How to Choose a Garden Designer
A garden designer can unlock the potential of your outdoor space. Here, four experts offer tips on finding the right one
Teaming horticultural expertise with landscaping know-how, a garden designer can manage everything from the design concept through to a structured planting plan, ensuring your garden is functional, interesting and a dream to spend time in.
To help you pick the right person to work with, we asked four garden designers to reveal the things to look out for when making your choice and the questions you should be asking.
Professional advice from: Claudia de Yong of Claudia de Yong Garden Design; Roberto Silva of Silva Landscapes; Rebecca Smith of Rebecca Smith Garden Design; Katie Reynolds of Katie Reynolds Design
“A good garden designer will understand all the practicalities of a space and the costs involved in building a garden,” Claudia de Yong says. “They will be able to work within your budget, source the best and most appropriate materials, and design your garden so it adapts to meet any changing needs.”
“They’ll ensure the space is used effectively,” Rebecca Smith agrees. “By using the right plants for the soil and situation, the client will get maximum use from their garden.”
Katie Reynolds believes the level of detail often achieved by a garden designer may well be beyond what many homeowners are able to do themselves. “A garden designer will survey the site and assess the setting, the soil, and the relationship between house and garden in order to fully understand which design is going to work best,” she says.
Roberto Silva suggests not every client has a vision for the design of their garden, or how to put ideas together. “A garden designer will help with this, as well as providing a rich vocabulary of plants and design details the client can benefit from.”
Don’t let your lack of green-fingered knowledge prevent you from seeking help. “It’s the role of the designer to use their horticultural expertise to create planting schemes for you,” Katie says. “Of course, if you have a good knowledge of plants, then you can let the designer know of your preferences. I always ask if there are any particular requests for favourite plants or colours, and likewise any dislikes.”
“It’s not essential for you to know about plants, but it’s helpful to the designer if you have certain likes and dislikes,” Claudia says. “A garden designer is usually a trained horticulturist who will be able to select combinations of plants to suit your soil, climate and aspect, and provide you with year-round interest.”
“A reputable garden designer will provide (at a price) a maintenance schedule and guide for the plants’ aftercare specified in the design,” Rebecca says. Katie adds that she revisits the gardens she’s designed each year to check how the planting is progressing.
Ready to find your perfect match? Search local garden designers on Houzz, read reviews and see photos of their previous projects.
“If comparing it to building a house, the garden designer is the architect and the landscaper is the builder,” Katie explains.
“A garden designer will create the design, the hard landscaping specifications and the planting plans,” she continues. “The landscaper will then turn this into reality on site in terms of actually carrying out the work to create the garden.”
“Some companies work as design and build teams and undertake both sides of the work,” Claudia adds. “If a designer isn’t part of an in-house design/build practice, they will be able to assist with tender documents to help you get quotes from a landscaper.”
“Recommendations are always the best way,” says Roberto, who also suggests Houzz is a great place to look. “Houzz has a wealth of good garden designers on its platform with great reviews,” he says.
“Reviews are helpful, as are recommendations,” Claudia agrees. “Trade associations, such as the Society of Garden Designers (SGD), can also provide you with a list of registered garden designers in your area.”
“A registered member of the SGD has to prove they have the relevant insurance in place, as well as having to undergo a certain amount of CPD [continuing professional development] hours per year,” Rebecca says.
Katie also reiterates the value of reviews and recommendations. “Just as with finding any specialist trade, reviews on Houzz or social media, testimonials on [a designer’s] website, word of mouth, or personal recommendation are always good places to start.”
If you’re drawn to the style on a designer’s Houzz profile, get in touch to find out more about their work.
“Each designer has their own signature or style and may be a specialist in one area, but a good designer will be able to turn their hand to any design requirement,” Claudia says. “However, it’s important to choose a designer you feel is more likely to interpret your needs and wishes and whose work you have admired.”
Rebecca suggests looking through the designer’s online portfolio of work to see if any styles click with you. “Look at their website and ask to visit some of their existing projects, where you might be able to speak to the previous clients.”
