How to find a landscape expert

A homeowner wants to do some landscaping; its an admirable ambition, if he has the money, but theres a basic question to consider does he need a landscape architect or should he go with a landscape designer?  

This isn't really splitting hairs; it depends on the landscaping project the homeowner has in mind.  If its a huge undertaking, such as a massive retaining wall, a swimming pool or a sculpted terrace and rock garden, he should probably hire a landscape architect. 

This is an individual who has experience in designing for both hardscape (which is the inanimate parts of a landscaping project such as woodworking or masonry) and soft scape (which is the animate plants and flora that add the horticultural touches to the design, and which hardscape complements admirably).  

If one just wants a few flower beds installed by one with an artistic bent and a creative eye (that flower there, that waterfall here), a landscape designer, who is usually far less expensive, will do the trick perfectly. 

Either way, the best way to connect with a good landscaper is the same as it has always been, through word of mouth.  If the homeowner has a friend or neighbor with a marvelous lawn or garden, newly completed, that individual might be able to recommend the same landscaper for others.  

The questions aren't numerous one can simply inquire about the customers satisfaction, the time it takes, any unexpected problems or expenses, the bottom line they paid.

Most important to determine: was the landscaper a good listener, and a good feedback communicator?   Personality is more important than one might think, since the landscaper and his crew will be spending a great deal of time with the family. 

Speaking of the crew, one also wants to determine if a particular landscapers crew was friendly and considerate, professional and amenable to fixing errors. 

Obviously this search should begin well in advance of the project, by at least a year; the best landscapers are often heavily booked in advance.  

Another option for searching out a good landscaper is to consult the American Society of Landscape Architects website, which has a drop-down menu for locations and residential specialties.  Service Magic is another website that prescreens its professionals, and gives recommendation as well as contact information.  

Once an architect is selected as a potential candidate, the homeowner should arrange a meeting or at the very least a phone call, and have a list of all potential questions ready to be asked.  The homeowner will easily determine if the landscaper was informative and friendly, answered questions satisfactorily and took his time with the customer. 

One should never be afraid to ask for references; the best landscapers keep them handy for display, as well as a portfolio of projects they have completed.  In addition, they should display (at their shop if not in their portfolio) their licensure and certification, as well as their liability and workmen's compensation documents.  

Finally, the architect gets a mano-a-mano interview with the homeowner, and a chance to see the home in question and offer suggestions and ideas.  The homeowner should come away with a good feeling about the project, as well as a detailed estimate of its costs and an estimate of time of completion.

If more than one landscaper is available, one should interview all of them if possible; competition between professionals is always to be encouraged, since it may yield a number of excellent ideas as well as a baseline for possible costs.  

One caveat: don't always go with the cheapest estimate.  That individual may have arrived at his low price through using second-rate materials and cutting corners in the landscaping project. 

And those are a few hints to finding the best landscaper for the job!

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