How to Hire a Landscape Architect

Landscape Design, Schmechtig Landscapes

How to Hire a Landscape Architect

Find the best fit for your landscaping project with this guide to evaluating and selecting a professional landscape company from Falon Mihalic, a Houzz contributor.  Each neighorhood has a landscape that stands out, with lush manicured green lawns, colorful container flower pot displays and gardens that are meticulously maintained and catch your eye.  Think about the possibilities for your own home’s landscape. Do you need a full-service landscape company, who will be your one-stop shop sprucing up and maintaining your landscape weekly with lawn care and garden weeding and edging, including all irrigation, lighting, lawn fertilization, plant fertilization, pruning, tree care and more? Here are Falon’s thoughts on how do you know if a landscape architect is right for your outdoor landscape project and how do you hire the best landscape architect design company for you?


Backyard Landscape Design Including Outdoor Kitchen, Outdoor See-Thru Fireplace to Outdoor Dinning and Living Room, Schmechtig Landscapes HGTV Award


When Do You Need to Hire a Landscape Architect?

There is a lot of discussion on Houzz about the differences between landscape architects and landscape designers. The skills and expertise of designers and landscape architects vary widely, so I will stick to defining them based on legal definitions.

The difference between the two, by law, is that a landscape architect is regulated and licensed. There are times when you must hire a landscape architect to comply with local regulations.

Some examples things that require using a landscape architect:
◦Grading plans and site drainage design. Landscape architects are licensed to draw grading plans and can submit sealed grading plans as part of a permit application package.
◦Retaining wall design. This also varies by location. A new retaining wall might require prior approval, and the drawings need to be sealed by a landscape architect, an architect or a professional engineer, depending on the height of the wall, footing type and soil conditions.
◦Landscape plans and drawings that require a seal by a licensed landscape architect for permit approval. Again, this varies widely, depending on local regulations.
◦Sensitive sites and special conditions. Another example of when a landscape architect should be involved is if your property is located within a floodplain or contains protected wetlands, or if the proposed work requires altering a public right of way. These special conditions usually have stricter regulations and are more likely to require landscape drawings that are sealed by a landscape architect.
This is not an exhaustive list of circumstances for hiring a landscape architect. Consult your local department of building regulations and your homeowner’s association rules to determine whether your project requires a landscape architect.


Landscape Design, Outdoor Sunken Patio, Lake Bluff, Illinois, Schmechtig Landscape


Why a landscape design-build firm may be right for you?
Define Your Project’s Parameters

Before you begin your search for a landscape architect, establish the parameters for your project. When you have a clear idea of what you want, you will be able to convey this to the landscape architect and choose the best professional based on your needs.

What is your budget? It could be $5,000 or $500,000. Be realistic about how much money you can spend on the project.

What is the scope of work? Are you imagining an entire overhaul, or do you want to focus on a particular area? It’s helpful to print out an aerial photo of your property or mark up a photocopy of your plat of survey (scaled drawing of your property) to outline a specific area for the scope of work.

What are your priorities? Think of the big-picture things you want to achieve with your project. You may want to increase your property value, change your space to accommodate a growing family or have the saltwater pool of your dreams installed. Make a list of your priorities and have them on hand to discuss with the landscape architect.


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What to know about the concept design phase in a landscape project?
Find the Right Fit for You

What do you value? Get clarity on your values so you can find a landscape architect who shares them and has an aligned design philosophy. Do you value high-end design and upscale materials? Native plants and drought-tolerant gardens? Edible landscapes? A funky, playful garden space for your family? There is a landscape architect out there who specializes in what you value, and your best bet is to find that person or company.

When researching landscape architects on Houzz and reviewing their websites, you will see the same lingo used by many people. Yes, many of us strive to create beautiful places that are sustainable and make our clients happy. Dig deeper and get to the root of landscape architects’ design philosophies by looking carefully at how they describe their work and background. Also spend time reviewing the project descriptions, and jot down a few follow-up questions for when you meet in person. The landscape architect will be pleased that you took the time to thoroughly research his or her work, and it will help to build mutual trust from the outset.


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Set Up an Initial Consultation

Most landscape architects will visit your property and chat with you about your goals and their approach to the work. This initial consultation, or interview, is often free. Know that the landscape architect is interviewing you as much as you are interviewing him or her. Pay attention to how well you communicate with this person. Is the architect a good listener? Do you feel comfortable discussing your project goals and scope of work? You will work closely and have several meetings, and exchange many emails, phone calls and text messages. Make sure you feel that the landscape architect is trustworthy, dependable and professional.


Wilmette, IL. Garden and Pond Landscape Design, Schmechtig Landscapes


Tips for a Productive Initial Consultation

Many clients feel rushed at these first meetings, because they are overflowing with ideas. Don’t worry; you do not need to explain your entire dream and all of the potential challenges at the initial meeting. The initial meeting is just to simply meet and talk. It’s an opportunity for the landscape architect to get an impression of the property, and the main focus is to discuss the kind of work to be done. Your desired outcome for the initial consultation is to determine if the landscape architect is the right person for the job. The dreaming, planning and scheming come later, once you’ve signed a service contract.

Here are some questions to ask the landscape architect at your initial meeting:
◦Have you worked on a project like this before? Look for relevant experience and project examples that are similar to yours.
◦How do you charge for your services? Services can be charged at an hourly rate, with a not-to-exceed amount, or as a lump sum based on the scope of work. A less common method in the landscape profession is to charge as a percentage of construction costs.
◦Can you provide client references? Call references and ask how pleased they were with the design. Also ask about professionalism: Was the landscape architect punctual? Were the lines of communication open? Were issues handled in a professional manner?
◦What do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges for my project? This is an approachable way to understand the landscape architect’s initial reactions to the site. It’s also a great way to learn how the landscape architect thinks through design problems.
Ask to see a portfolio. The projects featured on a firm’s website are usually just a small selection of a larger portfolio of work. Ask the landscape architect to bring along a portfolio of project images. Review the portfolio together and ask questions about anything that catches your eye. Are there themes in the work that you like? Discuss them with the landscape architect and ask about the guiding design principles for the projects.

Talking about previous work with landscape architects is a great way to understand how they might approach your landscape. It’s also OK to talk about previous challenges and for the landscape architect to share stories about awkward or tough moments in a project. This can be enlightening for clients, because they can see how a landscape architect is a good problem solver.
Talk about money. This is one of the most important parts of the conversation, and sometimes people struggle with the best way to start the discussion.

Simply put your numbers out to the landscape architect. Talk about the amount you want to spend on the project and tie that to talking about your biggest priorities.

That way the landscape architect knows what you want and can respond to whether your scope of work is feasible or not with your budget.

Discuss the scope of work. Are you looking for a landscape site plan, a planting plan or someone to do the whole process, from concept design to construction administration? – a design build landscape firm


Front Yard Landscape Design and Construction Project, Wilmette, IL., Schmechtig Landscapes

Use a pencil to to define the areas on your property’s aerial photo or plat where you want to focus the project. This will be useful for your discussion with the landscape architect about the scope of work — especially if your property is large and you want to revamp only certain areas. If you want to include the entire property in the project, it’s still useful to have an aerial photo or plat on hand for your initial discussion.

Talk through which specific design services you want. The design services can be specified as phases, like concept design, or as the creation of specific drawings, like a concept-level site plan. The scope of work will be defined in the service contract in detail.

To read more of Falon’s article click here:


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