Do I Need to Hire a Landscape Architect?

Do I Need to Hire a Landscape Architect?

You’re surveying your yard with trepidation, wondering: Can I actually design this myself?

If you have a house that comes with a yard, you’ve probably asked yourself whether you need to hire someone to make that space beautiful. While many of us have enough basic skills to plant a rosebush or put out a few potted ferns, you might be tempted to take your outdoor space to the next level—especially if you’re in the kind of neighborhood where the majority of homeowners have already installed outdoor lighting, custom-designed flowerbeds and so on.

That’s why we asked Cate Singleton, a landscape architect based out of Dallas, to share her thoughts on when to go pro. Singleton is the Director of Design at Tilly, a unique landscaping service that offers online landscape design for people who want customized, professional advice. Tilly also gives clients the opportunity to turn their outdoor space into a Certified Wildlife Habitat® as developed by the National Wildlife Federation—which may be of particular interest to anyone who would like their backyard to function as a sanctuary not only for themselves, but also the birds, butterflies and pollinators that are crucial to our ecosystem.

In short, renovating your landscape can be good for the environment and good for your property values—not to mention an excellent way to ensure that both your home and your neighborhood are as beautiful and welcoming as possible. Does that mean you need to bring in the pros? Here’s what you need to know before you decide.

What landscape projects benefit from a professional? 

If you’re thinking about hiring a landscape architect to transform your outdoor space, it’s a good idea to know what a good landscape professional can do—and what kinds of projects you might want a landscape designer to tackle.

"One key area where professionals shine is in overall site planning," Singleton explains. "Crafting a comprehensive site plan involves a meticulous consideration of factors such as sun exposure, shade requirements, optimal circulation and the creation of harmonious outdoor spaces. This is a task that benefits significantly from the trained eye of a professional."

If you want an outdoor garden that looks good year-round, for example, a landscape designer can help you get the job done. Likewise, if you’re interested in adding lighting, water features, fire pits or conversation sets to your outdoor space, a good landscape architect can ensure that you get the aesthetics and functionality you want at the budget you can afford. 

When you can (and should) DIY

If you are mostly interested in adding plants to your existing landscape—and less interested in water features, lighting and so on—you may be able to complete your project on your own. "DIY gardeners can take charge of planting flowers, herbs and smaller shrubs," says Singleton.

Even apartment-dwellers can take advantage of simple, plant-based DIY landscape tweaks. "Experiment with container gardening!" Singleton advises. "We love container gardening—just make sure you are planting appropriate plants for your climate!"

If you don’t know which plants are appropriate for your climate, or if you don’t know where to place your planters and containers to ensure the most growth, you may still want to get in touch with a landscape professional.

 "If you aren’t familiar with gardening or plants, you may want to follow a professional's plans when planting," Singleton explains. "It’s important to plant according to sun, shade and climate preferences!"

Do landscape architects prefer to renovate the entire yard? 

If you have the skills to tackle most DIY gardening projects but don’t yet have the expertise to transform your entire backyard or landscape, you may wonder whether you can hire a landscape architect to design and renovate a small portion of your outdoor space.

While Singleton didn’t say no to this idea, she stressed that a good landscape architect can and should be invited to contribute to their fullest capacity. "Remember that even small projects play a vital role in the broader landscape, and while a landscape architect may not be mandatory for every minor task, their expertise can undoubtedly elevate the outcome."

This means that if you’re thinking about hiring a landscape architect to incorporate a few raised beds into your backyard, you might as well start budgeting for a fully-designed renovation.

"Even small projects, like incorporating raised beds, are integral components of a cohesive and well-thought-out landscape," Singleton explains. "The placement of these beds impacts not only the visual appeal but also factors like sunlight exposure, ease of maintenance, and the flow of the outdoor space. There are also other things to consider. How will you access these garden beds? Do they need a fence around them? If so, how will that be incorporated into the space?"

How else can you use a landscape architect’s expertise? 

Many homeowners can benefit from a landscape architect’s understanding of how outdoor spaces function, whether you want to transform your yard into a vegetable garden or turn your patio into a comfortable, cool gathering spot for family and friends.

"A landscape designer or architect will consider the overall site, including your soil composition, drainage, and existing vegetation," says Singleton. "This is important to ensure whatever you plant or construct will work in your climate and space!"

Since climate is a concern for many homeowners, not only in terms of the near future but also in terms of how it might change, a good landscape professional can help you actively plan for both comfort and intervention. This is one of the hidden benefits of working with the pros, whether you end up saying yes to a collection of air-purifying plants or whether you turn a corner of your yard into a pollinators’ paradise—and the end result is likely to be as beneficial to you as it is to the natural environment.

Top image by Ike Edeani originally found in A Two-Part Landscaping Renovation in San Francisco

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