We contacted four seasoned landscape professionals — Peter Reader of Peter Reader Landscapes in London, Beth Mullins of Growsgreen Landscape Design in San Francisco, John Algozzini of K&D Landscape Management in Chicago and June Scott of June Scott Design in Southern California — to get the inside scoop on the range of services available and the 10 essential questions potential clients should ask before hiring a professional for the job.
1. What services do you offer? First and foremost, determine what services a landscape designer offers to see if he or she is the right person for your project. “The best question a potential client can ask is: ‘Are you experienced with the scope of work we want, and can you design and manage it?’” Algozzini says.
Generally speaking, landscape designers fall into one of three categories, depending on the services they offer:
Design only. Some designers specialize only in the design process. This typically includes a site analysis and discussion of a client’s needs, a preliminary design, revisions based on your feedback, and a final detailed master plan for your garden. This detailed planting plan and construction document is then handed over to you (or a landscape contractor of your choosing) to take it from there.
Design-build. Others offer the design service described above, as well as overseeing plant purchase and all installation. Contractors are needed for permitting and hardscape installation — sometimes the landscape designer is also a registered contractor, and other times they have landscape contractors on their team or ones to recommend and oversee.
Full service — design-build and maintenance program. For the highest-touch service, some landscape designers will offer all the above, plus oversee ongoing maintenance of the garden.
Alternatively, if a designer’s portfolio doesn’t include the particular style you’re looking for, check out his or her credentials for evidence of the training to make the vision of your garden a reality. Degrees from accredited landscape design colleges and memberships in professional organizations are both good indicators.
This is a great opportunity for you to determine whether you have a fit with the designer, and for the designer to see if he or she fits with you as a client. “It is important for a client to determine what role they want to play,” Mullins says. “Are they interested in a collaboration, [want to] defer completely to the designer or have a clear idea for their garden and just want someone to implement it?”
Don’t expect an initial consult to be free of charge — it is, after all, two hours of a professional’s time — though some designers will put the consult fee toward the cost of the design if you end up hiring them.
This is the time to speak up about what you like and dislike in the design or if you see anything that’s missing from your wish list — for example, more space for tool storage, room to grow vegetables or an area with shade. Following this meeting, a designer will draw up a revised design drawing based on your feedback.
Scott shares another key question to ask your designer: “How are changes in scope handled during the design and installation process?” Given that unanticipated design changes often come up midproject, it’s important to be clear on whether a designer will charge additional fees for the time it takes to change the design plan or installation.
It’s best to have a conversation with a designer when you are discussing the initial plan about ways to reduce the cost of the landscape to stay on budget. The designer will have ideas about where you can save money without compromising style, and what elements are worth a splurge.