How to make your garden relaxing

Garden designer Matt James offers his advice to transform your outdoor space in a relaxing retreat.

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ABOVE: (Before) A typical garden patio area with minimal border planting has been transformed into an elegant outdoor room, with large-scale planting providing interest and privacy. It was designed by Greencube Garden & Landscape Design. 


Design services

Garden/landscape designers offer various services, from a day’s consultancy (around £225 to £750), to help with complicated aspects of planning and building regulations. When it comes to a complete redesign, most work in a similar way. First, there’s an initial consultation where wants and needs are discussed; the outcome, a brief, is then agreed by both parties. A site survey and analysis follows, which leads to the production of concept plans and sketches, all with your budget in mind. Once the concept or idea has been approved, the designer will then create a scale masterplan followed by detailed scale construction drawings and planting plans that are essential to actually realising the garden on the ground.

Other garden services include the production of tender documents if multiple quotes for works are needed, project management during the build, and aftercare services such as maintenance schedules and management plans.

Of course, not all projects need every service listed above. For some, a masterplan to help organise your thoughts or clarify a direction and your ultimate goal over the coming years is enough. For other projects, it might just be the planting that needs attention, which can usually be solved in one or two days rather than a few weeks of design time, and this obviously costs a lot less in fees. Good designers will be able to advise you on what is necessary with your brief and the site in mind or what would actually work best with your budget.


IMAGE ABOVE: Garden designed by Kirsty Monaghan, as featured in August 2013 issue of Real Homes.


Setting a budget

Different hypothetical models try to help you decide on a budget. Some recommend spending 5-15 per cent of the house value on the garden/landscape, which in turn will add a similar, if not a much larger amount, to the value of your home. Others talk about allocating at least £100 per square metre of garden; some double this figure. Unfortunately it’s not that simple, because there are so many options. A small garden full of hard landscaping, garden lighting and a bespoke water feature might well cost more than a typical suburban garden that can accommodate a large lawn and more planting, which significantly helps to keep down costs. These models don’t factor in site complexities such as slopes and drainage either.

I will say that a totally new garden does cost more than you think, even if you keep some existing features. It’s very hard to complete even a small garden with a relatively simple design for less than £6,000-£7,000 once design fees, materials, plants and employing contractors (which normally amounts to at least half the budget) are factored in. Most new garden designs cost in excess of £10,000, and that’s for a small garden. A suburban garden will probably be in the region of £17,000-£25,000.

This might seem a lot, but consider what you might spend on a quality kitchen or bathroom and how much this adds to the value of your home and quality of life. Remember, that figure doesn’t need to be spent all at once. Implementing a design proposal can be phased as and when money is available. So, in year one, construct the hard landscape, for example, notably the patio, walls and paths. Build ponds, pergolas and water features (unless they’re built-in) in year two and plant in year three.

If you are working to a small budget, employing a designer to redesign the whole space is certainly a luxury that you might not be able to afford. Instead, could they help with certain aspects? A new planting design, for example, probably won’t take more than one to two days in design time, costing between £250-£750, depending on the designer. Even in a tiny garden this might be unnecessary; with research, could you undertake the whole thing yourself? There are plenty of small garden design books to help you.

If your budget is tight, one service which may help – particularly if you’re a complete novice – is employing a designer for a day’s consultancy (most offer this service) to help get you off on the right foot. For one day you’ll have an expert professional who will look critically at your space, consider your wants and needs and suggest an appropriate style with suitable materials and plants, sketching out different options in the process. This means you can then take up the mantle, knowing that you’re going in the right direction. You wouldn’t build a house without seeking advice, and the same goes for a garden.