Would you use a garden designer?

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Have you ever used a garden designer, or if not, would you employ one? Would you be willing to share your thoughts in a survey?

The question of using a garden designer might not be one that you have ever asked yourself. Or else it might be on your mind every time you catch sight of your garden through your kitchen window.

Is a professional garden designer something you could afford? Would you feel afraid of losing control of your garden, that the finished project might not align with your style, or afraid that it might look too ‘done’? Or do you feel that your garden is fine just the way that it is? No time for such projects? Too many other priorities to worry about the garden?

I would be so interested to know your thoughts and read your comments. The survey should take no longer than 2 minutes to complete, and is open to everyone, regardless of who you are or where you live. The survey will be available for about a week, and I am looking forward to sharing the results with you. Because it is an anonymous survey, I am unable to offer any sort of gift for taking part, other than my genuine gratitude and some good gardening karma!

As a garden design student, I am keen to understand the attitudes of garden owners towards garden design. I am also planning to introduce some design focus to this blog, and so any insight into the sorts of topics that might be of interest to you would be of splendid help. Please leave any extra comments in the usual place below!

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46 thoughts on “Would you use a garden designer?

  1. I have considered getting one here to redesign my inherited garden as I am sure it could be made better use of. Plus I am not fit enough to carry out hard landscaping and would like to completely get rid of the lawn and create more of a courtyard style garden. I have been happy enough experimenting myself, but can see it will take a long time before I implement the ideas I have in my head.

    1. And I think it takes courage to make big changes, because once you start there’s no going back. It can be a big commitment of time and effort, not just of money, and often an issue of trust that you’ve made the right decision.

      1. Yes, you’d definitely want a designer who was on your wavelength and honest enough to tell you whether what you want is actually feasible.

  2. When I was doing my design course, it became clear to me that our tutor’s clients had limited interest in gardening, hence they brought in paid, expert help. Consequently I could believe that, as the people who read your lovely blog are generally interested in gardening, they might give a less positive response to the idea of using a garden designer than a different audience. See what I mean?
    In other words, don’t be down hearted if the responses aren’t what you want to hear – I’m sure there are loads of potential clients out there, but they’re probably reading blogs on entirely different subjects!

    All the very best with your course – I’d love to hear more about it.

    1. Thanks Jen … yes, the demographic here is probably slightly skewed towards confident gardeners, although I do have quite a few readers who have recently started out, especially coming over from Instagram where there is a much broader mix of people. Some of my friends have also filled it out who have no gardening knowledge whatsoever, and that was very interesting. So far it’s been a very helpful exercise indeed, and I’ve received some really varied responses including some that I wasn’t expecting at all!

  3. I think the situation when I would employ one would be if/when we move to a new home (especially if it is 20 years from now and I’m not as spry as I feel now!) and I would use the help to find the best layout for the garden in relation to the house/yard/topography. I wouldn’t rely on them specifically for plant suggestions (perhaps some key trees or larger purchases), but would take advice on design and install help for the bones of a new garden. But then again, I suppose I’m not the ideal candidate for using a designer, but I do value the work and I think the good ones would certainly work to make it a collaborative effort. I hope this helps!

    1. Yes, it definitely helps – thanks Courtney! There are so many different aspects of garden design, from getting the ‘bones’ right, through to the planting choice, and it is becoming apparent that a mix and match approach would suit quite a few people.

  4. As a designer myself I would say that most clients aren’t ‘Gardeners’ but if you do a good job some will be inspired and encouraged to become gardeners. I’ve gained such pleasure from seeing people become more and more confident and take control. So my ongoing job has been to mentor.

      1. Yes, but you do need to accept that man clients just want the finished product. I always used to say I needed to be a psychologist 1st and garden designer 2nd. I don’t think all courses really explain that side of things.

  5. I agree with Jen, most garden bloggers are passionate about their gardens and wouldn’t want anybody else’s input. My garden is mine with all its imperfections, planning it and redesigning it are my great joy. Getting someone else to design it would be like buying a jigsaw and getting someone else to do it for you.

    1. Quite right, Chloris, and that’s exactly how I feel about my own garden, which is why I am training to become a garden designer. My husband filled in my little form without telling me, and wrote under the question ‘What would put you off hiring a garden designer’ the following comment: ‘I am afraid that my wife wouldn’t like me to use a garden designer.’ Which was perfectly correct! However, I do have quite a few readers who are not such confident gardeners, and input from them has been really helpful too.

