14 Aug 2014

How to work with a professional garden designer

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The self-build journey can be long and tiresome, but the last hurdle is an entirely new project in its own right – the garden.

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When the build is completed even the most energetic self-builder can be left exhausted and in need of bit of help to add those last aesthetics that make a house a home. After months – maybe even years – of planning, you wish to step inside your new paradise and look out onto a polished garden that reflects your self-build’s hard work.

Many self-builders decide to work alongside an experienced garden designer to advise on cost, contractors, elements and layout. If the thought of picking the right shrubbery and complementary water feature makes your head spin, the following checklist offers advice on how to get the most out of working with an expert.

Other than having sound horticultural knowledge and an understanding of ecology and conservation issues, these designers have the visual and spatial skills and creative intelligence to transform and unify a site from the smallest courtyard to a substantial landscape.

1. Choose the designer that's right for you

A good relationship with your garden designer will lead to a happy and productive experience for both parties. Ask prospective designers as many questions as possible, look at their website or portfolio, ask for references or ask if you can visit their previous projects, then choose a designer you feel comfortable with and one you feel best understands your requirements.

2. Be clear about your needs

Good communication is essential, both for the initial exchange of ideas and throughout the building process and will ensure the final result is the one you had hoped for. A good garden designer should have the visual and spatial skills to effectively interpret your requirements, but you need to have spent some time thinking about your brief and be prepared to convey your needs as fully as you can.

Think about how and when you want 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 to help you. As you look at the prospective designer’s website/portfolio, highlight any elements from their previous projects that appeal to you.

3. Be honest about your budget

A designer will produce tailor-made designs to match the budget you specify, so be clear about what you can afford. 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.

Charges and payment schedules vary from designer to designer, so make sure you fully understand the cost implications involved, what you are getting for your money and when you will be invoiced. A good designer should provide a written estimate of the total costs and explain what the project and payment stages are. Be prepared to be asked for a percentage of the payment before the design is completed.

4. Be realistic about timings

You should allow about six months from appointing your chosen designer to completion of your garden. However this can vary enormously and could take longer, depending on the size or your garden, the scale of the project, availability of contractors and any specialist or unpredictable elements such as weather conditions.

Don’t be surprised if the designer you want has a waiting list and isn’t able to start straight away. You might also need to wait for the best landscape contractor to be available.

5. 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. You are paying 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 not dictate every aspect of the design.

6. 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 bought through the house or you are undertaking a major landscaping project.

7. Discuss any issues as quickly as possible

If you are unhappy with an element of the design or build of the 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.

8. Finding your garden designer

The Society of Garden Designers website is an excellent place to find a fully qualified and experienced garden designer. The website allows you to search and find designers that work in your local area. The website only lists garden designers that have passed the strict SGD accreditation and appraisal process and have been in business for at least three years.

Further information....

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