What is Landscape Design?

What is a Landscape Design?

A landscape design at its basic, is a drawn and written down plan of landscape and garden spaces. A design can be created on various scales depending on the project. For example, a city may have an urban plan which may show where new parks or green infrastructure will go. On a smaller scale, a landscape design can be created for a park, a farm, or a residential property. Even smaller, a garden design can be created for an individual garden bed within a landscape.

A landscape design will show the location of any buildings on site, the layout of hardscape spaces such as patios and pathways, plants with their botanical names, and any other applicable garden elements including ponds, drainage swales, lighting, topography, or irrigation lines.

Who Does Landscape Design?

Like any other profession, there are different types of landscape professionals in the field.

A landscape architect, is a licensed professional who sustains the licensure in their state each year. To be licensed, one has had to meet certain educational and experiential requirements, pass an exam, earn continuing education credits and renew their license annually. Landscape architects often focus on more complicated projects that require more extensive knowledge like grading soil and drainage. They can design urban spaces, parks, arboretums, campuses, shopping centers, neighborhoods, etc. Landscape architects often work for the government or architecture/engineering/landscape architecture firms. Some may focus on residential design. Often they have a degree in landscape architecture.

Landscape designers can come from a variety of backgrounds. Some may have studied horticulture or landscape architecture. Some may come from creative backgrounds such as art. Others just learned the skill working in the landscaping trade. Landscape designers can be self taught or educated specifically in landscape design programs. Some may be able to design elements such as hardscape spaces while some may only do planting designs. There are landscape design certifications and professional organizations one can be a part of such as the APLD. Anyone can say they’re a landscape designer, but their experience and education should show this. Landscape designers may work for a variety of companies. Some garden nurseries have landscape designers on staff. Some landscape designers work independently- only creating the designs. Often, they will work with sub-contractors to have the designs installed. Other landscape designers work within a small company that designs and builds.

If you’d like a landscape design with plants, some hardscaping, or a small pond, a landscape designer may be the right fit. You will want to search for the right landscape designer for your project.

EARTHeim is a member of the Ecological Landscape Alliance and the owner is a Kentucky Certified Nurseryman.

Landscapers are those who work as a landscape professional, but may not have any background or knowledge in design. They focus on the maintenance and installation aspect of a landscape design.

If you’d just like a few plants installed in your garden, you may not need a design and can hire a landscape professional or gardener to complete this task.

What does a landscape design look like?

A professional should be able to create a landscape design plan easy to read on paper. Every designer creates and uses their plans differently- some may be hand drawn or some may be created digitally. Some may create black and white plans that are practical, while some invest time to create an illustrated plan with color and special graphics. If the designer is assisting with the installation, the designer may only draw out what was needed for them.

The design plan itself is often a piece of artwork. The final design itself depends on the training the landscape designer received, the dynamic of their business or company, and the resources available to create the plan, such as expensive software.

What Goes Into Creating a Plan?

What goes into a garden design depends on the professional you’ve hired to create it! I can only speak on what I put into my own landscape designs. I myself put a lot detailed thought and hours into the landscape designs I create.

Anyone can call themselves a landscape designer, whether they’ve read one book on the subject, or attended lots of school. It is up to the customer to do their research on the company or person they’re looking to hire.

All of the designs I do are completely custom to the site and client. As an ecological landscape designer who specializes in native plant and edible gardens, I have a palette of hundreds of plants to choose from to achieve the desire I’m looking to quench. On the other hand, some landscape designers use the same 10 plants in every design and reuse the same planting layouts.

The design plans I create are black and white, scaled to size, and computer drafted. They’re usually printed on a large sheet for ease of reading. All designs have enough details for installation purposes. My clients may request a hand drawn color drawing if desired.

Monarch Waystation Design
This preliminary design sketch helped the homeowner envision a Monarch Waystation that also had two rain gardens and a seating area.

Do I need a Landscape Design?

Yes, everyone should have a landscape plan- whether the client does it themselves or hires a designer. If someone decided to have a house built, I’m sure the construction would go a lot smoother with an architect’s blueprints. It is really not much different with a landscape design.

Just like anything else, having a well thought out landscape plan can help a lot in saving time, money, resources, and mental well being. The question is really for the client; want do you wish to accomplish? The client will need to decide if they want to create a plan themselves or hire someone to create it for them.

This homeowner was tired of the half dead boxwoods and roses that was the home’s foundation plantings. She desired an updated look that would have interest all year long and brighter colors.

What a Landscape Design Can Do

Creating a proper landscape design takes knowledge- knowing good plant species and where to plant them, microclimates, soil, drainage, functionality, flow, how to plant, local resources available, aesthetic appeal just to name a few. A good landscape designer will see things in the landscape that only a trained eye could pick out. A landscape designer can save the client:

  • Money
  • Time
  • Mental Well Being


  • Doing the job right the first time
  • Right plant, right space
  • Preventing disease or pest issues
  • Proper maintenance techniques
  • Having a garden that will last
  • Creating something you will enjoy
  • Local resources for materials
  • Enhancing the property value and appeal

For example, someone may love a certain tree and must have it in their garden. However, a landscape professional may know that tree does not survive the harsh winters of the area (even though the garden centers still sell it). A customer could spend hundreds of dollars buying the tree and having it planted. All along, hiring a professional designer could have saved the expense. This alone could have covered the cost of hiring the professional designer.

Designing your own garden can be a satisfying project to tackle yourself, but hiring a professional landscape designer could and most likely will save you time, money, and hard work in the long run. Professional, good, landscape design is a skill that is learned over years just like any other skilled trade.

“There are a lot of generic landscape designers out there, but a really good one is going to listen to the site and pick plants that will work there.” says landscape designer, Steven Hamilton.


Why Should I Hire A Landscape Designer?

2 thoughts on “What is Landscape Design?

  1. Thank you for pointing out that it will help the landscaping contractor if the client already has an idea about the kind of look that they want and has already set a budget for it. If I were the contractor, that would really help since that will save a lot of time. Due to this, I will start talking to my hubby about the garden. After all, we have yet to determine whether to go for an enchanted garden or a Zen garden.

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