Learn About Home Landscape Design
And Landscaping Businesses
With Heidi Schreiner

I love learning about home landscape design, edible landscaping in particular.

Since starting this website, I've gotten a lot of questions about landscape designers, what they do, and how to become one.

This website is for sale.

Contact me if you'd like to make an offer.

Landscape designer Heidi Schreiner

Fortunately, landscape designer Heidi Schreiner of Artisans of the Earth has been kind enough to stop by and talk with us on just this topic.

What do you love most about designing home landscapes?

I love the impact that it can have on people's lives. I've been let into a private part of their lives -- it's an honor.

Recently, I was asked to design for an older couple. She's very ill and cannot move very well. She has a porch that she spends a lot of her time in, with windows that look out onto the back yard, where the new patio would be.

I realized early on that her husband wanted this special garden for her. He would enjoy it, too, but she would see it for hours every day. It would be beauty, entertainment, and perhaps a bit of healing for her.

To know that the hours and days that I worked for them (we'll be finishing it this spring) has impacted them in that way really gets me. I can't express it. It's a living love letter.

Have you ever done edible landscaping as part of a home landscape design?

I designed an apple orchard for a family. The owner was so excited to see the apple trees -- in Wisconsin, apples are a big deal. The structure of the apple tree with the added fortune of food -- does it get any better than that?

At my own home, I'm planning to use native blueberry bushes -- they're beautiful AND edible. I also have chives right now -- my son loves to chew on them. Very easy to maintain, and I love it when they bloom.

I love ornamental kale -- the structure is gorgeous.

Many people have asked how they can be professionally involved in home landscape design. What sort of schooling does a landscape designer have/need? What sorts of things do you need to know to be a great landscaper?

It seems that we're using landscaper and landscape designer interchangeably -- and they're not the same thing at all. Landscaping companies can't necessarily give you the home landscape design advice that a professional designer could.

What's the difference? I honestly have no idea.

Ok, landscaper vs. landscape designer. Whew! There's a lot.

A landscaper may have layout ideas for you, but their primary concern is correct installation, local regulations, and maintenance of your garden. This requires a lot of skill and knowledge.

A landscape designer should be able to advise you regarding plants, layout, how you might solve problems or create a beautiful scene for your outdoor space. Want to create that outdoor kitchen or craft that perfect patio space? Designer.

Some landscape designers have a crew to install your gorgeous space -- thereby placing themselves in both categories. Likewise, a landscape company may have a landscape designer like we do.

So the landscape designer creates the layout for your home landscape design, and the landscaper installs it.


I feel like I'm learning a lot today. Which reminds me: about education ...

To become a great landscaper -- wow. Everyone thinks it's digging a hole and plugging in a plant. Simple, right?

There's a lot more involved than that.

Deck with pond garden

You need to know what light, soil, and zone requirements every plant you use has and how to lay them out, because many landscaping clients want you to be able to offer at least basic suggestions.

You should know how big the plants will get, if they're invasive -- and that's just the start.

Get really familiar with plants.

Grading is a big deal for landscaping: soil preparation, amendments, and understanding where water is going are critical issues.

Bad grading will give you a swimming pool in the backyard, basement or (even worse) the neighbor's basement. You could have all the topsoil run right into your neighbor's front lawn or into the street.

My business partner (and husband) runs a skidsteer (this is a bit like a forklift and earth mover combined) like it's a butter knife. Amazing. He can spread topsoil and have water running every which way he wants. This, of course, is only after more than 30 years in the business ...

Japanese style patio

If you're going to install patios and retaining walls, learn how to do it first. (Seems obvious, I know) There is a lot of engineering going on with these. The footings, leveling, preventing settling, alignment, gradework at the top and bottom -- that's just the basics.

If you want to become a landscaper, the best thing you can do is work under someone else for a while.

If you can't, some type of formal education would help quite a bit.

Formal garden arch with statue

I'm a landscape designer. I've got a landscape design diploma and about 13 years experience. I've also got a lot of surveying and drafting knowledge because of my engineering background. Some people opt for even more education.

