What is the difference between a Landscaper and a Garden Designer?

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Do I need a Garden Designer, a Landscape Architect or a Landscaper?

Recently on the Ken Bruce BBC Radio 2 show, they have been joking about trades and how they describe themselves. It started with;

Q. “What’s the difference between a Gardener and a Landscape Gardener?”

A. “About £15 an hour!”

That’s probably a reasonable estimate in terms of charges, but if you are lucky enough to find a good gardener with some training or lots of experience they might well know more about gardening than many of those going under the banner of ‘Landscaper’ or even ‘Landscape Gardener’.
Plan for a small courtyard garden

Landscape Gardener or Landscapers (these two are most likely to be interchanged for each other) could broadly speaking be involved either in building gardens (patio’s, ponds and everything else) or they might be doing Landscape Maintenance (Yes, sorry, another term already) meaning large scale mowing, weeding, spraying etc. Less often they could be doing both of these things or working for a firm who do both of these.

Machinery and spraying require training and certification as well as incurring costs in maintaining and replacing it but what you are paying for is large scale effectiveness. Those who construct gardens also need training and certification for a wide range of machinery as well as a broad range of skills. You probably wouldn’t go for a cheap Tree Surgeon, at least not without checking their credentials (and insurance?) so you would be well advised to ask any Landscaper you employ about their insurance and certification(s). A good professional won’t mind at all being asked about these things.

Increasingly the lines are being blurred between Garden Designers and Landscapers. Garden Designers produce plans (hopefully to scale or otherwise the plans aren’t much use in my opinion) and they may then go on to help find a Contractor (that now means Landscaper or Landscape Gardener on a specific task) and maybe oversee the production of the garden. Landscapers increasingly offer Garden Design services which could mean that they employ a trained Garden Designer or that they themselves undertake design work.

Training in Garden Design varies from the odd day, courses for a week or two or up to several years. Some involve practical horticulture (that’s gardening and some more stuff about commercial growing, science and nomenclature (naming things)) and others do not. Some amateurs and those who are self-taught may know more about gardening than someone with Garden Design certificate, especially in specific subject areas. Equally many Landscapers often know more about the construction of garden features than someone whose training has been all drawings and theory (some but not all Garden Design Courses will be like this).

A Landscape Architect, by which I mean someone with a degree in Landscape Architecture should know a great deal about the construction of both gardens and larger commercial areas (car parks, shopping centres, play grounds etc.). Once again they may or may not have been taught about plants but the chances are that if they have much experience of gardening, they got that outside of their course studies or on a different, separate course.

The key issues for getting someone to design your garden don’t revolve entirely around what they call themselves. You really want them to have Professional Indemnity Insurance which gives you cover if anything you paid them to design fails in some way.

If they don’t have real gardening experience can they really design something low maintenance having not done any garden maintenance?

If they don’t fully understand how everything they are specifying is constructed you really need them to be working with someone who does.

Ideally they will understand the construction as otherwise there may be problems with the detail and finish of your garden. Ideally they bring the understanding and experience of a Gardener, a Landscaper (especially from the construction aspect) as well as a professional Garden Designer. Let me tell you, these people are few and far between.