Garden Design

Frequently Asked Questions about garden design and landscaping

What can you expect from a garden designer?

Building, planting and maintaining a garden can be an expensive business. Mistakes can be costly and fail to deliver what you want from your garden. Having a professionally designed plan can help prevent these sorts of problems as issues can be addressed at the paper stage and before money has actually been spent in your garden. There are several key steps which I work through to make sure that I understand what you need from your garden, and that you get what you expect.

Consultation: The first stage is a consultation which typically lasts about an hour. This is an opportunity for us to meet and discuss what you want from your garden. I can look at your garden and get a sense of the overall plot; any particular design challenges and the layout of all the key features. This will enable me to go away and prepare a design brief which details the costs of the design. If you then choose to go ahead, the following will typically take place.

Site Survey: I will carry out a detailed site survey which allows me to draw up your garden on site and also do a full analysis of soil types and any environmental issues.

Design: I will then produce a concept design which shows the main ideas and type of planting together with materials. We will then go through the design in detail, making any required changes.

Planting plan: Once you’re happy with the design, I will then produce a planting programme which details which plants are to go into the garden. The programme will also give you information on all the plants so that you know what to expect in terms of visual picture and maintenance. Typically this will include a coloured photo album outlining all the key plants I intend using in your garden.

Build Quotes: The next stage involves obtaining quotes for the actual build. I can provide you with a quote from one of my own panel of landscapers or I can work with a landscaper chosen by yourself. If you decide to build the garden yourself I will provide you with a laminated plan – so you can work in all weathers!

Planting: In most gardens I do the planting myself rather than rely of a landscaper. This is based on my experience working with plants. However, I am more than happy to work alongside you in what I call the fun part of the project.

Follow up: After the garden is built and planted I will come back about 6 months later to check on its development and the health of the plants. At this stage we will go through all the plants and make sure you are comfortable looking after them.

Is my garden too big or too small for a design?

Absolutely not! I’ve designed gardens as small as 3 x 5 metres and as large as 5 acres – and lots in between. The point of good garden design is to make the most of the space you have available and ensure that the garden and house sit comfortably together. That’s what I set out to do, so you can get on with enjoying your garden.

What if I just want part of my garden redesigned?

If you just want part of your garden to be updated then that is no problem at all. Planting schemes can vary in size from a small cottage garden border, right up to large formal borders. Hard landscaping might involve changes to some steps through to a complete landscaping redesign and build.

How many gardens have you designed?

I’ve designed well over 300 gardens. Many of these have been complete rebuilds which have involved hard landscaping project management. Others have been much simpler. All of them have involved planting and most of the time I’ve also sourced plants for my clients and managed the planting schemes. I’m also experienced in the design, management and creation of water gardens and features; lighting; garden structures and buildings. Sometimes there are very specific requirements to meet, such as ensuring that that garden is fully accessible for various types of disability; or in providing a unique feature such as a putting green.

Do you charged for revisions to the design?

As long as the overall scope of the brief has not changed then I do not charge to make revisions. Once I’ve been through the design with you I will typically leave it with you for a week or so to mull over. Then we get back together and go through any changes you might want to make. Building a garden is not cheap and it’s important that the plan gives you what you need because you don`t want to have to do it again.

How long will it typically take from design to complete garden?

That will obviously depend on how complex the overall job is and when work is planned to start. A key part to making sure that jobs don’t take longer than necessary is to make sure that landscaping, building and planting work are all properly scheduled around each other. Reputable landscapers can often be booked up for several months in advance, so early conversations with them to get work start dates agreed is essential. Different types of plants are often only available at certain times of year. If you want bare rooted plants, then these have to be ordered in advance and will be supplied by the nurseries during the bare root season only – late October to March. With all these factors to consider, it’s likely that for substantial jobs the process of moving from design to a complete garden will take several months.

When is the best time to build a garden?

Gardens can be built at any time of year – although clearly you can get a lot more done when the days are longer and the weather is good, than you can when the days are short or the weather is bad. Rain and mud are landscaper’s worst enemies as they create extra mess and slow work down. Reputable landscaping firms should be able to cope with all but extreme weather. Snow is usually the main time when landscapers and planters have to down tools. However, most planting is done in the autumn, winter and early spring during the bare root season. This allows the plants to rest after planting and then be fully settled in by the time they start growing in the spring. Planting in the winter also means that you are less likely to have to spend every evening watering the plants in as most years we have adequate rainfall.

When is the best time of year to design a garden?

The design of a garden can be done at any time of year and there are no months when I won’t be working on designs for clients. Managing the building and planting of garden is more time critical as these happen outside and have to deal with the challenges of British weather. It’s important to remember that plants are living organisms and it can be very stressful for a plant being planted when conditions are not favourable – usually when it is too dry or windy.

Do you offer an initial consultation?

Yes - because every garden is different so it`s impossible to offer a quote without seeing the garden and talking through your requirements. So the initial consultation is an opportunity for us to meet; for you to see some of my designs and for me to talk through what you’re looking to achieve and how we can best work together. For clients in Norfolk and Suffolk I don`t charge for this consultation.

When do you measure up the garden and take soil samples?

