GARDEN DESIGN TRANSFORMATION
PLANNING A GARDEN
Establishing a design brief for your garden project should be the first stage of the process, and is essential whether you intend to employ a professional garden designer or complete the work yourself. You will need an understanding of all the problems that need to be solved and all the goals you want to achieve with your garden project. Spend time discussing why you’re undertaking the project before capturing this in a set of design aims; these can then be developed and a list of requirements drawn up.
Statements in the brief should always be measurable (this is essential when working with others) and specific, to avoid ambiguity. For example, ‘formal dining space for six people with shade overhead between June and September’ is far better than ‘space to sit and dine with friends’. Note that parts of the brief might change, but you still need one, otherwise the project will lack clarity and inevitably cost more than planned.
If you’re working with a designer, the brief should be developed together before being agreed.
SHOULD YOU DIY OR HIRE A GARDEN LANDSCAPER?
Know your limits. Planting, installing off-the-peg water features, laying a new gravel path or lawn, and installing your own deck and fencing are within the scope of the keen amateur; however, walling, laying expensive stone pavers, concrete rendering and electrical work should be carried out by professionals for a quality, safe finish.
To find out information on materials, use manufacturers’ price lists. Builders’ merchants and plant nurseries are also useful sources. You can usually negotiate good prices direct from the supplier or manufacturer, depending on the quantities.
When it comes to costing labour, most landscape contractors will readily give you an hourly or daily charge-out rate, as well as an estimate as to how long jobs might take. For the cost of machinery and plant hire, ask local reputable hire companies to provide daily and weekly prices.
While knowing the individual costs of materials and plants is useful, what you should be most interested in is an ‘all-in rate’ – the complete cost for a particular part of the job, including labour and all materials. This rate will differ depending on the contractor and also the size of the company (the larger the company, the higher the rate). Site overheads and profit aren’t listed, so your best bet is to ask experienced contractors who can advise and could quote for the work in advance.
SET THE BUDGET FOR YOUR GARDEN DESIGN
How much do you have to spend? Creating a new-look garden can be very expensive, especially when it comes to contemporary design, where a clean finish is essential. Other high-cost practices include the desire for instant impact, complex shapes and curves; requirements for extreme accuracy; fixed design details with no ability to adapt on site; and hiring specialist tradespeople that have to travel some distance. Moving underground services, drainage works, demolition and site clearance work will also add to the cost, especially if access is tricky or there’s a need to work by hand.
If your budget is tight and you are looking to save money on your garden design, avoid these choices and go for high-impact, low-cost design solutions. Reclaimed and recycled materials generally cost less than new, while ‘fluid’ materials, such as gravel, are cheaper than paving. You should also opt for plants over hardscape. In many gardens, it’s possible to cover or clad rather than remove.
SLOPING GARDENS: WHY THEY COST MORE AND HOW TO CUT COSTS
A garden that is sloped, has insufficient drainage, or structural elements that need to be removed, such as walls, garden rooms or old paving, will cost more to redesign as the initial outlay for the preparatory works will be higher than when dealing with a plain, flat area.
A subtle change in level can help make a smaller garden feel larger, but significant excavations are expensive. There’s the soil to remove, not to mention retaining walls, and perhaps the professional fees of a structural engineer to add to the costs of garden landscaping. This explains why sloping gardens generally cost more, and can be very expensive, especially if you plan to terrace the whole site.
CONSIDER GARDEN MAINTENANCE
Specific wants and needs vary from person to person, but ask yourself, ‘how do I want to feel?’ and ‘who is the garden for?’ Also consider how much time you have for maintenance. Together with a particular style or theme in mind, the answers will determine the layout and design details. Consult everyone who has a stake in the project, including children. Inevitably some compromise is usually necessary, especially if the space is small or access is difficult.