Can Garden Designers Stick to a Budget?

CEO & Garden Designer
Ruth Marshall

spring garden inspiration for hedgerows

At CGLA, as designers and landscapers, we do sometimes come across homeowners who have had a design created and are disappointed that having been clear about their proposed budget, the implementation costs have come in significantly higher than that level. Their frustration is entirely understandable, and at CGLA we believe we have a process to reduce the danger of garden designers not being able to stick to a budget, although as you will see- it can be very challenging to manage the budget and value engineering stages of a design.

Why do garden designs often come in over budget?

The first thing to say is that landscaping is often rather more expensive than people expect it to be. This is partially the fault of those of us in the industry perhaps being coy about pricing. We have attempted to redress this by publishing some guidance on the costs to expect to see for landscaping and design

However, as the guides make clear, since the work on any site is bespoke, and depends on the client brief and final design, it can be very difficult indeed (and perhaps impossible) to price a design reliably before it is completed. This is intrinsic to the process and not the fault of the designer, but what is the responsibility of the designer is to be clear about how they propose to help you to manage this.

How can you avoid a nasty surprise on a landscape implementation cost?

  • Have a broad brush idea to start with- ask your designer, read our information and speak to others who have had similar projects done. At this stage see this as information gathering not negotiation! Nobody can commit to a price until they know what they are pricing! (see another helpful blog here).
  • Bear in mind that the price of a landscape installation is in the hands of the people who are prepared to install it for you, so until you have a quote from one of these any pricing from a third party is entirely theoretical. Thus a standalone designer, however experienced, cannot guarantee any costs, and should have a process in place to help you manage them.
  • Get the design priced as early as possible- at CGLA we include an optional budget costing and value engineering process as part of the design package. We typically design what you want, price that, and if we need to go back to the drawing board at that stage we will. Not all designers will have priced to do this, so asking the question “what will happen if we are way over budget at the end of the design process?” is a key one! It can be very upsetting to have spent money on a design you now can’t use and with no sensible way to change it.

Can I set a fixed budget?

In theory, of course you can, it is your project and you can manage it however you like. However, unless the design is very simple indeed, or your budget very realistic, the main implication of setting a fixed budget is that the iterative process of design and value engineering will need to be done by the designer “behind the scenes” so that they can check that the project can be constructed for the budget you have set.

In our view this is not the most cost effective approach for you to reach a good solution- there is significant time (and therefore cost) in creating a detailed pricing documents, and lots of detailed decisions need to be made to get to a costing that really do need your input. As a result, we don’t believe any experienced designer works like this. This circularity and iterative process can be frustrating, and each designer typically has a slightly different way of dealing with it.

What tends to inflate a budget unexpectedly?

Having set a ballpark estimate at the beginning, there are a number of elements that can blow this out of the water. Depending on the size of the project, you should be aware that the decisions you make with the designer during the process may have a big impact on costs, and some of these may need reversing or changing during the value engineering process. A great new idea might not seem so great once it is costed- or might be the detail that makes the designs absolutely “fly” so that you are up for pushing the boat to retain them. You probably cannot decide that until you have seen all the costs.

If you add a pool, hot tub or water feature then you perhaps wont be surprised that the costs increase, possibly dramatically. Perhaps more surprising can be the cost of changing the levels in a garden (see here), a large lighting system, or including a big driveway (resin-bound gravel in particular is eye-wateringly expensive!).

Watch out for items that fall between the cracks on new builds!

When we are working on a new build or major extension, we often find there are parts of the main contractors works that suddenly appear in the landscape package- security gates, walls, retaining structures and drainage all need to be done by someone, and it is best to be clear they are captured somewhere before getting too far with budgets!

The CGLA process

At CGLA we think it best that our clients are informed about the uncertainties rather than given false promises. We do our best to give you ballpark figures, then design what you have said you want, always mindful of costs, price that, and then roll up our sleeves with you to get the best combination of design and budget that we can.

Value-engineering can involve removing or changing features, altering materials, or at times adjusting the design more significantly. Designing in the first place to try to hit a target budget is possible, but is more difficult the tighter the budget, and the more complex the project or extensive the wish list! It is our job as designers to help you to manage this process as smoothly and openly as we can.

Our landscape costings are part of the design process, and you are not committed to using our landscaping team when you have designs created by CGLA. You will however, at the end of the design process, have a real world budget that you can be confident is implementable.

If you have a landscape design project you would like to discuss, or have a design that you need to value engineer, do feel free to contact our team

CGLA are an award winning team of Garden Designers, Landscape Architects, Landscapers and Garden Maintenance Operatives working in Buckinghamshire, London and the South East, as well as on prestigious design projects across the UK and abroad. We are currently working in Oman, Jersey and France, and welcome enquires for design, landscaping or garden maintenance. Contact us Here

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