Landscape architects, who typically hold advanced degrees in their field, are trained to develop comprehensive structural and aesthetic plans that include hardscaping, water use, and drainage as well as plant selection and garden design. Plans may also include modifications to the exterior of the house as part of the overall exterior design.
Landscape designers may or may not have advanced training. They often specialize in the aesthetic and horticultural side of yard and garden planning, but many do structural work as well.
Landscape contractors implement the plans laid out by a landscape architect or designer. In some cases, a landscape contractor also provides design services. Depending on your vision for your yard, you may want to use any or all of these types of professionals.
With a target cost in hand, a pro can also suggest creative solutions that may never have come into play otherwise, helping you stretch your budget to get the most mileage out of each dollar.
Scout out potential sources. Do you have friends whose gardens blooms with lavish color or seem to win "Yard of the Month" once a season? Ask whether they use professional help, and if so, put those pros on your short list. Local botanical gardens and homebuilders' associations are other good places to seek names.
Provide helpful documents. Although your landscape pro will conduct an initial site visit and walk-through at the outset of the job, he or she will most likely need a copy of your property plat in order to start work on your design, especially if there are building permits involved. You may also be asked to fill out a questionnaire or other information sheet to help the pro understand your needs and requests as thoroughly as possible.
At the same time, allow room for creativity — your landscaper's imagination and expertise are the reason you hired him or her.
Be open to feedback and suggestion. And don't automatically nix plants you think you dislike; you may find that they gain a whole new appeal as part of the right overall scheme.
More: 4 Steps to the Perfect Garden
Lay of the Landscape: Natural Garden Style
Find a pro: Landscape architects | Landscape designers | Landscape contractors