Working the San Diego area as a landscape consultant and designer, I find many prospective clients confused when considering the different types of design professionals available. In my last post, I discussed the low end of the professional design spectrum, the so-called “free” design services that attract the eye but often have a catch. Once homeowners discover the drawbacks and limitations of these so-called “free services”, they may be forced to begin their search for a designer again, this time attempting to sort through the lists of independent professionals who charge for their design and consultation services. The goal: finding a designer without any motive other than producing a plan for a beautiful and practical outdoor living space.
So who is a legitimate landscape designer? Like any other profession, independent design pros often have a wide range of education, experience, and accolades. In California, landscape designers specialize in residential landscapes. Landscape architects draft plans for both commercial and residential projects, from landscapes for skyscrapers and business parks, to commercial projects, to single-family homes. California state law limits landscape designers, as well as some related professionals, in the amount of detail they can provide on their plans to detailed planting and irrigation plans, as well as hardscape plans where features are adequately shown and described, but not fully detailed. Landscape designers are required to work with appropriately licensed pros to add comprehensive grading, drainage, and fully detailed hardscape plans to their services.
The Association of Professional Landscape Designers, an international organization with a thriving chapter in San Diego, has attempted to categorize the levels of design expertise homeowners can expect from a landscape designer. The APLD divides its membership into three basic categories (not including student): Emerging Professional (less than 3 years experience), Professional (more than three years experience without documentation), and Qualified Professional (more than 3 years of verified experience). Additionally, a separate, higher status exists for Qualified Professionals who can pass a rigorous certification program and be listed as Certified Design Professionals.
In essence, the APLD feels it necessary for a designer to have at least three years of full-time experience to successfully develop landscape plans as a professional. Throw in all the complexities and caveats of each particular area within San Diego County, and homeowners are wise to pick amongst the most experienced of designers.
Most importantly, pick someone you feel comfortable with in carrying out your vision.