How to find a landscape designer/architect in my area?

jakabedy(Alabama)August 18, 2008

I'm typically on the decorating boards, so I'm new to you folks. I hope you can help me out!

We've been in our home for a year and now have some ideas about what is working and what isn't, and what we'd like to see improved. As a layperson, I believe drainage improvements/changes are going to play a big part, but it isn't something we want to undertake DIY if it won't actually solve the problem.

We're in a rural area, on three acres. Mostly wooded, with about an acre near the house cleared with some decrepit ca. 1978 raised beds in the center (planning on taking all of those out). The house is MCM, post-and-beam, lots of glass and architectural interest.

There really isn't any "landscape" to speak of aside from the aforementioned beds and a vague idea of a dividing line between woods and lawn -- pretty much a clean slate. We'd like to keep it natural, but in a more organized way, addressing natural runoff areas that aren't necessarily in the best spots.

So, we're agreed that we'd like to get some professional help to perhaps design a master plan, to be implemented over time. But I'm at a loss as to how to find the right person for the job. Our area (between Birmingham and Montgomery, AL) is mainly very traditional, with what designer websites, local publications, etc. I find focused on formal gardens, cottage gardens, fountains and the like.

We're not going to have a big budget up front, nor are we going to embark on a lot of hardscaping, and I don't want to waste my own time or the time of a designer who just wouldn't be a good fit.

The home and site are unusual, so it's not as though we can drive around and find a home we like and inquire. I thought about going to the better private nurseries in the area and inquiring, and there is always the phone book. But is there a better way?

Her's a photo of the place, so you know what we're working with.

Thank you!


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Pick up your phone and start calling people. You'll find some that won't want to bother, some that might not do what you want to have done, but eventually you'll find some that will be worth having out to look at the job and get looked at by you as well.

You are not looking at boxes on shelves. You have to interact in order to find out. The web is not the place to get it done. Sure, you can find some information on the web, but you'll still need to interact with them before you know. Nothing will happen until you start talking to potential designers.

The web is not good for this at all. It starts with the phone and moves to face to face interaction. A web site will tell you little.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 1:29PM
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OK, that's one vote for "call whomever is listed in the phone book."

I know there isn't much info on the web, hence my post. And although I am not in the business, I am vaguely aware of the difference between landscaping and a box on a shelf (the landscaping has the green fuzzy stuff on it, right?)

Of course, calling everyone in the book is always an option. I guess I was looking for another route (how to get a word-of-mouth referral, trade organization, etc.) to limit the number of contacts I would need to make and to increase the probability that I would find someone prepared to actually do the job.

I always think of the yellow pages as a good place to look for interchangeable goods (windshields, tow trucks) but not so much for something like this. I guess I could go for the ones with the prettiest ads . . .

    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 2:07PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

As a fellow layperson, my uncertainty would kick in at the point where the phone is answered. The dialing I could handle. But what then? You do need your questions ready. There are some old threads on this forum that might help you formulate those.

I've discovered one kind of interesting thing when I shop for services, being DIY in outlook which means I'm usually up the learning curve (or think I am) from the average person person whether it is landscaping or windows or investment advice I'm shopping for. Thus we often bypass retail suppliers and go to wholesalers or commercial-level suppliers directly.

But what I've discovered is that companies that don't really want to be serving your needs or your market segment won't do a good job for you on some level or another.

So I WOULD pay attention to who is advertising to get your attention. Are there ever home and garden shows in your area, is there a local gardening magazine in which landscapers might advertise, or is there a weekly section in the paper? And one electronic thing you can do to gauge interest is to email them a photo after talking with them. See who gets the most excited by the opportunity.

But bear in mind it may not be landscape designers that you're looking for. It may almost be a civil engineering firm that can help you with your drainage issues. Or a service with the words "landscape architecture" in their description - Laag can correct me if this is wrong.

By the way, your house would fit here in BC like hand in glove. It's pretty cool.


    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 4:48PM
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lpinkmountain(5b/6a border PA)

You might try calling a university nearby that offers landscaping as a major, and ask for advice from one of the professors. Also try calling the Cooperative Extension. There may be professional organizations that have directories. Don't underestimate looking for good examples. Find local show gardens and visit garden tours and expos. Ask around. And be absolutely sure to check references and look at places they have already done. Make sure they have done something previously in a style you love.
I found my landscape designer thru a local community college where she taught. Just one way, not the best or only one. I would also ask at nurseries that I love. For example, I have two colleagues who own a native plant nursery and they work with certain designers, so if I was in your situation I'd try to find a similar nursery and talk to the folks there. I had a work colleague whose husband was a LA, I talked to him for advice too. These are some examples of possible strategies, not the only ones. Take your time and do not move forward until you find just the right person. Don't settle, that's my advice!

    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 7:16PM
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hope you like my design online

    Bookmark   August 19, 2008 at 5:54AM
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i love ALL your outlandish designs 'landscapedesignchina' !!!
(even if they have no connection whatsoever with their site:)

    Bookmark   August 19, 2008 at 6:01AM
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You may want to contact APLD for a member list.

Word of mouth referals come from talking to people in your area who have recently had landscapes built that you like on homes similar in style and value to yours. You mentioned that you are in a rural area which would make one assume that there is not a lot of properties that would fit the description above. That really cuts down on the opportunity for word of mouth referal.

Because of that limitation, I think you have the choice of trying to complicate the process, or to just dive in and speak directly with people offering these services in order to try to find one that you are comfortable with and is interested in your project. You will wind up doing that no matter how you determine who you will call. I'm suggesting that it might take less time and effort to start there given that most rural areas do not have a huge long list of LAs and LDs in the yellow pages.