It’s not essential to have a formal qualification, and there are many successful garden designers who are self-taught. However, Roberto suggests, “If you want to commission a first-time designer, I’d suggest a fully qualified one, who has completed a degree, diploma or similar, rather than those who complete a month-long course.”
Similarly, Rebecca urges homeowners “to look for a designer who’s a registered member of an organisation, such as BALI [British Association of Landscape Industries], APL [Association of Professional Landscapers] and SGD, and who has relevant training in garden design and horticulture”.
However, Claudia points out, “There are many qualified and efficient garden designers who are not registered within these associations. It’s always best to find someone whose work can be viewed and even discussed with previous clients.”
“Yes, absolutely,” Roberto says. “The designer will gain a better understanding of the space, find the inspiration from its surroundings, assess solutions and gauge the garden’s potential.”
“Site visits are very important for a designer to record any existing features and conditions that may impact a design,” Claudia agrees. “Plus, it’s a good opportunity to meet with the client and discuss the brief.”
“A site visit will show things that aren’t visible in a photo or on a website,” Rebecca adds. “The level of finish and the quality of a build will be evident during a visit.”
“Have a think about what you require, what your budget is, what is and isn’t currently working for you, and how you use the garden,” Katie says. “In turn, it’s a chance for you to ask about a designer’s previous projects, how they work, and the various stages of a project. Find out their availability, too; designers are often working six months or more in advance, so the sooner you get in touch, the better.”
“Come up with a list of what you want to use the garden for,” Rebecca suggests. “This could be as basic as a list saying ‘log store, bicycle storage, rotary airer, hide trampoline’.
“A good designer will ask a lot of questions,” she continues, “some of which may not seem relevant, such as how you walk across the garden at night and what colours you like. These are all part of establishing a sound brief for the project.”
Roberto agrees it’s likely the designer will arrive with a checklist of their own questions on the first visit. “At the first meeting, it’s good to cover any major concerns, such privacy issues or drainage problems, as well as desires for the end result. I also think it’s important to discuss fees and design process on the first day of the visit, so the client knows what’s involved and what they’re getting from the designer.”
You might also enjoy 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Planning a Small Garden.
“As a garden design is a two-way process, you’ll need a good rapport with your chosen professional, so make sure you can visualise yourself working alongside each other. Good communication skills are very important,” Claudia says.
Rebecca believes it’s important to ‘click’ with your garden designer, too, as a project can often last for months, so you need to choose someone you trust and like.
However, Roberto disagrees. “A client-designer relationship can be professional and can work successfully without that ‘click’,” he says. “The designer is there to deliver a project, which is more important.”
“The cost will depend on the size of your garden, what’s required, and where you are in the country,” Katie says. “Each designer will have their own rates depending on their experience, expertise and location.
“However, I’d say that yes, it’s 100% worth the investment, as a professionally designed garden can add value to your home. After the pandemic, we’re all very aware of just how valuable our gardens are to our homes.”
Claudia agrees. “Each garden designer has their own way of working in terms of how they
charge,” she says. “In the main, each part of the process will have a separate cost attached. A good garden design is a long-term investment, adding value to your property, while employing a garden designer will help you save time and money, as well as avoid any costly mistakes.”
“After the initial site visit, a designer will send out a quote for the work discussed; this could be an hourly fee or a fixed rate for a master plan,” Rebecca says.
“For a large project, payment will be broken into stages, from the initial visit, through to the concept plans and then the master plan,” she continues. “Additional drawings, such as planting plans or construction drawings, are usually quoted on an hourly rate.”
“Personally, I produce a quote for my design fee and I invoice 50% after the concept stage and the remaining 50% after the final presentation of the approved garden design,” Katie says.
“When it comes to hourly rates,” Roberto says, “expect to pay between £60 and £200 per hour, depending on the location and complexity of the project.”
Did you find this article helpful? Do you have any other tips for finding a garden designer? Let us know in the Comments.