No matter what your goals, site, or budget, gardening advice and design ideas exist for you. There are 3 basic categories or levels of advisors: coaches, designers, and architects. We’ll touch on all 3 here, and explain the differences. See our glossary for additional professional terms, such as Master Gardener, horticulturalist, and garden writer.
(The logos are links.)
Garden coaching is a new-ish term for an activity much older. Think of a personal trainer for your yard, somebody to help break the buy-and-die cycle.
Lots of people love to garden but most don’t have the education to solve all the many quirky problems that one’s site may present. Garden coaches are, like us, typically also members of one of the other categories, but coaching is what they call the basket of services that have less to do with getting their hands dirty (it's landscape maintenance contractors who do it all for you) or producing detailed drawings (that's a designer), and more to do with increasing your capacity to make great things happen when you get your own hands dirty. Educator + horticulturalist + designer + cheerleader.
You can expect specific services to range from $75 on up, depending on your area of the country and on what particular services you are requesting. By the time a large project is done, you may have paid $500 to a $1000 (and done a fair chunk of the labor yourself). When you consider how many plants most folks buy and then kill by putting them in the wrong spot or inadequately preparing the planting bed or overwatering (or not watering at all!), a garden coach’s help starts sounding like a money saver.
Landscape and/or Garden Designer
Landscape Designer or Garden Designer are terms that vary a little bit from place to place, but both generally bespeak someone with both a horticultural background and some empathy or education on the design side as well. Some ornamental horticulturalists would fit in here too.
Landscape designers are often the people to call if you have no desire to participate in the heavy labor side of gardening yourself, or have decided to do something that you and your coach have decided is safer left to specific professionals, same as you'd call an arborist about a tree with a serious lilt near a power line.
HINT: Terracing the steep twenty-foot slope leading down to your driveway would count as a project for professionals.
You can expect specific services to range from $700 on up, depending on your area of the country and on what particular services you are requesting. By the time a particular large project is done, you may have paid $2000 to $20,000 (and not have lifted a finger yourself). When you consider the labor these projects require and the immense value they can add to your home, this is a net gain for everybody but the D.I.Y. gardener, who’d rather save the money by learning to it themselves.
Word to the Wise: Drawing a measured plan, section, or elevation of your garden is also a professional project. Don't expect a coach to undercut a designer and charge you less for this skilled service than the another professional would charge.
Landscape Architects are highly trained design professionals with a broad knowledge base that covers ecological, material, and legal considerations.
Building your dream house? A prime mistake is to build the house and then call the landscape architect. Get them in early to site the house with the most beautiful views (rather than on top of what used to be the most beautiful views), and to leave the best ground open for your garden!
Most visible in the public eye for their work in public parks (the profession's name was coined during the creation of New York’s Central Park) and corporate settings, most landscape architects also work on residential projects. This is the profession from which civil engineering sprung, and a landscape architecture degree still covers a fair percent of the concepts focused on by civil engineers.
Landscape architects are required to be licensed or certified (language varies). If your project is large enough, you may be legally required to involve them even if you didn't think of it at first. Though they may charge in increments of hours, except in unusual circumstances do not expect to pay less than $50,000. You are hiring the whole office, a wealth of education, and someone quite capable of designing your entire neighborhood.
In fact, that’s not a bad idea. How about getting your neighborhood association to hire these folks to spiff up the entry road, solve the fire truck turn-around issue, and restore that sad park by the stream that’s eroding? The kids need a healthier place to play.