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Landscape Architects:
What You Should Know
Before You Hire One

"If your landscaping budget allows, you should
always hire a landscape architect, right?"


Hire a landscape architect if you want a very conventional landscape. By very conventional we mean plants that you already see everywhere such as Ixora for color, ficus for hedges, Sabel palms, philodendron selloms, white bird-of-paradise, green giant Liriope, etc.

For whatever reason (we don't fully understand) landscape architects are among the least creative in plant selection. Dollars to donuts if you hire one you'll have "the same old stuff" that every neighbor on your block has planted.

I am not alone in this opinion. For example...

"I think that the average Southeastern landscape, domestic or commercial, municipal or institutional, stinks."

Derek Burch, Ph.D
Landscape & Nursery Digest
July 1998, page 50

...more of the Dr. Burch's quotes are inserted below in this article


Another reason you will never have any special (unique, rare or semi-rare) plantings specified by landscape architects is they tend to specify "big stuff " in their designs.

"What do I see as the problem? A limited spectrum of plant material in gardens..."

The fact is, specialty growers of unique / rare plants (wholesale nurseries) almost never have specimen sized plants. Specialty nurseries have only 3-gallon, 7-gallon and occasionally 10-gallon plants for sale.


Because these more unusual unconventional plants get sold as soon as they're plantable. The demand is huge. So please don't ask Master Gardener (or anybody else) for a 15-foot Pachira Aquatica, for example or a JOY Perfume tree. They simply do not exist in any nursery. Therefore, since landscape architects want to plant only the "big stuff" the home owner ends up with totally run-of-the-mill plantings.

Also, the cost per plant will be very much higher when a landscape architect specifies plant materials. The reason is they specify both size (large) and size uniformity. For example, they may specify 24"x24" ixora shrubs. Fine, but it is much more difficult to find quality hefty ixoras 24"x24" size versus the far more common 18"x18" nursery stock.

Therefore, whoever does the plant buying (like Master Gardener) has to...

(a) find a grower or growers that have enough of the larger size (a very significant added expense to search them out),

(b) travel by truck to nurseries which have the larger size available which often is farther (more expensive) than their most favored local supplier,

(c) pay more money for the larger stock

All three activities add more expense to the customer's bill. What is far more intelligent is to specify the normal sized plant materials, plant them and wait a short time for them to grow to 24"x24" size.....likely only a few months here in Florida

Another example of this waste and extra expense would be specifying coconut palms

2005 prices ...A 3-gallon coconut would retail at about $20-$25 for about a 3-foot size. A 7-gallon coconut at about 5 feet would retail at about $60-$75. A 15-gallon coconut at about 7-8 feet would retail at about $125. If the customer pays for the $25 palm, in 2-3 years the coconut will be 7-8 feet tall, totally established in their land and save the customer $100. Multiply savings like these over many plants and you're talking serious money (or extra costs if you get larger plants).

Again, the point is LA's most often specify "big stuff " in their designs which costs you more money. Far better to specify a few large, mostly medium and the rest smaller plants to save money...and...more importantly, to achieve a far more natural appearance with variations in sizes...just like Nature.


Landscape architects will impress you with their drawings. We've seen plenty and they look great (and expensive). However, we have a strong suspicion LA's are weak on zone 10 (that's us) sub-tropical plant knowledge.

"What else (is the problem)? Overall, no sense of design, nothing that says "here we are, accountable ultimately to Nature, but part of a living world and with the hope and expectation that we can mold nature to give us comfort, bend nature's rules to let us create a comfortable space in which to live: a space in which beauty is courted and actively sought as an everyday part of our surroundings""

Do you call your landscape architect when your queen palms all start to yellow? Hardly. They probably wouldn't have a clue what to do. After "installation" of your plants (installation is what they call planting) you don't even get any care instructions for your new plantings.


Because they DON'T KNOW HOW to care for the very plants they've specified !!!

Many landscape architects don't know plants...yet...they will specify YOUR plants if you hire them. Landscape architects sit in offices with white shirts and probably never get dirty nor intimate with plants and their needs.

You'll have to go to plant experts when your landscape gets into trouble (about 3 years). A better strategy is to hire a real expert who has learned plants and design in the landscape, not an office or classroom.  One good idea would be to hire a LA who grew up in Florida.

Don't believe some of the above statements?

