If you’re looking for a landscape professional, don’t focus too much on the person’s title or professional degree, says David Jochnowitz, president of the local chapter of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. Here’s why:
Most landscape architects have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in landscape architecture, and in Maryland and Virginia they must be licensed. DC has no degree or licensing requirements.
Anyone can use the term “landscape designer,” but many people in the field do have degrees in horticulture, botany, or urban design. Some, like Jochnowitz, have a degree in landscape architecture but have never completed the qualifications to become certified. Even people without degrees can be well suited for some design work: George Washington University’s two-year certificate program in landscape design has a good reputation.
In general, landscape-architecture programs emphasize hardscaping—patios, walkways, retaining walls, drainage systems, and other structural elements. Landscape-design programs focus more on horticulture. But many landscape architects are knowledgeable about plants, and some landscape designers have expertise in construction and engineering.
There’s a lot of collaboration between the two specialties. Landscape architect Jack Sullivan, coordinator of the University of Maryland’s landscape-architecture program, says he often consults with a landscape designer “who has no relevant degree or license but has an incredible design sense.”
Interview several landscape professionals, look at their portfolios, and review their Web sites. Consider whether you like their work, whether the chemistry feels right, and whether their experience is appropriate for the project.
Sullivan offers additional tips:
• Look to see if the portfolio represents diverse ideas. If all of the projects look similar, it’s possible the professional is using only his or her ideas rather than collaborating with the homeowner.
• Ask about the payment structure and that the process be done in phases so you can stop at different stages and review the work to decide whether to proceed—before all your money has been spent.
There is a variety of other ways to find landscape professionals: Neighborhood e-mail listservs, usually free, can be a good resource. Some free online services offer lists of recommended landscape architects, designers, and other professionals; examples are Home Solutions Connection (homesolutionsconnection.com), Urban Referrals (urbanreferrals.com), and Home Connections (homeconnections.com).
For a $15 membership fee and $8.75 a month, Angie’s List (angieslist.com) provides a similar service. And for subscribers to Washington Consumers’ Checkbook (checkbook.org; $34 for two years), the Neighbor-to-Neighbor section is a forum for homeowners to share recommendations.
Two professional associations have free searchable databases of members: the American Society of Landscape Architects (asla.org) and the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (apld.org).
What follows isn’t a comprehensive list of good landscape professionals—there are many more reputable and creative firms in the area—but it can be a starting point. These are some of the names most frequently recommended by architects, remodelers, garden centers, landscape architects and designers, and readers. Included are design/build firms, which are designated as such, and landscape-architecture firms, which provide only design services but often have relationships with contractors.
Arentz Landscape Architects, 4201 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 407; 202-537-8020; additional office in Warrenton; arentzdc.com. At this design/build firm, owner Richard Arentz and his team of six landscape architects use a lot of stone and water in large-scale, high-end residential projects.
Chapel Valley Landscape Company, 3275 Jennings Chapel Rd., Woodbine, 301-924-5400; 20 S. Quaker La., Suite 110, Alexandria, 703-823-5751; 21617 Cedar La., Sterling, 703-406-0802; chapelvalley.com. Large design/build firm that does residential and commercial projects. Specialty in installation of large trees.
Clinton & Associates, 5200 Baltimore Ave., Suite 201, Hyattsville; 301-699-5600; clinton-la.com. Sandra Clinton, a landscape architect, horticulturist, and general contractor, worked for Oehme, van Sweden for 14 years before opening her design/build firm.
Fine Earth Landscape, 16815 Budd Rd., Poolesville; 301-983-0800; fineearth.com. Design/build firm with a gardening and maintenance division; specializes in high-end projects.
Fine Landscapes, 21558 Stonetree Ct., Sterling; 703-421-7441. High-end design/build firm doing projects mostly in Great Falls, McLean, and Leesburg.
Garden Gate Landscaping, 821 Norwood Rd., Silver Spring; 301-924-4131; gardengate.net. This 44-year-old design/build and maintenance firm does only residential projects.
Graham Landscape Architecture, 229 Prince George St., Annapolis; 301-858-5330; grahamlandarch.com. This highly recommended firm does a lot of work along the Chesapeake Bay.
Gregg Bleam Landscape Architect, 110-B Second St., NE, Suite 202, Charlottesville; 434-977-3232; gbla.net. This Charlottesville firm is known for its modern style and does lots of projects in Washington.