Why hire a registered landscape architect?

Why hire a landscape architect to create a design your property? Because it's the law (kind of)! Only a registered landscape architect can charge for design services, see below.
Finally, Georgia House Bill 417, passed during the 1993 legislative session, relates to who can and cannot do landscape design work for money. According to this act, only a Registered Landscape Architect can sell his design. A Registered Landscape Architect is one who passes a stringent Landscape Architect's Certification Exam administered by the American Society of Landscape Architects and is licensed with the GA Secretary of State's Office). A landscape contractor, designer or retailers (or anyone who is not a Registered Landscape Architect) who performs design services cannot charge for his/her design and must follow up by installing the design. Newcomers to the landscape profession need to be aware of this act if they are considering design services as a part of their business.
  16 answers
  • Good to know for all you GA people here. Makes me wonder if there is a similar law here in Florida.

  • SawHorse Design Build SawHorse Design Build on Jan 16, 2012
    Thanks for sharing. Nick- can I share this post on my Q and A on my site?

  • Dan - I was surprised to find this too. Wasn't aware of it before, not sure about Florida. Don't know how or if it's enforced... Matt - sure, please do share! Spread the word.

  • Miriam Illions Miriam Illions on Jan 16, 2012
    Thank you for posting. Very important info.

  • Southern Trillium LLC Southern Trillium LLC on Jan 16, 2012
    Just to add a simple yet important point. As with every decision to be made when selecting a company or contractor, proper research is very important. For example, although Georgia law does require that a person be a registered landscape architect in order to sell a design, this does not necessarily mean that every landscape architect is highly knowledgeable about plants. I had a landscape architect friend of mine tell me that through his entire program, there was less than 5% of the time spent on plants and horticulture. He honestly admitted that he only knows the generic and basic plants that are used everyday. That being said, if you are looking for a design that focuses on plant material, make sure you verify that the landscape architect you are considering is proficient in plant design. There have been many times that we are called in to bid on a design drawn by a landscape architect only to have to tell the homeowners that many of the plants are improperly sited. Thus begins frustrations as the homeowners feel that they paid a large amount of money for a design, only to find out that there are many changes that need to be made. My favorite example of this was told from my horticulture professor at UGA. There was a major overhaul of South Campus taking place. The area outside of the horticulture building was being converted to green space. The landscape architects that designed the space sited shade loving plants in full sun. This created an interesting situation as the hort professors were laughing at the architects for improperly siting so many plants outside of their horticulture building. The professor even took the class on a tour of the area as we looked at all the yellowing plantings. Thus, make sure the architect is knowledgeable in the services you want.

  • Southern Garden Coach Southern Garden Coach on Jan 16, 2012
    I agree with Southern Trillium. One of the biggest reasons I decided to pursue residential landscape design is because of the lack of competence, and lack of interest I observed in the landscape architect community. Let me explain... As the former nursery manager for (what is now) a large re-wholesaler (or supply house for landscapers) I was responsible for quoting prices for the trees, shrubs, and ground covers to contractors. Typically, the contractors would bring in a 'blue print' for me to study, do quantity take-offs, and quote prices and availability. As I studied plans for homes, apartments, and every other sort of project, I noticed significant design mistakes in the plant selection. One of the most beautifully drawn plans I had ever seen had some of the most egregious mistakes. It was not a high percentage of plans that were faulty, mind you, but significant. The other reason I got in to residential landscape design is because of a lack of interest on the part of the landscape architect community, at least in the Atlanta area. As a group, landscape architects are very intelligent and highly educated folk. And as such, many of them would rather not busy themselves doing planting plans on an 'average' home, unless they can a big fee out of it. What I and other landscape designers provide is planting plans for the masses. Most of these folks don't need the prestige of a landscape architect-drawn plan, or the expense to go along with it. Now, do I think untrained and non-certified people need to be designing large retaining walls or elevated decks? Of course not! When I have been asked to include features that involve what's called 'life safety' issues, I always defer those design details to professionals, usually an engineer. I have tremendous admiration for those folks that can dream up fantastic vistas, whole city plans, and awesome national monuments. But when it comes to drawing a planting plan for the Johnson Residence on a typical subdivision lot, I can go toe to toe with the best LA's around.

