How to Commission a garden designer

It felt like everyone fell back in love with their gardens last year. With more of us required to work from home, gardens became both an essential extension of our homes and a welcome sanctuary. Interest in gardening appeared to spike too with a 2020 survey suggesting that 62% of lockdown gardeners found it vital for their well-being and the RHS reporting that visits to its website were up 533%.

Andrew Duff, our client at the Society of Garden Designers, said: “The world of garden design has probably changed more in the last six months than the last 60 years. Never before has a garden seemed such an essential place to be with people finding a new enjoyment in watching the seasons change.”

Many members of the Society of Garden Designers (SGD) reported being busier than ever during lockdown, with new enquiries coming in as the desire for new gardens grew. We took the opportunity to speak to journalists about running features to promote the benefits of commissioning a professional garden designer and worked with members of the SGD to gather expert advice to support these press articles. We also drafted a ‘how to…’guide for press for anyone thinking of employing a designer.

This month, features in Homes & Gardens, The English Garden and Easy Gardening have been published. Here are the hints & tips we collated to support those press features:


*Choose the right designer for you
It’s important to find a designer you feel comfortable with and one you feel best understands your requirements and design style. A good relationship with your garden designer will lead to a happy and productive experience for both parties. Draw up a shortlist of prospective designers, look at their website portfolio and social media platforms and ask as many questions as possible. Talk to them about your project and brief to get an understanding if they are right for you. You can also ask to visit their previous projects or take up references with their clients. Don’t be afraid to approach three or four different designers.

*Understand what services a garden designer will provide
Every garden design will work in a different way. Most will offer a wide range of services from a consultation or simple planting plan to a full design and build service. In some cases, the designer may also provide ongoing maintenance. To begin with, they will arrange an initial visit to your garden, to show you their portfolio and discuss your needs. It is important to see a range of projects, big and small, past and present to understand their style. It is also a good idea to walk the designer around your garden to clarify your points and take the opportunity to explain what you would like to keep and what you want to get rid of. Once appointed, the designer will come back to discuss your exact requirements, for example, what the garden will be used for, what style of planting you prefer, what features you would like to include and how much maintenance you want to undertake. They will then, depending on the topography of the site, measure and prepare a masterplan. Once you have a design, you can either find a contractor to build the garden yourself or you can commission the designer to oversee the entire process, from installing the hard landscaping to planting the garden.

*Be clear about your needs
Good communication is essential, both for the initial exchange of ideas, through the design process and throughout the build. This will ensure that the final result is the one you had hoped for. A good garden designer will have the skills to effectively interpret your requirements, but you need to spend some time preparing a detailed brief that lists everything you want both functionally and aesthetically. Think about how and when you wish to use the garden and which plants, materials and colours you like and dislike. If you have visited gardens or parks you particularly liked, try to articulate what it was about them you liked. Use pictures from books or magazines, or images from websites and social media platforms to help you create a ‘visual brief’. Also, you could highlight elements from the designers’ previous projects that appeal to you or match your taste/style.

*Be honest about your budget.
A designer will produce tailored-made designs to match your budget, so be clear about what you can afford at the start. 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 budget. Remember that good design need not always be expensive.  If you have a particularly large plot you could choose to build the garden in stages and therefore stagger the build cost as finances allow.

*Agree fees and expense at the start
There are many factors that determine the cost of a new garden, such as the size of your plots, the work involved, the available access and the materials and plants you choose. Charges and payment schedules will vary from designer to designer, so make sure you fully understand the cost implications, what you are getting for your money and when you will be invoiced. A good designer should provide a written estimate of the total design costs and explain what the project and payment stages are. It’s essential to agree fees and expenses in advance of any work. Be prepared to be asked for a percentage of the payment, as a deposit, before the design is completed.

*Plan ahead and be realistic about timings
On average, you should allow about 6-months from appointing your chosen designer to completion of your garden. However, factors such as the scale of the project, the availability of contractors and any specialist components and unpredictable elements such as time of year and weather conditions could all add to this time frame.
Don’t be surprised if the designer you want has a waiting list and isn’t able to start on your project straight away. You might also need to wait for a preferred landscape contractor to be available.

*Trust your designer
The best relationships are built on trust. If you’ve chosen the right designer, be confident about your decision and let your designer do what they do best. For some, the thought of someone else translating their ideas into reality can be quite daunting, but you have chosen them for their skills, knowledge and experience, so try to be open to ideas and suggestions and not be too controlling. While a good brief is essential, you’ll get a more successful garden if you’re prepared to be flexible and consider differing design ideas.

*Be prepared for potential disruption.
Building a new garden can be as disruptive as fitting a new kitchen or bathroom, particularly if materials have to be moved through the house or you are undertaking a major landscaping project.

*Discuss any issues as quickly as possible.
Ask to see the evolving design before it gets to a final proposal. It is much easier to make changes during the process rather than when the design is finished. If you are unhappy with the design or build of your garden, it is important to communicate it as quickly as possible to the designer or the landscaper. This could potentially save you time and additional costs and ensure the project is as successful and as painless as possible.


IMAGE CREDIT: Farlam & Chandler.  Photo: Harriet Farlam