Musings on choosing a garden designer

Garden designers need to know a lot about a lot of things.

Just consider for a moment.  He or she has got to have a good breadth and depth of knowledge covering:

  • Plants
  • Materials
  • Construction
  • Lighting
  • Drainage…

… the list goes on.  And not only that:

  • The designer needs to demonstrate their design skills and experience in terms of creative problem solving – ways of overcoming all those things that you dislike in your garden – and ways of giving you all those things you have always wanted!
  • Good 3D spatial awareness is crucial, as are excellent communication skills.
  • Human psychology and diplomacy skills are vital too! Many client couples strongly disagree about what they want in their gardens, and the designer needs to be able to find a path that everyone wants to follow.

So how ever do you go about making the right choice?

A key element is knowing what precisely you need from a garden designer, and even why you are using one.  So, before discussing your garden project with a designer for the first time, ask yourself:

  • Does your project require a designer with a specific set of skills and knowledge? The focus might be on construction, plants, drainage…
  • Are you looking for someone who specialises in a certain style or type of garden (Zen for example), or someone who can work with a wide variety of styles to suit the nature of the garden and your specific tastes.
  • Do you value the design process, or are you just looking for a few ideas and a quotation? If the latter, you may not want to go to the expense of a detailed garden survey and plan and may not need, or wish to pay for the services of a garden designer.
  • How much time do you have? And to what extent are you happy to put faith in the designer’s skills in picturing the end result?
  • What is the budget for the garden? A rough idea is important – to make sure that the designer believes that they can design a garden that meets your needs for the budget in question.
  • Do you want to use an independent designer (i.e. someone who would be able to provide you with impartial advice when trying to select a contractor to do the landscaping work)? Or would you prefer that the design and doing were all under the same seamless umbrella?
  • How best can the designer help you, and do you need him or her to be flexible in their approach? For example, I find that some garden projects are suited to the fairly traditional approach of survey, preparation of layout / overview plans, planting plans etc.  But others need a less detailed and more ‘ideas generating’ approach at the outset, with perhaps more detailed plans following much later.  This is particularly the case for clients considering new builds – here the initial plans may even include consideration of aspects like where to locate the garage, and the plans are often worked on in parallel with the initial plans for the house.  Other projects just need planting detail, a water feature, or another specific feature addressing.
  • When do you want or need the work done – both the design and the landscaping? This can be key as good designers and landscapers typically have a lead time of several months.  Are you prepared to wait?

And how do you find good garden designers anyway?

When looking for a garden designer, it does help if you know someone who can recommend someone they have worked with.

But if not, then local publications and Googling is probably the next best thing.  These days nearly all designers have good websites showing examples of their work, which give some indication of how the designer operates.

And all designers will be happy to provide references – details of previous and existing clients.  It’s definitely a good idea to take references up – previous clients will be able to tell you – warts and all – about the designer in question.

It’s personal

At the end of day, choosing a garden designer is a personal thing.  The key question to ask yourself is “can I (or we) work with this person?”  So consider whether you feel that the designer is listening to you and taking on board your requirements and comments (or is he/she just telling you what you should have, based on his/her own personal tastes and preferences).

It is all about building a relationship with someone – empathy, understanding and trust are all vital – particularly being able to trust someone else’s judgement.  Just like life in general, I suppose!

And of course, if you’re stuck for people to talk to… we’d love to hear from you!!


Like what you see?

From planning a new border to a complete garden remodel, we pride ourselves on transforming ideas into beautiful reality, with minimum disruption. If you’re based in or around the Reading and Newbury area, we’d love to meet and discuss your project in detail – book your free no-obligation garden consultation today. We do get pretty booked up, particularly during the Spring, so plan ahead if possible!