5 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Landscape Architect
Have you ever driven by a home and admired the beautiful landscaping? Have you ever walked through a park and marveled at the design? If so, then you’ve experienced the work of a landscape architect. Landscape architects are responsible for the planning, design, and management of land areas. They often work on projects such as parks, gardens, golf courses, residential developments, and more.
If you’re thinking about hiring a landscape architect for your next project, there are a few things you should consider first. Here are 5 questions to ask before hiring a landscape architect:
1. What is the design process?
If you’ve never had design services before, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by how exactly you might transform your outdoor spaces to meet your goals. Maybe you have a collection of photos saved on Pinterest, or on your phone from cool projects you’ve seen in passing. This question helps clarify how you can get from A – your current space, to B – your dream landscape. Is the landscape architect/designer willing to walk you through this process step-by-step? Or are they vague, keeping their cards close, and telling you that all will be “taken care of”? (That's not a good sign.) This question also helps outline what is expected from you. Fortunately, design doesn’t occur in a black box back at the office. Your input is vital (it is your home after all), and it’s important to establish your role in the process – make sure you understand how the landscape architect/designer will work with you.
2. How do you communicate?
This question is related to the design process, but with more specifics about how best to exchange information about the design and keep the project moving forward. The landscape architect/designer will want to share drawings and ideas with you, and then receive direction from you in order to stay on schedule. Outlining a method of communication – and establishing expectations for frequency of communication – helps make the process run smoothly. If there is a problem, how do you expect the landscape architect/designer to handle it? How much information do you want to receive? Depending on the scope of the project, this can vary from a little to a lot; it’s good to be aware before you are over–(or under)–whelmed.
3. How do you address technical challenges such as grading and drainage?
In the Pacific Northwest, it is inevitable that your site will have grade changes, or soil and drainage issues that will impact how you layout circulation, create level areas, grow healthy plants, or prevent ponding in your basement, to name a few. You should ask about irrigation design. If you prefer not to water your plants by hand all summer, then you’ll want the comfort of knowing that a quality irrigation system will be doing the hard work for you. It’s important to make sure you are getting the skills necessary to address these issues, not exacerbate them. Ask for examples of their work that cover these topics, and ask for (and call) their references.
4. How much can be accomplished now, or ever?
It’s always good to know if your dream exceeds your budget or the site. If this is the case, then ask about phasing. What could be accomplished in the near-term vs. long-term? Are there ways to implement certain key programs that you really want now, and still allow for future expansion to achieve your full vision? For instance, maybe you want to add a hot tub. This year you create the patio with conduit and plumbing, and next year the tub is easily installed and wired. If the budget still doesn’t work, the landscape architect should be able to advise you on alternative materials, program adjustments, or substitutions such as smaller plant sizes or reducing paved areas. Be open, though: at the end of the day, you may have to adapt either your vision or your budget.
5. When can you start?
How quickly do you want to experience your dream landscape? Does the given timeline of the landscape architect/designer work with your dream? Have they outlined the fact that in Seattle, construction is booming – so, even if they had time to design it today, contractors are busy and may not be able to begin work for several months? You will need to balance the realities of the construction schedule with the complexities of your design process to decide if the timing will work for you. Don’t let this be a breaking point. Sometimes current projects go on hold. If this happens, your project might start sooner than expected. Landscapes are living beings that take time to mature. Even if your schedule runs as smoothly as you envisioned, your outdoor spaces won’t look their best for at least a year, if not three. Plan some time for the plants to fill in and shape the spaces as envisioned.
If you’re in the market for a landscape architect, make sure to ask these questions first. It will help ensure that you find the perfect professional for your project. And when you’re ready, give us a call. We would be happy to help!
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