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Garden Design is the process of planning the garden layout and structure as well as considering the hard and soft landscaping details. As with other projects on a larger scale, there can be a number of decisions to be made, and so in this blog, we look at why a garden designer should be an asset as well as considering the costs involved with employing a designer.
The importance of planning a project cannot be underestimated. With the benefit of a designer, you can have much greater confidence in your decisions as they will be able to guide you through the process and advise on the benefits and drawbacks of each decision.
The investment can be likened to an iceberg; the majority of the expenditure will not be visible as part of the end result. Typically 60% of the overall spend will likely be on labour, and don't forget the VAT.
Whether your designer works from Computer Aided Design or opts for traditional hand drawings, it should be clear to you how the end result will look before the physical garden work begins. It's a good idea to ask the designer to see examples of previous projects so that you can get a flavour of how they will visually represent the design to you.
We all have a USP: at Llevelo, it's our ability to put our clients at the heart of our design and listen carefully to their preferences and needs. Others may specialise in a specific style, however, and if you admire a designer for an established aesthetic, then working with one who has already completed gardens you admire is a great idea. However, if you're uncertain as to what you're looking for then it should be beneficial to commission an expert to guide you through the options.
Equally, some designers may be quite prescriptive about their end vision. Again, for some clients this is welcomed as they may be too busy to think about the minutiae, or perhaps they are not too bothered about the details. However, most people who will be occupying the premises full time are likely to have some thoughts about colour, tones, layout and usability. In this case, a designer offering a more collaborative approach is likely to be more suitable.
Both options have their merits; working with design and build companies can feel like a smoother process, and it's quite likely that the lead time between design and build may be shorter as the company has already been able to pencil you in. However, be mindful that Design and Build means that one company is essentially judge and jury. With independent Designers, there is an advantage to bringing in a fresh set of eyes to the project. Furthermore, the independent designer is - just that - independent! They will not be as influenced by which products are easier to work with or source. Of course, all designers should give consideration to accessibility and usability but without dissuasion from contractors.
The other advantage that the Design and Build contractors can bring is some may offer a reduced design fee. It's not that they can produce designs more cost effectively, but that they may choose to run this element at a loss knowing they'll likely make this up on the garden build. For this reason, it might be worth getting a second construction quote.
It's sometimes said that ex-contractors make excellent designers as they understand what is achievable. However, sometimes the cutting edge of design (across all industries) is led by asking new questions and not being hampered by practicalities. Perhaps a suggestion turns out to be just too expensive but, if it inspired a little extra flair albeit a smaller scale, then hopefully it was worth the asking.
Thinking about the garden and where to begin can be a daunting task. A designer should make the steps from initial meeting to end result clear. Hopefully this in itself will sufficiently satisfy some concerns in addition to enabling the project to move forward in a logical fashion.
Furthermore, working through the entire garden at the planning phase enables for more accurate quotes from contractors. Once a quote has been submitted, these costs are easier to analyse too. Perhaps you would prefer to try and reduce the overall cost by 5%; if you ask your landscaper, they may suggest reducing the size of the patio, which could be the right solution. However, if you have all the costs clearly laid out, for example including those relating to a water feature, maybe a garden room, or some specimen trees, then making a decision while considering the breadth of the project will be much more transparent.
Additionally, as with all projects, thinking the entire process through can bring greater efficiency too. For instance, if you're hiring a digger to remove an old concrete path, then isn't it also worth digging the trenching for the electrics for the lighting at the same time? A designer will be able to point out these opportunities when the project spans several elements.
It's our aim to hear all clients utter these magic words at some point through the process. A good designer should bring something to the table which would not have been considered in their absence. This could be something very simple such as how to better train a clematis over an oil tank (plastic mesh netting is very effective), or considering the line of sight, the footfall, or perhaps the overall layout of the garden itself.
Designers are trained to look at the garden from all angles: practically, pragmatically, aesthetically as well all considering durability, safety, financials and sustainability - the list goes on! As with many fields, you're not just benefiting from an expert creating a unique and personal garden for you, but also their experience in having used the products in a specific context previously.
Designers should drill down deep to establish a precise brief detailing garden style, and we pride ourselves on this at Llevelo. Regular meetings and clear communication will facilitate a flow of information and overall direction for the design.
Designers are professionals, but this is your garden and taste is ultimately subjective. If they put an idea forward that you're not keen on, do speak up! There's no point in working with someone who you cannot be honest with. We won't be offended by the rejection of an idea and, actually, it will help us to shape the future direction of the design, enabling other ideas to be more in tune.
Of course there's the obvious commission cost of hiring a designer. And this will vary from practice to practice, by location and complexity of the brief amongst other things. Some practices will charge a percentage of the budget. Whilst the absolute sums can add up, as a percentage of the total spend, the design fee will be proportionate and, hopefully, justifiable.
However, a well designed garden should see that cost repaid. Firstly, clear plans save on work being redone or the landscaper spending time on interpretation. Secondly, the designer will have established relationships which clients can benefit from. Perhaps some unexpected events mean that there needs to be a change of course and an urgent delivery is needed to keep things moving forward. Or it can simply be that the designer can make recommendations in terms of good suppliers, which saves the client many hours of searching or investing in poor quality goods.
Furthermore, landscapers will often have a stronger set of skills. Most designers will have worked with a host of different landscapers and therefore can recommend one to suit the project. If the garden is primarily soft landscaping, for example, one who knows their plants is going to naturally complete the work to a better standard than one whose specialises in driveways.
There are several methods to drawing up a plan but all should conform with industry norms. Are the levels all shown? Is the construction plan to scale? Does the specification detail the dimensions? Whilst it may seem straightforward to draw up a design, the devil is in the detail. For example, a design without a level change will be comparatively easy to build compared to one with a subtle gradient across the land. If the levels aren't shown on the plans then this element will be open to interpretation and fluctuating costs.
If you have a retaining wall, how should the coping finish? Are the corners mitred? If there's an intersection, which line takes priority? These may seem trivial details, but they will have an impact on the final result. Without clear plans, the landscaper may construct these items to their personal preferences which won't necessarily align with yours. Worse still, if you want to rectify these at a later date, it can be comparatively costly to do so.
Designers should detail these aspects, helping the construction phase to run as smoothly as possible.
As mentioned, the investment level can vary, but regardless, even relatively low sums are often still significant. It's not uncommon for gardens to be completed in phases due to costs. With a clear plan, the designer and landscaper can advise how to break the build down into stages. Perhaps it takes a few weeks longer or maybe it is spread across a year or two. However, the end result should be a beautiful and cohesive garden despite how it has been built, because was been designed as a whole. This means that the space flows and different areas feel comfortable, complementing each other to form a restful outdoor space.
Overall, you wouldn't build your house without an architect - someone who understands proportions, materials, build processes and much more. So why would you invest in a garden without a Garden Design specialist?
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?