  6. Hi Jen: I filled out your form on IG and you asked me there what specifically I had asked a garden designer to help with. It’s much easier to type here on my desktop rather than phone, so I’ll answer here! We moved here 9 years ago and the climate is totally different from up North in the Hudson Valley. I am a “confident gardener” but needed some help. And, I’ve been fascinated by gardens for years but never had the time, or money, to do what I wanted. Now I had both (well, not endless money!) We don’t have much property but we bought this house in large part because it DID have just what I wanted. There are various different areas. The most difficult has been a southern facing slope. The summers here can be brutal. Of course, I want a cottage garden..but no, not to be in that situation. So I knew I needed help. Partly in design and partly for choice of plants. It is still a work in progress, and I have to say, not going well. The basic design, worked on by me and one designer who is fairly good, has settled the physical parameters. But still, what kind of path? Why aren’t those Sky Pencil Hollies doing well? Is my watering system not doing the job? So, you see, it is partly a matter of mentoring. I am passionate about gardens and travel in the UK as much as possible to see them and go to our local arboretums and nurseries…it is an ongoing quest. So there you have it!

    1. Thank you Libby for your answer … it seems from my survey that there’s a distinct group of people who are gardeners with knowledge of their own, who want a second pair of eyes, some extra experience and in essence a partnership, someone on their wavelength to knock back and forth ideas and work together to find the right solution. Yes, a partnership is perhaps the right word for this. I hope you found the right person for the job!

  7. Hi Joanna, I thought about how I coukd answer this to be helpful. When I became self employed 15 yrs ago I spent time deciding how to run my business, should it be garden design or being a gardener who makes gardens for customers over years, so big soft landscaping, no hard landscaping. I chose the latter, as it is a more affordable option for customers, and I love watching gardens constanttly change. This is only my thought, but if you are thinking of long term employment from horticulturet then being a gardener who also designs fits together quite well. You also get the chance to write about gardens you work in over long periods of time, rather than finished projects. Hope this might be of help to you. Sally

    1. Thank you Sally, that is very helpful. I am not going into this career with any fixed expectations of where it might lead, and it sounds as though you did the same thing and settled on a service that gave you the most satisfaction. I am very much looking forward to finding out where my skills take me, which will be as dependent on my future clients as it will on my own wishes. It seems that many garden designers maintain a close ongoing relationship with their clients’ gardens. I am not sure I will become a gardener as this takes more physical energy than I have. But I can’t see myself designing something and then walking away never to look at it again.

  8. There are reasons I’ve never used a garden designer (besides the cost).
    I know my back garden (in Marchmont) isn’t a great work of art or design, because it has evolved rather than been designed. The main path was laid to provide toddlers with a ‘racetrack’ and the wood-chipped bit is where the climbing frame used to be. So to impose an overall ‘concept’ at this point may require ripping a lot out before starting again, and I can’t face that.
    And the garden is a practical space where I dry laundry and grow salads, so design is not always the first consideration. So, for example, the washing line goes right across my kitchen window sight-line because that’s where the laundry wont get caught on shrubs or dripped on by surrounding trees.
    I also have an attachment of some sort to every plant, and although I know the colour/texture/shape combinations are not perfect, if the plants are happy I don’t want to move them. I’m sure a designer could come up with something stunning, but I couldn’t bear losing what I’ve got.
    Having thought about this, I could see myself asking a designer for some ideas for small tweaks to the planting, but not much more than that.
    I hope that’s helpful!

    1. It sounds as though your garden is just fine as it is! Gardening in an evolving garden is a joy and quite agree with you about everything you say as I feel exactly the same about my own garden. I’d rather just do it myself! And like yours, my planting combinations are far from perfect, but I am looking forward to tweaking them yet again this year. I suppose the difference is that the person who needs a designer’s help is the person who feels dread or confusion rather than joy at the thought of attempting any changes in their garden.

    2. We have a small garden so my husband built a washing pergola – painted a (fading) garnet red it is structural focus without washing – and not unappealing with washing as we have a double path down that side.

