What is the difference between garden design and landscape architecture?

Residential garden design - or landscape architecture?It’s worth looking to see what Wikipedia and Britannica have to say on this question. And I have to say that the Wiki entry on landscape architecture is a lot more useful than the Britannica entry on garden and landscape design. Britannica only let you have a quick glimpse at their text before a big black screen tries to sell you a subscription. But you have enough time to discover that the text is badly written garbage. Here is a sample: “Efforts to design gardens and to preserve and develop green open space in and around cities are efforts to maintain contact with the original pastoral, rural landscape. Gardens and designed landscapes, by filling the open areas in cities, create a continuity in space between structural urban landscapes and the open rural landscapes beyond. ”

The Wiki entry ( at 10.40 GMT on 1.7.2008) is so much better, or at least so much closer to my own view, that I suspect the author of having made good use of the Gardenvisit.com website. It states that: “Both arts are concerned with the composition of planting, landform, water, paving and other structures but: (1) garden design is essentially concerned with enclosed private space (parks, gardens etc), (2) landscape design is concerned with the design of enclosed space, as well as unenclosed space which is open to the public (town squares, country parks, park systems, greenways etc)”

Compared to Europeans, Americans tend to be a bit sniffy about garden design. They see it (as in the Britannica quotation above) as a subsection of garden design. This makes garden designers inferior people, because they can only do a fraction of the work undertaken by landscape architects. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) only introduced a professional award for garden design, actually called “residential design” in 2005: ” The ASLA 2005 Professional and Student Awards program features a new category—Residential Design—drawing more than 120 entries in its inaugural year. Cosponsored by Garden Design magazine, awards in this new category will be presented on Monday, October 10, during the ASLA Awards Ceremony. A special luncheon honoring all award recipients, their clients, and professors will be held following the ceremony.”

Personally, I see garden design as much closer to a fine art than landscape architecture. Art is for art’s same and gardens are for garden’s sake. Landscape architecture is often for a public or private body with a shedful of axes to grind. It is similar to the distinction between painting and graphic design or between sculpture and product design.

8 thoughts on “What is the difference between garden design and landscape architecture?

  1. Richard

    I visited a great garden in Derbyshire called Cascades Gardens a few weeks ago.. maybe one that blurs the line between gardening and landscaping a little more!

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  2. Adam Hodge

    Whilst a student at Pershore College of Horticulture we had weekly visits from students atending the Landscape Architects School in Cheltenham. We also quizzed our Lecturers as to why they were attending our college. It was apparant that Pershore provided the ‘horticultural’ aspect of the course, but much more of an architectural discipline was offered in Cheltenham.

    I often wonder if one could liken Garden Designers to Interior designers. Interior designers are especially concerned about the decorative finish in the buildings they work whereas Architects are concerned more with the overall build. So Garden designers are especially concerned with the decorative finish of a rural space whereas I think the LA is concerned about the whole space, its intended functionality and its relationship to the region. Please enlighten me further if I am off the mark !

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  3. Tom Turner Post author

    Thank you for the comment. I think that if a garden has already been spatially ‘composed’ (in the sense of arranging the five compositional elements) then the garden designer’s work is indeed like that of an interior designer. But if there is a need for spatial composition then the garden designer’s work is more like that of an architect and, in fact, the term Garden Architect had wide currency in Continental Europe before the arrival of the term landscape architecture in the twentieth century. The distinction between garden design and landscape architecture is closer to that between private space and public space: the technical skills are similar but the field of operations is different.

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  4. R

    “Compared to Europeans, Americans tend to be a bit sniffy about garden design. They see it (as in the Britannica quotation above) as a subsection of garden design.”

    How can ‘garden design’ be a subsection of ‘garden design’?

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  5. Tom Turner Post author

    Thank you! I meant to write: ‘They see it (as in the Britannica quotation above) as a subsection of landscape architecture’. My view is that landscape architecture has grown out garden design – and still has much to learn from the ancient art.

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  6. Diamondstar

    Interesting point of view in reference to the private & public distinction, though I disagree. Some of our largest attractions in the US are garden exhibitions which open to the public which diminishes the distinction between the two. Now, should I call the landscaper or the gardener to trim my Roses or do I need an Ornamental Horticulturalist.

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