Garden Designers Step up or Sign off.

Thinking of employing the services of a garden designer? Take a moment to consider a few alternatives before you rush in and allow a Garden designer full control of your Garden,  it’s development and frankly what could easily become an intrusive introduction into your families lives.

Inviting a Garden designer into your home and the daily lives of your family, should be entertained with caution! Funny how the word designer suddenly put’s someone on a pedestal?

Continue reading or if your short on time scroll down to view my conclusion here>>

1: Word of mouth recommendations. 

Whist the internet may be your first port of call when looking to recruit the service of a professional, be sure to do a full background check and don’t just take the word of a few satisfied online clients. Ask to see examples of there work, perhaps even visit a garden they have recently completed and one that is at least 12 months old. Ask to speak with a few of their previous clients, you will be surprised how quickly you will be able to sort the woods from the trees.

2: Ask to see proof.

A portfolio may be a great way to get a feel for a garden designer previous projects but remember before handing over control of your plot to a garden designer that a well presented portfolio is like a website, created by the designer to hook new business. Portfolios are a very one sided view of someones work, digging deeper will help you discover the whole truth.

3: Do you really need to employ a garden designer?

Many gardeners are incredibly talented, often hiding their light under a bushel (an in house joke)! If you already employ the services of a gardener who does more than just cut grass i.e.: not a gardener at all. Ask questions, often gardeners will have a good grounding in horticulture, understand garden layout and be a fountain of knowledge on many garden based topics.

4: Read the small print!

Like employing the services of any professional you want to be sure you are getting what you are paying for! Imagine paying to have your house painted and the decorator not telling you the name of the product he used. So when you need to re-paint you have to guess and try to re-match it, your decorator has moved abroad or busy on other projects. Suddenly you are not a priority and they have moved onto greener pastures. Well it’s the same with paying for a garden designer, who creates a plan (that you only ever get a glimpse of) completes the work with promises of line drawings, sketches and detailed garden design, showing layout and structure, planting scheme etc. This design is an integral part of the acquisition make sure you get copies, because when the design fails to perform (and it will) you are going to need to replace dead plants, move perennials that have outgrown their location and frankly without a structured detail plan it’s going to be an up hill struggle.

5: Awards and recognition

Just because a designer has recognised awards and recommendations does not mean you should give them full control. I often here horror stories where families have invited a garden designer into their home and garden, only to find they end up with a design full of flaws and elements they never asked for. All too often we trust a garden designer to come up with the best layout, planting scheme and amenities for our family but end up with a duplicated design that is related on repeat, repeat.

6: Repetition

Which interestingly enough moves onto another topic implemented by many a garden designer that frankly lacks plant knowledge. I fully agree plants are just one element of a design but a very important one at that. Once you’ve decide on the hard landscaping for your garden, softening those costly edges needs to be done with style and flair. Ensure your getting what you ay for ask for detailed planting plans and plant list research the plant names and question their suitability.

7: Sign off or step up

Before you allow the garden designer of your choice to run for the hills, which in my experience usually happens when you pay the invoice. I would suggest you ask a few questions of your own! Here’s a few examples to get you going, oh and short sharp replies are not valid. Push for detailed responses, email is a good way of recording the conversation for future reference. Just because someone said it does not mean it’s true or that they will even recall the conversation. Most of all be bold, be brave and retain overall control of your gardens design or else you are likely to get fleeced.

So in this article I wanted to clearly spell out in my own words and an option that is solely my own, the key points to consider when looking for a talented garden designer as opposed to an opportunist that piggy backs of the talents of others.

What will the plants look like in a years time?

How do I keep it looking sharp and fresh?

Will I need to replace these plants in a few years time?

Where do I by quality plants from?

Do you offer a follow-up service?

Can I contact you for advice and support?

How should I clean the paving, do I need to retreat the fence and in what shade, brand and colour?

You can come up with many more questions and I would suggest putting this to your garden designer before settling the bill. You will get a much faster response if payment is outstanding.

Here’s a few responses that I’ve heard over the years… be wary of these or similar responses, and if in doubt question and don’t take anything to chance.