  • Southern Trillium LLC Southern Trillium LLC on Jan 16, 2012
    Southern Garden Coach brings up a great point here. Most, definitely not all, LA's are not interested in drawing up a new foundation planting for the Smith family. There is much more school and education experience that prepared LA's for designing large scale projects rather than spending an hour with a homeowner regarding how to design a flower bed along the driveway. I think it would be fair to say that the reason the law is on the books is due to some fantastic lobbying by Landscape Architects. That being said, does it make sense to have a law on the books where Dr. Michael Dirr and Dr. Allan Armitage are not legally allowed to charge a homeowner to consult and sketch out a planting design for the foundation of a house? In all seriousness, each of their respective research and multiple books are (or should be) on the shelf of any Landscape Architect. But by law, they are not legally allowed to charge someone for their suggestions as to what would grow well in front of their house. For those of us in the garden/landscape world, we can all probably think of many renowned designers that are not landscape architects. Some are nationally known designers. A few have participated at the Chelsea Flower Show. But a law is on the books that says they are not to sell their design services. Is the reason because a non Landscape Architect is unqualified to provide such a service? The most interesting part is that anyone can design for free and actually charge the client to install the design. In other words, by the letter of the law it is illegal for someone to charge $275 for a foundation planting design. But any licensed company can sketch out a full residential design (no fee) and install a $100,000 landscape and hardscape project. This does make for interesting conversation.

  • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Jan 17, 2012
    Very interesting indeed. Sounds like a law written by landscape architects, who, as others have noted, often seem woefully unknowledgeable about plants. The nursery where I worked in New York was asked to bid on a large project for a library, following plans drawn up a landscape architect. Far too many of the plants would have failed where they were sited and we spent hours going back and forth making revisions before we submitted our (successful) bid.

  • Erica Glasener Erica Glasener on Jan 17, 2012
    As a horticulturist and plant lover I have thought often that it would be great if more horticulturists were teamed up with landscape architects. I know of numerous garden designers who are not LA's but design beautiful gardens and recommend the right plant for the right place. I see this as an ongoing conversation in our industry. Southern Trillium brings up lots of good points.

  • Good input on all fronts. My intention with posting was to get a conversation going that often stays within the industry and doesn't get openly discussed. I'm sure that even the best garden designers have improperly sited plants once or twice in their careers, to across the board say that only landscape architects improperly site plant material is a little excessive. We've all seen poorly designed landscape plans whether it be from a landscape architect, garden designer, landscape company. In my experience understanding the microcosms of each site is very challenging and often a learning process, the best gardens evolve and grow over time as the designer better understand and improves on the initial design. Also, when reviewing these plans at the nursery (especially the larger more complex ones) keep in mind that the design process is equally complex. More often than not it's design by committee and typically in this committee the landscape architect's and landscape architects ideas are at the bottom. Landscape material is often the absolute last line item on the budget, even in residential design. Design is a process of compromises (not to mention it's completely subjective). Secondly, residential based landscape architects are often very interested in plant material. I know of several local (and national) landscape architects firms that in my opinion show incredible plant knowledge and design capabilities. Their ability to understand the function of the site, natural aesthetic of the property, integrate hardscape, grade the site and design the landscape is truly inspiring. That's not to say they're also are some great garden designers out there too. And I agree totally with Erica's statement, collaboration often results in a better product. While Dirr and Armitage literally wrote the book on plants, i'm not sure they're the best option when it comes to design. If they were so interested in design, wouldn't they have taken their career in that path? To say that landscape architects only work on projects with large design fees (what's considered a large design fee anyways?) is also not a fair statement. We sell our ideas, if people are willing to pay us for them and we determine how much that costs, what's wrong with that? If the client doesn't see the value of hiring me then we shouldn't be working together anyways. Our fees range greatly depending on the complexity of the project and we enjoy working on jobs of all different sizes. Every project is different, every designer is different and that's what makes it fun!

