A DAY IN THE LIFE – case study of a garden design – part two

Realisation of the dream

People, for a number of reasons, employ garden designers . Many gorgeous gardens have been created gradually through the loving care and attention of their owners with little or no outside help. Homeowners may have admired the gardens of their friends and neighbours, but they often are inexperienced in horticulture and too busy to design and plant their own gardens. When it comes to creating a new garden, or taking over an existing one that has fallen into disrepair, seeking expert advice and input from a professional garden designer will greatly enhance a property, helping avoid costly mistakes.

Transforming your average suburban section into something unique requires knowledge, talent and experience. Ensuring the garden grows and flourishes as intended requires a commitment to regular maintenance by its owner. This relationship is what can transform a forgotten, left over space into something of
real beauty.

Getting started

Before engaging the services of a professional landscape designer or landscape architect you should first check their credentials.

  • Are they qualified?
  • How much hands-on experience do they have?
  • Do they belong to a professional industry body?

Ask to see photos of their work or even ask to visit some established gardens they have designed. Most design companies these days will have a website for you to visit. Take your time to go through a few to get an idea of which one best suits your individual needs. If it is not clearly outlined on their website what services they offer with the scale of fees, do not hesitate to pick up the phone and call them to get all your questions answered personally before going any further. Also it’s a good idea to ask around for a personal referral.

A landscape designer will consider a significant number of factors while accessing a site. Normally a garden designer will be responsible not only for designing the garden but also for suggesting a competent landscape contractor to construct it, unless the clients wish to build the garden themselves. Most designers are accustomed to fitting in with the individual requirements of their clients.

Once you have established which designer you want to commission to do the work, take some time out to make a list of all your needs and requirements for your new garden prior to the first consultation. If you are a couple, it is important that you sit down together and create a brief for the designer as a team. All to often a designer will turn up on site to find one or both parties completely unaware of what the other wants to achieve. Stuck in the middle of two warring couples is not a great way to start the design process. The ‘perfect’ clients have a brief typed up, they have cut out pictures from magazines to give you an idea of their style and tastes, have a site plan ready to give to you and have a budget to work to.

What’s involved?

The first step in the design process is the initial consultation. This is the first time the client and designer will meet, usually on site. The job of the designer is to listen intently to what the client wants to achieve and ask the right questions to further ascertain the aspirations and needs of the client. This is also the time that the designer will show their portfolio of work, take a brief and clarify the next steps in the design process. A walk around the garden will also establish what the client likes and dislikes and allow discussion on things that are to be retained or discarded. Clients often have an idea of what they do not want but are less clear on what they do want. A good designer will offer some initial ideas without going into too much detail at this stage.

Another important issue that is all too often overlooked by both designer and client is the dreaded ‘B’ word. A budget, or amount of money that the clients have available for the project should be established early on to save any disappointment or confusion later on.

Most designers charge for the first visit others do not, taking a gamble on being offered the work. You can expect to pay between $80 – $160 plus gst for the first consultation.

After the designer has visited the site, they can then go on to prepare a quote and follow up letter. Too often, however, the client who wishes to have a garden designed does not realize what is involved, assuming that it is merely a question of simply buying a few plants and popping them in the ground! Most designers are either properly trained or have years of experience behind them – often both. They will, therefore expect to be paid for passing on their expertise, and will work for a set hourly rate in the same way as other professionals do, such as a doctor, dentist or accountant. An experienced, skilled, qualified designer will charge between $65 – $110 plus gst an hour.

The information gathered from the first visit helps the designer work out exactly how many design hours it will take to complete the job. Disbursements such as materials, copying, travel time and expenses are additional. Some designers will also have a contract for work to be signed. The quote should clearly state the service the designer is providing eg. a planting or concept plan, the scope of design work eg. a full site or just the rear property, along with their terms of payment. You may be also asked to pay a deposit to secure the job.

1) Garden consultation

Many designers offer a one-off , one or two hour, garden consultation. If you don’t require a detailed set of plans but require some on-the-spot professional advice, then this service will suit. The designer will come out to your site and provide you with some design ideas and solutions for one or two aspects of your garden. Most will also provide a sketch. Expect to pay between $65- $120 plus gst per hour. Travel time and costs are extra.

2) Concept plan

For a comprehensive, personalized plan for your garden, its best to commission a designer to create a concept plan; A professionally rendered scale drawing of the site, clearly communicating all the designed spaces of your garden, showing driveway, steps, decks, paved areas, lawn, trees/garden areas, water features and other major landscape components. This will include notes on design features/finishes and general planting suggestions, not specifying type and quantity of plants. In most cases a reputable, experienced contractor is able quote from a concept plan with the addition of a detailed plan. Costs for a concept plan range in price depending on the complexity of the site, the brief and the designers fee structure. Expect to invest between $800 – $2000+ plus gst for an average sized suburban garden. Larger lifestyle blocks will require more design time and therefore will cost more.

3) Final plan

This is also known as the master plan or detailed plan because it involves construction drawings needed for features such as pergolas and custom designed water features. They are also required for building consents. Check with the designer if they go to this stage.

4) Planting plan

The planting plan graphically shows the location of all new and existing plants. Included is a plant schedule for easy reference, listing the plant, grade and quantity and a precise, easy to follow plan for the homeowner, designer or landscape contractor to layout plants on site. For an average sized suburban garden a planting plan will cost between $600 – $ 1000+ plus gst.


This is the building stage of the project. Having a set of plans for your garden will now require a landscape construction company to build it. Even if you can only afford to change part of the garden now, having a plan will allow you to work out your priorities and stage the work as appropriate. Most designers also offer a project management service. Selecting this option helps to ensure the integrity of the design is maintained. If you are a skilled DIY person then this may be something you can build yourself in your own time. But remember the design and plans are only as good as the person implementing it. I have seen many great designs fail miserably due to poor workmanship and shoddy practices. A garden needs to perform and last over time, not look great for the first year then fall to pieces.

Another common cause of landscape design failures is the lack of ongoing maintenance. There is no such thing as a maintenance free garden, and if there is it’s probably made of concrete and plastic flowers! If you have invested a lot of time and money to have a garden designed and installed, it makes sense to keep it well maintained. Some designers will offer a maintenance plan or recommend a company dealing specifically in garden care that you pay to have look after the garden for you. The most successful gardens I have designed are the ones where the clients have been informed of their maintenance requirements and diligently followed through. These gardens have just got better and better over time, giving them a lot of pleasure as well as adding value to their property.

Using a designer will often save you money by helping to avoid you choosing and planting the wrong plants and also they’ll help you organize and beautify your garden so it works both aesthetically and functionally.

Sandra Batley of Flourish is a multi award-winning landscape designer based in Auckland. Sandra is passionate about, people, plants and design.

One comment on “A DAY IN THE LIFE – case study of a garden design – part two

  1. Trudy Patterson on said:

    So glad to read such an honest explanation of what the Landscape Designing Service intails. As a Designer it was interesting to read an informative article that so cleary states, sets and explains the differences available to clients so they can then see what diversity can, and is offered to and for those requiring a quality of customer service. It cleary explains the vast options available.

    Great to see – Trudy Patterson of
    Trudy Patterson Design’z

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