Garden Design – Frequently Asked Questions

A garden makeover is a significant investment. Not only will it enhance your life, your health and wellbeing, it can add value to your property too. Be sure to ask as many questions as you need to before you start.

1. Do you offer a free initial consultation?

Yes. Some designers charge for this initial meeting, but we would only charge travel time and expenses if your garden is a long way from Buckinghamshire or Oxfordshire.

I may share some of my initial reactions to the garden and potential design solutions, just to gauge what you might be looking for, but this meeting is primarily to talk through what you’re looking to achieve and how we can best work together, as opposed to producing design ideas. My design ideas usually evolve and change once I have spent more time considering your brief and working on scale models of your garden – after you have accepted our costed proposal.

2. How much does it cost to design a garden?

This is one of the most common questions we are asked and one of the most difficult to answer before we have done any design work and agreed the scope of the work. The first thing to say is that we will work hard during all stages of the design and build process to make the most effective use of your budget. Our fees depend primarily on how complex the design work is; sloped gardens with more elements and design challenges (eg awkward shapes or existing elements that have to be incorporated) are more time consuming than a site that is flat and a straightforward shape, and currently has very little in it. Size is a factor, but larger gardens are not necessarily more expensive to design. Our fees are usually split between:

  • Concept design (30-50%)
  • Detailed design and overseeing the build (50-70%)

Designer fees are a relatively small proportion of the overall cost of creating a garden (typically approx. 10% of the build cost) so it is probably more important to choose the right designer for you than get overly focussed on cost at this stage.

We recommend you don’t make cost the only consideration when selecting a garden designer. As a designer needs to have a wide range of skills and you will be working with them for some time, choose someone who you feel you will be happy working with.

3. How much does it cost to landscape a garden?

Gardens are more costly than many people realise – often because garden TV makeover programmes create totally unrealistic expectations (by not including labour, which is the most expensive element). A well designed garden will not only bring many years of joy to your life, it will also enhance and add value to your property – so it’s an investment. Think of it as an ‘outdoor room’ or extension to your house.

The cost of course depends on the scope of the project, choice of materials, how prepared you are to wait for young plants to mature (rather than planting more mature specimens for instant impact). A ball park figure for build of a garden can sometimes be given after the concept design, but an accurate figure cannot be produced until all the detailed design drawings and specification have been submitted to contractors. These are some VERY rough ball park figures for a small-medium garden.

£7,500 – £15,000 replant a garden including some small trees and shrubs

£15,000 – £20,000 is needed for a basic makeover that includes hard landscaping such as a terrace

£20,000 – £40,000 includes more elements such as walls, paths, structures such as arches, pergolas, seating

£40,000 – £70,000 and upwards – complete redesign with more expensive materials, water features, lighting, structures, larger trees

More complex sites that involve difficult access, extreme slopes, more earth moving, retaining walls, drainage systems, existing trees that have to be protected etc, add cost as does the addition of features such as sculpture, outdoor kitchens, home offices and other elements.

The most expensive gardens per square metre tend to be roof gardens – due to the technical complexity of designing around roof loadings and getting all the materials and equipment to and from the site.

4. Why should I hire a garden designer?

Without an agreed design and detailed specification there can be all sorts of misunderstandings and a contractor can construct something, perhaps the way that they are used to doing it, but with unexpected or unwanted results.

A good garden design takes account of a wide range of factors:

  • Your uniqueness – what you want in the garden, your personality and preferences, your lifestyle
  • The specifics of the site – views, neighbouring properties, existing trees and structures, where the sun is at different times of day, the soil, amount of rainfall etc
  • The house – its character and style. Where the doors, windows and key views from the house are

The benefits of engaging a professionally trained and experienced garden designer such as Richard Rogers Designs:

  • We can balance all the above factors with the ‘x factor’ – the creativity to design something different, something uniquely beautiful
  • We combine creativity with technical knowledge to work out the feasibility of creating new levels or arranging the spaces in different ways, at the same time as creating drama, inspiring new views and spaces with real atmosphere.
  • We can produce computer generated 3d imagery to help you visualise the way the garden may look and feel. We can see what is not yet there and inspire and enthuse you with new possibilities
  • We can help you make the best use of every bit of your outdoor space, often using a range of design ‘tricks’ to make your garden feel bigger than it actually is
  • We can help you work with the limitations of the site, turning problems into solutions
  • We make it easier to choose materials and plants that you like and will suit the conditions in your garden. We bring deep knowledge and love of plants.
  • We produce detailed plans and drawings so that the contractor knows exactly what they are doing and that you are quoted fairly for the work
  • We ensure effective coordination of contractors and suppliers, and that the work can be done within budget

