work yourself. Many design build firms assume the design fees upfront and expect to recoup their investment upon installation of the project. These firms may not charge for a quote or assess a modest retainer as part of the design process. They will consider most of the information in the design to be proprietary.

What are you paying for when you buy a design?
You are paying for imagination, experience, time. A good design and installation involves many talents and experience with design principles, soils, plant characteristics, materials and installation techniques. A competent design will involve listening to the client and providing creative solutions to installation challenges. A good plan will analyze the property and develop a site plan appropriate to the conditions and goals of the client. Experienced designers will know what kinds of elements blend durability and beauty together. Often, paying for a good design is the best investment you can make in the project.

Remember, a well designed landscape saves money, saves resources, and protects your investment.


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April 07, 2020

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Our members are from diverse types of businesses in the landscape world. Our base membership is comprised of landscape designers and architects, many of whom are also contractors. We also have other members who offer services to designers and architects: irrigation, carpentry, lighting, nurseries . . . Collaboration among our members is common. We develop relationships with other members and suppliers during planned networking at our programs. Having face-to-face time with suppliers and other specialists produces better relationships and more reliable work.