Should this be my new job title? (as an aside, this is a lot of lawn for drought ridden Southern California – please be reassured that I have talked the clients into converting a sizable portion of it to edibles. And the rest of the property is succulents and drought tolerants. Okay – you can snark at me for designing this! If I can be a Snarkitecht so can YOU!)

Okay, this is a RANT.

For some reason, colleagues always want to introduce me as a Landscape Architect – and I always correct them. I am a Garden Designer, and proud of it. I don’t even like the title “Landscape Designer” – I think “Landscape Designers” want to separate themselves from plain old flower and plant obsessed Garden Designers – Landscape Designers feel the need to designate themselves as more serious than “gardeners” – but not quite as serious as “Landscape Architects”. I once had an online acquaintance with a garden world professional who would get his hackles raised whenever anyone would refer to him as a “gardener” – he always corrected them. Very pointedly. Without humor or irony. He was a LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT.

Well, I am happily not a Landscape Architect, I am a GLEEFUL GARDEN DESIGNER.

In fact, why not refer to me as what I really am – I am actually a LANDSCAPE SNARK-ITECHT.

I am judge-y. I am hyper-opinionated. I like my way, and if you don’t like it, I will yap at you until you go away (or you convince me that your way is the highway I need to follow – that does happen!). I have ideas about gardens, landscapes, gardeners, designers, landscapers, architects, design, and architecture. I like playing in all of the playgrounds, and I play on them often, and I usually play well with others.

But sometimes…

Today, I was on site having a bit of an altercation with a pool installer who didn’t like that I was supervising a re-do of some shoddy work he had performed. I had to stand over him and his crew and make certain that they did not repeat the mistakes they had previously made. He, thinking he could intimidate me, asked me in a loud and swaggering tone, (imagine Rush Limbaugh saying this and it’s like you were there), if I was a “certified Landscape Architect”.

I had to laugh.

This man was certified in his field, and turned in some of the worst work I had ever seen. He came highly recommended. And to boot, he was rude, crude, and boorish. The idea that he thought “outing” me as a mere garden designer (lower case) was going to shame me incited gales of laughter that wouldn’t stop. His crew started laughing with me. He stood alone, confused, in the middle of a beautiful garden that I made, wondering why everyone was laughing.

I am proud of what I do. I have done it for a long time, and I do it well. A certification in landscape architecture is a great thing for some people – it just wasn’t right for me. It is true that some people think only landscape architects can design outdoor spaces with attention to code and detail – this isn’t the case. What they have is, is a stamp. A certification. That certification is not proof of talent or experience – it is proof of passing classes and an exam. Those classes and exams are good things. But they are not the only things. Passion and excellence are not measured by such standards, they are measured in other ways. And some people don’t see those specific units of measure.

Am I crazy to be bothered by this? Have any of you had similar experiences? What are your thoughts? Right now I am 1/4 into a bottle of rose´ and I’m eager to hear if I am hypersensitive or WHAT. And if you are a Landscape Architect, do you think you are better than a good Garden Designer? Or are you just different? What are the differences? I know Landscape Architects who love doing detailed plantings and I know Garden Designers that kick ass on hardscape and codes, so I don’t think we can use those as lines of separation. I’m genuinely curious as to what my fellow ranters have to say.

I’m pouring myself another glass. Okay, talk amongst yourselves. I will be sure to chime in.

Posted by

Ivette Soler
on April 29, 2015 at 1:12 am, in the category Everybody’s a Critic.


    • Ivette Soler
    • 1st January 1970

    I see A. Marina – for you “Landscape” indicates scale, which makes sense. I think one does tend to think of “Garden” as a specific thing – full of plants and flowers, cozy – not necessarily a larger planting including transitioning spaces. Good loin! Your garden and the process of making it sounds lovely. Nothing like our gardens, right?