Landscape Designers are not regulated in our state which is good and bad. Anyone can call themselves a landscape designer, but fewer meet the standards that make them quality professionals in home landscape design. That's why it's important to know whom you're hiring.

Because as the designer you're 'calling the shots', a lot depends on you and your understanding of landscaping, grading, plants, etc. It's an art and a science at the same time.

Your drafting skills need to communicate well. An installer should be able to get the critical information just with the turn of a page. Plants, grading, patio measurements -- clearly communicated.

It takes an understanding of home landscape design as organic art. A part of a family's lifestyle. A financial investment. It takes passion.

What do you find most difficult or challenging as a landscape designer?

My biggest challenge is trying to help people understand the type of company we are and what type of work we do. We're garden artists. We know that a new garden means a lot to a family. Your outdoor space impacts how you live each day.

What are the biggest mistakes people make when doing their own landscaping?

To not design your landscape is the biggest mistake. Running out and purchasing plants on impulse is easy to do and is my #1 Don't Do It. Back away from the shovel until you at least have a sketch.

Ignoring grading issues is my #2. If your yard has water puddling a lot or running towards your house, stop everything. Fix the grade.

Please invest in a quality installer to craft your retaining wall. Have it done right the first time.

We had a client who hired an inexperienced landscaper who should have known he was in over his head. He was hired to install a multi-level retaining wall, but it started to fall down before he could even finish.

Retaining wall disaster!

When we showed up, the backyard was in ruins and the landscaper was being taken to court. It was awful both for the landscaper and the client.

Also, read your plant labels. That cute little evergreen could grow up to be a 30' behemoth.

When should you "do it yourself" in home landscape design, and when would it be better to hire someone?

Plants are fun to do yourself if you love to garden, if you only have a small area to redo, or if you just want a few plants to fill a space. You can put in plants a little at a time. They're also, generally, a smaller investment unless you're having a large area done.

Small wooden structures (like a pergola or arbor) and garden artwork are really fun to make yourself. You can turn out something really gorgeous if you put some time into it and you're handy.

Artwork is your signature -- if you're artsy, crafty, or love to putter -- hit the art shows, craft shows, or make something yourself. Voila!

It would be much better to hire someone if:

  • it means shoveling rock. Rock is heavy.
  • you need a retaining wall.
  • you've got grading issues -- get a pro to fix that.
  • if you're going to have a lot invested.
It's okay to hire someone to do the heavy lifting ...

If you're working full-time, a huge home landscape design makeover will take much longer than you might think. If you hire a quality installer you can rest assured that all the little details will be done right -- grading, quality plant material, preparing for utilities, etc.

If you would like to stretch your budget, you can stage things over a few years. You can also have a professional do everything except planting, which is something you can do yourself.

When someone hires a landscape designer, what should they expect? What sort of planning should you do beforehand?

Gather your own ideas, if possible. Cut out pictures of things you love in gardens. Make notes of favorite plants. Ask for recommendations from friends and family, or if you see a local home landscape design you really like, ask who installed it.

Contact a few designers. Find out what their designs look like and get to know them.

Most quality designers offer consults for a fee. It gives you a chance to get to know the designer and talk over ideas. If the company shows up and you have a 'bad feeling', or you just don't like the designer, move on.

Having confidence in the company is paramount. Hire someone that you're comfortable with. You may want to have consultations with 2 or 3 designers before making your final choice.

Last year I had a Design Consultation with Pam. A lovely person and an avid gardener. We clicked immediately.

Pam had clippings out of magazines not only of things she liked -- stone walls, patios, etc. -- but also of her favorite color combination for flowers. Perfect! It really showed me what her style was.

Your new garden should be a joy to have designed and installed. Every day you'll come home to something new and exciting in your home landscape design. That's the way it should be.

Thank you so much, Heidi, for allowing me to interview you!

If you would like to know more about home landscape design and how a professional landscape designer can help you, visit Heidi's website, Artisans of the Earth

Here are some Angie's List articles that you may find helpful (links open a new window):

How to find the right landscaper

13 guidelines to hire the best contractors

(Learn more about Angie's List here.)

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How to design your own garden - Choosing perennial garden plants

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