I carry out a site survey after you’ve agreed to have a design done. During a site survey I will measure up the outside of the house, including the position of windows, doors etc. I will also measure out the plot, including the boundaries and any prominent features such as mature trees, drains, outbuilding etc. A survey will typically take 2 – 3 hours.

What are my options if I can’t afford to have my entire garden rebuilt all at once?

Many of my clients have taken a phased approach to the creation of their garden. Typically this will involve completion of the design – followed by the phased building and planting of the garden. This may take place over a single year, or even several years depending on the size of the job and the funds that are available. The important thing is to be clear on the design. Once this is in place then you’ll have a much better idea of what your build and planting costs will be and how you can break these down into sensible chunks to create your garden.

When is the best time to plant up a garden?

The best time to plant up a garden is between the start of October and the end of March. Over this period, bare root plants are available and these provide two key advantages over plants in pots. Firstly, they tend to do much better once put into a garden; and secondly they are cheaper than pot plants. The thing that can cause problems over this period is severe winter weather. Planting in very cold weather or when the ground is waterlogged should be avoided if at all possible. In the summer, hot and dry weather creates its own complications due to the need for lots of watering while the plant establishes itself. In general terms, so long as you avoid extreme weather and put healthy plants into well prepared soil, then they should be fine.

Why do you plant during the winter?

From a horticulture perspective, winter is the best time to plant. Plants are dormant at this time of year which means the roots are not actively growing and looking for food or water. In a sleepy / dormant state they’re far more adept at withstanding hard conditions. Planting in late spring is always difficult. The plants are starting to grow but often the weather is dry and windy which makes it very stressful for the plant. In addition you cannot buy bare rooted plants after the end of March. Container plants are always more expensive than bare root so the budget for the garden is a lot higher outside the winter months. Trees and shrubs can be planted throughout the year as they’re supplied in containers - as long as there’s no extreme weather and you’re happy to water them on a regular (often daily) basis.

Can you supply plants?

Yes. I supply (and plant) many tens of thousands of high quality plants to clients every year. I guarantee everything I plant for 6 months – subject to the soil having been properly prepared and no extreme weather.

Do you guarantee your plants?

I cannot offer a formal guarantee because obviously the success of plants depends on how well they are looked after once they’re in the ground. However, in general I will aim to replace plants that I have sourced and planted, if they die within the first 6 months subject to them having been planted in optimal conditions (usually between October and April), have been properly watered in for the first 6 months and have not been subject to very adverse weather. I always come back 6 months after your garden has been planted to check on the health and development of the plants and also to make sure you are happy with the picture we have created. Gardens can always be tweaked again in the autumn.

Where do you buy your plants from?

I try to source as many plants as possible from East Anglia. We’re very lucky in that we have some excellent nurseries based in our part of the country. This has an added advantage that the plants I buy are used to our conditions. Although we are not necessarily the sunniest part of Britain, we are one of the driest and sometimes windiest. The key to successful planting is making sure the plants are happy in their environment. This is probably why I have a very high success rate with my planting.

I do use a number of specialist retailers and wholesalers for the plants. This means I have access to an extensive range of plants (far more than are available in local garden centres) which are grown and managed in optimum conditions.

How often so I need to water the garden?

This obviously depends on the weather. You don`t need to water as much (or at all!) during the winter – which again is another good reason to plant in the dormant season. However, shrubs and trees should be watered for approximately a year and perennials for about 6 weeks after planting. The most critical time for hedges is when they first come into bud in the spring. Lawns also need to be watered in for the first 6 weeks. In mid spring you should look to water on a daily basis – even if the weather is cloudy because the wind will often take away any moisture from the plant.

Do you recommend mulching a garden?

Yes. The Royal Horticulture Society strongly advises you to mulch your garden. Not only does it aesthetically look better and help reduce weeds it also keeps moisture in the soil so that plants don`t dry out. It also insulates the soil during the winter and protects the plants. I use an ornamental spruce at a depth of about 4-5cm.

Do you build the gardens yourself?

I work with a number of professional landscapers with whom I have built strong relationships over the years. These range from self-employed one man landscapers to larger teams of 5 – 6 people. I can project manage the build of the garden for you or I can introduce you to one of my teams and you can manage the project yourself. A lot depends on the complexity of the project and whether or not you are at home during the day. The construction of the garden is critical and I make sure that the landscapers carrying out the work are experienced and skilled craftsmen who can build the garden to the very highest standards.

Alternatively, if you have your own landscaper them I’m very happy to work with them.

I generally plant the gardens myself and ensure that the borders are prepared correctly. This means that I can plant them efficiently and give the plants the best possible start in your garden.

What happens if I want to make alterations during the build?

Ideally any alterations will be minimal as any concerns will have been addressed during the design stage. However, I understand that it is sometimes difficult to visualise the plan on the ground. To minimise problems I always ask the landscapers to spray paint the design onto the ground at the start of the project because it is far easier and cheaper to make amendments at this stage than after the work has started. Ultimately of course it’s your garden and if you have concerns at any time just talk to me about them.

Do you carry out garden maintenance?

I don’t carry out normal garden maintenance activity such as lawn cutting and weeding. For this you will need a general gardener. For clients whose gardens I’ve planted, I can provide an additional program in which I’ll visit the garden to check on plant health and answer any questions that you may have about your garden.