Monthly Archives: November 2016

What are the differences between a Garden Designer, Landscape Contractor and a Design and Build Contractor and how do they make their money?

One of the questions I get asked a lot when people find out I’m a garden designer is what do I exactly do and how is that different from a landscape contractor or a firm that does design and build? That’s a really good question and I have to say that I would also have had to ask that question years ago. Let’s look at the differences so you can decide the right one for you and save yourself a lot of time.

Garden Designers

Garden Designers tend to offer the following services. General advice on a consultancy basis about your garden, survey and full design of your garden, project inspection of the garden build, planting plans and supply of plants along with planting services. They make their money from their time giving advice, designing and inspecting your garden build, doing planting plans and supplying you with plants and planting them for you. They will work with several sets of good contractors who will do the actual garden build for you and will be able to get comparative quotes from them for you to choose from.


Landscape architect design backyard plan for villa

Landscape Contractors

Landscape contractors tend to work in a different way. There are some who will simply build you a garden, laying lawns, building pergolas and walls, all the physical stuff! Some of these guys will ask you to get a design done by a designer before they undertake the garden build as they will work accurately to the plan and can give you a quote for the materials prior to the work commencing. They feel more comfortable sticking to what they do best which is building the garden, preferring to leave the design to someone else. They make their money from their labour and also from the mark-up on the materials they use.

Design and Build Companies

Finally, design and build companies of which there are quite a few. The ‘design and build’ companies will do a design for you and then build your garden. The standards of the design will vary as with every profession from very good to rather poor. They do not make their money on the design aspect of the job but on their labour and mark-up on materials the same as landscape contractors. The cost of the time spent doing the design is simply absorbed into the cost of the total project. These firms will often supply the plants and do the planting too.
In my blog next week, I’ll give you advice and tips on how to find the right garden designer, landscape contractor or design and build company for you and help you make the right choice.

So How Much Does Garden Design Cost?

When you first consider having your garden designed you’re probably wondering how much this is going to cost and whether it’s something you can really afford! I have spoken to lots of people over the years and they all ask me, ‘So how much does it cost to have your garden designed?’

It’s a great question. Let’s face it, who wants to agree to having any work done in their home or garden only to discover that the cost turns out to be much more than expected? Your garden is something that you will be looking at and enjoying for many years to come, so it is essential that you have an idea of how much the project will cost before you begin.

Many Currency


So, let’s look at the  costs and pro and cons of having your garden professionally designed and then you will be able to make the best decision for you.

The things to think about when you’re considering having this work done is what do you want from your garden? Realistically how much do you have to spend achieving this? A good garden designer will come out for an initial consultation. During that time they will assess the site and go into detail about how you want to use the space. How much you have to spend should be one of their questions. This is not to try and take advantage of you financially but simple to gauge if you can afford the kind of garden you are asking for and give you good advice on how best to proceed.


Costs for an initial consultation which lasts about 1.5- 2 hours varies in cost. The cost of this according to a number of factors including travel time. When you first make contact with a garden designer ask how much if anything this initial consultation will cost. If you’re unhappy with the answer you get then asking the question has not cost you anything.

I should mention at this stage, that after an initial consultation with prospective clients where I can advise them on roughly how much they will need as a budget for what they want, there is no obligation for them to take things any further. So for often a very modest amount of money around £50, you can get good advice before you decide whether to move forward or not.

In terms of the fee for the survey and design, that should come in at 10-15% of your total budget. The price of the design is not necessarily more because you have a large garden, rather the price is often determined by a number of factors.

These include:

Type of materials to be used
Access to the garden
Whether there are slopes in the garden
Water features
Maturity of planting required
Outdoor offices or kitchens to be included

My design fees generally tend to range from about £600-£1800 as a guide. Obviously it depends on the scale and/or complexities of the project.

So where will most of your money go? It actually goes to the contractor who is doing the garden build for you. The more walls, paved areas, pergolas and such that you have which is termed ‘hard landscaping ‘ the more expensive it will be. The more lawn and planting you have which is your ‘soft landscaping’ the less you will pay. A good designer will advise you about how to manage costs both up and down the scale so that your expectations are in line with your budget.


If you’d like several quotes from contractors, the garden designer can meet with them separately at your garden to go through the design and additional information required prior to the build starting, if you would like. They will also undertake periodic inspections of the build while it is going on. Different designers will charge differently for this with some agreeing a certain number of visits once you know how long the build will take, like myself and others will charge as a percentage of the overall build. I charge my hourly fee which currently is £50 per hour for each visit. Usually with the good contractors I use, it is one hour per week of the build. But that can be more if it is required.

