If you have a landscape project and are not doing it yourself, you will need help with all phases from design through installation and possibly even maintenance. Following are some guidelines and considerations for picking a good landscape professional to help you with your project.
First off, as the client, you need to establish your current needs. This is important, as it will affect the choice of contractor that you seek out at a later date. For example, is the project planting only, or does it involve a more thorough redo of both hardscape and softscape features? If the project includes hardscape changes you should focus on what the current shortcomings are and how you see the revised spaces being used. This is all valuable information for your interview process with potential designer and contractors.
You should also become aware of the different avenues for design work. One option is to work directly with a designer that only does design, without a contracting service. This avenue allows the client to get a set of plans that they can put out to bid with independent contractors. Another option for design work is to work with a design build group. This is more of a turnkey service from start to finish. Design/build groups typically offer lower design fees and some crediting of design fees toward construction costs.
Once you have established your needs, picked a designer and acquired finished plans it is time to pick a contractor. Local contractors are usually quite visible via advertising in local publications, visibility of trucks in the neighborhood and internet presence. Word of mouth is always a source for acquiring a few different options, especially with smaller quality outfits that do not maintain a high profile.
An interview with prospective contractors would be next. Always work with licensed contractors that are properly bonded and insured. Key questions at a walk through or initial consultation should address a number of issues. Does the contractor have significant experience with the scope of work your project has? Do they have projects nearby you could see, and can they provide references from past projects? What is their typical warranty program? How long have they been in business and what is their background/history?
Based on answers to these questions a final choice needs to be made. I would always go with the representative that not only had the information you needed, but also was a good listener, showed up on time, and looked professional. All of these nuances reflect a person who takes pride in their work and presentation.
Finally, once a contractor has been chosen, remember that you will still need to put time into the project. Even with the most turn-key contractor there will likely be time required on your part to address questions and changes that pop up along the way to completion.