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Do I need a landscape designer or a landscape architect?

February 18, 2013 Dave Marciniak 1 Comment

You’ve decided to make that change and get your yard redesigned. Congratulations! Feels good, doesn’t it? But now you’re getting conflicting info. Some of your friends are saying you need to engage a landscape designer. Some are saying you need a landscape architect. Who’s right? Well, as is so often the case, it depends. Here’s a little info on some of the design professionals you may work with on your project.

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Landscape Designers

That’s what I am – Revolutionary Gardens is a northern Virginia landscape design firm. What does that mean? Well, “landscape designer” is not a regulated or licensed title, so that could mean anything. This means that you, the client, have to ask exactly what your designer is capable of designing and what s/he has had experience in designing. Some landscape designers focus almost exclusively on plantings, some do plantings and hardscapes (stone, brick, pavers), and some do the whole enchilada. I am a whole enchilada company. Here’s a quick list of the types of projects I design:

  • plantings
  • patios
  • decks and screen porches
  • retaining walls
  • swimming pools
  • water features
  • pergolas, trellises, and arbors
  • landscape lighting
  • outdoor kitchens
  • …basically, everything for the outside of the house

How do you judge a landscape designer if there’s no formal process? Well, here’s how I’d like you to evaluate me:

As with any profession, landscape designers run the gamut from brand new to having years of experience. At the end of the day you’ll be having a lot of conversations with your designer, especially if we’re also involved with the installation of your project. You should make sure we’re a good fit.


Landscape Architects

“Landscape architect” is a regulated term. This means that to be called a landscape architect, one must meet minimum education requirements, must spend a set amount of time working under a licensed landscape architect, and must pass a state-administered exam. Does this mean a landscape architect is more qualified than a landscape designer to design your project? Not necessarily.

Just like landscape designers, you need to talk to and qualify landscape architects to see if what they’re good at works for what you need. I’ve done planting design for a landscape architect who designed the most amazing structures I’ve ever seen, but he didn’t know or care about plants. I’ve designed structures for a different landscape architect who can’t design a deck to save her life, but she is brilliant when it comes to combining plants. Just like with landscape designers, landscape architects can be generalists or specialists. You don’t know till you talk to them.

One thing I hear all the time is “landscape architects don’t know their plants, and landscape designers can’t do space planning.” Know what I say to that?

All generalizations are always false (I know. Roll with it.)

We’re lucky because Virginia has what is referred to as a title act for landscape architects. That means that the term “landscape architect” is controlled by the state and you can’t call yourself one till you meet the requirements I mentioned above. Some other states have what is called a practice act, and this means that landscape architects there lobbied the legislature to make it so no one can design landscapes but them. I personally think this sucks and is anti-consumer and unfair, but I have skin in the game. After all, if they outlaw landscape design, only outlaws will design landscapes. Right? Luckily Virginia does not have a practice act.

So, for a typical residential landscape design you can happily select a landscape designer or a landscape architect for your project. You just need to interview them, review their work, and make sure you feel comfortable having them turn your landscape from just ok to awesome. If you want to learn more about how Revolutionary Gardens can transform your landscape, contact me!



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