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Michael Polikoff, PLA, ASLA
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Is your landscape designer also bidding on your installation? Will your landscape designer provide plans detailed enough for sufficient multiple bids from other competitors, thus giving you the best price and value? These are important questions you should be asking yourself when determining whether to hire a professionally trained and licensed Landscape Architect or a landscape designer not licensed for design in the State of New Mexico.
In most any profession there are various levels of experience and training, and the landscape design arena is no exception. Unfortunately there is more confusion in this field than in many others because not everyone knows the difference between a landscape designer and a state licensed Landscape Architect, nor what either of them does specifically.
Landscape Architecture is the art and science of creating visually interesting and functional designs that provide for the client’s health, safety and welfare, while preserving the environment. A Landscape Architect is a state licensed design professional with a degree in landscape design or architecture. They create drawings, documents, and specifications that dictate the allocation, arrangement, and construction of land elements and water resources. Practicing Landscape Architecture or using the title “Landscape Architect” without having a state license is a violation of the Landscape Architects Practice Act. Landscape Architects are also trained to document design concepts and plans on paper as a visual, graphic means of communicating their designs for detailed bidding accuracy and implementation. This is especially important for larger projects that require permitting through city planning or the building department. In addition, they are usually more experienced in the design of “hardscape” features such as swimming pools, arbors, fountains, steps, retaining walls, and other engineered nonstructural elements. Landscape Architects act as a third party between the landscape contractor and the owner. Without any financial ties to the contractor, a Landscape Architect will dictate and support the quality of work that is in the owner’s best interest.
On the other hand, landscape designers are not licensed or regulated by the State of New Mexico and are limited to making plans or drawings for the selection, placement, or use of plants when the execution of such plans or drawings does not affect the public health, safety, and welfare. Therefore, landscape designers are not required to obtain an educational and/or training background. Landscape designers, garden consultants and master gardeners can advise you in their areas of expertise, but may not have experience in construction oversight, local regulations, site engineering and building techniques, as Landscape Architects do. Some landscape designers are very well versed in plant materials and are very capable planting designers. If a designer is tied to a construction company, however, it may be difficult to obtain competitive bid prices for the work to be done. Often, the low cost of the landscape design may be “hidden” in the higher cost of installation. As a result, the owner has no basis for comparison of construction costs. Construction documents prepared by a designer may also be less thorough than those prepared by a Landscape Architect. This could result in decisions made in the field by the installer that may not be in the owner’s best financial interest. So consider your options wisely when investing time and money in your landscape project!