8 things to consider when budgeting a garden redesign

Follow garden designer Matt James’ advice on how much you should expect to pay for a reputable designer and how much it will cost to makeover your plot

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1. Set your budget

Some garden designers will recommend spending 5-15 per cent of the house value on the garden/landscape, which, in turn, will add a similar, if not larger amount, to the value of your home. Others talk about allocating at least £100 per square metre of garden; while some will double this figure.

Work out how much you can afford to spend and seek advice on how to maximise your budget for the best results. Unfortunately, setting a simple rate for metres squared or percentage of house value isn’t the most reliable way to work out a budget, as there are so many options and it will largely depend on your chosen design, the state of the plot when you begin, and the elements you wish to include.

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2. Think about what you want to include in the design


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. Think about each element you want to include, such as water features, fencing, shades, furniture, an outdoor kitchen, sheds and summerhouses, and large plants, and research how much each one will cost.

Contemporary, minimalist designs, particularly those with complex and clinical hardscape, are expensive, as are design details that have no tolerance for change. With a tight budget, opt for a more traditional look, or materials like woven hazel or flint, where some imperfection is part of its charm.

Tips on hard landscaping

If you live in a red-brick property, for a harmonious look try dark greys or warm earthy tones, and steer away from buff or yellow. If you live in a limestone property, warm, similar-toned paving and chippings will ultimately look best.

When planning paving, you can reduce the cost by infilling with gravel, and replacing natural stone with cast pavers can look equally as good and save money.

Paving can range from £25 to more than £100 per m², so it pays to research different materials that offer a similar look to meet your budget. You can often find similar materials at a fraction of the price and consider visiting building merchants or reclamation yards, too.

–Paul Harvey-Brookes,

 3. Look at your plot before you start


A garden that is sloped, has insufficient drainage, or structural elements that need to be removed, such as walls, outbuildings or old paving, will cost more to redesign as the initial outlay for the preparatory works will be higher than when dealing with a plain, flat area.

A subtle change in level can help make a smaller garden feel larger, but significant excavations are expensive. There’s the soil to remove, not to mention retaining walls, and perhaps the professional fees of a structural engineer to factor into the mix. This explains why sloping gardens generally cost more, and can be very expensive, especially if you plan to terrace the whole site.

4. Get an idea of overall costs


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 amount to at least half the budget) are factored in.

Cut back on clearance

Demolition and site clearance can cost a lot, especially if access is tricky and work needs to be done by hand. A small garden that needs a lot of clearance, and that has poor access might easily cost £1,500-£2,000 to do. If the overall budget is £10,000, that only leaves £8,000 for everything else, so, wherever possible, reuse or recycle – an old concrete pad could be crushed and used for new footings.

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.

 5. Stage the works to make it more affordable


Remember, a large overall sum for a redesign 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, such as the patio, walls and paths. Build ponds, pergolas and water features (unless they’re built-in) in year two and plant in year three.

How much will it cost?

For a contractor to do the work, and for plants of three-to-five-litre pot sizes, use this as a guide to break down your budget:

  • Contractor: 40-45 per cent
  • Hard landscaping: 20 per cent
  • Plants: 20 per cent
  • Furniture and accessories: 5 per cent
  • Designer, plans and project management: 10-15 per cent

Remember, all costs vary, so adjust your budget to suit your skills and how ‘instant’ a result you want.

–Paul Harvey-Brookes,

 6. Consider employing a designer for only part of the project


If you are working to a small budget, employing a designer to redesign the whole space is 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.

Garden shrubs with year-round interest

Remember to use a mixture of good- value shrubs, including those that will flower, fruit or have interesting autumn foliage, such as Sarcococca confusa or Viburnum. Use these with a mixture of spring, summer and autumn flowering herbaceous perennials. These come back year after year without the need to buy again, so they are long lasting and relatively low maintenance, as well as representing great value for money.

Small plants and perennials

Work out the total number of square metres of your planting beds and allow five shrubs or perennials for each metre. Shop around at garden centres and nurseries and expect to pay between £4 and £8 for a two-litre pot. Join a local gardening club and pick up knowledge and cuttings or small plants for sale at a discounted rate, saving more to make your budget go further.

–Paul Harvey-Brookes,

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. Garden designers offer various services to help with complicated aspects of planning and building regulations.

 7. Know exactly what you’re paying for


I always think that you really do get what you pay for. A very low or non-existent design fee doesn’t mean value-for-money, as it’s likely that site clearance or construction costs will be higher to compensate. What’s more, a low fee might mean it’s not a good piece of design anyway.

Always ensure you get three or more quotes and look carefully at the exact details of each, including what the designer will take responsibility for and what you’ll be asked to do.

Find a designer

Use these resources to locate a reputable designer in your area:

8. Low costs, high impact


Plants are inexpensive, and even ‘instant’ hedges are cheaper than walls. Reclaimed

New fencing/walls can also be pricey, so if security isn’t an issue, repair or clad decrepit boundaries instead – using trellis, for example. Lighting is good for adding ambience, and pulling focus to particular features, but plastic spots hidden in planting are as effective as high-end metal fittings.