High-tech outdoor living space with louvered pergolas and clean lines

You’ve decided you want to hire a professional to design your landscape, but how do you decide who to call?  If it’s your first time hiring a design pro of any sort, it can be an especially daunting idea.  There are many services available to help you get what you’re looking for, and knowing what you want can help you decide what you need.  Here are some basic guidelines to think about when starting on the exciting process of finding the right fit!


Transitional J. Montgomery landscape with ambient lighting

If you have ever worked with an architect, an interior designer, or a custom artisan, you may know more than you think about designing.  This is because the design process is often similar across different fields.  You may already know what to expect as far as meetings, plans, and revisions go.  If you don’t have this experience, no worries!  Professionals are used to explaining their process, and will be more than willing to answer your questions.


Steep terraced landscape with bocce court and structures

What’s the difference?  From the client’s point of view, it boils down to what the design pro can legally design for your landscape.  A Landscape Architect has undergone a licensure process governed by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), which requires knowledge of local construction codes, laws and permitting, and grading and drainage sciences, among other things.  Why does this matter?  If your home is built on a hill, and you know you want a terraced patio or need major retaining walls, you almost definitely need a Landscape Architect.  If you want to build a covered patio addition or sun-room off of your house, call a Landscape Architect.  Want an in-ground swimming pool?  Most of the time, it’s best to call a Landscape Architect.

Firepit and seat wall in a casual Mediterranean landscape

But what if your landscape requires no major earth-moving, retaining walls, or architectural structures?  Many stunning landscapes are built without any of this, and if this is this case for you, hiring a Landscape Designer is also an option.  Landscape Designers are not licensed, so they may or may not have received the formal training of Landscape Architects, and they may or may not have equal degrees of experience.  A Landscape Designer can legally design landscapes with close-to-the-ground patios, low non-retaining walls and seat walls, fire features and fountains, irrigation, lighting, rockwork and planting design. Landscape Architects can also do this kind of work (and many enjoy it!) so don’t take them off your list.  It just means that you have a larger pool of professionals to choose from, and in the Bay Area, that means a whole lot of choices!

zero edge glass front hot tub

So, now you can consider other factors when deciding who to hire.  Reputation of course is key, and not just professional reputation!  Referrals from friends or family are just as helpful when it comes to who you want to work with – Who “clicks” with your style.  Portfolios and online galleries are also a great way to get a sense of the pro’s spectrum of styles.  If you like something they have designed in the past, you both already have something to talk about!  Of course, it’s also important to consider the reality of costs- make sure that you are up-front about what works for you, and that you understand what is included in the design estimate (sometimes a higher estimate is more inclusive and might be worth it!)  It’s also completely normal to talk to more than one professional, weigh your options, and then choose.


Inviting outdoor seating overlooks the East Bay hills

When you first meet with a design pro, a lot of questions are going to come up.  Every Architect or Designer is unique, so there’s no certain way to prepare for your first meeting.  Some firms (including ours) may actually ask you to fill out a questionnaire to get to know you and your landscape.  If you’re wondering what to expect, questions like these are likely to come up.  A little thought ahead of time makes it easier for both you and the professional to see the direction the design will be heading from the very beginning!

Example Questions:

How do you see yourself using your future landscape?  (Outdoor dining, swimming, growing vegetables, etc.)  Are there existing areas on your site where you know you want some of these activities to take place?

Who else do you expect to be using the landscape (kids, dogs, large parties of guests, etc.)  How would you like your landscape to cater to them?

Would you like to see a master plan of the entire landscape, or to focus in on specific areas to be designed?  What are the areas of most immediate importance if they do exist?


For your part, feel free to ask anything.  It’s important to understand as much as possible so that you can find the best match for you!  We feel that listening and communicating are the most important parts of our job, along with a sense of humor of course!  Remember that anything you want to ask us has probably been asked before.  We do this a lot, after all!

J. Montgomery began decades ago as a Landscape Design firm and worked our way over to Landscape Architecture. We now have multiple Landscape Architects on our team, and their experience and creativity shape our unique sites. If you’d like to talk to a Landscape Architect about your landscape, contact our office anytime.

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