Survey results: Would you use a garden designer?

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Firstly a huge thank you to those who took part in my survey of a few weeks ago (Would you use a garden designer?). I was overwhelmed by the number of you who completed it and shared your thoughts on what is perhaps a neglected topic among gardeners. Reading the responses was an education: not only did they improve my understanding of the attitudes of garden owners towards garden design, but they also gave rise to some unexpected lateral trains of thought regarding other garden-related requirements that aren’t being catered for.

As promised, I’ll now share your responses, which were anonymous and included a mixture of multiple choice questions and open extended responses. You can see the full results here.

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Unsurprisingly, given that the majority of my readers are seasoned gardeners, more than half of respondents were already satisfied with the design of their gardens, and told me that ‘I’m working on it with a spring in my step’ or ‘It’s just about perfect’ (lucky you, whoever you are!). However, that left around 45% of respondents who were less content, in despair, or just too busy with other priorities.

“I would love a professional’s opinion, but don’t think I could afford their services or the list of plants they would suggest I need to supplement current plantings.”

By far the biggest barrier to using a garden designer was the perceived cost. Using a garden designer naturally goes hand in hand with the cost of the proposed work: the labour, the hard landscaping materials, the machinery, any planning permission required, and the cost of new plants, and all of this can add up to thousands. Garden designers usually charge a percentage of the total cost of the garden design budget, or for smaller projects an hourly fee. For many, spending several thousand pounds on their garden is simply not an option.

“The designer we chose was unfortunately very fixed in her ideas and didn’t really listen to what we were trying to achieve.”

Almost a quarter of respondents had used a garden designer in the past. While some were happy with the service they received, others had reservations. A clear concern was the perception or experience that a designer would impose their own ideas and not listen to the client. Many of the keener gardeners were clear that they wanted to maintain a creative input in their gardens.

“I would sometimes like a ‘shortcut’ by asking an expert for some advice about what to plant or what to do with a tricky area instead of having to learn/read/find out myself the hard way! But enjoy doing all the work and planning myself on the whole.”

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Around a third of respondents were interested in a total garden redesign service, and a further quarter in planting redesign. However, some more uncommon design services were also suggested.

“Would love to have informed advice for my intention of gardening for biodiversity.”

“Help with lighting, landscape and water features. I would love some design advice, but I don’t want to change everything I have worked so hard to accomplish”

Garden coaching or mentoring was one of the most popular options. I imagine that those who chose this option were gardeners who did not feel that they needed, or else could not afford, a total garden redesign, but who wished for an objective second pair of eyes and an experienced kindred spirit to bounce ideas off and refresh the gardener’s imagination. Another group that emerged were those who did not want a ‘designer’ or ‘instant’ garden, and this is a sentiment that I can relate to wholeheartedly. Aren’t some of the loveliest and most characterful gardens those that have evolved slowly with the owners, with different ideas added over the years? If the vision of the gardener remains consistent, then a sense of unity can develop across the whole despite this more piecemeal approach.

“It’s not that I don’t care about my garden, just that I don’t think having a ‘designer’ garden is important.”

“Gardens evolve and a garden design would seem too instant and manufactured.”

There is no right or wrong style of garden design: for the busy person who has just bought a new house with a run-down garden which they want to be able to use and enjoy as soon as possible, then a complete overhaul may be the only solution. But I’m not sure that the other type of garden owner, the gardener who wants to develop their garden slowly and needs only a light pair of guiding hands, is well served by the sorts of garden design services that are usually on offer.

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Regarding attitudes towards ecologically friendly gardening, almost all respondents agreed that it was ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ important to them.

“It’s the most important point and it can look very nice too.”

Although I wouldn’t need more than the courage of my own convictions in offering a garden design service that prioritises the local and wider ecology, it is reassuring to know that this view is generally well supported by garden owners.

Clearly the readers of this blog are of a certain demographic, as likely as not to be knowledgeable gardeners who enjoy creating their own gardens, appreciate wildlife, and are not so in need of a garden designer. As one commentator neatly put it below my original post, future garden design clients are most likely to have limited interest in gardening, and

“are probably reading blogs on entirely different subjects!”

And yes, I can relate to all of those regular readers of this blog who said they enjoy the process of designing their own gardens far too much to consider hiring someone else to do it for them. One survey respondent summed up my feelings succinctly in response to the question: What kind of things might prevent you from using a garden designer?

“I am afraid my wife wouldn’t want me to use a garden designer.”

Which I can confidently vouch is true, since this answer came from my husband.

Surveys can have their limitations, of course, and this one was not especially scientific. A slight alteration in the wording of these questions, or asking them at the height of summer, may well have produced an entirely different set of results. But it has given me an excellent starting point in ideas, and a fast track to knowing my market just a little better. The best garden designers listen carefully, and I’m grateful to all of you for giving me so much useful material to listen to.

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17 thoughts on “Survey results: Would you use a garden designer?

