How to Collaborate Effectively with Landscape Architects - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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How to Collaborate Effectively with Landscape Architects

Photo: R.P. Marzilli & Company

Not all landscape designs may come from your in-house designers. When you have the opportunity to work with outside landscape architects, not only can you enjoy a fresh design perspective but you can also foster a relationship that leads to future business.

By maintaining strong relationships with landscape architects, they can direct new clients your way once they’re ready to have their design installed.

R.P. Marzilli & Company, based in Medway, Massachusetts, has a broad range of landscape architects they’ve worked with over the past 30+ years and they have five to 10 firms they maintain a close relationship with. Bob Marzilli, owner of R.P. Marzilli, says they are also always reaching out to establish new relationships.  

Likewise, The Greathouse Company based in Nashville, Tennessee, has strong current relationships with landscape architects and they continually work to develop new relationships with firms they haven’t worked with yet.

“Our cycle of relationship building is laser-focused, choosing several a quarter to really put time into,” says Nick Cooper, business development manager for The Greathouse Company. “That time can consist of company intros to these firms, which generally we provide lunch, bring them to our facilities and give them some continuing education opportunities, which really adds value to us and gets them to actually show up. We also have off-site lunches, we will take them to social events (which is usually a sporting event) and drop off occasional small gifts of swag or potted plants to help get them engaged.”

By forming strong relationships, Cooper says they know each other’s strengths, weaknesses and means of operations, leading to efficient and well-installed projects.

Landscape Architect Involvement with Installation

How involved a landscape architect will be involved will vary from architect to architect. Scott Burk, president of Scott’s Landscaping, Inc., based in Centre Hall, Pennsylvania, says they’ve found that if they’re working with a new landscape architect who they haven’t worked with before, they tend to be more involved.

“Once they have worked with our company they know our reputation, they rely on our team to carry the project to completion with minimal supervision,” Burk says. “I have even had an LA call me years after we worked together to get my opinion on a project they are putting together. That was pretty cool because I felt they respected my experience.”

Cooper agrees that involvement ranges greatly depending on who you’re working with. Some of the landscape architects they work with want picture submittals on all the plants and to make sure every plant has been laid out and approved before they’re installed. Others just want to know if plant substitutions are made and to do a final walkthrough.

“We will also build extra time in on the projects where we know the LAs will be heavily involved to make sure that time is accounted for. If this happens with a new LA that we have not done previous work with, we would make adjustments on the next project to account for their involvement time.

Marzilli says most of the landscape architects they work with are very involved.

“They approve layouts of hardscapes prior to installations,” Marzilli says. “We work with them on building mockups for each individual aspect of a project and they normally oversee plant material layout. We have some that want to be involved in every aspect of the installation and others that will let us use our judgment on many of the elements.”

Communication Is Key

Regardless of how hands-on a landscape architect is, communication is key to ensure your team is able to create the specific look they are looking for. Cooper says they have an initial kick-off meeting with the landscape architect, with or without the client present, to ensure their vision is going to come to life.

“We also will give updates on milestones so they can meet with us to review or stop by the site as time permits to give their feedback,” Cooper says.

Cooper says they establish preferred communication paths early on, whether it’s texting, emailing, calling or on-site meetings.

“Typically, email is the best way to capture details and to have a solid paper trail of decisions made,” Cooper says. “We usually will send a follow-up email after a call or text chain to make sure that the decisions are in writing, in case there is a differing opinion down the road.”

Marzilli agrees that weekly meetings and daily emails are great tools to ensure constant communication. Burk says if a landscape architect does decide to be very involved in the project, they request that they be very responsive.

“If there are decisions that need to be made, we need quick answers,” Burk says. “We cannot pull our crews on and off of a project waiting for decisions to be made. Oftentimes after we work with an LA and they learn what we can do, they will ask for our opinion and we consult with them on decisions.”   

Marzilli sees working with landscape architects as a collaborative approach between the client, landscape architect and his team. The majority of their project managers have degrees in landscape architecture or landscape construction, so they understand the designer’s vision is critical for the project’s success.

If there are practical issues with the design that prevents it from being installed, Burk says you should talk through these scenarios with the landscape architect.

“Once they see that we are experienced and not looking for a shortcut we start to build a positive relationship,” Burk says. “It is important to understand what the LA is looking for with their design, then you can help them get there.” 

Marzilli says if a problem is encountered, they work with the architect to solve the problem, before going to the client together with a solution or an option so when they work as a team it’s a win-win.

“We take the time early in the process to work with the landscape architect or designer and make sure the construction techniques and final installation application are correct and practical,” Marzilli says. “More times than not we can work through these issues if we take the time to analyze the design prior to undertaking construction.”

If you want to learn more about how R.P. Marzilli & Company collaborates with landscape architects, register for Field Trip taking place on June 23-24, 2022.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.