Anticipating your questions about garden design, construction and planting
I know you will want to be absolutely sure you have chosen the right garden designer before investing your hard-earned money in a new garden. I hope I have anticipated all your questions but please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have other queries.
You can scroll down the whole list to read them in order or click on the subheadings below to go straight to the section you are most interested in.
I don’t know what I want and I certainly don’t know how to describe it in gardening terms. Am I beyond help?
No! Most people have only a passing knowledge of gardening or plants; some have no idea whatsoever. It’s up to me to find out what you want from your garden and put the words you use into a gardening context. If you have photographs, say from magazines, of the sort of garden you want (or don’t want) they will help but, generally, I will ask you questions so I can identify what would suit you best.
I know exactly what I want. Is it still worth using a garden designer?
Yes! Several of my clients have had very clear ideas and have given me extremely specific briefs. Even so, there are often aspects which a client might not have taken into account, or alternative ways of achieving the same result, so a garden designer will almost always bring new dimensions to discussions and plans. If you’d like to find out if I could help you, please ask.
What should I consider when trying to describe what I want?
The most important thing is to work out what you want from your garden. Do you want to use it a lot, occasionally or just look at it from indoors? Is it for relaxing, entertaining, pottering around in or an alternative to your home-office in good weather? Do you need to accommodate children or pets or want a sophisticated, adult space? Do you want to grow herbs or vegetables or savour the scents and sounds of plants and shrubs? Should it be ornamental or free flowing and organic? What mood do you want it to evoke? Then consider aspects you either like or dislike. Do you love or loathe certain colours, flowers or plants? What about water, decking, grass, sculpture, structure, contrasting shapes, sun or shade, formal tables and chairs or informal benches, wood, metal or stone, things in pots or beds, borders, fences or walls, climbers or creepers, straight lines or curves? Do you like to eat outside, to barbecue? Do you need privacy from neighbours? Do you like gardening or want only to do some watering and occasionally pluck out a weed? Do you want the front to match the back and both to be done at the same time or to concentrate on one to start with? There are so many aspects to cover, I hope you will trust me to ask the right questions and listen carefully and attentively to your answers so I can recommend a design which ensures you get what you want from your garden.
I’d like my garden to look natural and am worried that having it designed will not achieve this.
Most clients say they don’t want their garden to look as if it has just had a makeover so I set out with this aim in mind. Although a newly planted garden will almost always look unusually tidy and organised – and decking, garden furniture and structures will be smart and clean – plants will soon relax and spread and furniture and structures will look softer as they weather. Plants are natural and organic; no one can ever predict precisely how each will grow – but they do need time to do so. There will be a short period during which your garden will look a little cold or hard but this will change. If you want a garden that immediately looks as if it has been there forever, I can supply mature shrubs but this usually adds quite a bit to the cost.
I love having a garden but what if I don’t want to do any work?
The majority of my clients want gardens they can easily manage themselves, depending on how much time they want to spend on gardening. If you want to keep maintenance to a manageable minimum – whatever that means for you – I will incorporate this into my design. If you never want to lift a finger to keep your garden looking good, I will do the maintenance for you.
Where do I work?
Because I live in West London many of my clients also live in West London or Middlesex. But I will work almost anywhere, provided that I can easily commute when I need to oversee the construction or while planting. Having said that, I would be happy to design gardens abroad, ensuring they will flourish in the local climate and soil conditions, so if you have a home in another country and would like to improve the garden there, do get in touch to see if I can help.
Do I do the building and construction or just the design?
Most clients want someone who will design, construct and plant their gardens so they know it will be done to an agreed timetable, at a high quality standard and for a fixed price. I provide the overall design and do all the planting, using contractors for the building and construction elements.
How do I choose my contractors?
I use contractors with whom I have a long-standing professional relationship all of whom I know work to my standards. I would not recommend anyone I did not trust or who is not sensitive to clients, including their need to continue living their lives while their gardens are being developed. I will recommend the contractor I think is most suitable for your garden, bearing in mind the skills that are needed, your budget and any timescale or diary limitations you might have.
Can you use your own contractors?
Of course. If you want to use your own contractors and oversee their work yourself, I am happy simply to provide the design and a detailed planting plan for them to follow. However, like most other garden designers, I prefer to use and oversee my own contractors so I can be sure everything is done to the right standard.
Where do I buy my plants?
I use a well-established nursery in Surrey where I am well known. They provide an excellent range of herbaceous plants as well as some mature shrubs (for those who want an instant garden rather than wait for plants to grow).
What about garden furniture, pots, sculptures and other features?
Some clients already have garden furniture, pots and ornaments which they want to continue to use. If this applies you, please let me know exactly what you want to use so I can make sure my design accommodates them. If you are starting from scratch, or want to buy again, I will recommend what I think would work best for you and order them for you, ensuring they are delivered as far as possible to fit the construction and planting timetables. If you would like to choose your own, I can lend you brochures of well-known, quality manufacturers or put you in touch with artists who specialise in art for the garden.
Do I do garden maintenance?