I would not discount those that do not advertise heavily. This is a business that requires a lot of time invested in a project before you actually get a signed contract to work - driving out to meet client, spending time discussing project, walk through the project, show portfolio and self promote, define the scope of work, and write up a proposal. Advertising heavily draws lots of dead leads which burn up a lot of time. Consequently, busier people tend to advertise less in order to avoid that wasted time. Word of mouth referals are much better to the designer because they tend to match the profile of the people who he already has done work for therefore having a much higher liklihood of getting the work.

There are several things working against you that is going to limit the response to you. I'm not trying to rain on the parade, but only to point out how it is viewed from the other end of the phone line.
1. You are in a rural area - Often landscaping is a keep up with the Jonses thing. If the Jonses don't have much, the Smith's are not usually looking for much either. It also means more time invested in trying to get the work due to the distance.
2. You are going to implement the job over a longer period of time. That will deflate any design/build company because they translate that to mean that you don't want to spend any money on having them build it or you want to do some of it yourself.
3. A small budget to start with. - This combined with the above is going to make a prospective LD/LA think twice about taking the time to pursue the job. This is because they know they have to make their income on the design alone since there will be little opportunity to manage the project or sell materials. Designers learn very early on that when the budget is low people don't tend to spend a grand or two on a design. While it is not always true, it is not a productive segment of the market, so it is usually avoided.

What a potential client sees to be an opportunity for a designer can also be seen as a high potential of a lot of time and effort invested in a low paying job with a very slim chance of getting it.

What do you expect to pay for a Master Plan?

    Bookmark   August 19, 2008 at 7:28AM
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Thanks, all, for your responses.

landscapedesignchina -- very interesting, but that is a whole lot of stuff going on!

I think laag hit on some of the problems we'll face. This is more of a private landscape -- not something others will see. And we're not looking for a lot of new plantings, although I know that will be a part of it. The initial work will be to reroute or bury the surface water runoff so some planting (or even mulching) of some kind can take place. I'm looking to spend uo to $1,000 on a master plan. But if I can get someone to get a grasp on the water issue, we may go ahead and have that work done sooner rather than later.

We do live rurally, but we're essentially now a bedroom community 30 miles outside of Birmingham, AL, and 60 miles from Montgomery, so there are several landscape architects and many designers in the general vicinity.

I've got a week off after Labor Day, so I think that's when I'll be able to really focus on this. I'm going to try the Extension Office route, as I think there is a guy assigned to our area (he has a column in the little weekly paper out here sometimes). I'm also going to try the nursery route. I'll be in town this weekend, too, so I'm going to try to hit the neighborhoods with the MCM homes and see if there is anything that really looks great -- I'll just knock on their door.

Thanks again . . .

    Bookmark   August 19, 2008 at 10:32AM
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hi,i will be glad if i can help u.
As u see, i can make the rendering plan with your photos. if u have more photos which are at the other shooting angle, or a sketch of your whole garden that show its size and shape concretely, i think i can make a Master Plan.
On the other hand, please give more information about thedrainage improvements/changes , i will paper to CAD.
actually, that's a easy way for u . i wish u will have a perfect garden!

    Bookmark   August 19, 2008 at 1:34PM
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I lived in a house that looked exactly like yours.
It was located in Northridge CA during the early 70s.
My fondest memory was disobeying ( as usual ) my mother by rolling skating in the house with a bunch of friends.
Naughty David Kopin pulled Lily SaadaÂs pants off ( how he managed that was a feat of human dexterity ) and skated right through one of the giant sliding glass doors which shattered into a gazillion little pieces.
Fortunately David only incurred a slight concussion, Lily a mild case of embarrassment and Victor Stein, who wasnÂt even there, endured the wrath of my mother because we blamed it on him.
I think I got grounded for a week but it was worth it to see LilyÂs new hot pink bikini underwear. I was a changed woman after that.
So was David.
He was my boyfriend , but soon there after he had a new boyfriend. - Sigh -
We all changed a lot that year.

As for your landscape, check out a couple of good modernist books for inspiration before meeting with a landscape architect. - check the local ASLA - American Society of Landscape Artichokes .
One that might pique some interest is by Pamela Burton called Private Landscapes : Modern Gardens in Southern California

Also peruse the historical architectural website for Eichler.
This guy designed a bunch of homes that look just like yours.

And you might think of finding some of those big colorful peel and stick appliqués for the sliding glass windows. Especially if you have naughty teenagers, or a fun and feisty husband.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2008 at 3:54PM
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deviant -- too funny! And yes, the house would be perfect for roller derby. There is a "track" of pavers that circles the indoor garden area and goes through the galley kitchen. It has gotten its heaviest use from my stepmother's Corgis, who never tire of the circuit.

And I do hit the Eichler board, Lotta Living, etc. I'm looking for a toned-down'50s-style landscape eventually, but suitable for our climate here in the South. I love the old Sunset magazines and BH&G landscaping books, but I think they labored under the impression that everyone lives in sunny, temperate, scantilly-bugged, California. I'm getting gerneral ideas from those books/mags, but will need someone with local knowledge to translate it into Alabaman.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2008 at 5:57PM
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I think that you do have a good shot at getting a good person out there to solve your drainage problem without hiring an LD r LA. Most LDs have no training whatsoever with drainage issues and no LA in his right mind is going to take on the responsibility of drainage with a small scope of work (risk is high, pay is low).

You might want to call a couple of civil engineering offices to see who they might recommend for a site contractor that does well with these issues. They probably will not design anyting, but they will explain the solution and give you a price to do it. Then you can move on to a landscape designer once the problem is fixed.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2008 at 8:03PM
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