The Design Process

I have developed a simple 9-stage garden design process, which takes you from your initial contact with me all the way through to your finished dream garden.

Blackcurrant buds - a symbol of new beginnings.

Stage 1 - New buds

You've realised that you need some professional help for your garden project. You're looking for a creative and competent designer...

Take a good look at the website, decide that I'm the designer for you, and get in touch! You can expect my welcome email shortly which will detail my design prices and consultancy fees.

Rather than an unpredictable quotation, I have developed a fixed pricing structure for a whole garden design according to the size of your garden; nice and straightforward!

After you confirm that you want to go ahead I’ll call you for a brief discussion of your garden issues, arrange a mutually convenient time for your initial consultation and then send a questionnaire.

The questionnaire will help you to think about your wants and needs for your garden and also to help me prepare, so we can have a productive first meeting. I charge for this initial consultation, but it's at a reduced 'taster' rate.

So, you fill in the questionnaire and email it to me along with some images of your garden and prepare for the excitement to begin!

A bumble bee harvesting nectar from sedum flowers - a symbol of the flowering of our garden project

Stage 2 - The flowering of an idea

Our initial consultatin is a meeting to discuss your requirements in depth. We'll take a good look at the garden and have a discussion of the styles of garden you prefer, as well as more mundane matters such as "Do you need a shed"?.

If the garden is very small and we agree on the design fee immediately, we can sign a pre-brief contract and I can survey straight away. This will save you some travel fees. Otherwise I’ll take a few measurements to establish the size of the garden and will then prepare a brief & quote for the design work.

Once we are agreed on the brief we both sign the contract, then either I or a surveyor will carry out the survey. To start to develop our design, I like to set up a Secret Pinterest board for us to share ideas and inspirations.

Sophia in work gear, clipboard in hand, surveying a garden

Stage 3 - Investigations and analysis

The survey measures many aspects: your boundaries; important changes in level; the house for viewpoints and entrances; elements to retain, and other necessary items.

Discovering the garden's aspect, wind exposure, soil pH, etc, is essential to creating an accurate picture of your garden so that the patio, paths, plants and other components may be positioned with care.

Once the survey is drawn up I'll make a Site Analysis Plan. Often this is the point at which the design starts to emerge.

A pencil sketch drawn over a photo of a front garden to illustrate an enticing vision of the future garden

Stage 4 - Concepts

After a period of reflection I'll prepare a couple of concept plans for you to consider. We'll then have a meeting during which we can play with the ideas and modify them until you're happy. Then I'll complete the design!

Choosing your materials is an important next task, so that I can draw up features to the right dimensions. For example, paving comes in many different shapes and sizes, and its most cost-effective to design for the least cuts where possible.

A section of the beautiful annotated plan for the Persian garden, showing the star-shaped ponds connected by a rill.

Stage 5 - Great plans

Your presentation layout plan will show the location of all the important garden features, to scale. It's an illustration of everything that you have requested for the garden, in their most suitable locations. As appropriate, there will be additional plans which detail new levels; drainage arrangements, and electrical routing for lighting.

For small gardens these plans can be on a larger scale, and combine layout and planting plans; for larger gardens there will be separate layout and planting plans.

Once you have seen your beautiful new design, we will discuss how the garden is to be created. If you wish to DIY, I can give advice on how to proceed, or you can employ me to oversee the build process and have it looked after by an expert!

Part of the cross-section technical drawing for a pebble pool,raised pond and patio wall.

Stage 6 - The nitty gritty

We'll use a simple standard contract for homeowners employing a consultant to oversee building works, published by The Joint Contracts Tribunal. Once the client/consultant section is signed, the next step is to write specifications so that we can ask contractors to tender for the work.

A specification document will be drawn up to describe and define the work in detail for the contractors. This is so that the build is completed to our ideals, rather than to the contractor’s interpretation. It also details health and safety requirements.

If you imagine the Presentation Plan as something like how you see a street in a Wild Western Town used in filming, you would know where the bar and grocery were, where people went in and out and looked out of windows, but you could not tell if it were a true building or just a façade. The specifications and structural drawings make sure that the building (of course garden in our case) is built with foundations that accord with local building regulations and will stand the test of time. The setting-out drawing makes sure, to continue our metaphor, that a door is not put in where the window should go and enables the contractors to work efficiently on the site.

In total, specification documents include a description of the designer’s vision, a detailed materials list, structural and setting-out drawings. These become tender documents that the contractor can base his costs upon and be compared with on an equal footing with all other bids. They can be sent to a number of contractors or I can select the contractor felt best for your needs.

Sophia inspecting the stonework for the Persian Garden bespoke ponds and rill made from individually designed stone pieces.

Stage 7 - Getting down to earth

Once we have chosen our preferred landscaping company we'll negotiate the time scale and payment intervals and the landscaper will sign his section of the JCT contract.

The build will be monitored at regular intervals, and throughout the process we'll have discussions to resolve anything that arises.

This is an opportunity for your continued involvement, or to just relax and watch the men work! There's often a little last-minute juggling of materials or positions, according to what's found once we start digging.

Once the final snagging is over, you'll complete the landscaping payments to 95% of the fee.

After a settling in period of 3 months, a final inspection is performed, any faults are put right and a certificate of completion issued. The retention of 5% is paid to the contractor.

A wheelbarrow full of bark mulch within a flowerbed with freshly planted woodland plants such as ferns and Liriope muscari.

Stage 8 - Brought to life

Planting is a favourite stage! Once the planting plans and the build are complete, it's time to shop for plants.

My system is to buy and plant in the appropriate season and to plant ‘bare-root’ where possible, which improves plant establishment and keeps costs down. So, bulbs, shrubs and trees are planted in autumn; perennials in the spring. For cold sites, shrubs and trees in containers will go in during early spring.

It’s cheaper and faster to plant smaller plants, which establish just as well as larger ones. However, this is not instant gardening. The plants are spaced, for example, so that perennials fill their area after 3 years, at their mature size.

If you want more instant effects this will cost more for both the plants and the man-power to plant them. Either way, your garden will be colourful and attractive very soon!

If the build is completed at an inappropriate planting time the bare soil can be sown with a decorative green manure, to be dug into the ground in autumn.

Planting will be done by my team, with you taking part also if you wish. Many happy hours have been shared with clients getting to know their new plants and enjoying the satisfaction of taking part in their garden creation!

A garden designed to be adventurous yet have disabled access. The curved concrete path snakes through the garden, enclosing a pond, pole screens, flowerbeds and raised planters.

Stage 9 - It's all yours now!

You have a brand new, beautiful, easy-care garden to watch grow and develop; play and relax in; show to the neighbours… So many possibilities!

If you require assistance with maintenance, I can help you to find a gardener. We can arrange ongoing support with regular consultations too.

Many clients have become good friends and part of our wider family; you will always be welcome to get back in touch.