Finally, you’re almost there, with the icing on the cake being the planting plan which comes next. I offer all my clients fixed fees for their planting plans and once the build is complete and I can see the borders and spaces that need to be filled. Depending on the size of garden from small to large my fees range from around £450 – £1850 and all fees are given prior to undertaking any work. My colleagues will all work in different ways, so do ask at the initial consultation how their fee structure works.


As you’re reading this you may well be thinking that all the same this is all starting to sound rather expensive. I would suggest that you think about the following while you’re mulling things over. If you were planning to put in a new bathroom, kitchen or conservatory how much would that cost? For most people who consider garden design, their garden ‘room’ is often bigger than any of these rooms. When you engage a good designer they will guide you through the process advising you on what areas of the project you’d be wise to spend money on and areas where you can save money, helping you from making costly mistakes.

They will give you a well thought out beautiful but functional garden with all that you want encompassed in that. That will allow you to feel confident that you are not making mistakes and wasting money. The same applies to the planting plan. Many people I speak to have spent a small fortune on plants for their garden with the end resulting often being a beautiful ‘May’ garden but no colour in it all by July. I have seen many gardens packed with plants that have grown way too big for the space they inhabit. A good planting plan avoids all this hit and miss over planting and allows you to feel confident that you will have well thought out plant combinations year round.

Design of garden bed

Lastly, the plants themselves. Ask the designer where they source their plants from. Personally, all the ones I put in my plans are grown in the tough Scottish climate that they will spend the rest of their lives in.

Not only will you enjoy using your beautiful well designed garden while you’re in your house but if you decide to sell then not only is it likely to sell more quickly but currently you will be adding value to your home in the region of 12-15% maximizing its value.


Well, now you have heard the pros what are the cons? Well if you have a budget of say under £5.000, which is still a lot of money, you will be struggling to get your garden re-designed and built for that unless it is very small and your brief relatively simple. In these situations my advice would be to pay for an hour of a garden designer’s time and ask them to visit the garden to see how far they think your budget will stretch for what you want. They should be able to give you ideas and good practical advice along with the name of a good contractor who very likely will be able to give you something very nice within your budget.

Being realistic about how far your budget will go is essential. I guess the cons with this are getting a bad contractor who does a poor job or takes the job with no real idea about design and you end up with a garden that disappoints you. Picking the right designer or contractor for you is absolutely essential and I will cover how to do that in my next blog.

However you look at garden design, it is rarely a cheap option, so getting the right garden designer and contractor is the key to it all. Being realistic about your budget is also paramount. If you have £1500 to spend in total, it simply won’t be enough. A certain amount of patience is required and the understanding that having your garden designed will take more than a week or two. Projects generally take from around 3 months to sometimes a couple of years. It will just depend on what you want, the size and complexity of your garden project and the time of year you get in touch with a designer or contractor.

If after reading this you decide having your garden professionally designed is the best choice for you. Read my blog next week about how to find the best designer for you. I’ll also explain the differences between a garden designer, landscape contractor and a landscape architect.

Top Tasks In Your Winter Garden

There is still plenty to keep you going in your winter garden over the next few months and on crisp, sunny days it can be a real pleasure spending time outdoors. Here are some hints and tips on what to tackle over the next few months.

Frosted Hydrangea Leaves

Top Garden Jobs for December

• Rake up leaves from grass to avoid damage to your lawn.
• Dig over areas in preparation for sowing a new lawn in spring.
• Prune Acers, Birches and Vines.
• Plant bare-root fruit. If the ground is too frosty when you get the plants, roughly plant them in a temporary spot ready to move to their final position once the weather improves.
• Put a floating ball in the pond to stop part of the ice freezing. This allows methane gas produced by decaying vegetation to escape.

Top Garden Jobs for January

• Unless the borders are wet or frozen, you can start digging them for new planting
• Cut back old leaves from perennials, being careful not to damage new shoots
• Wash old pots and tools ready for spring
• Cover pre-dug soil with fleece, polythene or cloches to warm the soil ready for sowing or planting
• Plant open ground roses, shrubs, trees and fruit

Top Garden Jobs for February/March

• Split established clumps of herbaceous perennials to improve flowering and vigour.
• Cut back summer flowering clematis hard to promote growth and trim back flowered shoots on winter Jasmine
• Still time to clear the ground, removing any old plants and dig it over providing the ground is dry. It’s a good time to add any additional organic matter such as garden compost.
• Cut back all old stems on ornamental grasses to ground level to make room for the green growth that will be starting to push through usually in February.
• Divide snowdrops. To increase your clumps, lift them as flowers begin to fade and split them, replanting single bulbs a few centimetres apart.