You’ve decided to enlist the services of a garden designer – someone experienced in translating your wishes into reality. How do you find one and how do you decide who to commission?

Finding the right designer for you One of the best ways to find a good designer is through personal recommendation; ask around your friends and colleagues; do they know a designer or anyone who has had a garden or planting design? If so, ask them more about it – did their designer take the time to understand their wishes? Did they feel they got value for money? Was the project completed on time? Another suggestion is to look on the Society of Garden Designers website the UK body for garden design.

To become a registered member you have to fulfil certain requirements after a minimum of two years experience and then you are judged on your work and if successful gain accreditation to be a Registered Member. Many Registered Designers are based in London and the south east and include well known designers such as Diarmuid Gavin, Tom Stuart Smith and Cleve West. You could also try local publications, for example the church magazine or local guide to your area, as most garden designers work within a particular area and may well
advertise locally.

First contact

When you contact a garden designer have in mind what you want from them; do you want to rejuvenate the planting (a planting design), perhaps some help with a problem corner (consultancy) or a total garden design. You will usually need a complete garden design if you want to change the hard landscaping (such as patio, paths, walls or fencing) or its position in the garden.

For example you might want a new seating area in a sunny spot or a proper play area for the children, or a slope changed to level the garden. You can retain some of the plants, providing they are healthy and sited in the right place for the new design. You should be able to judge from your initial conversation if the designer is on your wavelength by asking about their past work and seeing their work on their website. During this first conversation you may also want to ask about fees.

The designer should be able to provide you with an outline fee scale to give you a good idea of what their fees will be. (Fees will vary depending on the size and complexity of your current garden space). Check against the fees of other designers if you wish to confirm the usual rates. However remember that the right designer will save you time, effort and frustration as they will be transforming your garden into a well-designed space which both meets your practical needs and is attractive and inviting to use.

If a designer comes recommended by someone you know and trust, then your aim should simply be to employ the best person for the job.

More about you

Some designers offer a garden questionnaire for you to fill in with your specific requirements before you first meet.  It will include questions like what type of design you are after, the style and any likes and dislikes, as well as questions about practical things like where cables and drains run.  It helps the client to think about their garden and the designer to have some initial guidance before meeting.

If you have a picture of a favourite garden or something along the lines of what you are after, then feel free to show the designer, it will give them a starting point. You may have plants you particularly want or those you don’t, a favourite corner where you want a bench or bistro table.  The garden designer needs to know whatever is important to you.

A questionnaire may also mention your budget.  This shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing.  If the designer has an idea of what you want to spend it is easier for them to be both creative and practical. Garden and planting design is a bespoke service, so garden designers can’t give you a quote for installation until the garden has been designed.  This is why they will design to your budget.  Unless you have a very tiny garden a £1000 budget will be  too low to give you a complete redesign because of the cost of paving and other hard landscaping.

However it could be enough for new plants and patio pots. You need to be realistic about what you can achieve; think of it as an investment such as a new car or a kitchen.  Imagine going to your local garden centre and buying a shrub and some flowering plants to fill one metre square, it would cost at least £20-£30; multiply this by the area you have and you can see how the costs add up –and that’s just for the plants!

By thinking about it before enlisting the services of a garden designer and then offering the information on the questionnaire, on the phone or in a meeting, it saves any awkward questions and this makes for a good relationship.

Relationships matter

If you have a complete garden re-design then you will be working with your chosen designer for several months.   Like any partnership, its important that the designer you choose should be one you feel you can talk to freely, someone who listens carefully to what you have to say and shows they understand your preferences.

The ideal garden designer is someone who listens to you and designs a garden entirely to your wishes.  They have a professional attitude and get the job done on time and to budget.

Most importantly you have to feel you can work with the designer and trust them.