Everybody's a Critic

LANDSCAPE SNARK-ITECHT!!!

Should this be my new job title?

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 on April 29, 2015 at 1:12 am, in the category Everybody's a Critic.
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45 responses to “LANDSCAPE SNARK-ITECHT!!!”

  1. Oh boy, oh boy, am I late to this party! All I can say is AMEN, sister! I am a GARDEN DESIGNER! Garden is a place where humans and nature interact. It’s beautiful and messy and complicated. Landscape is out there…somewhere…and begs you not to enter or touch or get messy. Now pass that bottle! ~Julie

  2. Brian Boyce says:

    I believe Le Notre- you know, that French guy that built some gardens in France a long time ago ? -called himself a Landscape Gardener…

  3. Astra says:

    I would suggest you write a book, but I think Lauren Springer and Scott Ogden already covered this rant in print!

  4. You know, its pretty simple. In our world you go to college, get a degree, graduate and get a job. Its just that in garden design that methodology doesn’t work.
    The old schema of apprenticing and getting hands-on experience and cultivating a well-rounded personal esthetic is really the best way to become a good designer of gardens.
    I know many landscape architects who thought that degree and education would bring them to a creative career. They have been disappointed.
    Yvette, I am very intrigued with how you work and your efforts to rebrand and would love to have a more in-depth discussion with you about those things.
    I am needing an oracle…I am at a crossroads!

    • Ivette Soler Ivette Soler says:

      David, I’m glad you mentioned apprenticeships and mentors, because I was incredibly lucky to start my career with a remarkable woman, Judy Kameon of Elysian Landscapes. I was by her side when she started the company and I left at her urging and with her support, because she saw that I was ready to tackle this business on my own. Her book, “Gardens are for People”, is a wonderful record of someone who is an awesome force of design, business, and artistry. I was set free to play in some incredible spaces – she allowed be to learn and grow right alongside the gardens we made, and there is no way I could be ME without her encouragement and cheerleading. That was the bulk of my education, and it was better than a degree from any school. The classes that I took to get up to speed and gain control over my materials and practices were necessary, but that office was my education.
      As for re-branding – it is just that my design work has become my focus, and so far all of my business has been focused around my blogging, writing, and designing as one multi-headed hydra. I have to create a separate identity that doesn’t merge the design and the writing. For my sanity. I want my writing to be my refuge! I truly don’t think I am oracle ready – once I feel slightly sane we can see if I can manage it, but I’m sure you will have successfully navigated your crossroads by then and won’t need a pitstop at Delphi!

  5. burie says:

    Ivette – good for you! Whatever the intricacies of contracts, titles, definitions, and codes, standing up for esthetics, quality of work/prep, site foibles, and common sense is more important ultimately for the sake of the client, than whether the process meets some standards set by folk who fail to know how plants ‘think’. Codes are dumb obvious factors, always accounted for as you would rock ledges – work them in as a opportunity.

    You have ranted well for those of us who are artists and environmentalists, and design spaces that flow with the nature of the surroundings and the tastes of our clients. I realize that some LA’s DO also have passion for the design and are sensitive to common sense while ‘drawing outside the lines’ set down in the codes of their degrees. Hurray for those pro’s!

    As a garden designer I opt to reject projects that require use of some professional validation and insist that I am not, nor would I ever want to be limited by the definition and ideology of Landscape Architect. Good garden design recognizes a sites issues such as drainage, geological character, soil types, exposures and microclimates. We have empathy for the client’s personal preferences and guide them gently towards practical and pleasing/exciting results. We introduce considerations such as habitat and native blendings – often a bonus to ambiance previously unknown to the owner.

    Your stature is enviable, and your clients are very fortunate to have you as an advocate. Thank you for the chance to vent along with you.

    PS – to make my point, I love to place something tall where rules say it should not go … radical fun!

    • Ivette Soler Ivette Soler says:

      Burie, thanks for your spirited comment! It is heartening to know that I am not the only one of us who struggles with this issue, because sometimes I feel like I am being pouty or a baby – but, like in Dirty Dancing, you can’t put THIS Baby in a corner! Those of us who have worked in the industry for years know how things work, and we have a deep respect for codes and for our colleagues who aid us in navigating the system to get our work made safely, to high standards, and to client satisfaction. But we have to be honest, sometimes you need to be a cowboy. Even if it is just in theory, rather than practice. I also pass on work often, because frankly I am not qualified for certain jobs, and that is okay with me. When I am asked to consult on large projects by architects, I am happy to lend my specific expertise to theirs. None of them has ever made me feel “less than” because I am not a landscape architect. They respect what I do – and I want that for all of us who work hard, who expand our boundaries, and who race ahead of the pack. We may not be able to do some things, but the things we do, we KICK ASS AT!
      You are so sweet to speak so highly of me – I’m not sure I deserve it, because I slog around ALOT. We all do, don’t we? But in the end, when we stand in our spaces, seeing them grow and change and become even BETTER than we envisioned, it is all worth it.

