What is the difference between a landscape designer and a landscape architect?

View comments

The answer to that question has to do with both the scope of the work the professional is permitted by law to do and his or her training. Landscape design and landscape architecture both involve creating the outdoor environment around your house, but the credentials of the two professions differs.

Landscape architecture is a state regulated profession, typically requiring a specific level education, such as a Master of Science in landscape design, and successful completion of a rigorous exam. Many landscape architects choose to join their industry association, the American Society of Landscape Architects, as well. The licensing fine points (and details) vary somewhat from state to state. In the state of Connecticut, for instance, among other requirements a landscape architect must hold a professional degree in landscape architecture from a college or university accredited by the landscape architectural accreditation board and have at least two years of diversified experience in landscape architecture under the direct supervision of a licensed landscape architect. On the other side of the country in California, the law spells out more specifics: Once a landscape architect has a professional license to practice landscape architecture, he or she may perform professional services for landscape preservation, development and enhancement, such as consultation, investigation, reconnaissance, research, planning, design, preparation of drawings, construction documents and specifications and responsible construction observation. CA also recognizes the designation of landscape contractor, a licensed professional who may design systems and facilities and execute the work. 

Landscape design isn't a licensed or state regulated profession and requires no specific professional academic credential. However, while landscape designers don't need to be licensed, those who join the Association of Professional Landscape Designers adhere to a code of professional standards that encourages continuing education and staying up to date on new developments and latest trends throughout the field. The APLD offers its members a certification program—the only one of its kind—that provides professional recognition to designers who can pass the APLD's peer review program. 

What really distinguishes landscape architects from landscape designers is the more complex nature of the projects they are licensed to take on—projects with a scale and scope that require a certain degree of technical expertise to execute. For instance, landscape architects often deal with technical designs that require construction of infrastructure systems though they can also do just the design work of a landscape designer.

In general, landscape designers specialize in gardens and smaller landscapes that don't involve highly technical designs or large infrastructure systems. In California for example, even though the state doesn't license them, the law spells out what landscape or garden designers may do—prepare plans, drawings and specifications for the selection, placement or use of plants for single family dwellings and drawings for the conceptual design and placement of tangible objects and landscape features, but not prepare construction documents, details or specifications for tangible landscape objects or landscape features or grading and drainage plans for the alteration of sites.

For the best results, be sure to match your design project to the right landscape professional.

The ultimate landscape: A dramatic water feature punctuated by the glass art of Dale Chihuly, New York Botanical Gardens installation.