Here are some comments about this article from email we have received from Landscape Architects:

"It is not our job to know why a palm tree is turning yellow...that is your job. Remember, Landscape Architects are not gardeners. So, do not continue sounding like an ignorant jerk"

Speaks for itself, doesn't it?

"We are very more diverse than you might think. We learn about historic preservation, urban and regional planning, community planning, and many other areas."

Great.  What about plants ???

"Most landscape architects have a very general education and then usually specialize in one or more of many aspects of the profession. Unfortunately not all are plant people or horticultural specialists."

Would you say, 5% perhaps?

"Let's face it, the lower middle class and poor people are not concerned with the way their "yard" looks. We do work for very wealthy clients"

OK, OK, we believe you

There are numerous other facets of the Landscape Architecture profession including Park Planning, Regional Planning, Urban Planning and Design, Subdivision Design including road and lot alignments, Theme Park Design and others.

Yes, we understand you study many things, but HOME OWNERS are looking for PLANTS

We have spent 35 years studying tropical and sub-tropical PLANTS; how about you?

While plants should be a component of the design it is far from the only component.

Far?  How far?  Folks we meet who want a landscape are usually thinking something like 90% of the expense should be PLANTS.   What %%% were you thinking?

"If you are the Karl that I think you are (Hawaiian or Filipino or some type of Asian descent) don't you have a degree in Landscape Architecture? If you are who I think you are, you have bid some of my work and lost."

What?  Try Russian / Slovenian 50-50 mix, but the immigrant part is right

"In South Florida I worked with more people straight out of school form the north. They did not grow up seeing these plants mature and only know the plants from what they see in the nurseries on Saturday afternoon."

Holy Toledo !!! An honest man

I am landscape architect in northeast Mississippi (since 1998). I agree with you, to some part, that many landscape architects do not know their 'plants' as well as they should. Unfortunately, many of the landscape architecture programs have stopped focusing on the 'planting aspect' of landscape architecture, and are focusing more on the design, and hiring horticulturists to make the final plant selection.

WOW !!! Another honest man

While you are correct in the fact that most Landscape Architects have not studied much horticulture beyond learning to identify and care for the basic needs of plants and trees, a good firm should and does have relationships with other companies (ie: You) that are recommended to the client for post-installation care and maintenance.

...and here is agreement from another LA

We landscape architects need more people like you willing to share your years of experience. The little bit of experience I have in landscape architecture has taught me that before you can credibly call yourself a "landscape architect", you must first achieve the worthy title of "Master Gardener". I applaud your effort in this website and I will return frequently for further education. Keep up the good work. Maybe, if enough LA's visit your site, we will actually design some.

Sincere Thanks,
Albert Riddle
Landscape Architect (Master Gardener in training)

OK, so if LA's don't know plants, what sense does it make to hire one to do a plant design?  None.  Better to put LA's to work with lighting, decks, etc

I would like to remind you that a client typically does not come to a landscape architect requesting just a simple planting composition. That design project SHOULD be handed over to a horticulturist or a gardener because that is the medium he/she works with on a daily basis.


It is true that some LA's don't have extensive plant knowledge, but as you know, many firms have plant specialists to look over the final plan and make changes to plants as they see fit. A person contacts an LA to create a meaningful exterior space.

Agreed...that's our point...if you as a home owner want exterior design and hardscape, hire the LA, otherwise, hire plant people

I will speak specifically to your point and specifically to the way you are conducting yourself. You're a real asshole and not worth any additional thought or response to your flagrantly stereotypical and prejudice opinions. Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one. You however seem to have the upper hand in the fact that your are also a whole ass! I wish you the very worst that life has to offer!

If you want to hire the above LA, contact him below...

Nicholas F. Clark, ASLA
Zev Cohen & Associates, Inc.
55 Seton Trail
Ormond Beach, FL 32176
(386) 677-2482 ph
(386) 677-2505 fax

Wonder if Nick's boss knows his vile mouth

Coming Soon ....actual color photos of "professional" Landscape Architect botch jobs all taken right here in Broward County. We'll explain photo by photo exactly why each design is a disaster


  1. Expect a conventional landscape rendering when hiring most landscape architects
  2. Expect plant locations to be specified in error re: long term growth
  3. Don't expect ongoing service/advice for your landscape needs


Master Gardener would like to hear from LA's

We're encouraging LA responses that speaks specifically to our point, "the homeowner client gets common, redundant plant selection in most every LA design"