By Teresa Conway published
When deciding how you wish to landscape or design your outdoor space, finding the right landscaper – and knowing how to commission a garden designer to get the most out of the process – is key.
We’re breaking down, step by step, how to commission a garden designer, so you can achieve the outdoor space of your dreams. Read on to learn out selecting a designer, costings and how to ensure the best outcome of your project.
1. Start your search
The Society of Garden Designers (SGD) is a great place to start your search, as the registered designers have all been subject to scrutiny and the adjudication of their projects, with the letters MSGD and FSGD denoting a qualified member.
‘Most designers are “civil engineers” with a love of plants, meaning that the entire project comes under their jurisdiction,’ says Louisa Bell MSGD of The Lovely Garden.
But it’s not just about the technical side, says Juliet Sargeant FSGD. ‘A good designer has the imagination to create a bespoke design for you, the ingenuity to solve the site problems and the practical experience to implement the plans cost-effectively.’
2. Choose the right designer
One of your key considerations will, of course, be style and aesthetic. Acting on a personal recommendation can be useful, but Ben Chandler MSGD of Farlam & Chandler feels that ultimately you must make the final decision and you should always choose a garden designer whose taste and style is aligned with your own.
Juliet Sargeant says it is important not to base your decision purely on beautiful photographs of completed designs, but also ensure that you are going to enjoy the process of commissioning a new garden.
‘Having an initial consultation with the designer is a good way to see if you can work well together, allow them time to look at the garden and listen to your brief,’ says Andrew Duff MSGD.
3. Work out costs
Price will inevitably vary based on the complexity of the project but generally they are all costed around the same basic set of principles. Andrew Duff tells us that costing is all about clarity. ‘I lay out all the costs associated with the design right at the start,’ he says.
The build of the garden is costed based on a detailed set of design plans, construction drawings and from these you’ll be quoted at a fixed price.
Ben Chandler says that he would usually approach at least three different contractors to enable cross referencing of costings for the client.
Remember that your garden designer is a business professional so you may be asked for a deposit upfront and then they may invoice after the completion of each stage.
Most designers will include a draft stage in their fee, so you have a chance to look at a proposed design and discuss changes.
4. Consider where you can make savings
Economies can be made before the first penny is spent, says garden designer Andy Sturgeon.
'Start by thinking about what is worth keeping. What can you do with the existing hard landscaping, trees and shrubs? Is some rejuvenation possible? Doing this can create a sense of maturity from the outset.'
Establish the garden in stages. 'You need a direction to set rules and parameters with your design, but don't feel you have to decide everything up front. You need to keep costs under control, which can be hard when you're a beginner, so cost and note every item before you make a decision.'
Inexpensive materials can be the starting point for an entire scheme. 'Gravel is an example. I'm a big advocate of gravel gardens. They create light and space around the plants and are relatively cheap and easy to maintain all year round. I try to buy local gravel, ideally more than 10mm in diameter. Don't worry about putting a plastic membrane under the gravel, for me that's a false economy.'
Think about trade-offs and absolutes. 'A hedge might be better than an expensive fence, for example. One idea is to invest in a few decent-sized trees and shrubs to help create a mature landscape. It won't make an instant garden, but it does offer a framework while other plants establish. I recommend spending money on individual objects – spend as much as you can on something special that should last forever.'
5. Push the boundaries
Juliet Sargeant FSGD says it is all about taking risks and allowing yourself to be open to suggestions.
‘Let your garden designer take you on a journey that may nudge you out of your comfort zone – I always say, nothing is set in stone until it is set in stone!’
6. Consider the garden design as a whole
Before starting to plant and landscape, create an idea of the garden as a visual whole. 'I tell clients not to look up plants in catalogues,' says Andy Sturgeon. 'The problem with seeing them individually is that you're looking at them in isolation. You need to think about palettes and choose combinations – think about height, color, texture and the seasons. Buy an initial selection, and add to that.'
7. Bring the inspiration
Ben Chandler takes a look at tastes when it comes to defining the right style for a client ‘We ask our clients what they enjoy about gardens, whether they have favorite ones and if they have favorite plants.'
'We gather information from the style of the house and interiors,' says Ben. 'If the client is already working with an architect or interior designer, the proposed works gives us a good steer as to what they may or may not like.’
8. Think long-term
Andrew Duff likes to think of the future as much as the present. ‘Having visited clients for over 25 years you have a good idea of what the client needs as well as what they want. You need to see through the aesthetic requirements and check if the function is correct. Again, flexibility is important, how long will you live in the house and are there any changes in the near future?’
9. Forge a solid relationship
For Louisa Bell of The Lovely Garden the most important thing is to like and trust your designer.
‘I like to look around my client’s house and get to know them. In a first meeting I ask how couples met, what books and films they’re interested in. I like to know the type of people they are as it helps with the overall design.’
10. Work with your designer
Being clear about your needs from the offset will help with the design process and a good designer will make sure to draw out every detail about exactly what your wants and needs are.
A designer will produce tailored-made designs to match your budget; if you under-estimate you could restrict the initial creative concept, if you over-estimate you could be disappointed if the design has to be scaled down or re-worked in line with your actual budget.
When it comes to design, Ben Chandler urges that you be open and critical from the beginning. ‘If the client is unsure or does not have a clear direction, it’s the designer’s job to steer them in the right way, putting in front of them decisions that enable them to make informed choices,’ he says.
How much does a garden designer cost?
A garden designer will cost around 10 to 15% of your entire budget. This will usually include the fee for the initial survey, the garden design and planting list. However, each garden designer will have different pricing packages available, so it is worth being really clear in terms of what each side expects before you commission your chosen team.
What does a garden designer do?
A garden designer will do a site survey, create a design on paper and online with a new look for your garden – usually to your brief and after some discussion. The design – and the conversations you have about it before the first draft is submitted – will usually also include materials and hard landscaping and soft landscaping, plus planting suggestions.
I've been Gardens Editor at Homes & Gardens, Country Homes & Interiors and Living Etc magazine since 2020 and have had the pleasure to develop working relationships with some of the country's top garden designers such as Charlotte Rowe, Butter Wakefield and have been exposed to an array of rich garden content and expertise. 2020 saw an increased appetite for quality gardening inspiration and expertise in both print magazines and digital and what I am most passionate about when it comes to gardening are the positive effects it has on our mental health to grow and care for plants. Keeping our patches alive with greenery is great for the environment too and help provide food and shelter for wildlife. Finally, I find it to be such a wonderful opportunity to tap into our creative sides and I believe that garden design has as much as a place in our love of the home as interiors.
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