    • Jonas Spring
    • 22nd August 2008

    A perfect rant!
    I have a landscaping and gardening business in Toronto Canada. We do some design and work with lots of garden designers and landscape architects and can definitely identify with your comments. For me, the job is about enabling homeowner to be stewards of their land full stop regardless of the job title. Here are 4 things to consider regardless of your job title…
    1) A knowledge based approach to residential gardening anticipates the public asking questions about where things come from and how they are made.
    2) Seeing, appreciating and caring about land are three prerequisites to stewardship
    3) Sharing observations and recommendations about land enables residential landowners to be stewards
    4) Residential urban green space is the connective tissue to parks and ravines, together forming green corridors that are habitat for plants and wildlife.

    • Ivette Soler
    • 11th March 2014

    I love this list, Jonas, and the focus of your practice. Environmental stewardship has to more to the forefront of our client education, and it takes a certain kind of patience and great communication techniques. I am taking this to heart! Thanks for this comment.

    • admin
    • 19th March 2015

    Ok. You are breathing in my lungs, Yvette. We are one.
    I am SICK of landscape architects. There are many of them around here – mostly working as baristas at Starbucks and Caddies at the golf course – but SO many of the ones who are in high demand and setting the standard for design here in Atlanta have such little skill and creative ability and almost no plant knowledge that it’s bewildering that they are making all the money. I fix their work all the time.
    The University of Georgia sets new LA’s free every year with only one or two semesters of plant ID and no training in horticulture. They like the area and pour into Atlanta and the next thing I know, some kid who’s never heard of Rosemary Verey or Capability Brown is edging me out of a project because the client is impressed with the degree and doesn’t get that all those expensive CAD drawings are pretty to look at but could never translate to a real garden.
    I, too, am a garden designer. I also correct people who say otherwise (master gardener, landscaper, landscape architect). The best of the world’s gardens, even the ones being created currently, have been created by garden designers, not landscape architects.
    Our profession is deeply multi-disciplinary. We have to be able to understand land forms and drainage patterns, soil structure and microrhyzal communities. We have to be good arborists and know the root systems and resource needs of trees. We have to know how to till, weed, mulch, water, amend and prune. We have to be managers of clients, managers of employees and managers of contractors – all of whom will challenge every decision.
    We have to manage budgets and design to needs as varied as allergies and accessibility to roof top weight loads and occasional flood inundation.
    We have to know our materials – stone and concrete and gravel and steel and wood. We know the difference between a riser and a tread, a picket and a post.
    And then there is design. Scale and symmetry and site lines and focal points. We know that the passage of time is the most important design element in a garden. We know that the light in September will be different than the light in June, so the grasses should be planted with a dark backdrop so they will capture that light when they are in flower and shimmer. We know shimmer.
    And we know plants. Landscape architects don’t get trained about plants – not really. The few trees they know are all native and the shrubs all evergreen. Forget perennials. Perennials are irrelevant.
    Garden designers get that its about the plants, stupid. That’s a garden.
    A good garden designer would never accept the term “expert” as it relates to plants. We never quit learning and studying and marveling at the possibilities of plants.
    We also know that the nurseries and suppliers won’t have most of what you want or need and you’ll always be frustrated.
    I also get frustrated that my extensive knowledge and experience is now required to work in the mode of LA’s. I am expected to do extensive drawings for clients that can’t interpret them and provide Pinterest “inspiration boards” for my clients with such a lack of imagination that they can’t accept an original design, but must have a picture of “what it will look like” before its even invented.
    I’m a garden designer and I’m mad as hell and I’m not taking it anymore!

    • Ivette Soler
    • 10th July 2016

    PREACH David McMullin! You have expressed EXACTLY what I feel. The CAD drawings and models that LA’s impress clients with have almost nothing to do with the finished project (especially if the project is plant-driven), and can often mislead. I use graphics aids to communicate the vision of the garden to clients, but I have to use my words and experience to let them know that the garden will be unique and different and BETTER than any visual I could give them. And it is always true. The garden is a thing that becomes, not a thing you force into being. It has its own set of particulars and its own life to express, and merging your knowledge of all of the disciplines that a garden entails is like making magic. I know fantastic Garden Designers, Landscape Designers, and Landscape Architects, and their “fantastic-ness” is a result of their grace and breadth of knowledge; their expansiveness – NOT the degree or title. Thank you for being so eloquent as to all of the components doing our job entails. We are producers, directors, jugglers! I almost cried reading this comment!

