December 24, 2013

Design credential boost confidence and builds business


It’s been a 20-year journey, but the Certified Landscape Designer (CLD) designation is gradually gaining momentum. The process to become certified has recently been updated, but the requirements have stayed the same. To become a Certified Landscape Designer, the candidate must have a minimum of seven years of combined education and practice, write an exam and submit three projects for a portfolio review.

Haig Seferian CLD, OALA, of the Seferian Design Group in Burlington, Ont., is credited with being the driving force in developing this unique certification vehicle. Seferian recognized there was a cohort of qualified landscape designers graduating from college, and proposed creating the CLD designation to give recognition and a vehicle for networking and communication.

Don Chase CLD of Hamilton, Ont., explains that this designation has its roots in Landscape Ontario’s Landscape Design Sector Group committee, but was taken under the CNLA umbrella in 2005 and made available to designers across Canada. Two years ago, the National Landscape Design committee undertook a three-step strategy to update the CLD process. Chase is quick to note that the requirements have remained unchanged; the committee worked to make the certification navigation process easier.

“The lack of a design manual was always seen as a stumbling block,” he says. “Candidates were offered a reading list of references, but that didn’t work.” So, the committee created a comprehensive design manual with an accompanying CD, to help candidates prepare for the exam and portfolio review. Step two was to revise the exam, which was completed by the committee this summer, and step three was to tighten up the portfolio review process. “The original portfolio review was too broad, so we made it more specific, and made it easier for the judges to comment on each portfolio, so candidates understand where they need to focus more effort. In addition, the checklist candidates follow to prepare for the portfolio review has been rewritten to give clear expectations for the review.”

Requirements specify three projects must be submitted for portfolio reviews. Chase advises CLD candidates to submit one project first, before attempting to put together the other two. “One of the benefits of becoming a CLD is the informal mentoring process that occurs through the process. CLD candidates get matched up with an already Certified Landscape Designer in their area, who is available to help answer questions.” Veteran designers deem it a privilege to share their experience with their younger colleagues.

Jen Cuddie, of Oriole Landscaping in Toronto, is working on her CLD designation, and her portfolio review was the first one completed under the new marking matrix. “I didn’t come to the process from the traditional direction of post-secondary education,” she says, explaining she initially worked in construction and took landscape design courses at night school. “Going to school and working in the industry was so valuable. I was able to experience in real life the examples we went over in class.”

Cuddie says the new portfolio review checklist was invaluable in preparing her three projects for review by the judges. She recommends certification for the boost in confidence that the credentials provide. “Confidence is such an important element in being able to sell projects. You need to get someone to trust your work, and if you can’t sell the work, you can’t build the project.”

Audrie VanderWerf CLD, of GardenWorks Landscape Design, Greater Vancouver, B.C., says “I often get asked by potential clients if I am certified. This is more and more important to people as they continue to be educated about hiring tradespeople. The first time that I was able to say “Yes” made the process worth it.

“In order to retain my certification, I must prove annually that I am keeping abreast of landscaping news, views and how-tos by way of teaching or learning at seminars and courses. So I love this ‘benefit’ of educating myself and having that experience contribute to my recertification. As a CLD I also often participate in certification decisions and meetings.”

Ron Koudys CLD, OALA, of Ron Koudys Landscape Architects, London, Ont., says the CLD designation offers benefits on many different levels, first echoing Cuddie’s note about confidence. “Being a Certified Landscape Designer means the industry has reviewed your work and you’ve met a standard. This accreditation sets you apart from hobbyists or poorly qualified persons, and builds credibility in the client’s mind. It’s early days, but we are starting to see clients asking for CLD credentials.”

VanderWerf advises that designers take the test and do the portfolio for at least their own self analysis. “The trophy is the CLD designation! You will attain esteem, confidence and a greater client base. You will help with public awareness of the industry. And you will have a great portfolio to show prospective clients. It’s a natural next step in your career.”

Landscape designers interested in pursuing certification can find more information at, or contact Laura Brinton at