It has always surprised me that the two can cause such confusion. If I were comparing say, an architect and an interior designer, there would be little argument.
I studied and qualified as a landscape architect in order to garner a greater understanding of the technical requirements of the industry, law, to capitalise on a greater sense of overall structure, design, and completion for both urban and natural landscapes around the country. A landscape architect is to a great extent limited only by their imagination. Size and scale is of no concern, it could be a residential garden, a public space, even a national park.
Garden or landscape design as a practice is more constrained, at least in scale and result, preferred more by those working on a smaller scale looking to improve the flow of design and look of a garden or green space. A landscape architect is trained in architectural drawing; has a deeper understanding of legal and local laws and requirements including planning. designs with both soft and hard landscaping in mind, and will provide a highly detailed landscape plan drawn to scale, including specifications for each project.
I have always sat somewhere outside and redesigned it in my mind; thinking, if only they’d placed some seating there and created a sense of enclosure over here it would encourage people to use the space more. But then again, sometimes, that is not the objective of a design, which brings to mind McDonalds seating, just comfortable enough for you to swallow your burger and make way for the next diner.
I like to see landscape architecture within the larger context of design and urban planning. Those under obligation to meet the latest environmental targets, might turn to a garden designer to improve an area. However a landscape architect would be intrinsically employed to provide an overall conceptual framework for new developments of any scale and size.
Personally I fee our shared landscape, the world in which we live relies on the unique skills of a landscape architect to consider wider socio-political and ecological concerns to make sustainable green spaces in urban and rural areas. A garden designer can consider a project in isolation, for a landscape architect, a wider context including the purpose of the space, the needs of the local community, as well as budgetary, legal and ecological requirements
Garden design does not necessarily have to take these factors into consideration, but has other concerns instead. Working closely with one or two clients as opposed to a whole raft of stakeholders, the brief is usually far more concise and personal. This has both positive and negative aspects as you can get to the heart of the matter and display your clients’ desires and dreams for their friends and family to love or hate.
The devil is in the detail and this seems to be the forte of good garden designers as you will see in every RHS Show which consistently mark down on poor execution, usually down to time issues rather than sloppy workmanship.
Having worked in both horticulture and landscape architecture, I like to keep a broad view, taking aspects from both traditions at the conceptual stage, completing each project to the strict professional requirements demanded by the practice. I work with and have great respect for many garden designers, some award winning, however even I am asked to complete the technical planning and drawing for many of their more ambitious projects.
I hope I have in some way cleared up any confusion concerning the difference between landscape architecture and design, if you’d like to know more please visit my main site here.