The Problem(s) With Picking A Landscape Designer

by Ben Bowen

The Problem With Choosing The Right Landscape Designer:

landscape plan

It's that time of year... Homeowners all over Portland are starting to eye spring and summer projects. On the to-do list? Finally get the back yard right.

Now all you have to do is find the right landscape designer for your project. How do you do that?

It can be difficult to find a designer that will get your project off on the right foot. And choosing the wrong one can result in another wasted year for your yard. Why can it be so difficult to find a good landscape designer?

There are so many good landscape designers around here (start with these recommended ones. Or us!). But each designer has his or her own way of working and distinct style. Spending some time with their portfolio and/or blog should help you figure that out. Reading reviews, specifically to discern an affinity (or lack thereof) between you and their typical client, helps too.

Here is where it gets interesting though: some designers work alone while others work for large or small design-build firms.

The structure of a designer's business or employer matters. And most homeowners don't realize this. Here is what you need to know:

  • Solo designers are independent, which can be great. They should have no agenda other than getting you the perfect design. But (and this is a big but) your landscape will only be as good as the installation. And many designers can't help with that. They may have a referral to make, but they have very little control over the landscape you actually get.
  • Designers with a small design-build firm can take you from start to finish. However, they may not work with as many styles/materials/methods as an independent designer. And they (naturally) keep their installation team's strengths in mind as they design.
  • Designers with a large design-build firm can also take you from design through construction of your landscape. Because they have a large team they can probably do just about anything you are looking for. However, your design will most likely be a team effort- which can mean it is less creative, not as special, as a design produced through just a single designer.

So, who should you hire as a designer? An independent one? A designer with a small firm? Or should enlist the design team of one of the big boys?

If you are going to install the landscape yourself, or split it into many little phases go with an independent designer.

But if you prefer to work with one person from start to finish and desire something with real personality- find a smaller firm (like Ross NW Watergardens).

If your desires for the landscape are more general then a larger company can produce a nice design faster than either of the options above.

The main point: To choose a designer consider the portfolio, blog, reviews and the size/structure of the company you are hiring. Do this and your chances of making a great choice are very high!