  1. So good to hear the feedback. I’m with the person who said that they would like “Help with lighting, landscape and water features. I would love some design advice, but I don’t want to change everything I have worked so hard to accomplish”
    I would love a professional eye cast on my garden and advice of how to improve it. I know a local nursery will provide this type of help for a reasonable fee, without having to follow through with the whole idea. That might be the way I go to get some help. But yes, gardeners on the whole prefer to design and create their own space until they become to old or ill to manage it.

    1. Yes, I think this service is provided by quite a few nurseries and garden centres and may help plug the gap between the larger service offered by stand-alone garden designers, and well, having to work it out yourself! Sometimes all that is needed is a second pair of eyes, as it’s so hard to be objective about one’s own garden.

    2. Interesting last comment – I think this will become a larger market in future. Gardening is becoming ever more popular, but today’s energetic younger and middle-agers (she says, reaching 60 this year but still with loads of energy) will become too old to manage their gardens. I am rescuing my late father’s neglected garden, and I’m very aware that it may reach a peak under my care and then slide downhill again as I become too old to manage it. Digging through boxes of old photos I’ve come across the garden in its heyday, and I’m determined to restore it and do justice to all that effort and love my Dad put in. But come the time, I would make use of a designer who would nudge me in the right direction (my Dad stopped noticing things that were overgrown, as it all happened gradually, and as his world shrank), and get help from someone to carry out the hard work. That would leave me a little light pottering, so still in contact with plants and the seasons, and much sitting enjoying the garden.

      1. Sounds like a good project to get stuck into. It’s not just age that defeats us though, but illness and painful joints/backs that makes the hard labour of gardening difficult at any age. Light pottering and lots of sitting in the garden sounds good to me, but meanwhile there are weeds to pull and seeds to sow. I wish you success with your task 🙂

  2. Still thinking about asking the woman who runs the lowland fynbos nursery, and does landscaping (both paid and for NGOs) if she could spend an hour telling me what to tweak.

  3. I couldn’t agree more with the folks who said they’d take help with water features, lighting, and hardscapes. That is 100% what I would use a designer for and likely will do that if/when we move in another dozen or two years. This was such a great exercise and really highlights the ways in which gardeners and garden designers overlap (and don’t). Thanks for sharing the results with us!

      1. Precisely! And they are among the most expensive to install (and even more expensive to un-do mistakes and re-do!). But if I were to use those services, I certainly would rather work with a garden designer rather than a landscaper- I think it would be far easier to get on the same page with plans and the desired feeling for the garden.

  4. Interesting, I think the concept of garden coaching is taking hold here and it sounds like there as well. Also interesting about design fees being percentages in some cases as that is unusual in residential work here.

    1. There is a document online from our Society of Garden Designers that shows a basic fee structure. Gardens over £10,000 are priced as a percentage scale, but below that are based on an hourly fee (plus expenses). It’s not an official document, due to competition rules here in the UK, but it’s useful to give a ballpark figure. How does pricing work in the States?

      1. Really? that is not a very big budget for a percentage fee. It may be different for Landscape ARch vs. Garden Designers, percent fees are usually 10-12% construction, presented a phased lump sum agreement. Projects exceeding a million dollars go to like 6%. Hourly is more common in residential work, but not percentages like above, usually lump sum fees with hourly rates if Scope of Work is exceeded. I think more environmentally oriented gardening is going to be a big thing.

  5. I’m an older new homeowner with a yard that has nothing. What I needed and I didn’t see mentioned was a gardener that could do the initial physical labor and offer design ideas based on what I want. Someone to remove large overgrown bushes and add drip irrigation. Then when the initial ground work is done and the main plants that I want are in, let me tweak and add plants as I like.

    1. I think that some gardeners would offer design services, but I am not sure if there would be so many qualified garden designers able (or willing) to do the manual labour of tree removal etc. Speaking for myself, it would be far more efficient to hire a big burly man (or woman), someone who does the heavy lifting side of gardening for a living to do what you’re asking. I am able to dig out trees, but very slowly! Sounds like what you would want is a designer to put the plan onto paper, then hire a contractor to do the physical labour of getting the ‘bones’ into place, then finally the designer to collaborate with you over a planting plan, making sure to leave plenty of blank canvas for you to add your own choices of plants.

      1. I guess I am lucky because I found a gardener/designer and so far it’s been a great collaboration. He and another contractor completed the drip irrigation installation and the removal of a large tough Yucca plant last week and now tomorrow we’re going plant shopping. He also did extensive weed removal and removal of a bricked area in the yard (we’re keeping the bricks for another project). So exciting to finally get to the planting state after all the prep work. I actually did a plan on paper and the gardener/designer tweaked it. Maybe he’s an unusual find so I’m very happy I found him. He’s a gem!

  6. It was really interesting to read these results Joanna, especially as the results provided a range of answers despite the respondents all being drawn from amongst readers of gardening blogs. It certainly seems that mentoring is an important service for designers to offer. Hope your course is still going well – do you have placements this year?

    1. Yes, the mentoring certainly struck a cord with a great many people. My course is going wonderfully, thank you! I have a few placements this year, both through college and self-arranged. Plenty to keep me occupied!

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