There's no such thing as a no-maintenance garden but there are plants which will work harder for you. We review our favourites with tips on where they will perform best.
You've been looking at your garden throughout the year and you have grand visions of features you'd like be they a sophisticated planting scheme, a children's play area or a sunken relaxation area with a fire pit for the end of a long day.
You then realise that the seating area isn't where the sun is in the evening and some existing features are going to cause havoc to your plans. Enter the Garden Designer. But what will the Garden Designer actually do and how far will they go to making your dreams a reality?
The most common question that I'm asked is 'Will you build the garden?' as well as comments to the effect of 'My friends also a landscape gardener'.
To address the first question; designers generally do not build gardens much like you wouldn't expect your architect to get out a cement mixer.
Whilst Landscape Gardeners are typically primarily focused on the maintenance of the garden which can include jobs such as replacing fencing and small pathways but essentially their focus is managing the plants once they are in the ground.
I've often likened the role of a Garden Designer to being a hybrid of an architect, an interior designer and, of course, a gardener. To me, this mixture is most pronounced in the order of work that is produced by the Garden Designer: a Concept Plan, Presentation (or Master) Plan and then a Planting Plan.
The objective of the Concept Plan is to address the overall layout of the garden; where the main seating areas are as well as other large features such as outdoor kitchens, hot tubs, a swimming pool, vegetable gardens and so on.
It will consider path widths (very important) and navigate accessibility issues. Details such as step tread and risers are crucial for an outside space to feel both comfortable and safe. After all, you don't want to have to walk up 10 steps carrying a tray of drinks each time everyone needs a top up.
All of this is considered in the context of your brief for the project as well as the practicalities of the site; are there views to maintain? Wind tunnels to avoid? Frost pockets to plant in? Are there any drainage issues to overcome? Where are the inspection covers which may require future access? What is the ideal number of people that will be able to linger in an area during dinner? Will I feel comfortable walking near the pond when its been raining or is more space required?
The list is extensive and totally unique to each site and client.
A good Garden Designer should have a frank conversation with you about budget as this can have a huge influence on the layout. A sunken seating area may be your dream but excavation is costly and even more so if you then have to remove the soil and live in a garden with very limited access and poor street parking.
This is where the expertise of a designer really pays dividends; they will ask these questions right from the start which minimises changes down the line (which is when it gets increasing costly to 'right' a 'wrong'). Can the soil be kept on site for example by creating a landform or raised border elsewhere?
Contrary to popular belief, it is not the objective of the designer to spend every penny that you have
So be honest with your designer about your expectations financially and, if you're in doubt, let them know that also! Most people aren't sure what gardens cost but better to have an idea before you commission a design.
A Garden Designers understanding of your budget simply enables them to present realistic ideas which balance your aspirations and financial objectives.
The second phase is the Presentation Plan. This is where the parallels with the interior designer come to the fore as the Presentation Plan drills down to the specifics of each element of the new garden.
Typically during this phase, we are busy ordering samples and speaking to supplier and trade specialists. For example, if the initial Concept Plan included some bespoke cor-ten steel planters, the Presentation Plan phase will include finding a manufacturer for these and detail the exact dimensions to account for ease of planting up and visual preference.
The Design is in the detail
But remember, the design is in the detail; the Garden Designer should naturally be asking if any other details here can enhance the overall look such as a slight chamfer on the edge or a brick trim around the base.
Many designers these days use Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs to present their visions of the final garden.
These programs really come into their own for the Presentation Plan when they generate highly accurate information regarding quantities. Expect to see details such as 'Patio: 45m2 London Stone Pierre Blue Porcelain Paving laid stretcher bond with 5mm norcos flexible grout joint'. More details will likely also be included but hopefully this paints a clear picture of the level of detail a good Garden Designer should go to.
The Presentation Plan clearly states how much of a precise product is required and how it is to be installed. You may think the detail such as joint size as not relevant but these details can have a big impact on the end result.
Ultimately, the landscaper completing the job should be in no doubt as to how to do the work; nothing should be left up to him or her to ask or guess and that is when you know you have a quality designer in place.
What is the point in investing in your outdoor room if not every single detail is considered especially when those details really impact the final look.
A Designer should also help you by providing a clear specification which includes a section titled Preliminaries.
This may all sound a little overkill but when you've just had a beautiful new cream carpet laid, you'll be feeling quite glad that your designer stated that the landscaper needs to provide a port-a-loo.
The Preliminaries will also state other terms the Contractor must comply with such as working hours (no thank you to turning up at 8am on a Bank Holiday) and Insurance (yes please to comprehensive cover).
These are all aspects which hardly ever get given a second thought until the dreaded time when you wish there are had been a discussion at the beginning.
Finally, the Planting Plan. Again, based on the brief which should ask questions about aesthetics as well as maintenance. Pretty plants tend to be more work but, also, consider how the garden will look during winter. If there is an area you will see each day from the house, then the planting should reflect that. Structural evergreen planting will look wonderful on a frosty morning.
The main aspect the Designer should bring to the table here is knowing how to arrange the plants. Any gardener can tell you that larger plants can go towards the back of the border but what of form and texture? Did you know a large leaf such as that of a Hosta helps the rest in a border full of different plants making the overall look more pleasing.
There is a great deal of science behind the importance of complementary forms and colours which the Garden Designer should be aware of.
At Llevelo, we go to great lengths to be clear about the end planting combination including considering the above points as well as successional interest, ultimate plant maturity, as well as the compatibility of each plant with the unique garden conditions such as the soil type, exposure level, which plants may be prone to a nibble by passing visitors such as muntjac, which are poisonous, which will offer a gentle perfume early in the evening etc.
Furthermore, we try and explain all this in the most transparent way possible. However, we appreciate that unless you're a keen gardener, this phase can be difficult to visualise. All the planting adds up financially so you have to have faith that your designer has truly understood your brief to enable you to trust their recommendations: many of which you may not fully appreciate for another 12 months until the planting has started to establish.
Typically not part of the core design process but most designers will offer a Project Monitoring service. This means they will co-ordinate with the contractors, formalise time lines and schedules of work and ensure that all trades are aware of the cog they play in the larger process of the garden project.
This can be especially useful if you're not familiar with garden builds or simply do not have the time to take on the role. It also gives you a single contact in terms of the roll out to answer any queries you may have.
At Llevelo, we often keep in touch with clients of projects long since completed.
Once the garden is complete, the role of the Designer may seem to become redundant but at Llevelo, we often keep in touch with clients of projects long since completed. Firstly, we love to come and visit a garden a few years after the planting has gone in to see how it's getting on (we are plant enthusiasts originally after all) but also, we can assist in other issues.
For example if one of your lights has broken, we will have copies of the warranty. Perhaps your kids are too old for the trampoline now and you'd like some more planting then who better to turn to than the team that designed the garden in the first place.
Ultimately, gardens are a passion of ours and nothing gives us more pleasure than to hear your updates and see how they evolve.
Hopefully, we've given you some insight into how choosing the right Garden Designer will enhance not only the end result but also the process of the garden design and build. Garden Design requires a broad skill set including not just an eye for style and spatial awareness but time management, organisation and open communication.
We pride ourselves on the honest relationships that we have with our clients and, as a client, you should have confidence in both the integrity and skill set of your designer to assist you in creating a beautiful bespoke garden.
The Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden
Visualising your dream garden is an important stage of the garden design process but what other services do Garden Designers offer?