Sunday, 3 February 2013

What Does a Garden Designer Do?

Even though there is a clue in the title there seems to be some confusion about exactly what a garden designer does.  I think it’s the fact that our job title contains the word ‘garden’.  Some people think we’re gardeners, others think we’re landscapers. 

A garden designer’s role is to help people to get the best use out of their outdoor space as well as making the garden look amazing and unique.  Garden designers earn a living by charging a fee for creating the plans for garden layouts and planting schemes and managing garden construction projects. 

I am an experienced and knowledgeable gardener.  However, most of the hands-on gardening (planting, soil preparation and maintenance) on my projects is done by other people under my supervision.  I rarely do any gardening for my clients.  I know a lot about plants - how to specify and combine them for year round colour and interest; which plants like different conditions (shade, sun, boggy, dry, etc); how big they grow, and how to look after them.  As part of my service I design planting schemes for clients and can advise on plants and planting.  But garden design is not only about plants.  Planting design is one part of the service a garden designer provides.

I am often called by potential clients asking whether I can give them a quote for ‘doing their garden’.  What they are asking for is a price for constructing the garden.  I explain that I can give them a quotation for providing the plans for the garden which can then be used to get firm, accurate prices for building their garden.

Master Plan for a half-acre garden

 A garden designer works with clients to create a garden that is beautiful and meets their specific needs.  Garden designers know how to create balance, harmony, and symmetry in a space so that the garden looks wonderful and is a relaxing place in which to spend time.  A great garden can add value to a house by transforming the space into an outdoor room which can be used all year round.  This only happens when the space has been given careful consideration and planning.

CAD model of the garden

 A garden designer designs outdoor spaces in the same way an architect designs houses.  However, designing a garden is a completely different skill to designing a house.  Garden designers assess the existing garden and its surroundings in minute detail.  They then create plans for the new garden layout that overcome the technical challenges of each site in response to the client’s brief in a highly creative way.  A good garden designer will be able to come up with a scheme that the client could never have envisaged and exceeds their expectations. 

View of the Pergola and Trellis

 Although garden designers have an excellent understanding of the construction process most of us are not landscapers.  A garden designer is able to discuss the technicalities of the build in detail with the landscape contractor.  This is another plus for clients – you can use your garden designer to make sure your chosen landscape contractor is doing a good job and building the garden to a high standard.  You should always get your garden designer to oversee the construction process it ensures you get the garden that was designed.


CAD model of garden

Clients often don’t understand why they need a garden designer and go straight to a landscaper.  I work with some amazing landscapers who are excellent at what they do which is building gardens.  All of them prefer to build to a well designed plan.  A plan means they know exactly what they’re quoting for and clients can see what is and is not included in their price. 

You would not ask your house builder to design a house or an extension to your house, you get an architect to provide you with plans and the builder uses these during the construction process.  That’s exactly how the garden designer/landscaper relationship works. 

 View of the seating area

Most landscapers are not trained designers.  Some landscapers do offer a design and build service, but the quality of the design can be poor as they make money from the build and not the design.  There are some very good designers who have their own build teams and do a great job, but they are in the minority.

 View of the water feature and pergola from the patio

 A clear garden plan allows the client to see what they’re getting.  I design my gardens on a CAD system that allows me to create a 3-D model so clients can view their proposed new garden from any angle, out of any house window, or from anywhere in the garden.  A good plan and model allows you to really feel how the garden will look and be used before you part with any money for construction.  You will be spending a lot of money on your garden, so you should know what you’re paying for before it’s finished.

The garden in this article was designed by Linsey Evans and she also produced the CAD model and images.  If you need help designing your garden please visit my Web site for all contact details, or email me

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