5. What is involved in having a garden designed? What are the steps?

Having a garden built can be a major undertaking. Even if you are not in love with your current garden, once the contractors move in, they very quickly turn it into something resembling a building site and it will look worse before it gets better! It is magical to see the new design emerge and eventually blossom, but given that the build can be quite disruptive, we help you get it right on paper first. The main steps, which are outlined in more detail on our ‘process’ page, are:

  1. Garden design briefing – free initial consultation followed by costed proposal
  2. Site Survey and Analysis
  3. Concept Design
  4. Detailed design
  5. Tender
  6. Construction
  7. Planting Design
  8. Aftercare

6. Do you build the gardens yourself?

I work with a number of professional landscapers with whom I have built strong relationships over the years who do the physical work of building the garden. I monitor progress, help resolve issues that inevitably arise, agree any changes with you and oversee the realisation of our design vision. Things can get confused if you ask the landscaper for changes or are asked what to do about overcoming an issue, so we take away any of the worry that you would have if you were employing a landscaper directly. We work with the landscaper to resolve issues in the most effective way possible and if something arises that involves additional cost, we would investigate this and then ask for your approval before any additional costs are incurred.

We also source and coordinate specialist contractors and suppliers, which could include:

  • Surveyors
  • Structural engineers
  • tree surgeons,
  • lighting specialists
  • soil and drainage specialists
  • swimming pool, outdoor kitchens, home office, play equipment suppliers

Depending on the scale of the project, we may plant the gardens ourselves, but generally our involvement is to ensure that the borders are prepared correctly by the landscaper, to check the plants when they are delivered and then to do the ‘setting out’ – arranging the plants according to the planting plan and making any adjustments that we feel will give the plants the best possible start in life and produce the best results. A landscaper team would then do the planting. Trees are either planted by the landscaper or by the nursery supplying them.

7. Should I use a garden designer or a landscaper?

Garden Designers have to be technically and horticulturally knowledgeable, but they are also artists. They paint with plants, use materials in creative ways and design spaces that are both practical and evoke emotion. If you are looking for something unique to you and want the wow factor then engaging a designer is the best place to start.

Landscapers have a wide range of skills and equipment that enable them to reshape and contour a site, install new drainage, build proper foundations, construct garden structures, and install sometimes quite technically demanding designs, safely and to budget. If you are simply replacing or renewing something – such as a drive, terrace or boundary, it is unlikely that a designer will add enough value to make it worth hiring one and you may want to hire a landscaper directly.

To complicate the picture slightly there are also ‘design and build’ companies who do both. These companies can vary widely in their design flair and expertise. Some are very good, but others can be very mediocre. The advantage of using a landscaper with in house design skills is that it can potentially be cheaper as they might not produce all the detailed construction drawings and specification that a designer would. However, they may also try to win your business by charging less for the design work, and you then have no guarantee that they would be the cheapest when it comes to building the garden. The advantages of using a garden designer are:

  • They are focussed entirely on design and are passionate about it. They are more likely to produce something original as a design/build company may, sometimes unconsciously, produce a ‘safe’ design that they know how to build
  • A garden designer will produce detailed specifications and ask more than one landscaper to tender for the work, which ensures that they are quoting on a like for like basis and delivering value for money
  • During the build a landscaper may make decisions based on more pragmatic considerations which, whilst not technically wrong, could potentially compromise the design, whereas with a designer overseeing the build you can be more assured that practical considerations will be balanced with integrity of the design

8. Is my garden too big or too small for a design?

Definitely not! We have designed gardens as varied as large country gardens of several acres to small residential gardens of only a few metres, and even courtyard cafes and care home gardens! The point of good garden design is to make the most of the space you have available, which works from a practical point of view and is also a beautiful space that you can enjoy for many years to come.

9. What are my options if I can’t afford to have my entire garden rebuilt all at once?

There are 2 main options:

  1. Do the project in stages. This tends to happen more with larger gardens, but it is perfectly possible to phase the completion on any garden. The important thing is to be clear on the design – producing the overall concept design and ‘masterplan’. We would recommend using a designer to create a plan for the whole garden as it will ‘flow’ better than if it is done in bits. Once this is in place we can obtain costs for building separate parts of the garden and agree a phased build, based on your priorities and available funds. Building the garden in phases can increase the total cost, partly due to inflation, but also because it is more efficient for a contractor to set up what they need once. You also have to be careful that subsequent build work does not damage anything that was finished earlier.
  2. Reduce the scope. It is possible to reduce the cost by removing elements such as water features, structures or by choosing different materials. Changing elements of a design often has knock on effects, so could incur some additional design cost, but the overall cost will be lower.

