The beauty that is envisaged is achieved by the collective efforts of the landscape architects, together with engineers and architects, who design the built environment outside of buildings. That’s a rather broad definition for a broad profession. The popular FDR memorial in Washington D.C. was designed by a landscape architect, Lawrence Halprin. Your front yard too may have been designed by a landscape architect. Parks and trails, streetscapes, remediated brown fields, commercial, public and residential gardens and landscapes are all significant part of the profession.

For many site design, meaning a set of drawings a specific address, a typical set of drawings and services might include all or some of the following:

Preliminary plans: This is also referred to “Master Plans”, this is the phase that is concerned with the concepts, where the elements of the landscape are planned. The shape and location of features such as walls, fences, decks, trellises, steps, paving and circulation, and major planting elements such as trees, lawns, shrub massing, and screening are fit together into a whole.

Design development: This phase deals with materials choosing such as types of paving, finishes, and in general the preliminary plan is refined.

Construction Drawings: This includes planting, irrigation, layout, grading, drainage, and construction details for decks, trellises, fences, paving, retaining walls, etc. These are drawings that a contractor uses to construct the landscape.

Submittals: Working with city planning and building departments and design review boards to ensure that the plans meet the requirements and that required calculations are submitted, such as for the California WELO (Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance).

Cost Estimating: Providing cost estimates as required.

Bid Assistance: Help with choosing contractors, and preparing the bid letters and contracts.

Construction Administration: Site visits to observe the construction process and work with the contractor to achieve a successful landscape installation; managing contractor payments, and creating and clearing a final punch list. Designing residential retaining walls (a good example of how a licensed professional can help you): Landscape architects can design retaining walls up to 3 feet high in California. Walls over that height must have calculations by a structural engineer.

The most common reason for retaining wall failure is probably due to the lack of drainage behind the wall. Every wall should have a bed of drain rock behind it, with some way of getting the water out-either through a perforated pipe at the foundation of the wall, or weep holes at the bottom of the low side. Weeping can stain the wall, but is a better choice if there is no good place to outlet the perf pipe. Ideally the drain rock and pipe are wrapped in filter fabric to keep soil from intruding.

For wood walls, the other frequent cause of failure is not setting the posts deep enough or close enough together. Posts should be as deep as the wall is high above ground and not less than 2 ft. deep. They should be spaced 4 ft. or less, and should be installed in concrete footings, with the bottom 3″ of the post extending past the footing to keep water from pooling at the bottom of the footing.