    • admin
    • 15th October 2016

    Thanks Ivette, and sorry for the tears! That’s been happening alot lately…

    • skr
    • 13th November 2016

    It’s funny that you mention CAD drawings because one of the biggest problems I have is clients expecting the irrelevant marker rendered plans that most garden designers supply and clients can’t interpret. CAD drawings are for the contractors and building departments not clients. Clients don’t understand them anyways. They also generally don’t understand plans regardless of how nice the shading is either. That’s why I provide perspective drawings. No need for pinterest if you can just draw the idea quickly in perspective. I can’t tell you how many times I have shown a client a plan based on their suggestions and they were very happy. Then I showed them the perspective of what they thought they wanted and it’s like a switch is flipped and they realize that it would look nothing like what they imagined.

    • Ivette Soler
    • 10th December 2016

    You are right skr, that does happen. Perspective drawings are necessary, IMO

    • Ivette Soler
    • 17th December 2016

    Susan I agree! That is why I laughed at the contractor who was trying to shame me. It was so obvious that he didn’t get it, even to his own crew. I laughed for all of us who didn’t take the traditional route and came out on top anyway, because we love what we do. In many ways, being an autodidact is so much more challenging and we need to overcome obstacles to learn on our own what others learn in programs in schools. I am certainly NOT against training, not at all – but to think that a solid professional is “less than” because they took a less traditional approach to learn their trade is not taking passion and determination into consideration. And those can be two of the most important ingredients to success, in anything!

    • Mills
    • 17th December 2016

    As a licensed Landscape Architect, I guess I should weigh in here. Personally, I insist on being referred to as an LA because I worked hard to get an accredited degree and pass those brutal exams. I take offense when unlicensed individuals use the title that they have not earned.

    • Ivette Soler
    • 17th December 2016

    Mills thank you so much for commenting! Because I think the commitment to educate is very telling, and it gives potential clients reassurance that the person who has the training is up to the job. It is one of the reasons I always correct people when they refer to me as a “Landscape Architect” – I haven’t earned the accreditation, and it means something. Especially when working on projects of scale for corporate of governmental entities. I get that. But many of us who aren’t LA’s rise to a level of excellence, and we shouldn’t feel shame that we do good work without a title. (I want to be clear here that good designers always work with accredited professionals when codes need to be met – we can’t do our jobs without these people, so there is deep respect in these profession relationships) I wasn’t shocked when the douche-y contractor tried to one up me. Because in many cases, those of us who design gardens can be made to feel small and not serious enough to be bad-asses. That isn’t the case. There are awesome, bad-ass practitioners at every level!

    • skr
    • 17th December 2016

    I have worked with some LAs and architects for long periods of time. I’ve been a guest critic numerous times for LA and architecture student reviews and even filled in as instructor for some classes. IMO, LA is a profession in crisis. With few exceptions, the pedagogy is decades out of date and modes of representation are essentially the same as they were 40 years ago. Aesthetics seem to be a secondary or tertiary consideration after regeneration and politics. They spend enormous amounts of time memorizing plant IDs but the lack of practical experience with those plants makes that knowledge somewhat myopic.

    • Ivette Soler
    • 18th December 2016

    Very good points, skr – all of them! We are in total agreement. I am not bashing all Landscape Architects – I have worked with some very good ones, and know some great ones! I guess my beef is with the perception of them (as another commenter previously stated) as better than, more professional than a garden designer – when what it all really comes down to is the individual and their level of competency and determination. Scope is a big issue in this game, and having the accreditation does give an LA the kind of control that I, as a Garden Designer, don’t have – I need to work with certified professionals such as Architects, Landscape Architects, and Licensed Contractors to do my work to the standard I and my clients set for our projects. But the point is that a Garden Designer who has the “vision thing” and can wrangle together a great team and work hard to supervise and produce that vision is a credible force in our world as well, and shouldn’t be made to feel “less than”. Which is why I always correct people when they refer to me as an LA – I want people to know that Garden Designers can be badasses as well! But it is always about the individual practitioner. Thanks for the comment – totally right on.

