If you’re reading this article you’re most likely thinking about updating or improving your garden and want to find out more about garden design fees and how much a garden designer costs to hire.
Whilst there is no straightforward answer to this question, this blog will hopefully give you some insight into how designers charge and how to budget for a garden re-design.
A quick search on a few local garden designers’ websites will probably be of little help as a menu of garden design fees is seldom displayed. This isn’t the designer trying to hide anything, it’s more that every job is different in terms of garden size and what the client wants to achieve - and therefore how much work (and time) will be required to design the garden. At one end of the scale, a client might have a tiny courtyard garden which they want to jazz up with lots of planters and a couple of chairs and small table, whilst another client might have acres of land and have a checklist as long as your arm of elements to be included in the design.
If you shortlist 2 or 3 designers, you may also find that they have different charging structures which complicate things further. Most garden designers (including myself) charge a set fee for different stages of the design process (we’ll get onto the different stages of the design process in a moment) so that you know exactly how much you’re going to be paying and you won’t get lumped with a bill you weren’t expecting further down the line.
You should always check whether the garden designer's fee includes time for the designer to complete any amends should there be any elements of the design that you want them to tinker with. (Yes, we don't always get it 100% right the first time!). Some designers include an hour or so of amends and will then charge an hourly rate for any further changes after that. Also, if a client throws in a curve ball and changes the brief drastically at some state, the designer may well re-quote for the additional work involved.
Other designers may charge an hourly rate from the start of the process and bill in stages over the course of the project. They may want to do this if the project is complex and there are a lot of unknowns. In this scenario, the designer should provide you with regular timesheets so you can keep track of finances.
The final method of charging is a % fee of the cost of the build of the garden. So, if the garden was going to cost £60k to build, the designer may charge a fee of say 10%. Typically, the % fee will be greater for small projects (roughly 15-20%) and reduce as the cost of the landscaping works increases (10% or lower). The problem for both designer and client is that the cost of the build will not be known until all the design work has been completed. And this could be further complicated if elements of the landscaping works are consequently stripped out by the client in a cost-cutting exercise. In this scenario the client and designer will have an interesting chat to agree whether the designer’s fee will be based on the original quote from the landscaper or the revised (reduced) quote. Not a fun conversation to have!
Design fees tend to be split into chunks according to the different stages of the design process as follows:
Site survey/site analysis/initial client briefing
At the end of this stage the designer has everything they need to start coming up with the design for your garden
Design concepting and garden ‘Masterplan’
Some designers will present an initial rough plan or concept to make sure they are on the right track before moving on to the masterplan – the fully scaled plan of the proposed garden looking down from above.
Detailed construction drawings
A landscape contractor would not be able to build the garden simply looking at the masterplan, so the designer will need to create a series of additional drawings which may detail hard and soft landscaping, any bespoke items such as water features or pergolas, section and elevation drawings showing heights, plus lighting, irrigation, demolition works, drainage etc).
The designer will also need to create detailed planting plans for plants in borders, raised beds, planters and living walls.
At this stage the masterplan, planting plans and detailed construction drawings can then be sent to the landscape contractor (or contractors if the client wants to get comparative quotes) so that the landscaper can accurately quote and subsequently accurately build the garden.
Project management during the build phase
Designers will often offer to oversee the build or make a few site visits at key times throughout the landscaping phase to ensure everything is going to plan and iron out any issues that may arise. Technically speaking, if a designer has done a good job with the detailed drawings, they should not need to visit the site during the build; I tend to advise clients to budget for a minimum of 2 or 3 visits, which I think is money well spent.
Sometimes garden designers will lump together some of these phases, but essentially these are the main stages of the design and build process, and therefore fees tend to relate to these stages. Of course, as a client you may just engage the designer to produce the masterplan and no further drawings, or you may decide to hand over everything to the designer – and wait for the magic to happen!
The overall design fee that a designer charges will therefore be split into variations of these stages. So if the fee was £5k, based on a medium sized garden costing approximately £50k to build, the design fee may be split as follows: Survey, Concepting and Masterplan - £1500, Detailed drawings - £1500, Planting plans - £1200, Project management - £800
In order to get the true costs of having your garden designed, you need to ask your friendly designer to give you a quote. He or she may charge a nominal amount for this initial visit to cover their time, but you will end up with a fee proposal and you get the opportunity to see if you’ll get along together.
My parting comment would be that if you are asking yourself, ‘Can I afford to use a garden designer’ you are asking the wrong question. Any garden designer’s fee will always be a relatively small % of the cost of building the garden (for arguments sake, let’s say 10-20%) so the bigger and more important question is ‘Can I afford to have my garden landscaped?'
However, if you’ve got the funds to build the garden then it’s worthwhile doing it properly.
By enlisting the services of a recommended garden designer, you will get a great design which suits your needs with thought given to materials and plants and how you’ll use the garden. And hopefully, as a result of having your garden designed professionally, you will end up with a garden that you will spend many pleasurable hours in over the forthcoming years, and it will work wonders on your wellbeing. Now surely that’s a good investment?
Simon Orchard Garden Design offers garden design in Hampshire, Surrey, London and West Sussex.