I want to get on my soap box here, about all the so-called designers out there because I want you to hire garden designers who know their stuff. Did you know that anyone at all can call themselves a garden designer? Your neighbour, the postman, the Prime Minister or the cat can say that they are qualified to design your garden and because garden design is an unregulated industry, there are many who take advantage of this, thinking it is an easy way to make some money. Yet there are garden designers who have spent years learning about plants, how to use them, how to design a usable space and all the construction knowledge needed to do that, both at college and ‘on the job’. How do you tell the difference? I am one of those designers, with 18 years’ experience, and it infuriates me that clients get taken in by people who’ve spent a few weeks at college and ‘like gardening’, clients who end up paying the price both in hard cash and in having to live with a badly designed, built and planted garden. Here are a few things you can do to make sure you get someone who can do what you need doing.
Use a garden designer who has been recommended to you.
Ideally you want to use a designer that someone you know has recommended to you to because they have used them to create a lovely garden. If that’s not possible, find a garden you like the look of in the neighbourhood and ask the owners who did it for them because no one minds talking about their beautiful garden and there is little more powerful than having the evidence before you.
Or use an accredited garden designer from one of the professional organizations.
If none of the above are options for you, find the websites for the national professional organizations, who will have a list of designers or contractors, all of whom have been tested and accredited to a certain standard of expertise, professionalism and experience. In the UK that is the Society of Garden Designers (see www.sgd.org.uk) and BALI (British Association of Landscape Industries see www.bali.co.uk). Other countries will have their own organisations but you will also find that both the SGD and BALI have garden designers who will work internationally.
Carry out sensible checks on the credentials of the garden designer.
Look for experience and take references from previous clients. No professional designer will mind you asking for a couple of references and a good question to ask the referee is “Would you use them again?” Find out if they are a member of any professional organization and if they have any training, though this could be on the job or at college. Ask to see photos of previous gardens they completed and find out if they know about plants.
Look at the value of the garden being delivered not just the price.
Never base your decision as to which garden designer to use on price alone because you get what you pay for.
What does your gut instinct tell you about this person?
The important thing to decide is do you trust them and do you feel the designer is on the same wave length as you because it is the rapport between you that will make or break the success of your garden.
Work in partnership with the garden designer.
Once you’ve decided that you’d like to work with the garden designer, think about how you’d like the relationship to be between you and the designer because, believe me, you do have a choice about this. It can be with you totally in control and the designer just does what you ask. Alternatively, you can give total control to the designer but the way I have found to work the best, is to work with the client in partnership. This is where both designer and client work together to arrive at decisions that are based on good communication and discussion.
Have a contract.
You may think that, because the garden is a place of enjoyment, tranquility and well-being, you don’t need anything as formal or business-like as a contract but you would be wrong! The contract is there for your protection as much as it is there for the protection of the garden designer as it should set out clearly what is going to happen, when it will take place and how much it will cost. There should also be Terms and Conditions – and yes, even gardens have small print! The Ts and Cs will define what happens in certain situations and as such are very useful. An example of this is what happens if you decide to terminate the contract before the garden design process is complete. There are all sorts of reasons why this could happen and it is always good to know that there is a procedure in the event that this happens because the last thing you want is for things to turn sour between you and the designer over something that should be a source of delight.
Be very clear about what you want the garden to look like and be like.
The more you can tell the garden designer about what you want to have in the garden and the things you like to do outside, the more able the designer is to deliver it. I have had a client say to me that she just wanted ‘something nice’. What on earth does that mean? For me that meant a huge border with as many plants in it as possible in it. For that lady, it meant a well-kept lawn with stripes on it. Both nice things but that lady would not have been pleased with the huge border, would she? Be as specific as possible. Have a look at the 2 photos below, both from the same garden, and then compare them to the next 2 photos. The garden was designed for a disabled lady who could not move her head, so there had to be lots of interest at a certain angle.
Now look at the 2 photos below and note how very different they are. I hope that this shows you that you need to have an idea of what you like and what you dislike.
Above all, enjoy the process, once you know how your garden designer will be delivering it and love the garden you get at the end of it. Believe me, it is worth it in the end.