Landscape Architect vs Landscape Designer vs Landscape Contractor

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For this weeks blog entry I have decided to talk about a topic which seems to be largely misunderstood, the differences between a Landscape Architect, Landscape Designer/Garden Designer and a Landscape Contractor with respects to their design abilities, education and services they are permitted to offer.

It is important to note that every state has different regulations on registration as a Landscape Architect. For example, the state of Vermont only requires a four year degree from an accredited Landscape Architecture program while in the state of Arizona requires a four year degree, four years of working experience under a licensed Landscape Architect plus demonstrating competency by passing the demanding licensing examinations. In the state of California a four year degree from an accredited program plus two years working experience and completion of state exams are required. In few circumstances an individual without any educational background will be permitted to take the licensing exams after completed a number of years experience under the guidance of a Landscape Architect. A Landscape Designer, Garden Designer and Landscape Contractor require no formal training or examinations.

A Landscape Architect is licensed to offer both commercial and full residential design services to include: urban design, site planning, environmental restoration, parks, private estates, golf courses, ski resorts and many other services. A Landscape Architect will be skilled, experienced, knowledgeable of local and state regulations, Homeowner Association requirements, and will be able to offer services from an initial consultation through the construction phase. Common deliverables offered by a Landscape Architecture firm will include:


Landscape Conceptual/Schematic Plan – (required by most HOA’s)

Landscape Construction Plan – (Required by most HOA and Cities)

Landscape Construction Details – (Required by most HOA and Cities)

Landscape Planting Plans – (Required by most HOA and Cities)

Landscape Irrigation Plans – (Required by most HOA and Cities)

Landscape Grading & Drainage Plans – (Required by most HOA and Cities)

Fuel Modification Plans – (Required by many Cities)

A Landscape/Garden Designer are not licensed or regulated by the State of California, are not required to obtain educational and/or training background and are limited to preparing the following plans for a single family home only.


Landscape Conceptual Plan – (Required by most HOA’s)

Landscape Planting Plan – (Required by most HOA and Cities)

A Landscape/Garden Designer is NOT permitted to prepare any construction documents, details, or specifications for tangible landscape objects or landscape features and may NOT prepare grading or drainage plans for the alteration of sites.

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A Landscape Contractor may or may not have in-house design staff. A Landscape Contractor without a licensed Landscape Architect on staff can not offer “Landscape Architectural” services. A Landscape Contractor may only offer Landscape Design services to residential Clients. A Landscape Contractor will often submit a “Free” or inexpensive Conceptual Plan to a potential Client in order to sign a contract for the construction. In many circumstances, the Contractor may have little experience in design and may design a project to meet his/her construction abilities and profit margins.

If a Landscape Contractor were to design a project which they were not building they would only be permitted to offer the same deliverables as a Landscape/Garden Designer. If the Landscape Contractor were building the project themselves they are permitted to offer Construction Documentation required for building and permitted purposes. Most often, a Landscape Contractor does not have the technical experience to create these plans and will call on the service of a Landscape Architect and Structural Engineer.

With the recent introduction of Assembly Bill No. 1881, it is now required to retain the services of a Licensed Landscape Architect to submit a “Water Efficient Landscape Worksheet”, a “soil management report”, a Landscape Plan that contains a “statement of compliance”, and “Irrigation Design Plan”, a “Garden Design Plan” and a “Certificate of Completion” all of which must meet State and City’s criteria.

Hiring the services of a professional Landscape Architecture firm is certainly one of the best decision a home owner can make when considering a landscape project. For more information on all of these benefits click on the link below to read our recent blog entry.


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