There is an additional option which is only to plan to design and build part of the garden from the outset. For example, if you want to enlarge the terrace, add a pond or build an outdoor kitchen it’s perfectly possible to landscape a section of the garden. These may be examples of when it makes more sense to work directly with a landscaper.

10. Do you charge for revisions to the design?

This depends on the extent of the changes. Because we take into account multiple factors when creating a design, changing one aspect of it can have knock on effects that can take some time to resolve. As long as the overall scope of the brief has not changed and the amendments are relatively minor then we do not charge to make revisions. It doesn’t usually happen, but if changes require us to go back to the drawing board as it were, (although we no longer use one, we design using CAD!) then we would agree the cost of coming up with a new design.

Building a garden is a significant investment, so we work hard to ensure that you are happy with the concept design before moving on.

11. How long will it typically take?

This depends on a range of things:

  • The complexity of the project
  • When Landscape contractors are available to start. Good landscapers can often be booked up for several months in advance, so early planning to get work start dates agreed is essential
  • The lead time for specific elements such as bespoke furniture or swimming pools
  • How quickly decisions can be made along the way
  • The great British weather! Landscapers are hardy souls and can continue working in most weathers, but very heavy rain or freezing temperatures can mean that they have to down tools occasionally.
  • What trees, hedging and other plants are being used. Different types of plants are often only available at certain times of year

With all these factors playing a part, it’s likely that for substantial jobs the process of moving from design to a complete garden will take several months and some can take over a year.

12. What happens if I want to make alterations during the build?

Ideally any alterations will be minimal as any concerns will have been addressed during the design stage. However, we understand that it is sometimes difficult to visualise how some things will look until they appear in reality. Sometimes views don’t work quite as expected or a space doesn’t ‘feel right’.

To minimise problems we check things at the ‘setting out’ stage as landscapers spray paint the design onto the ground at the start of the project. It is far easier and cheaper to make amendments at this stage than after the diggers have moved in or concrete has been laid!

Ultimately of course it’s your garden and if you have concerns or we uncover issues as the build progresses, we will either find a different way of doing something or, if any changes involve additional cost, agree this with you before they are implemented.

13. When is the best time to build a garden?

Gardens can be built at any time of year – although progress can be quicker when the weather is good. Rain and mud are landscaper’s worst enemies as they create extra mess, slow work down, can damage the soil structure and make it hard to lay certain materials.

If you have school aged children, or want to enjoy the garden yourself, you may not want your garden dug up during the summer holidays.

Planting can be done at any time of year, although it is not a good idea when the ground is frozen or during very long dry periods. If we plant during a dry spring or in the height of summer you will need to spend a lot more time watering plants. New trees need a good soak once a week for their first year, unless there is a significant amount of rain, and perennials need watering twice a week (sometimes everyday for their first week if it is extremely hot) for the first 4-6 weeks.

Planting can be better in the autumn, winter and early spring. This is during the bare root season (a cheaper way of buying trees and hedging) and allows the plants to rest after planting and be fully settled in by the time they start growing in the spring. However, some plants can rot if planted during very wet winters. We like to plant, if possible, when there is at least some top growth on the potted plants. As long as you avoid extreme weather and put healthy plants into well prepared soil, and then water regularly then they should be fine.

14. Will landscaping work upset my neighbours?

Our contractors will endeavour to cause the least possible disruption to the neighbourhood. However, major landscaping work nearly always involves several deliveries, noisy machinery and some dust. It can be worth warning your neighbours that there will be some temporary disturbance and most people will understand that this is involved in any kind of building work.

15. Do you supply plants?

Yes. We supply plants using a range of specialist trade nurseries that will have grown the plants under optimal conditions. Trade nurseries supply a wider range of plants and in larger quantities than garden centres. You are charged the retail price, but this can often be lower than a garden centre.

16. Do you guarantee the plants?

We cannot offer a formal guarantee because obviously the success of plants depends on how well they are looked after once they’re in the ground. However, if the plants die within the first 6 months, having been properly watered during this time and have not been subject to very adverse weather, we will look at replacing them.

17.Do you carry out garden maintenance?

We don’t carry out day to day maintenance, but we can introduce you to gardeners that we have personally vetted for horticultural knowledge and experience.

In return for allowing us to photograph the garden as it matures, for the first 2 years we offer free annual visits when we check on plant health, the picture that has been created, and answer any questions that you may have about your garden.

We also offer, for an annual fee, an on line service that gives you specific care advice for each of the plants we have put in your garden, with monthly email reminders.

Interested in finding out more?