  6. Rhea says:

    Love this, but hate to say it’s the same in every profession. I was a degreed musician on my way to Broadway when a marriage T-boned it’s way into my Tony award path and I had to figure out how to bring in some income. As it turned out I found I had an affinity for accounting (there is a correlation between numbers and music, stay with me…) and also didn’t want to go the rest of my life making $8 an hour. So I took some college courses and then passed the CPA exam. Immediately, I was in demand and my income doubled. Did I really know that much more than when I started? Probably in some areas, but enough to double my income? As I became a manager of accounting folks, my bosses were hung up on degrees and pedigrees while I found more talented folks without all that fluff. It was a constant battle with the powers to hire the person with the right skill set, instead of the piece of paper.

    And yes, I am also an avid gardener. Found the same thing after going through the Master Gardener program here. Suddenly, I wasn’t “just a gardener” any more I was a Master Gardener.

    Unfortunately, we live in a society where titles are more important that substance.

    • Ivette Soler Ivette Soler says:

      Rhea you are sooooo right. It should be about the skill set, not the letters. But it hardly EVER is. Society loves titles. But I have always been such an iconoclast! Hey by the way, good on you for making such a great about face in the career dept. I did almost the same thing – went from acting to garden design. It turns out a flair from the dramatic works in both fields!

  7. Ivette, I confess I haven’t had the time to read through this entire thread, so if I repeat something, my apologies. I am VERY sympathetic to contractors doing poor work on site, BUT I must warn you! It is legally very dangerous for you to “supervise” on site activities! You can observe and report to the owner, but if you supervise work of the contractor, you are taking on a legal obligation that you truly it get yourself into hot water over. If you want to learn more about why, I’m happy to chat with you, but I can’t go into any more detail or time right now. Just want to give you a serious heads up!

    • Ivette Soler Ivette Soler says:

      Oh thank you Vanessa – I am aware of the legalities and I am not overstepping those bounds. I do not tell interfere with contractor’s Means and Methods, I was simply addressing a finish issue that was not done to spec, and asking that it be fixed. Thank you for alerting me – yes, the word “supervision” is legally freighted. You are a doll!

  8. Angela Price says:

    Ivette-

    I too am a gleeful, grateful, glorious GARDEN DESIGNER! A piece of paper or certificate in our business may get you in the door, but it doesn’t guarantee a beautiful, long lasting result or happy, well taken care of clients who call you back and refer you to their friends. Last week, I was talking to a ‘landscape architect’ who told be it was all about marking up the plants as much as possible, getting the job done, getting a check, and getting out as fast as possible. How horrible!
    So I keep doing what I love to do (as do you). The client testimonials are worth a million times more to me than a certificate!

    Now off to tackle the rash of ugly drought tolerant ‘landscape’ companies. If I see one more yard of ‘terminated turf’ full of rocks and 10 tiny plants, I’m going to barf.

    Your fellow Garden Designer,
    Angela
    Eden Condensed

    • Ivette Soler Ivette Soler says:

      OMIGOD Angela – HOW do we Terminate the Terminators! Seriously, I am re-branding my business (not my blog) because the name sounds too much like their name! ARG!!!! And you have such a point about the people who just get in and get out of a garden. I am totally unable to do that. My fee structure includes a year of maintenance check-ins and instruction to maintenance crews, just to make sure the garden gets on its feet well! It is exactly what you mention – the client referrals that mean the most, and that doesn’t happen unless a garden is growing like it was Eden!!! You go to – make those beautiful drought tolerant gardens we NEED! XO!!!

    • KathyG says:

      Angela, LOL! Be sure to plant plenty of ‘zeroscape’ plants ….a term I heard recently that cracked me.

  9. You know what you are? You are a person who loves what you do, that much is obvious. It gets you out of bed excited in the morning, and you have a strong passion for it. That makes you super lucky. Of course you are opinionated, you do your research (or your experience is your research). Whatever – I wish I could have you come and design my garden – that’s the kind of enthusiasm and passion that makes beautiful, well though out spaces. I really enjoyed reading this – basically, people need to check their egos at the door. A piece of paper makes you nothing – it’s the care and passion you bring to your job that counts! You go, girl!

