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GARDENING : Landscape Pros Have Different Titles, Same Aim: Beautifying Your Yard

April 10, 1993|From Associated Press

If the trees, shrubs and other outdoor living areas around your home are looking worn, overgrown or sparse, it may be time to get some professional landscaping help. Although a professional will cost money now, his or her advice could save you money in the long run.

There are a number of people who offer landscape advice: landscape architects, landscape designers, landscape contractors, garden designers, gardeners and design-build contractors. Each of these professionals has different expertise, education and qualifications.

The following information should help you pick the right person for your job.

* The first step in deciding which professional you need is to evaluate your goals for your landscape. Do you want a five-year plan to improve the landscape of your home, or do you just want someone to maintain your lawn and garden? Do you want to add a few trees and bushes or do you want to improve a steeply sloped site? Do you want to add a simple deck, or do you want that deck to circle a new in-ground pool?

* If you're dealing with an extensive project like a steeply sloped lot, drainage problems, irrigation, retaining walls, in-ground pool or complex structures, such as a large deck, patio or gazebo, then you'll probably want to talk to a landscape architect. You may pay more, but architects can also be held liable for problems that may occur later (drainage, pool cracks, plant life).

With a landscape architect, you will likely get site plans that can be phased in over a certain term or in a one-time project. The architect can do as much or as little as you want: design work only, the letting of bids or supervising completion of the project. Architect fees are usually hourly and, because of greater expertise, are usually higher than fees for other professionals.

* If you have a fairly simple landscaping project, a landscape designer may be what you need. Unlicensed but often well educated, landscape designers are usually more plant oriented; that is, they deal less with hardscape (structures, drainage, etc.) and more with softscape (plants and trees). Some can also do decks and patios.

As a client, you can do the work yourself or act as your own contractor. Or, if the designer is qualified, you can pay him or her to act as the contractor. Designers can also supervise a project or let the contractor take it from there.

According to Donna Swansen, past president of the Assn. of Professional Landscape Designers, designers often do "the private side of the picket fence" and leave the "public side" to the landscape architects.

* One-stop shopping. Regulations and requirements vary widely from state to state, but in California, all projects over $600 must be installed by a licensed contractor, who must pass a test and have seven years of field experience.

In a strict sense, contractors do the actual construction of a plan designed by someone else, but they often have their own staff of landscape architects and designers. They also subcontract work to other experts. Contractors sometimes own nurseries too. That way they can do the design, organize the project, sell you the plants, and even do the work.

Many contractors also discount design fees (or eliminate them altogether) if you buy the products from them. So, if a one-stop shop is what you are looking for, a landscape contractor may be your best bet.

There is a new growing segment of landscape architecture that may add to the confusion: design-built landscape architecture firms. These firms may also offer one-stop convenience like the landscape contractors, but their emphasis is on the design of projects, which are often more personalized and sophisticated.

The landscape professional most people are familiar with is the gardener. Even a gardener's skills and expertise can vary a great deal: from trimming grass, to weeding, to knowing plant varieties, to maintaining your landscape.

You'll probably need more than one landscape professional over time. When the design is done (whether by a landscape architect or designer), you may need a contractor to install it and a gardener to maintain it.

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