Employing a Garden Designer – How Much & What To Look For

Senior couple meeting with agent

Employing a garden designer isn’t as straight forward as it may first appear.  The level of competence and professionalism, varies hugely, depending on their qualification and how long they have been practicing.  In a nut shell, a qualified garden designer should be able to offer an almost identical service to that of a building architect.

In reality, less than half the garden designers currently practicing can do so.   And many are little more than enthusiastic amateurs.

Employing a garden designer isn’t just about getting a pretty garden plan and some planting suggestion.  After this, the designer’s main role should be to get the best possible price for the job.  And to do this they need to go out to competitive tender.  This is where most fail, due to inadequate training and a lack of confidence.

Two-thirds of what a professional garden designer does, involve producing construction and specification drawings, contracts, planning, Building Regs. and tender documentation. Yet amateurs are unable to offer these services.

Why is this important?

Employing a garden design should potential save the client £1000’s.  By going out to competitive tender, the client can easily save the cost of the design fee.  Where as most amateur garden designers get around this, by have one ‘pet contractor’, who can charge what they like and the client has no way of knowing if they got a fair price.

Why employing a garden designer for several thousand pounds is better value than an amateur for a couple of hundred?

At first glance, an amateur garden designer seems to be much better value. Let me explain by giving you a real life example. I recently went out to competitive tender to 3 different swimming pool contractors.

Instead of just giving them the garden plan showing the size and shape of the pool, I produced a detailed tender package detailing the pool construction method.  I included the size and model of the pump, the chlorination plant, the exact filtration model, the pool cover make and manufacture, lighting, pipework and electrical layout.  In short a very detail breakdown of exactly how and what I wanted.

Having gone to the trouble of doing this, I called several pool contractors to confirm they were interested in quoting, (including the client’s preferred pool contractor) and sent out the tenders.  Three weeks letter I got back the  3 quotes and was shocked to see the difference in prices.

The cheapest was £53,000 and the most expensive was £96000 for exactly the same pool.  And guess what?  The client’s preferred contractor was the priciest.   With just one small part of the garden design project, I had saved the client £43,000.  More than paying for my design fee.

Become a professional garden designer

Employing a Garden designer: Services Offered

Students from the Oxford College of Garden Design and most professional garden designers should be able to provide a full tendering service, planning, and building Regs documentation and in addition, some may offer other specialist skills including:

  • Preliminary cost estimates*
  • Specialist design elements such as water features, lighting and garden furniture
  • Contour plans, land drainage, and land manipulation
  • Contract administration and monitoring through to completion.**
  • Maintenance schedules
  • Arboriculture reports

*Garden designers should only ever give rough price guides and a QS should be employed if the client requires detail cost estimates

** The garden designer is only ever responsible the project administration and never for the quality of workmanship.  If the client requires the project management of a site, then an independent site manager should be employed under a separate contract.

Choosing your Designer

Employing a garden designer will usually mean finding someone within a 25-mile radius (1 hours traveling time). Whilst some designers will work nationally or even internationally, but expect to pay a premium, as travel and the designers time will be factored into the quotation.

Sometimes clients may be happy with the first designer they speak to. But most clients will interview several designers before making a decision. Expect any good designers to make a charge for this initial visit.  A fee of between £50 and £250 is not unusual.

Once you have chosen a designer, they will guide you through the many options to achieving what you want. They will agree with you, what service they will provide.  The most common service is producing an agreed design.  To include all necessary construction drawings/planting plans, finding a contractor, and monitoring the works to completion.

Design Fees

Each designer will advise you on how much they charge and these charges may vary from designer to designer. They will only be able to give you an exact fee when you have agreed on the exact scope of the work.

Fees can be charged in different ways. Examples include an hourly or day rate (£60-£100 per hour).  A fixed percentage of the total contract value (A sliding scale of between 18% down to 8% depending on contract cost) or an agreed fixed fee. Download a Fee Scale Guide

The most important point to remember is that you are paying for a professional’s time, irrespective of the size of your garden or the extent of the service required.

CPD course for prefessional garden designer

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Duncan Heather

Duncan Heather is one of Europe’s foremost garden designers, to-date having won five gold, one silver & one bronze medal and three best of show awards for his design work. Duncan sat on the SGD council from 2004-7 during which time he was responsible for producing the first industry standard fee scale as well as instigating the publishing of the first standard contract.

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