Who is a landscape designer? Better yet, who is not? It seems every nursery, landscape contractor, and even a few public agencies spout their services for landscape design, making it difficult to sort through the imposters to find a landscape designer who is legit; that is, experienced and knowledgeable, with the ability to create a true landscape plan that is beautiful and meets the homeowners’ specific needs. So first let’s weed out the pretenders.
There is no such thing as free design. Bold headlines in the newspaper and elsewhere proclaim “free design”, most often supplied by certain plant nurseries but also by a few landscape contractors as well. These “designers” are typically either salesmen or new and inexperienced in the trade, with the ultimate goal of selling you products rather than producing the best design possible for you and your property. I witnessed the installation of one of these “free” designs recently: amounting to a large tree surrounded by large bed of garish color of lantana. That was it, an entire front yard with two species of plants. A well-thought out landscape design for a property, even a small-space, takes days if not weeks of work and effort on the part of skilled landscape designers. So the idea of getting a comprehensive, thorough landscape plan for free, one that installers can read and successfully implement, is not reality.
Landscape Contractor as Designer. Again, a free design from a landscape contractor should set off some of the same red flags. In other words, the client receives a plan without originality that is not well thought out. This type of plan can often leave out pertinent information, including detailed plant choices and description, and types of materials used. As mentioned, if the contractor is actually offering these plans for free, they are not spending the time necessary to create a well thought out plan. On the positive side, some landscape contractors hire landscape designers or even landscape architects to work in-house or independently, and charge their clients a reasonable fee for the design work. This can be a good way to get a decent design if you like and feel comfortable with the contractor and designer. I have worked with contractors this way in the past, and it works well as long as the contractor allows the designer the freedom to create his or her own plan independently.
Government Agencies, Books, Classes. There are some possibilities here for do-it-yourselfers. Still all these options have certain limitations. The water districts are currently offering landscape design services to a limited number of customers. This could be a viable option for those who don’t mind installing what the Water Company considers a desirable landscape. Landscape design books are a good source of information, including my own book on design, in helping direct the do-it-yourself designer that has a good design sense. Likewise local community college classes are a good choice for those homeowners willing to invest the time. Any of these options may have merit, still an on-site consultation from an independent landscape designer would be extremely beneficial for anyone attempting to go it on their own with any of these last options.
Now that the less desirable options for landscape design have been discussed, check back next week for the pros and cons of working with different types of design pros.