How to choose a Garden Designer

Stages of garden design by Richard Rogers

How do I choose a Garden Designer?

Creating a new garden is a significant investment. Given the costs involved, the time it will take for the garden to mature and how important an outdoor space can be in your life, it is important to choose the right designer. Unless you move house, you are probably only going to design your garden once, and for many people working with a garden designer is likely to be a new experience. At Richard Rogers designs, we guide our clients every step of the way throughout the design and build process, but how do you ensure you have chosen the right designer in the first place?

We decided we wanted to help people make this decision as, based on our years of experience of working with clients and being asked to quote for new projects, we have found that there are some key questions that not everyone asks.

What are the most important things to consider when choosing a garden designer?

We have deliberately written the following criteria in the order which we think will result in you choosing the best designer – for the type of project we work on. Of course different people may have different priorities, but it is likely that if your priorities are the reverse of what we have suggested here, we are probably not the right designer for you. We are always happy to have an informal chat to talk you through the design process and to help you with your decision making.

So, in rough order of importance here are some key factors that should influence your decision making when choosing which garden designer to work with, including some key questions to ask yourself and the designer:

  1. Do I love their garden designs?

This might seem obvious but this is not always the thing which is front of mind for everyone that makes an enquiry with us. Designing a garden is a creative process and the reason you should be looking for a designer is to produce a gorgeous design that you LOVE – something original.

Questions to ask yourself:

    • Do their designs engage you?
    • Does their portfolio excite you?
    • Does their portfolio include a range of styles that suggest they are creative and able to meet a range of client briefs?

Questions you could ask the garden designer:

    • Which are their favourite projects and why?
    • What is your style?
    • What are your influences?

 

  1. Are they a skilled garden designer?

The answer to this question is less obvious than the first, but one of the key things you want to know is whether they are a great garden designer. Has their work been recognised in the form of awards or press coverage? The reason why this can be a useful indicator of how good a garden designer is, is that these awards are judged by experts within the industry. For example, RHS show gardens are subject to extremely exacting standards of design and execution, so an RHS medal is a very coveted thing in the garden design world and an indicator of the quality of a garden designer’s work. Good design is also more than producing a something that is aesthetically pleasing – it also needs to function well as a living space. There are a range of factors that a good garden designer takes into account in arriving at a design solution, which we have written more extensively on elsewhere, but these include the practical constraints of the site, levels/terrain, climate, soil conditions and several other things.

Questions to ask yourself:

    • Does their website present a professional image and demonstrate their skills as a garden designer?
    • Has their work been recognised within the industry?
    • Do they have positive testimonials from their clients?

Questions you could ask the garden designer:

    • How do you go about creating your designs?
    • What have been some of the most challenging projects you have undertaken and how were the challenges overcome?
    • How well do you know contractors (who would build the garden) in our area?
    • Where did you train? (some of the top design colleges are ‘The London College of Garden Design’, ‘The Inchbald’, ‘KLC’.

 

  1. Do I like them?

We are all human, so it is important that you like the people you work with. After the first meeting you will get some idea of the ‘chemistry’ you have with them; whether they seem to have tuned in to what you are looking for from your garden, how organised they are, and how clearly they explain things etc. If you are engaging a designer for the duration of a project – including not just the design, but liaising with contractors and suppliers to help you build the garden, it is important you get on with them and trust them to help you make the best decisions regarding how things are built and use of the budget.

Questions to ask yourself:

    • How well could I work with this designer?
    • Do they seem to ‘get’ us and what we are looking for?

Questions you could ask the garden designer:

    • What type of clients do you work with best?
    • What do you most enjoy about your work?

 

  1. Will their design process suit me?

Although most garden design projects will progress through similar overall stages, different designers will have different approaches to how they agree the design brief, how they produce their designs, how they communicate with you and manage the project.

Questions to ask yourself:

    • What am I looking for a designer to provide?
    • How involved in all of the decision making do I want to be? How much time do I have?
    • How do I prefer to be communicated with? (face to face, phone, video calls?)

Questions you could ask the garden designer:

    • How do you typically work? How often will we need to meet or have discussions?
    • Do you produce more than one design option?
    • What happens if we change our minds on things?

 

  1. How much will your design cost?

Although this will obviously be a factor, we have intentionally left this question until last, for several reasons:

    1. The most significant cost of the project by far will be the build cost, not the designer fees, so it is most important to find a garden designer that you are excited to be working with that you are confident will help you create your dream garden. If your garden designer works on the whole project you can expect a designer’s fees to be about 10-15% of the overall cost of the build cost, depending on the size and complexity of the project.
    2. For a creative garden design many designers will not be able to provide a quote until they have spent time getting to know your brief and the complexity/scope of the project.
    3. The cost will also depend on how much involvement you want from the designer throughout the project – beyond delivery of the initial creative concept.
    4. Different designers will produce different levels quality and detail for the concept design – from a simple 2d plan to realistically rendered 3d walkthroughs and immersive animations.
    5. Some designers may produce more than one option, some only one and some may produce an alternative option for an additional fee.
    6. Some designers quote an overall fee to cover all of their time at the outset, some designers will quote in stages – typically for the concept design first and then for detailed design once the concept is agreed.

Questions to ask yourself:

    • What is your overall budget for the project?
    • How much flexibility is there in this budget?
    • Do you want a ‘concept design’ only or do you want a full service of detailed design and overseeing the build?

Questions you could ask the garden designer:

    • Do you offer ‘Concept Design’ only?
    • Do you quote for all of your fees at the beginning or do you provide separate quotes for the main stages as the project progresses?
    • How long do you spend on the initial Concept Design?
    • Do you charge for amendments to the design?
    • What drawings and visual images will I get at the Concept Design stage? Are there options (which are costed differently)?

 

 

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