Ballpark Estimate: $70 to $120 per hour (5-15% of total project cost)
Lush green grass, thick rich mulch, lovely planting beds of flowers and plants that take turns showing off their colorful blooms from spring until fall are components of a perfectly manicured yard. Organizing and synchronizing all that natural beauty doesn’t come easy to most homeowners – a landscape architect is their secret weapon.
According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, there are only about 15,000 licensed landscape architects in the United States. But there are nearly double, or 30,000, landscape architects nationwide. Licensure doesn’t apply to a job the size of an average homeowner and is only required for a job larger than that, or any job involving commercial properties.
Whether you are a new homeowner in need of planting grass for the first time, looking to rehab a tired lawn or have recently added on to your home and are in need of joining an old lawn to new, a landscape architect is a good place to start.
How to Get Started
Working with a landscape architect requires just a few steps. Each step and subsequent process will vary depending on the scale of the project, stage of development, client needs and wants, products, planning, design and region of the country you reside. Landscape architects provide a crucial engineering element to each project they face as well as bring their own design characteristics and style to the client.
Determine a Budget
The client and the landscape architect need to decide early on in the process a budget that both parties feel comfortable about. This is determined largely by the scope of the work to be performed. Some architects provide plans for a set price that can range from $2,000 to $5,000. Others work on an hourly basis and a client can expect to pay $70 to $120 per hour. Still other firms will charge a percentage of the cost of the entire project. This fee is generally 5 to 15% of the total project cost. Another factor that should be determined is how involved the landscape architect will be in the scope of the project. Some will simply make the plans, hand them over to the client and the professional relationship ends there. Others will help in choosing a landscape contractor to implement the plans and still others will oversee the entire project working with the contractor until the project is complete. In other words, for a $75,000 job, a homeowner can expect to pay $3,750 to $11,250 to the landscape architect should they take on the project from site work to plan to planting.
Beginning the Process
Landscape architects begin their process by providing the client with field work. Field work includes site analysis and evaluation, preparation, measurements and environmental and feasibility studies. Additionally, issues of storm water management and historic preservation may need to be considered. Comprehensive plans, master plans and often digital design services such as 3D visual modeling are then provided to the client. This may be a multi-phase step which begins fairly rough and incomplete and tests shapes, patterns and spatial organization. It evolves into a sophisticated plan based on need, budget, and consideration of critters and planting zone. Once a design is determined, the landscape architect will create a more formal plan which will be closely examined from several approaches- in sections and different views. This step can often be revised several times.
Big and Small Details to Consider
A costly but worthwhile component of projects big and small is consideration of irrigations systems. It is often a detail the homeowner doesn’t want to consider feeling that maintaining the new yard will be a relaxing experience. It’s important to remember, although enjoyable, maintenance is often time consuming. Once the final plan is approved, landscape architects will draft construction documents. These are detailed guidelines for landscape and building contractors to follow.
As previously noted, sometimes when a project moves into construction, the landscape architect’s job may be done or they may oversee construction and ensure everything proceeds according to plan. This happens more often than not as it ensures the client the process will be completed according to the original vision of the landscape architect and homeowner. Additionally, the landscape architect and contractor can generally secure better pricing from a nursery. Often the homeowner can negotiate a guarantee of the plants for up to a year. The landscape architect recommended the plant and the contractor ensures the plants, flowers, trees or other vegetation was planted properly.
Once Plans Are in Place
Implementing the design and maintenance are separate entities. A landscape contractor takes the detailed plan from the landscape architect and follows the instructions much like a general contractor follows the plans of a design consultant or architect. Maintaining the grounds generally falls on the homeowner or a hired landscaping service. This is often an overlooked detail.
Investing in the services of a landscape architect is money well spent. The planning and design input of a professional keeps the homeowner from making basic mistakes and helps to avoid costly pitfalls. The professional advice of the landscape architect is of particular value to the client given the stricter zoning and environmental regulations most towns are now forced to follow. Additionally, the landscape architect has a clear vision of the goals of the project and can stay on task. Their advice regarding plants that are indigenous to a specific region, the use of low or high maintenance plants and the architect’s ability to solve challenging weather related issues on the job site are all valid, valuable reasons why hiring a landscape architect is a cost effective measure.