How Far in Advance Should I Hire a Garden Designer?
From the key stages and likely timescales to the best time for planting, three garden designers share their top tips
Professional advice from: Julia Cody of Hamilton Cody Garden Design; Phil Hirst of Phil Hirst Garden Design; Roberto Silva of Silva Landscapes
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Our experts estimate it can take anything from around six months to a year and upwards to get from an initial appointment with a garden designer to a fully built and planted plot.
“Every garden design is different,” Phil Hirst says, “but it will typically take at least two months to prepare a garden design before everything is ready for a contractor to start work.”
“There’s a lot that goes into designing and building a garden properly, and it’s best not to rush the process,” Julia Cody says. “It’s a big investment for the client and it’s worth taking time over the process.”
“The weather and the seasonal aspects of the business have an effect, too,” Roberto Silva says. “Some plants can only be planted in a certain season, or they’re not available to buy at certain times of the year.”
Phil explains that the earlier the designer is involved, the better. “The designer should be able to give you an indication of how long they expect the design element of the project to take and when they’d be able to start,” he says. “Depending on workload, it may be possible for this process to begin quite quickly, but that won’t always be the case. It’s likely a designer will be working on more than one project at any point in time.”
“You always have to wait a while for a good landscape contractor to be available,” Julia says. “Their schedules constantly shift, because it’s weather-dependent work and other clients’ plans change. But they may be able to slot in a smaller garden project sooner between larger ones.”
Browse the work of garden designers in your area and read reviews from previous clients.
“The best time would be autumn, as the design can be done in the next couple of months, then built in winter and planted in spring,” Roberto says.
It’s a common misconception that designers are busy in summer and have nothing to do in winter, according to Phil. “Designers work all year round and, since a lot of the work is studio-based, they don’t have to stop for bad weather,” he says.
“A lot of new enquiries tend to come at the start of the year when people are looking forward to having a new garden for spring or summer,” he continues. “November and December are often quieter, as thoughts turn to Christmas, and the short days and bad weather take attention away from gardens. Paradoxically, this may be the best time to approach a designer, so you can get booked in before the New Year rush.”
The process usually involves:
- Establishing a brief.
- Gathering information about the site and existing features.
- Creating a design concept and masterplan, plus further design detailing.
- Getting a contractor to build the garden.
- Planting it up.
To see more from any of the designers whose photos are featured in this article, click on the image (then on Learn More if you’re in the app) and follow the links to the professional’s profile.
“The planting time depends on the size and complexity of the scheme,” he continues. “For a small garden, it could be done within a few hours, but larger gardens may take several days. Plants also have to be sourced from nurseries.”
“Planting is traditionally done in the autumn and it’s the best time if possible,” Julia says. “It allows the plants to establish over the autumn and winter, so they’re robust and ready for the growing season the following year.”
You might also enjoy 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Planning a Small Garden.
“It’s easy to overlook the fact that the seasons need to be respected,” Roberto says. “For example, we can’t plant bulbs in summer. Clients also tend to underestimate the cost of the hard landscaping and design.”
People will often use a particular event as the impetus to hire a garden designer, not realising the time it requires, Julia observes. “This is totally understandable, but if the time is too tight, it can create a lot of stress all round,” she says. “A garden is a large investment and it’s best not to rush the process. Enjoy it and take your time.”
“One of the most frequent causes of delay on a design project is the availability of homeowners for meetings,” Phil says. “If meetings can only take place in the evening or at weekends, it can sometimes be several days or weeks before they happen and, come winter, evening visits to see a garden are impossible.”
Julia advises homeowners phone a few designers before booking in an initial meeting. “Trust between client and designer is key,” she says, “so find someone whose work you like and who you feel comfortable talking to.
“Decide what level of service you’re looking for: a complete, start-to-finish package, or just help with the layout or planting,” she continues. “Most designers are happy to tailor their service to your requirements and will help you identify what those are.”
“Research designers properly, and not only the ones on the first page of Google,” Roberto says. “Have a separate budget for the design work. Look at the designer’s portfolio and contact one of their previous clients. The internet also helps if designers have featured in any press articles. Always search locally first, because travel time can increase the cost of the design work.”
Don’t forget that Houzz has a huge list of reviewed garden designers working across the country.
Be financially prepared, is Julia’s rule of thumb. “Even if you have to build the garden in stages, it’s a good investment to have the layout well planned in advance,” she says. “We have a client who employed us to design and specify the garden and then saved for a few years before they could afford to build it. It’s very small, but one of our favourite projects.”
How did you go about planning and scheduling your garden redesign? Share you knowledge and experiences in the Comments.