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What do landscape architects do?

The look and feel of a landscape (i.e. garden and lawn) not only anchors a structure (such as a house) to its site, but also visually connects it with the surrounding environment. That is where the responsibility of a professional landscape architect comes in, whose job it is to design attractive and functional public parks, public- and private gardens, playgrounds, residential areas, university campuses, cemeteries, hospital gardens, and other public spaces.  

Landscape architects also plan the correct locations of buildings, roads, pathways, trees, and flowers within these environments to ensure the finished result is visually aesthetic and practical. (Read more6 landscaping ideas for South African gardens)

Landscape architects and the weather

It should be kept in mind that landscape architecture is very regional, especially in South Africa where the climate and weather changes considerably from region to region. That is why it is important to locate a landscape architect who is:

  • familiar with your town/city,
  • its climate (i.e. the winter rainfall of Cape Town versus the summer rains of Johannesburg),
  • and the relevant plants and flowers appropriate to that area.

How do landscape architects differ from landscape designers?

▶ Landscape architects

Anybody wishing to pursue a career in landscape architecture needs to obtain a bachelor's and/or a master's degree in landscape architecture from a reputable university or college. Afterwards, they must be licensed to design and work on landscape projects.

A trained and reliable landscape architect will have experience or training to work with challenging issues in both the commercial- and residential sites, including:

  • Steep slopes
  • Retaining walls
  • Irrigation / drainage systems
  • Designing structures for the outdoors
  • Solving elevation issues
  • Advising on the best location for service lines, entryways, driveways, and parking areas.

Landscape architects can be employed in private-, public-, and academic organisations.  

▶ Landscape- and garden designers

The main way of differentiating between landscape architects and landscape designers is that the latter usually work on smaller residential projects. But even though some landscape designers may have undergone training similar to landscape architects, they do not have the appropriate license which is required by all landscape architects.

Some landscape designers are self-taught, but most have taken courses online, at college, or through a certificate program to obtain the skills and necessary knowledge.

The majority of landscape/garden designers work with plants. Some may even have experience with hardscape (the hard stuff in your yard such as bricks, concrete and stone), especially in regions prone to droughts. Drought-stricken areas usually resolve to use pebbles and bark for garden designs, along with succulents and native plants – thus, landscape designers need to have the necessary experience / knowledge. However, if any earth-moving construction needs to be done, or walls are erected or electrical work is required, a licensed landscape contractor is brought on.

In short: A landscape architect may work in the fields of both designer and landscape architect, but a landscape designer cannot do what a landscape architect is licensed to do. 

Where do landscape architects work?

Even though the results of a landscape architect's work are outside, the majority of these professionals' time is spent in offices. It is there where they create plans and designs, prepare drawings and models, calculate cost estimates, and meet with clients and other professionals involved in projects. The rest of their time is spent outdoors at jobsites.

Landscape architects, similar to architects, make use of various technologies to complete their work, including CAD (computer-aided design) software. These programs are used to draw up proposed plans for client's projects, which are then presented to clients at meetings.

A lot of landscape architects also make use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to obtain the GPS coordinates of different geographic features. This aids them in designing different environments by providing data on where to start planning and how to anticipate future effects of the landscape, including rainfall collecting in a valley.

Why should you hire a landscape architect?

  • Increase the value of your home: The right landscape architect can increase the value of your home, as it has been proven that landscape architect is one of the best investments for a home, increasing its overall value by as much as 15%.
  • A professional landscape architect works with a plan. As they are trained to see all landscapes as systems, landscape architects can assess your property's problem areas, as well as identify all possibilities. This allows them to draw up a solid plan that emphasises both the big picture plus the tinier details of what your landscape will look like.
  • The use of native plants: Landscape architects know how to design low-maintenance gardens by making use of the perfect native plants. Native plants are a key ingredient for a low-maintenance garden, as they reduce water usage/costs and chemical applications. In turn, that allows insects like bees and butterflies to flourish.
  • Wise spending: Landscape architects know how to cut costs by, for example, placing trees and large shrubs in the proper places to lower energy bills. This reduces heating- and cooling costs, meaning fewer expenses for the client.
  • Install the drip irrigation system correctly: With the right landscape architect in charge of your project, the perfect drip irrigation system can be devised. Drip irrigation systems, an efficient alternative to sprinkler systems, water plants at the root. In contrast, an incorrectly installed irrigation system can not only hike up the monthly water bill, but also kill all of the plants it's meant to keep alive.

How do landscape architects charge?

Although landscape architects and firms differ from one another, a typical one in South Africa will base its fees on the following:

  1. Consultation and gardening coaching: Includes a meeting with the client where advice is offered on all aspects of gardening (this may include producing sketches during the consultation).
  2. Garden design: Can include a detailed survey of the client's property, design drawings, and a planting plan.
  3. DIY planting plan: Meant for clients who would like to get involved themselves, but who require a bit of direction. This may include suggestions for any hardscaping, a list of the best native flowers to use, etc.
  4. Garden build: Where all appropriate garden work is completed, such as hard landscaping, structural design, planting of new flora, installing water features, etc.
  5. Garden refresh: Many clients require garden maintenance to keep their outdoors looking in top shape, especially on a seasonal basis. Activities may include pruning, weeding, and tidying up.