  9. Interesting questions and ones I’ve pondered in the past when I was considering garden design as a career. There are people who have no knowledge of plants, landscaping, gardening who would have no confidence in designing a garden or area of one and who could afford to commission a garden designer/landscaper but you need to find them! I don’t think many people are as prepared to spend serious money on their gardens as they are on their houses but that may have changed since I looked into it.
    I agree with Jen and Chloris – personally I wouldn’t employ one because I can do it myself 🙂 Good luck, Joanna!

    1. Thanks Sam! Yes, and I wonder why it is that people would spend less on their gardens (if that is true – I am not sure). Especially since it’s often the most visible part of the house. Perhaps there’s a misconception that the money would not be recouped upon selling. We have been taught that spending up to 10% of the property’s total value on the garden is money well spent, although I am sure other variables come into play too. I am not whether this is common knowledge though. Not that I think that having a lovely garden is entirely to do with property values, any more than installing a lovely kitchen or bathroom is. They are nice things to have and enjoy in and of themselves.

  10. I’ve completed your survey and I hope it helps. For some of us gardens are very personal and an expression of our creativity and response to the landscape. I also believe that gardens should evolve with their owners and keep changing. However, I’m probably atypical and can understand why for many people a professional designer could create the garden of their dreams.

    1. Yes, and I am firmly in that camp regarding personal expression in my own garden and its evolution over time. Christina (commenting further up the page) remarked that during her design career she has brought a newfound gardening passion to people who had previously not known this feeling that you and I know so well. If my enthusiasm for gardening and the creative outlet it provides could rub off on even one client then I would be so thrilled and delighted.

  11. Having been in the design business for several decades, I can’t wait to see the results. For me, the best clients are those who realize they can’t do it themselves and rely on your expertise, and expect to provide ‘perennial ‘marriage counseling…Good luck.

    1. Thank you Amelia. I can’t wait to share the results with everyone too. It’s been a real eye-opener and I only regret not asking more questions! Only perhaps if it had been longer, fewer people would have responded. As it is, I’m approaching the maximum 100 responses allowed by SurveyMonkey’s free service, which is quite simply incredible and unexpected. I’m so very grateful to everyone.
      Regarding marriage counselling, yes, I’d heard that before!

  12. There is probably also a space for a designer to a busy young professional couple who would like someone to encourage their garden in a more interesting direction that the – roll on lawn and tree tick solution. And later – someone who loves their garden but needs to adjust it to fit Third Age abilities.

    1. A garden designer who came to give us a talk told us that her clients had been from a surprisingly wide range of ages. It seems that you’re right, and that young professionals are equally likely to hire a designer as someone who is middle-aged, or approaching retirement, or beyond. Putting myself into the shoes of an elderly gardener will be an important skill to develop.

  13. I answered your question through the link on IG, but just to pick up on the hard landscaping issue that’s been raised here – that was one of the main reasons that we used a designer for our Edinburgh city centre garden who would then also do the building of the walls, creating new terracing etc. With a young child and working full time we had no energy left over to devote to the garden. Now I’m in a very different situation, reclaiming a largish garden with good soil in the country. Hard landscaping again comes to the fore however, as although we do have more time now, since I’m nearly 60 I want to spend my energy on the plants and the soil rather than the heavy lifting. I guess I’m now looking for more of a contractor/labourer to carry out my wishes rather than a designer as such, but there are parts of the garden that I find myself unsure about. What I could do with is not garden design as a whole but more ‘border advice’ in terms of colour progressions along a long border and seasonal planting. I find the whole colour theming very complex, and as my husband is colour blind he’s not being allowed anywhere near!

    1. Dear Linda, thank you for your reply. It sounds as though you have your work cut out! Although what a joy to have a new garden to work with.
      Regarding your comments, it might be helpful to tell you about the services usually offered by garden designers. Firstly is the drawing up of the designs for the hard landscaping ‘bones’ and then to hire and work with a trusted contractor who follows the design and does the heavy duty work. The designer pretty much acts as a project manager to ensure that the design that the client has signed off is the one that appears in the garden.
      Secondly, once the hard landscaping is done, the designer can create a planting design for the planting areas and beds that were created at the hard landscaping stage. Again, project management ensures a satisfactory relationship with the local nurseries to ensure that the correct (healthy) plants arrive with no inappropriate substitutions. The designer might to do the planting up themselves, rather than trusting it to a contractor, again to ensure the vision is realised correctly.
      You can hire a garden designer for either stage or both (or neither, of course!).
      (I’ll add that landscaping contractors can also come up with designs themselves. However, in my opinion it’s important for the design to be undertaken by someone who implicitly understands gardens and gardening, and a trained garden designer will have been taught many subtle aesthetic techniques that will take the design to a higher level. A designer will make sure that the beds are in proportion to the hard landscaping and it’s all in proportion to the house. That the materials used are coherent. That the garden ‘works’ as a complete whole, and that it aligns with your personal style.)
      Hope that helps!
      Jo
      ps. I am always on the lookout for local-ish ‘soft’ clients (ie. who can put up with being practised on!) who need uncomplicated help with planning their gardens, if that would be of any interest? Do get in touch if so.