    • Ivette Soler Ivette Soler says:

      Aw, Carrie, THANKS. Super kind of you to be my cheerleader right now. I felt low, but as usual, talking things through with the incredible and varied group of fellow Ranters has given me perspective and made me feel stronger. I AM lucky, and part of that is because I have this amazing forum. So thank you SO SO VERY MUCH!

  10. Steve says:

    I don’t work in the field, but I used to consider myself an avid gardener. Then I moved to the Midwest where for people equate gardening with growing veggies. Now I just work in my yard.

    • Ivette Soler Ivette Soler says:

      You do YOU Steve! Whatever it is that makes you happy is a great thing. I think Yards can be stupendous!

      • Steve says:

        I actually had a coworker say, after learning that I wasn’t planting a veggie garden, “Oh, so you’re not planting anything useful.” I bit my tongue, rather than lecture him on water quality, pollinator habitat, energy efficiency from shade trees, etc. I pointed out that I am planting fruit trees, which is indeed true, and let it rest.

    • KathyG says:

      Interesting distinction. In our household, I am the gardener, my husband is the generous soul who helps me when I need a strong back or mechanical skills. We refer to necessary outdoor tasks such as raking pine needles, cleaning gutters, refurbishing the sprinklers & hoses, etc) as ‘yard work’. We see the neighbors doing it all the time. We see ‘landscapers’ and ‘landscape services’ doing it all the time in other people’s yards. We refer to all the other fun stuff such as digging, planting, weeding, pruning, messing about with plants, etc as ‘gardening’. There is an overlap sometimes, but in our minds the two types of activities are different! LOL

  11. Liz says:

    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?

    There are those in every profession (unfortunately) who give it a bad name. I think a lot of the snobbery comes from a place of defensiveness. For most landscape architects, we’re used to our friends and families not having a clue what it is we really do, or facing blank stares and misunderstandings.

    • Ivette Soler Ivette Soler says:

      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!

  12. anne says:

    Hmmm, let’s see… You interrupted a guy in the middle of his job and proceeded to correct him and then supervise him and his crew (on his dime) in that correction, without trying to talk to him first? I’m not surprised he barked at you Ivette, certification or not! Color me naive, but I think in that circumstance I might get a little defensive myself, right or wrong. It was a form of humiliation, an attack on his livliehood, out of the blue. Titles and certifications are the least of it really, but he reacted by attacking you where he thought it would hurt, and apparently it did, or you wouldn’t be having this spazz-out about your title and what it means.

    I do get your frustration about the difference between certification vs. experience, because I’m not clear on the definitions. From a consumer’s point of view, it’s easier to see those letters after a name than to look into references and jobs to evaluate a potential hire. In my mind, “Landscape Architect” is someone who deals with the macro–whole properties, with buildings, natural features, roadways, etc., while “Garden Designer” is someone who deals with the micro–specific areas, individual gardens within the overall landscape, the plant details, etc. So apparently I need to learn the difference!

    • Ivette Soler Ivette Soler says:

      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)

      And yes – you have a point about the distinction being unclear. As I am currently re-branding my business, I am thinking hard about the issue. I get that “gardens” seem like smaller, flowery spaces and “landscapes” seems like the whole thing. I tend to think of the whole thing as gardens. I think of gardens as varied and complex, and the hardscape, softscape, woodwork, metal work, lighting, plumbing, drainage, water elements, and furniture that enter into those gardens spaces are part of my work. But again, that is my specific vision. It isn’t really the layperson who I am poking at, I get that the average consumer would look at the letters and say “this person is better”, but we who are in the business know better, because we have all worked with examples of the good and the bad in each designation of service. But it happens all the time anyway. I find it is usually the Architects I work with who introduce me as a Landscape Architect, to give me a little more shine. I guess my point is that I am shiny anyway! Thanks for your comment!

      • anne says:

        Ivette, thanks for clearing up my misconception about your encounter! I couldn’t tell from what you wrote in your post that the contractor was hired by you to do a job you were responsible for–that makes your situation totally different than what I read into it! From what you wrote, I thought the guy was another, separate hire working in the same yard as you. My apologies for jumping on you so hard!! It’s clear you love what you do and care about doing it well.

        • Ivette Soler Ivette Soler says:

          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

  13. skr says:

    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.

    Now I am not one of those people that thinks that an intimate knowledge of plants is necessary to be a great LA. That’s what collaboration with a knowledgable horticulturist is for. They will always know more than you anyway. I think the design aspect is more important. The available plant palette is changing constantly anyways. However, knowing what different plants can do can open up new design possibilities so plant knowledge is not to be completely discarded. I think if someone wanted to be a LA, they should get a degree in architecture and then go work for some nurseries to learn plants. At least then they will have a good understanding of structure, material, and theory which is completely lacking in LA curricula. Learning how plants function takes time and experience and is difficult to teach in a classroom.

