Whether reworking an uninspiring corner in your garden or designing a spacious plot from scratch, you’ll need a strategy, a budget and some expert help
Designer Alexandra Froggatt used cantilevered aluminium beams to create a dining terrace beneath the trees in this garden in Bradford-upon-Avon, Wiltshire.
Creating a new garden scheme can be enjoyable and rewarding, but it will require advance planning and careful thought. Start off by identifying exactly what you want to achieve. Do you need somewhere to eat and entertain a crowd, or a place where the children can play while you sit and read? Perhaps lockdown has inspired you to grow your own fruit and veg, but where? Or is the front of your house devoted to cars, bikes and bins instead of being the good looking entrance you long for?
Get the right help
Specialist design and build firm Bowles & Wyer created this penthouse roof garden in Clerkenwell, central London.
Garden or landscape designers can provide ideas during a single consultation or by creating a planting scheme. A step up would be for them to devise a master plan, so you can do the build yourself or hand it over to a contractor. They also offer full design and build services, aftercare advice and maintenance.
Whether you ultimately decide to work with a garden or landscape designer, a building contractor or with individual companies for specific tasks, make sure they understand your requirements and style, and meet everyone more than once before you sign any contracts.
Choose a member of the Association of Professional Landscapers, Society of Garden Designers, or British Association of Landscape Industries, so you can be assured of their professional workmanship. Some, such as Bowles & Wyer, are members of more than one association and so combine creative ideas and practical expertise in engineering and construction.
Establish the cost
Set your budget early on and be open and honest about how much money you wish to spend from the outset. It’s a good idea to seek quotes from several designers and contractors, if needed. If you can take on some or all of the construction work yourself, this will lower the cost.
‘A professional will provide a clear fee proposal in advance, showing how much they’ll charge for each stage of the design. Just like architects, some will charge an hourly rate and others a fixed fee,’ says Andrew Duff, vice chairman of the Society of Garden Designers. ‘If the designer requests a percentage deposit before starting, this is quite normal, as is invoicing after each stage.’
Each garden specialist has their own work process,and as each project is entirely bespoke, costs will vary, making it difficult to generalise as to a starting price.‘Design fees are an open and transparent reflection ofthe cost of the expertise, and that allows you to find the best designer, and the right person to undertake the construction,’ says Helen Elks-Smith of Elks-Smith Garden Design.
Assess the site
As this garden encircles the house, Helen Elks-Smith installed drainage and created an inner circle of seating, dining and planted areas that track the sun around the building.
Before any actual design work begins, the site must be surveyed. The results will include measurements, details of boundaries, the soil type, the elevation and aspect, an assessment of the trees and planting, structures and hard landscaping. Are you in a conservation area or are any of your trees protected by a preservation order? Check with your local authority first, as if either applies there will be restrictions on what you can and can’t do.
If you want to carry out the survey yourself, try the Oxford College of Garden Design to learn how. For details of your property’s boundary, visit the government’s property information search page to request a copy of the Title Plan.
A professional surveyor can also survey the site for you, and if you use a garden or landscape designer, they will almost certainly do their own.
Working with tricky conditions
Design and build firm The Garden Company created a flight of stone steps flanked by banks of naturalistic planting to turn a steep slope into an eye catching feature. A smaller project involving hard landscaping and planting would cost upwards of £20,000.
A sloping site or the lack of a view or destination can be overcome with structural work and planting. ‘A slope can be an opportunity to create visual interest in the level changes,’ says James Scott, MD of The Garden Company. ‘A flight of steps can meander and lead to a feature on the upper level rather than just running straight up and down, while vertical spaces between the levels can be used for a water feature or a piece of art as well as planting.’
A waterlogged site can prove costly to drain, so consider working with the conditions rather than against them. ‘A bog garden using plants that thrive in damp conditions is more budget friendly,’ says James. ‘Add raised stone borders or a boardwalk as a journey through the space.’
Rules for garden buildings
A freestanding outdoor structure is classed as permitted development, but there are exceptions.‘The building’s eaves must not exceed 2.5m and the height, to the top of the roof, no more than 4m,’ explains garden designer Alexandra Froggatt of Alexandra Froggatt Design.‘It shouldn’t top 2.5m if the structure is within 2m of a boundary or a house'.
Gardens on designated land or a conservation area will require permission if the structure is adjacent to the side of your home, and all structures will require permission if your house is listed. Unless the structure covers 15sqm plus, Building Regulations do not apply. For more detail, visit the government’s Planning Portal and your local authority’s website.
Create a planting scheme
Designer Ann-Marie Powell opted for a varied green plant palette including textural yew hedging and low growing fernsat Sopwell House’s Cottonmill Spa.The idea was to settle the slate clad spa pools and mixed materials decking into a scene inspired by forest bathing.
Know your site and assess the value of any existing planting. Plan where you want things to grow, what you want them to do – such as create privacy, draw or distract the eye, add height, structure and ambiance – and work out how much you need, and who will ultimately care for it.
Choosing the right planting requires knowledge, and a garden designer can take the pain out of the process. ‘Plants are the lifeblood, soul and atmosphere of the garden,’ says Ann-Marie Powell of Ann-Marie Powell Gardens.
Paths, patios and walls
Swathes of grasses, heleniums and Verbena bonariensis soften and offset the steel sculptures, which stand at either end of this stone and gravel garden near Chester, designed by Alexandra Froggatt. Expect to pay upwards of £140 per sqm for materials and installation of paving.
Practicality and budget will dictate the materials chosen for hard landscaping. Invest in places you use most often, or are most visible, and if your budget is tight, spend it on good quality, simple designs using locally sourced materials, rather than a limited quantity of expensive materials.‘Paths and paving are your garden’s bones, so give them careful consideration,’ says Alexandra.
Rosemary Coldstream used a combination of granite, hardwood timber and pebble features combined with sweeps of perennial planting, grasses and autumn-colouring trees and shrubs to create a child friendly garden. A similar scheme would cost upwards of £70,000.
Most hard materials are linear and making them curved can be costly. Likewise, building on slopes or waterlogged, soft or compacted soils will require more work, so know your site and allow enough budget to cover this.