Choosing a landscape gardener or a garden designer is a daunting task. It’s hard enough deciding on the changes you want to make to your beloved garden, let alone choosing the person who is going to implement them.
Over the years I’ve talked to numerous clients and I know what it is like to be in their shoes. As a result I’ve put together some, hopefully helpful, advice on what to consider when choosing a garden designer or landscape designer.
- DO go for one organisation if you can. Most projects, big and small, involve both design and landscaping elements. I really advocate using someone who has expertise in both areas. “Of course you are going to say that” the cynical reader will say. Yes, but let me justify it.
It makes sense to have one person working with you to see your vision through to the final stage of completion. If one person is able to provide an excellent design, and work with and employ the landscaping team, and oversee the sourcing of plants and materials, then that person will be able to keep control of the budget and schedule. For example, a designer may not know the best place to source turf, or how to get a digger or skip at short notice. A landscaper may not know the best plants to thrive in a shady corner. One person with expertise in both areas means that problems are more likely to be avoided from the outset. And for the client, having to deal with one person is easier, cheaper, quicker and less stressful.
- DO research. DON’T rely on word of mouth and recommendations from friends and family alone. DO check out websites and in particular look at accreditations – these can help sort out the “cowboys” from the professionals. For example I recently undertook a lot of time and effort to join the APL – Association of Professional Landscapers. I had to provide 6 recent project references, undertake a sit down interview, have my work closely examined, safety & business systems checked etc. An accreditation is a recognition of high standards, expertise and good practice. It seems remarkable that anyone can set themselves up as a landscaper or garden designer without any prior requirement for qualifications or experience!
- DO always ask for references, at least two, and talk to the referees directly. A telephone call or, even better, a site visit, will go a long way in helping to make a decision. Another good indication is case studies on the website, as these are only supplied by happy clients.
- DO spend time preparing your brief. The contractor will measure up but it is good to have an idea of the size of your garden. Also, if possible, knowledge of frost, drainage, wind and soil conditions are helpful for providing a better quotation. And try to be as specific as possible. Always keep at the forefront “What is it I really want?”
- DO go for three quotations or estimates. This will provide a feel for costs and also will show you, by comparing the quotations, who has got a better understanding of the brief. Ensure you give the same information to all three so that you can easily compare and they are pricing like for like.
- DON’T lose sight of what it is you want to achieve. A good designer will inspire you, and DO use their expertise and advise, but DON’T let them lead you astray –as this will impact on cost and time. If the original idea was for an outdoor seating area, don’t get misled by water features and huge new borders. Good design is endless; unfortunately money and time are not!
- DO talk through the quotations with the candidates. At this point you will start sharing your vision, and talking through your brief to three different contractors or designers will give you an understanding of costs, but more importantly will give you a feel for who you can develop the best working relationship with. Avoid using contractors with fag packet quotes. They should have a detailed quotation clearly laid out with all the elements listed so both parties know what has been included and you are not caught out with costly extras missed from the original price.
- DON’T try and haggle or play contractors off against each other. In this industry I can guarantee that cheaper does not mean better – by trying to cut costs with garden design and landscaping, you will be paying for it later. If a quote seems expensive then ask the contractor why. A good designer/ landscaper wants a mutually beneficial working relationship based on trust, as much as the client does. Often a cheaper alternative tweak of the design or use of materials can be offered.
- DO ask the designer/contractor about legislation and building requirements. A good contractor will know if planning permission is required, or if a new fence is going to cause a traffic blind spot, or what compliance is needed with regard to drainage on driveways and around the house. Also DO get everything in writing – all costs, timetables, and assurances.
I hope these points help. Most professionals want to provide the best job for their clients and to leave behind something they are proud of, and will look good in years to come. The whole process, from deciding what you want to when the first spade is put in the ground, can be a long process, up to several weeks rather than days, so be prepared for that. The more time you take in the process – the better the result will be. If your chosen contractor/designer cannot start work for a few weeks, then this is an endorsement in itself. And waiting a few weeks for what could potentially last a lifetime is surely worth it.
Bye for now – Brett