  • Southern Garden Coach Southern Garden Coach on Jan 17, 2012
    Erica, I'm so glad you mentioned collaboration! I have teamed-up with LA's to develop planting plans for their concepts, and it's a blast . I'd love to more! And CORE, I absolutely, positively agree with everything you said. (Great website, by the way!) You make a good point about selling ideas and having a clientele that is willing to pay for your services. The perception of fees is in the eye of the fee-payer. To the working class family in, say, a John Wieland subdivision, $200-500 (or less, in this economy) can get them the planting plan they want, and they are usually very happy with the results. They usually don't want extensive hardscapes, nor would that sort of thing be financially wise in that setting. That dang 1993 law that CORE referenced to start this discussion is what bugs me. The message it sends to average Joe Homeowner from Georgia LA's is "Most of us don't really want your business, but we don't anyone else to have it either."

  • Southern Trillium LLC Southern Trillium LLC on Jan 17, 2012
    @Core, great points and and responses to some of the earlier discussion. The reason for my quick responses earlier is that the brief title and description in your entry give the suggestion of an overarching statement that people should only hire a LA to enhance the property. Here are the exact words, "Why hire a landscape architect to enhance your property? Because it's the law!" It is only after reading through your post does it clarify that the law is only in place for people selling a design. This does not mean that the law says that only a LA can enhance a property because in fact, any company can provide the design and install the job and be completely within the letter of the law. I was responding because the wording is slightly tricky there regarding what is illegal. Maybe the proper wording would be, "Why hire a LA to sell you design for your property? Because it is the law!" But that is just being picky about wording, and we can move on. You are correct in that every garden designer has improperly sited a plant. It is a constant learning process and from trial and error, we all make changes as well as accept newly introduced plant material. The fun part of our job is that our materials are living objects that grow and change over time. Imagine if a kitchen/bath contractor had to plan for seasonal changes and growth over time of the granite countertops. They would have to make sure that the door still opens in 3 years, or that you can still reach the sink. With plant material, the day we walk away from an installation is exciting, but the real excitement comes after a few years as the plants grow and begin to fill in. If we design improperly, we return to the site only to see plants growing over each other, or we don't see the back row of plants because the front row is too tall. If designed wrong, the windows of the house are covered by tall shrubs and the homeowner is complaining about too much maintenance. Back to my original discussion about people looking to hire someone to enhance their property. The same research is needed whether one is looking at a LA or a garden designer. Just because a person is a LA does not mean they will be the fit for the type of installation you want. On the other hand, just because a person carries the title of garden designer does not mean that they will do the best job. Do the research, maybe ask to visit past homes to see if you like what is there. All of us have different styles of design. We have had clients that we honestly told them that we were probably not a good fit for the style of design they wanted. We then recommended some other companies that we felt would best serve them. I will close with expounding on what Core mentioned. Every designer is different and it makes it exciting. When in school and learning design, the entire class would visit a site and we would all listen to the homeowner for the same period of time. From that brief discussion, we would all draw a design. When it was time to present the designs in class, there would be (let's assume) 25 people presenting 25 different designs. We were designing the same space, having heard the same information, but it is a creative process and is quite subjective. Thus, if you are looking for someone to help enhance your property, do the research and you should be able to rest assured that you chose the best person or company for the job. The title next to a name, whether Landscape Architect or Garden Designer or Landscape Designer does not guarantee the desired outcome.

  • @ Southern Garden Coach - thanks for checking out the website! And i agree with your points. @ Southern Trillium - I probably could have worded that better, you're correct (and will edit my original post). I really wasn't trying to put anybody out of business with my post or try to tower over anybody with my 'lofty' title of landscape architect. But I am passionate about my profession (as you obviously are too, which i appreciate) and wanted to try and spread some knowledge to homeowners who most of the time have never heard of a landscape architect. Thanks for your input!

  • Sherrie S Sherrie S on Jan 19, 2012
    I'm sorry to say this but it is another law, tax, fee that a government with little knowledge controls. Looks like a real legal issue could arise. I understand your posting Core Landscape even if I disagree with government getting involved.

  • Arliss H Arliss H on Mar 07, 2013
    I hope I can get answers here since this topic is now more than a year old... I and many others are currently students working on obtaining a Landscape Design Certification at Gwinnett Technical College. However, after hearing of Ga House Bill 417 we have concern as to if we can legally practice landscape design in the state of Ga if we're not giving the design away for free as part of installation. We do know of many designers who do design work that are not LAs, but there is still this concern. Is it correct that legally we can not actually sell our designs? Thanks for you help.