    Since there are plenty of people talking about cleaning up the messes left by LAs, I’ll just mention I have had to clean up some disasters left by garden designers that were in way over their heads.

    • Ivette Soler Ivette Soler says:

      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.

  14. Linnea Borealis says:

    My biggest beef is with ‘landscapers’ – those who come with loud, powered tools and NO sense of design, ecology or proportion.

  15. Mills says:

    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.

    That said, I agree that the license alone does not make one a skilled designer. In the same way that some doctors are better than others, LA’s vary in skill and breadth of knowledge.

    Finally, I also agree that there are many landscape designers, garden designers, etc. that are extremely talented and capable of producing tremendous projects. Do I think that I am better than these individuals? No. Do I think that I have a greater ability to work with a wide variety of disciplines while producing larger scale and complex projects? Yes. I can only speak for myself though.

    • Ivette Soler Ivette Soler says:

      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!

  16. tara dillard says:

    Pay attention to the name, landscape architect. A designation for moving earth. They are for drainage issues. Scaping soil. Placing plants, knowing plants is not within the scope of their education, expertise, unless it’s a personal choice.

    Master Gardener is a horrendous term. 10 weeks, really?

    Was a snob for decades about Garden Designer. Now, I take whatever level is needed for the audience. Whether a single person or auditorium. The dreaded landscape designer? Fine, if my audience needs that, I will go there.

    In Atlanta, during the heyday 80’s many builders used landscape architects to design their neighborhoods. That failing was quickly discovered. Lawsuits arrived. Landscape architects were failures at the neighborhoods, the correct choice was Civil Engineer.

    Snarky chuckles at that !

    Between 5-7 times during my 3 decade career of Garden Design have I had to bring in a Landscape Architect.

    At least 50+ times I’ve been hired by a client AFTER they hired a Landscape Architect, during those 3 decades.

    The math, above, says it all.

    Garden & Be Well, XO T

  17. Susan says:

    Ivette, I know exactly how you feel! While I’m not in your vocation, I consider myself a floral designer. I’ve gotten much the same reactions as you have for years – “where did you train” “what school did you get your degree from” etc., etc. Well, I didn’t. I learned by doing as a volunteer at an historic mansion and gardens near my home. Twenty years on, I still do arrangements for the mansion, I’ve done innumerable weddings, parties and other functions – and for all my “lack of training”, I have yet to disappoint anyone who has used my services. Long story short – some of the biggest horses’ asses I know have degrees. A degree proves exactly squat in terms of ability – and you can’t teach passion. Either you have it or you don’t. And passion informs ability, IMHO.

    • Ivette Soler Ivette Soler says:

      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!

  18. David mcMullin says:

    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 Ivette Soler says:

      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!

    • skr says:

      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.

  19. Jonas Spring says:

    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 Ivette Soler says:

      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.

  20. A. Marina Fournier says:

    Gleeful Garden Designer! I like that a lot.

    In our Santa Cruz home, I had essentially a blank canvas, in that the first two owners hadn’t done much. My paid assistant was gay and Pagan (I’m Pagan, too, but a diferent denomination), and pretty much organic all the way, which was fine with me. We transformed the front yard from two squares infected with white (quartz?) rock, put in during an earlier drought, no doubt. I had roses galore that were put in the square with actual soil beneath the rock. The roses were laid out on bare dirt, the drip lines set out next, weed cloth, and then “gorilla hair” mulch on top. Very *little* water to the roses, and very little rust or blackspot. He took out the invasive ground cover facing my neighbours. I then asked them what they’d like to see, because they’d be looking at it more than I would. Suprised them! Zephirine Drouhin roses along the house, with a scattering of ordinary Japanese Maples.

    I had a lot of fun transforming the blank canvas to something pretty and fun to be around. The old Golden Delicious, nothing like the ick I find in grocery bins, was trimmed and pruned, and the bare branches looked a lot like a heart cut-out. I was putting in plants that gave me joy: either flowering or fruiting trees, scented flowers, and wisteria.

    I was a merry matron, a Whimsical Wiccan, and there was just enough grass lawn in the back for a young boy to enjoy.

    I hope your clients find joy, delight and even glee in the gardens you design for them. I’ve always thought of landscape design as needing a large scale canvas with which to impress or to make a Statement, more than designing a cosy garden to enjoy.

    • Ivette Soler Ivette Soler says:

      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?