Honing the skills needed to excel at any job often requires a balance of book learning and hands-on learning. When I was studying landscape design I was able to balance the book and technical training with the hands-on experience I was afforded with my internship. I don't believe it's possible to start off as a competent designer if you didn't have both as part of your education.
When I was learning the design programs I found you could easily get bogged down with mechanics of the program and lose touch with what you were doing- designing. Luckily, I was able to learn the ins and outs and shortcuts that kept the creative aspect of design front and center while sitting in front of a computer monitor.
While I was a student one of the best design lessons I learned was the importance of plant layering. I know, not that radical of an idea, but, when that simple, yet crucial design key is forgotten when designing landscapes for large spaces, the design will ultimately fail. Plant layering makes it possible to create a lush feeling even in a commercial setting. Proper plant selection and placement can make a commercial building space feel inviting and comfortable.
Seeing the relationships that my mentors built with their clients taught me that the client is the most important aspect to any design. Understanding a client’s vision, feelings about the existing landscape and personal design ideas while adding my own design touches and insights makes a project a success. Building a relatioship with a client allows me to steer the project so that it meet's the client's parameters and results in a landscape that is pleasing to them.