Once you have scheduled the meetings do the following...
- Make a list of what you are looking for in your garden. Color full plants, a place to sit and relax..... Look at books, magazine even online for ideas. Better yet go on a drive by of your neighborhood and take pictures of what you like. These are all things that will help the designer get a view into your thoughts.
- When you meet the designer for the first time don't expect the whole shebang. Yes the designer will give you ideas but they won't give you the entire pie. Just a slice is most likely all you will get (your autograph will get you the rest of the pie). This is were you need to be very blunt with the designer in terms of what you need/want. Give them your list and things to show what you like. Be open minded to the fact that what you want may not work in the space you have.
- By now you should have met with 2-3 designer and have 2-3 contracts in your hand. READ THEM CAREFULLY! Read the part about what they are going to do for you. It should be clear from measuring the site to creating concept plans (how many concepts? In color or in 3d?). Are they giving you a planting plan and a hardscape plan or just one combined plan? This section usually called scope of work should be clear as to what the designer will do for you and if it is not then ask for clarification. There is no true method on whom to pick. But consulting friends and family never hurts. Sometimes the prices are so similar that you may just have to go with your gut on how you felt with each designer.
Once you have hired the designer (signed the contract and paid a deposit) then the following steps will take place...
- Site analysis, measuring site and taking site photos.
- The landscape designer at this point will prepare a conceptual landscape plan based on the site analysis and your needs and budget.
- Meeting with the client to go over the conceptual landscape plan.
- At this stage the landscape designer will prepare construction documents, which will be very accurate so that the contractor can bid from them.
- Final meeting with the client to present construction documents and give as many required copies as needed to the client and collect final payment (a landscape designer will and should always collect final payment upon delivery of final drawings).
- The landscape designer will meet with the contractor to go over the design and make sure that the intent in understood. Most designers will have a network of contractors that they work with and will refer some of them to you. Just Ask!
- Once the plant material arrives on site the landscape designer should be there to place the plants (fee for this service should be included in the contract).
- The landscape designer should make periodical visits to the job site to ensure that the design is not only being installed correctly but also installed per plan (fee for this service should be included in the contract).
If you live in Orange County California you should definitely check out The Orange County Landscape Design Network, which is a network of landscape designers, landscape contractors and landscape maintenance professionals. There you can find a reputable and reliable person to suit your needs.
If you have to hire someone that has license in landscape architecture then you should check out the American Society of Landscape Architects website for a list of licensed landscape architecture businesses. In most cases you will not need to hire a listened landscape architect unless you are building a structure that is more than 3 feet high.
When I used to work for a landscape architecture firm we almost never took projects that were someones front or backyard because the firm had to much overhead and small scale projects like someone house was not profitable enough, so it is best to hire the landscape designer/architect who has little overhead and thus can afford to be cheaper. This is usually someone who has very few or no staff other than oneself.
"The myth that a landscape architect is always more expensive than a landscape designer is just that a myth."
Remember that the rates of a landscape designer and/or landscape architect is dependent on overhead. A landscape architect or designer with a firm that is a one man firm will always be cheaper than a firm with multiple employees.