Yes! Though many people love gardening, gaining pleasure from pottering – dead-heading here, cutting back there, weeding as they go – many want to be free of what they consider to be a chore. Meanwhile, companies seldom have staff on hand to keep their outdoor space in good order. If you’d like us to look after your garden, we’d be delighted to take on this task. As garden maintenance increases and decreases with the seasons – it’s at its busiest in spring and autumn – I share the work with people who are qualified horticulturalists, ensuring I can provide all my clients with the gardening services they need, even at peak times.
What can you expect to pay?
Cost is always an issue for clients and it is almost impossible to give a straight answer, if only because there are so many variables. Price will always depend not just on the size of your garden but also on the amount of work needed, ease of access, the number and range of plants and the variety of features you want to include – paving, decking or grass, lighting or automatic watering systems,…the list is endless. What I can assure you is that I will design a garden to fit your budget. If your overall ideas are not achievable within your budget, I will say so and, of course, suggest alternatives. I charge for the design as that is a discreet aspect of the job which takes place before you decide whether to go ahead with the garden. The design fee varies, depending on the size of your garden. For a small garden (up to 7m by 5m) prices start from £650 which includes a scaled, colour drawing of the garden, indicating main areas and elements, and the meeting we have afterwards to discuss the design. If you want me to make significant changes to the design, or if we have additional meetings, my charge is £50 an hour. If you also want a detailed plan of the plants and other aspects, that will incur an extra charge; again this will depend on the size of your garden, starting at about £500 for a small garden. If you decide to go ahead, I charge an hourly rate for monitoring contractors, overseeing the project and doing the planting as well as supplying the plants. As with all other aspects, the cost will vary according to what is needed but I will give you an estimate, knowing that you will want as accurate a guide as possible. Currently, no VAT is payable to me.
How does ease of access affect the price?
Clients are often surprised that access to their garden has cost implications but it does. If the contractors can go in and out of your garden without coming through your flat or house, it will almost always cost less simply because transporting earth and building materials carefully along narrow passages, particularly with awkward corners or steps, takes much longer than trundling wheelbarrow loads easily down the side. All the contractors I use will work as fast as they can to do this to minimise costs to you but it is heavy, awkward work which cannot be rushed – for their health and safety and to avoid damage to your home.
Do you need to pay in stages or in one go?
It is usual practice to pay in stages, making three equal payments – at the beginning, during work and on completion – which will be specified in the contract. I prefer you to pay the contractors direct (they will be registered for VAT) and to pay me separately, also in stages as detailed in the contract.
What’s the first step?
I will visit you to look at and walk round your garden, discuss what you want from it and consider what is possible within your budget. You will have a chance to look at my portfolio and photographs of gardens I have designed which are not included on this website and to ask questions. There is no charge for this initial visit, which will take about an hour.
If I want to proceed, what happens next?
If you decide you would like me to design your garden, I will arrange a second visit to take detailed measurements and photographs. I will then consider what would work best, to suit your lifestyle and budget as well as the location and soil, and propose a design for you to consider. There will be a charge for this design stage which will include a scaled, colour drawing of the garden, indicating main areas and elements. The design fee will depend on the size of your garden so it is hard to be precise; for a small garden (up to 7m by 5m) it is £600 which includes a scaled, colour drawing of the garden, indicating main areas and elements, and the meeting we have afterwards to discuss the design. If you want me to make significant changes to the design, or if we have additional meetings, my charge is £50 an hour. If you also want detailed plan of the plants and other aspects, that will incur an extra charge; again this will depend on the size of your garden, starting at about £250 for a small garden. After that, I will commission the relevant contractors and come back to you to discuss dates for the work to take place.
If I don’t like your initial design, will I have to pay for a second one?
None of my clients has rejected my initial design. Some have requested changes but these have usually been to make modest adjustments for which I have not charged an additional fee. However, if you want to make significant changes I charge for my time at £50 an hour. If I have completely missed the mark and got it wrong, I will provide a second drawing at no extra cost. And, if you have changed your mind and want me to start again on a new concept, that will incur a second design fee.
If I want to go ahead, when will work start and how long will it go on for?
As with costs, there is no simple answer as it will depend on variables such as the availability of the contractors and the extent of the work to be done. As soon as it looks as if you would like to go ahead, I will estimate how long I think it will take and consider when it would be most convenient to start work, depending on the availability of the contractors.
Tell me the worst – what are the drawbacks?
Even though I use contractors who are sensitive to the fact that being “on site” means being in your home, between the before and after photographs, there is a stage when the garden looks like a bombsite and you’ll wonder if you can put up with the disruption for another second. Having said that, this period usually lasts only a short time – often only during the first week – when digging and moving earth and rubble out of the garden and bringing new materials into the garden. My contractors always leave everything tidy every day and clients who go out to work tell me they hardly knew contractors were there.
How long will it take for the garden to look its best?
Most gardens take about three years to settle in completely but you should start to notice changes almost immediately, depending on the time of year. Clients often say they enjoy watching the plants growing and developing so I recommend you take photographs of the garden immediately after it is finished so you can see just how quickly changes do take place, even though it might seem as if nothing is happening.