August 7, 2013

Giving landscape designers a name


The definition of landscape designer should be of concern to every industry sector, not just landscape designers. Think collectively, as part of the landscape horticulture industry value chain, and read on.

It was while attending a seminar at Congress 2012, that I first heard about the pursuit of Practice Act Legislation by the Ontario Association of Landscape Architects. The seminar, titled What does the future hold for our industry? was presented by Ron Koudys, along with then CNLA Landscape Priorities Manager Liz Klose.

In February 2013 at the CNLA winter board meeting in Niagara Falls, Ont., the Landscape Canada Committee sent out an action item requesting each provincial association member seek input from their member companies on the name, scope and definition of landscape design. Members were asked to report back to the CNLA summer board meeting, with the goal of reaching consensus on a national name and definition.

In researching Title Act and Practice Act in a relevant context, I came across a Fall 2006 Design-Build Newsletter on the American Society of Landscape Architect’s website: Following is an excerpt from the article, Title vs. Practice Acts and the Design-Build Practice, by Joseph Pillari.

What distinguishes the landscape architect from the landscape designer? This is not intended to offend or disparage, but the title landscape architect represents individuals who have fulfilled educational training and examination requirements that prepare professionals to protect the public.

A title act will allow anyone to perform landscape architectural services as long as they are not identified as a landscape architect. A practice act prohibits unqualified individuals from calling themselves landscape architects and from practicing the profession.

A practice act for landscape architects establishes the landscape architect as an equal in the related design professions of engineering and architecture. Practice acts permit the landscape architect to take a leadership role in the design process, particularly in a collaborative effort among design professionals.

Suggested reading as relates to this discussion can be found on the following three websites:, and

No question, the challenge in defining the landscape design profession is broad and varied in scope from province to province, company to company and individual to individual.  There are so many variations of education, experience, application and business approach to the practice of landscape design. There is no shortage of passion. There is a common adoration of all things “plant” and an instinct for form and function — who follows whom, is site specific. I, too, believe the landscape designer to be a little bit special by virtue of that unique mix of art and pragmatism, business and pleasure; this is not the time for esotericism. This is business.

Pages and pages could be written citing examples of good, better, best fit between the landscape architect and the landscape designer, but the fact remains, the crossover between both our customers and our industry is very real; the care we take with this “definition” will be directly proportional to our future economic prosperity.

There are three points for our landscape horticulture industry to carefully consider as we move forward with this opportunity.

POINT ONE: How many landscape designers operate off our association grid?
We do not entirely know who we are nor the real number we potentially represent. I would speculate we have seen, at our provincial and national awards, but a small percentage of the total landscape design talent operating in this country. Knowing this number is critical, should this effort come down to the strength of a provincial and national lobby. Our colleagues in the U.S. were forced to defensibly lobby state by state for exemption language to the Acts.

POINT TWO: Landscape designers do not work alone
Designers are symbiotically connected to industry, being an impetus for and conduit to product and service between sectors and the consumer. If not working as part of a landscape or retail business, independent designers or design firms will, on a daily basis, typically have contact with retailers, growers, landscape contractors or suppliers. Our landscape designers are an integral part of our landscape horticulture industry value chain and any limit to what they can do and how they can do it will affect the entire industry. 

Everyone fights for market share, and good competition is part of a healthy and prosperous economy. We all as entrepreneurs and professionals absolutely appreciate why the landscape architects want to protect their patch. The CNLA and its provincial members work tirelessly to promote and position our members’ companies, as does the CSLA and their provincial components.

Keith Lemkey of Lemkey Landscape Design in Winnipeg, Man., offers his definition of landscape design: “It’s an artistic interpretation of the utilization of space of both function and aesthetics – the combining of mass, textures and seasonal color into a practical space that enhances the lifestyle of the client’s needs, their family and friends. It’s an extension of their inner space, bringing the indoors out, and the outdoors in – creating an oasis or retreat where they can relax, play and reflect on what is important to them: family time.”

This précis speaks to the challenge because, in this very definition, the blurred lines between our professions are well defined. 

POINT THREE: Historically, landscape horticulture has been a business with few or no barriers to entry
In 1995 the Certified Horticulture Technician description was launched in Canada to provide a benchmark level of skills competence for the landscape industry that effectively bridged the gap between education and experience. To date, there are 945 Landscape Industry Certified individuals collectively holding 1,506 designations, which include 70 Certified Landscape Designers. Of those 70 CLDs, seven are in B.C., five in Alberta, 51 in Ontario, three in New Brunswick and four in Nova Scotia.

What do these numbers represent? We cannot draw strategic conclusions based on the number of CLDs; an accurate census needs to identify those practicing based on experience, formal education or other training and accreditation. The landscape design sector needs to rally. We will need a strong provincial and national identity to define and protect the depth and breadth of market we currently depend on. At the same time, this identity and definition must be underwritten by education, accreditation and certification to truly be credible both internally, as part of the whole industry, and externally with government, allied trades and the consumer.

Linda van Vulpen CLD, van Vulpen Design in Halifax, N.S., and a founding member of the Atlantic Association of Landscape Designers (AALD), speaks to this point: “I am not a landscape architect and I have not been trained as a landscape architect.  So I cannot speak to the profession of the landscape architect. But, I have been formally trained as a landscape designer and I have achieved certification in this field.  My clients and industry recognize me as a competent, reliable, creative and practical designer. To accomplish this status, my training at NSAC (now the Dalhousie Faculty of Agriculture) and the process of acquiring certification have been essential, the accumulated years of practice in landscape design equally so.”

Designers, landscapers, growers, retailers and suppliers, do take a moment to visit the links and inform yourselves on this issue. Think about the effect any limits and restrictions will have on your business, your industry and your clients.  Communicate this to your provincial association president, board and executive director. Timing is everything, and in our case could very well be the difference between staying proactive or becoming reactive.

Best we remain masters of our own fate.
Christine LeVatte CLP, is a landscape designer and LEED Green Associate from Nova Scotia. Her family business, Landscapes for Lifestyle, which she operates with her brother David Stenhouse, CLT, has won several Landscape Nova Scotia Awards of Excellence and the 2012 National Award for Excellence in Landscape Design. Christine is currently working toward her CLD designation.