  14. I think there are issues around how long people have lived in their houses, whether the use of the garden has changed (eg with children growing up), or whether, like us, they bought their house mostly because of the garden. We have, over time, developed our garden the way we want it, and enjoyed the planning, choosing, growing. We see every new season as proof of our involvement, and wouldn’t want any outside influence.
    Also, there is the cost of doing it all at once. Which leads me to think that the issue is more to do with the garden owner and their aspirations/pockets than the actual garden!

    1. I most certainly agree with your final statement. Not that a designer couldn’t be of great help where very difficult terrain is concerned. Perhaps it’s the experience of the garden owner as a function of the difficulty of the terrain. Garden owner (experience/willingness) scale 1 – 5 x garden terrain difficulty scale 1 – 5 = scale of input required by garden designer. Your garden is probably a delight to behold thanks to the effort and care you have poured into it over the years. It’s the sort of look I personally find most charming, and I have been wondering how I would translate that into a design, as superimposed ‘quirks’ usually just look affected. I believe the answer lies in patience, good bones to start with (that’s where a designer can really help), and then inspiring clients themselves to add their own touches over the years.

  15. Missed the survey, just catching up on Blogs. I am a Landscape Designer. My husband and I own a design build company here in Houston Texas. I do hardscape, structures, pergolas, plantings etc. I would hire a landscape designer myself and probably should. My own garden is more of a where can I trial this plant and how can I use this left over material. I started as a fine arts student. I get inspiration from nature, public and private gardens, books. Our clients start by filling out a 7 page questionnaire. You might find it interesting and are free to copy and use it. http://www.ravenscourt.us It helps them think of what they hope to accomplish and gives us a record of their first thoughts. Next we meet them in the space. We ask more questions and I observe and listen. I ask them to share idea boards so I have some visual examples of their flavor and what pleases their eye. I never feel like I am designing their garden alone or taking over control. I am gathering information, we ask up front a budget range, what they want to invest. How much time they want to spend on maintenance. What season and colors, etc. Each design I do is personal, custom to that client and their home. I also make sure they know that the design process is collaborative and fluid. I think my two biggest assets as a designer are I listen and I am intuitive. Once I feel comfortable with what my parameters/perimeter are/is I design within those conditions. The outcome is the client saying that is exactly what I wanted : ) I am happy to correspond with you via email if you want to pick my brain further. Happy Gardening!

    1. Dear Laurin,
      Thank you ever so much for this extensive reply. It’s all so very helpful, and I shall certainly have a look at your questionnaire if I may, as I am meeting a ‘soft’ client shortly and have not yet developed my own. Thank you so much for sharing it. My biggest aim will to be a listener, and I imagined the process to be exactly as you have described it, so again thank you for this insight. Your own garden of plant ‘trials’ sounds like an absolute haven, and no doubt full of colour and interest. Mine is a bit like that too, while I keep the front garden more strictly. I can never decide which I prefer!

  16. I answered your landscaping designer survey. We used a landscape designer when we bought The End Cottage in 2008. We do not own the property past one foot of the front door, it belongs to the home owners association. There were ugly evergreens and nothing much else there. However, the way our property lines were, we had the largest front and back yard of all the 13 cottages built here. It was a big empty space! We hired a landscape designer and had to get approval from the board to have landscaping done at all. We added an underground sprinkler system, without it nothing would grow here and lighting: both uplighting and path lighting, as we had a path and garden added to the side of the cottage. We also had a retaining wall, garden and path put in the Woodland Garden in the back. And plants and trees all to my liking. We were in our 60’s at the time and could not have done that ourselves. And we had to get permission also. All of our gardens in the neighborhood are very different to each other. We have maintained all the plants and the garden ourselves.

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