    • Ivette Soler
    • 18th December 2016

    Anne, you are assuming a lot.
    I hired him, went over the process with him, and left him to do his job. When it came time for me to sign off on his work, it was shoddy and not done to plan – it had to be re-done. The client, who had been on site during the work, told me that they were nervous about the lack of site prep (and there was damage done to existing concrete by his crew). So I was on site to assure my client that my subcontractor was going to be taking the care he didn’t take during the first go around, to supervise a fix. That is my job – and fixing his mistakes is his job. If he had done the work to the specifications agreed upon, without damaging existing hardscape (which was at a distance from his work, btw), I would have had no problem at all. I love it when my contractors do their work well, and most of them do. But some of them don’t and then we have to work with them to get the results the clients expect. That is the job. Not every job goes smoothly – if only that were the case! But his behavior was something I hadn’t encountered in almost 20 years in this business – I didn’t mention the other things he said, which were completely beyond the pale.
    Yes, my button was obviously pushed. That is the point of this rant, duh. I think there is an idea that Landscape Architects are better, as a matter of course. And they aren’t. I think there are great examples of every kind of practitioner, and wonderful professionals in every category of exterior design and build. Often, we mere Garden Designers get short shrift. That day, that attitude was used against me in a particularly unprofessional and brutish way, so yes – I resented it. And I wrote about it. And if you think this is a spazz-out, that’s cool, I’ll take it! I’m not above being a spazz. But I am above being inappropriate on my job sites, which is why I just had to laugh and walk away, rather than engage. (believe me – I don’t know who you are or what your stake in the game is, but I am pretty sure if you were on site you would not be backing up the pool guy who did the bad work)

    • Ivette Soler
    • 18th December 2016

    Oh Anne, that would have been terrible if I was just swooping in from out of the blue like a crazy controlling Diva! Hahahahaha! I knew I needed to give a little more context. Because I know that there ARE people who would do things like that, and I would hate for anyone to think that I would be one of them! Thanks for your super nice words

    • Liz
    • 18th December 2016

    Hi Ivette, thanks for making me giggle… and groan. I love your writing and snarkiness, and I love this blog in general–I’m a daily reader. For myself, as a young landscape architect (halfway through the exams!), I do not like snobbery, reverse or otherwise, and I find myself sympathizing with many of your points. I really am tired, however, of people dismissing or bashing landscape architects, and I am tired of landscape architects poo-pooing those without certifications or who have not gone to a fancy Ivy-league design school. Why can’t we all just get along?

    • Ivette Soler
    • 19th December 2016

    Your comment is awesome Liz – and I commend you for going to school and committing to this industry. You are totally right, and yes, LA’s are easy to bash because they are on a bit of a pedestal in this industry, so others love to see the mighty fall. That is unfair – if someone is really mighty, I don’t want them to fall! I want to see what they do and learn from them! I want to go out for drinks and pick their brains! I want to be their BFF!!! And I appreciate a commitment to education. When we who aren’t Landscape Architects get all butt-hurt about something, it is usually because we have lost jobs to young guns with computer skills, and many of us have had years in the field and we have to fight for every bit of credibility we can get. So in my case, when someone I hired tried to shame me and take away my credibility, it got to me. It was so mean, and that kind of dismissiveness is hanging out there in the underbelly of this industry. Thank you for not being that way! Thank you for being inclusive and getting that it is all in the individual practice. And thanks for loving the RANT!!!! I’m glad you are enjoying yourself here – we love having you on board. I like the honest talk, so keep it coming!

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