A Guide To The Garden Design Process

Preliminary Phase

iStock_000017044290SmallInitial enquiry: First contact from client to designer. Usually a brief telephone discussion, if the enquiry is suitable I will make an arrangement to visit the client.

Initial Consultation: An informal meeting with the client to show portfolio, walk round the garden and discuss general requirements, budget etc. Subsequent to this meeting I will formulate a rough fee proposal and email/ post it to the client, along with T’s & C’s. I am increasingly conducting an initial consultation on Zoom, Facetime or phone, referring to photos of the garden.

Instruction to proceed: To be received from the client, after which I will post out a Client Interview Questionnaire, which will form the foundation of the design brief.

questionnaire1Client Brief Questionnaire: This can be completed by the client and emailed back to me, or I can visit the client to go through it with them. This is often useful for clients who are relatively inexperienced gardeners. The questionnaire will help to establish the client’s functional needs and style preferences.

Design Brief: The brief describes both the functional needs and the scope of the work to be carried out. It will be posted out to the client after analysing the questionnaire results. The design brief must be approved by the client (after any necessary amendments) before any further work is carried out; it is the foundation upon which all subsequent design work will rest and must clearly meet all of the client’s requirements.

Topographical-SurveySite Survey and Appraisal: To design a garden, an accurate survey of the existing garden must first be produced. I use professional land surveyors to produce detailed, accurate surveys of the garden, in some cases including contours to facilitate easier terrain modelling. The survey is classified as an additional service and is charged separately to the Design Fee. From the survey I will analyse the garden and produce a drawing detailing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities for improvement, shade and sun, drainage issues and slopes, circulation, possible problems etc.

Design Phase

2000B-High-Meadow-Concept-PlanConcept Design
: The Client Brief, Site Survey and Site Appraisal form the springboard for a loose, sketchy drawing (or drawings) to communicate general ideas for the design to the client. It does not go into granular details, but is useful in communicating the shapes and areas to be laid out in the garden and also helps clarify and refine the design at an early stage.

Master Plan/ Layout Plan: Once the concept plan has been amended through client feedback, I can produce a large scale drawing detailing the general design, including hard and soft landscaping materials, trees, positions of borders, patio areas, paths, decking, and garden features such as steps, sculpture and water features. To be presented to client and any final amendments made, to avoid significant revisions during the detailing phase.

Detail Design Phase

Construction Detailing, comprising:

Setting-out plan: a master plan of all construction detailing showing positions of construction features on site: widths of paths, radius of curves, heights of walls and steps, triangulated points, levels etc.

Deck-FrameConstruction Drawings: detailed construction methods and materials for each component of the garden. These drawings help control the quality, suitability for purpose and compliance with regulations of the finished product and also ensure that when tendering takes place, all landscapers fully understand the design and are quoting on a level playing field. They also enable me to pre-plan any joints or cuts in materials, so that they flow seamlessly or align with important axes of symmetry.

Specification Document: The written specification accompanies the construction drawings and details in written form all aspects of the construction to be undertaken, specifying such things as mortar mixes, sub bases, bricklaying patterns, soil and compost mixes etc.

Plant Detailing, comprising:

C:Documents and SettingsIvanMy DocumentsMy DropboxThe Oak HPlanting Plan: A large-scale CAD drawing showing species, numbers and spacing of all plants. On larger sites often broken down into separate beds/areas.

Plant schedule: A spreadsheet detailing species, numbers, pot sizes, and possible substitutes for all plants in the design. Vital to facilitate easy cost calculation and plant sourcing by landscape contractors. Separate sheets are usual for perennials, shrubs and trees as these are usually sourced from separate specialist nurseries

Tender Phase

Landscape Contract 110Tender Documentation: clients usually want me to handle the tender process, and I will send out an Invitation to Tender, meet contractors on site, assess the merits of the tenders received, produce a Tender Report if required, and send out letters of Acceptance of Tender and letters declining tender to the appropriate landscapers. I will also provide you with a standard letter to sign and send out to your chosen landscaper, confirming your intention to engage them.

Contract Documents: On private garden projects I sometimes use a standard set of JCLI contracts designed specifically for the purpose by the Society of Garden Designers. These have to be bought for each project and are supplied to you at cost. They give you peace of mind and a professional contractual relationship with the selected contractor and/or myself as a consultant. Alternatively, we may just use the contractor’s own T’s & C’s, assuming these are acceptable – I review each to ensure they are fair.

Construction Phase

DSC08782WHard Landscaping:
setting-out and commencement of works by appointed landscape contractor (designer to be present). Project monitoring by designer as required by client.

Soft Landscaping: planting will only usually start when all hard landscaping work is complete, to prevent damage to plants and lawns by machinery/works.

Snagging: On completion, all snagging must be attended to before the project can be signed off as complete. A 5% retainer is increasingly common, even on private projects.


Maintenance Schedule: A schedule can be prepared on request detailing aftercare requirements for all plants in your garden, and can be invaluable for future reference for either yourself or a professional gardener.

Maintenance Visits: Garden maintenance should occur fortnightly or monthly in the growing season, or as required by the client, and should be carried out according to the maintenance schedule. Often clients will engage a regular gardener or if keen gardeners may decide to carry out all maintenance themselves. An ongoing relationship with the designer is always beneficial for the garden’s development, and whilst I cannot commit to fortnightly maintenance, I am happy to arrange visits a every 2-3 months for the first 1-5 years after the garden is completed.