A:”Trust me i’m a Garden Designer”

Which translated means

(Don’t trust me it’s likely i’m bluffing)

B: “It’s not the first design i’ve ever done”

(Don’t question my abilities I’m a Garden Designer”) See A:

C: Or a classic “Everything is fine just a slight delay on getting the materials”

(“I’ve just secured a job with a client who’s paying more than you”)

Having worked in the Horticultural industry for over thirty years I have been party to the changes and developments of a somewhat thwarted profession. Imagine the frustration of seeing a under rated career choice being further downgraded by the sudden arrival of largely unqualified Garden Designers!

Don’t get me wrong utilising the strengths of others it what defines workers from management, I fully understand hierarchy and its what our planet thrives on. Applying that to an industry thats frankly underpaid, under appreciated and struggling to recruit young people, is a massive failing on the industry and its movers and shakers.

Garden Designers have appeared as if out of the woods over the last decade, one has to wonder are we dulling down a profession that used to carry some clout? Nowadays seen as a fast track opportunity to make easy cash from a struggling profession.

Tip: Use your head build into the contract a penalty for late completion, for plants dying or for shoddy workmanship. You will be surprised how efficient your designer and there team of contractors suddenly becomes either that or they will suddenly have a family crisis and move onto the next victim I mean client.

In conclusion: There are and I am sure will continue to be some amazing Garden Designers out there who stun and wow a captive audience. Chelsea and the RHS for example can attempt to address the problem by highlighting up and coming professionals in an industry that often struggles to achieve front page headlines.

Garden Design in my option deserves proper regulation and the Horticultural industries attempt to action this largely falls on deaf ears. There will always be those who seek to make a fast buck from Gardening from the odd job gardener offering to trim your bush too the so called professional landscaper who on the surface complete a satisfactory project, but dig a little deeper and that’s when the design begins to fall apart.

A real Garden Designer won’t attempt to offer you a quick fix, instead providing you with the tools you need to develop a garden of your dreams. Don’t expect a garden to appear overnight, whilst planting large trees may be appealing, the reality is we should be planting smaller native trees that are beneficial to the environment, not importing huge specimens that are going to sit in that wire mesh excuse for a rootball for many years before establishing the network of roots it needs to support the heavy network of branches you so desire. Huge gleaming, structures catching the light may look all to appealing when first installed, but who is going to maintain them, repair them, fix a faulty pump, mend a broken paving slab?

Good Garden Designers will be able to answer these questions for you, great Garden Designers will have all the tools in place to help you maintain, service  and repair your new gardens perishable products. Plants will need replacing, pruning, dividing and unless you intend to do this yourself I suggest you ask your GD to recommend a professional in your area.

May I also suggest you invite the garden professional to observe the project as it is undertaken, include them in a few of the important decisions. You will be surprised how realistically practical a gardener comments will be compared to that of the Garden Designers. How will I mow the elevated lawn? Where shall I compost the debris? What wildlife would you like to encourage into your garden and what habitat have you provided to encourage this. Ask your new gardener to provide a list of tools he will need to complete specialist tasks i.e: Tripod ladders for pruning or picking fruit, plant supports, special feeds and organic sprays to deal with pests.

Grow with me on


Stephen Pryce-Lea

Head Gardener and International Horticultural Consultant




“It’s a beautiful thing when a career and a passion grow together, when you find it in a Garden it’s like finding Paradise“

iGrowHort – A Head Gardener’s Horticultural Journey of love, life and learning.


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About Head Gardener 290 Articles
Award winning, 40 something year old professional plantsman and horticulturalist with National Trust, private parks and estate management background. My vast plant knowledge and hands on techinical experience, afforded me the opportunity to work in various horticultural landscapes, in the UK, USA & Eastern Europe. Having worked in both garden retail & the design service industry gave me the practical diversity and managerial skill set, required for running a large prestigious gardens and stately homes. I strongly believe knowledge is to be shared and have worked closely with people and staff of all ages and abilities keen to develop their passion for gardening, including groups of children, special needs and adults. I have hosted guided walks, talks and tours for those keen to learn about cultivated and wild plants, garden development, history and design. As an member of the NNCPG and National Trust, I am actively involved in the preservation of several important plant collections both in public and private gardens throughout the UK. “It’s a beautiful thing when a career and a passion grow together, in a garden it’s paradise” Follow @IGrowHort on GardenTags. Stephen is passionate about gardening as Head Gardener with a team of ten staff he manages a prestigious Cheshire country estate of 55 acres, inc wild flower meadows, woodland, organic kitchen and formal gardens. Follow Stephen today”

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