If I am building a house should the main contractor do my landscaping?

CEO & Garden Designer
Ruth Marshall

spring garden inspiration for hedgerows

At CGLA we often work with clients who are building a new house, and we are frequently asked “can my builder do the landscaping?”. Whilst we have to declare an interest as landscapers as well as designers, we frequently work in all ways – both landscaping with a main contractor or simply offering design support to a client’s main contractor so we have a great deal of experience of both! Here are our thoughts on the pros and cons of each approach.

The main contractor (builder) – what you need to know!

The Main Contractor (ie the house builder) needs to be your trusted leader for all the works on the site. Typically they will be in charge of the site operations and safety, and what they say goes. If you think you may wish to bring in other contractors you definitely want to have that discussion with the main contractor before you sign them up. A main contractor is entitled to refuse to let other contractors on their site (even if you own it!) and may add a percentage fee to the contractors fees to cover their overall supervision and overhead.

How the main contractor usually works on a domestic new build

The sort of projects that CGLA and our clients are typically involved with are perhaps a small sub-set of the overall building market. We are usually working with domestic clients who are building a detached bespoke building for themselves using an architect of their choosing. They may or may not be working with a developer or project manager. In our experience of many many projects, the main contractor on these projects is typically able to be more accommodating than perhaps they might on a large commercial build.

The Main Contractor is focussed on the building of the house. They are often keen at the beginning to do all of the hard landscaping around the building (gates, walls, paving etc), but will have very little, if any, interest in taking on anything complex. Water features, irrigation and soft landscaping in particular are likely to be something they would prefer others were installing. In our experience, the main contractor is amenable to a good landscaping contractor being engaged directly by the client to work alongside them to cover these parts of the works and ensure they are properly co-ordinated.

Frequently, as the house build moves on, the Main Contractor becomes less interested in the landscaping as they have time pressure on the main build. This is not always the case, but it is as well to have a landscaper on board and pricing in place to ensure that external works are scheduled well and do not become a hold up or afterthought.

Where does it make most sense for the main contractor to carry out landscaping works?

Many general builders describe themselves as landscapers as well, and what they mean by this can vary widely! They will usually have access to trades to cover the hard landscaping elements of a plot, possibly using sub-contractors themselves. At the lower level they are likely to do block work paving, paths and patios, at the upper end they will have a comprehensive team with capability for groundworks, expert bricklayers and tilers too. They will have a good electrician, although not usually an expert in installation of external lighting systems which are somewhat different.

Few Main Contractors have the expertise, interest or resources to do a great job of complex water features or outdoor kitchens, and most will not wish to get involved with tree works, decorative planting or irrigation. Larger tree and hedging installation is highly specialised and is rarely taken on by a main contractor.

What tends to go wrong? (and what do I do to avoid this!)

The number one problem is simply not engaging with the fact that you will need a landscaping plan until very late in the process, (perhaps even halfway through the house construction) and then not having someone in place whose role is to manage that process and co-ordinate with the Main Contractor and other trades as needed.

If all you need to do is put in a rectangular level patio, an entrance step and a replacement drive, then you may be very relaxed about leaving it to the last minute – in reality most houses require rather more than this, and even the basics may require some good planning as lead times for the nicer materials can be lengthy.

Plan early!

We are contacted surprisingly often by home-owners halfway through a house build having realised that nobody has really thought about the landscaping around their new build in any detail. All of a sudden there is an urgency- either because access around the house is only available for a short while, or because the builders have questions about the links between the house and the externals that they need answers too. In a few cases, you may be working towards practical completion and have realised the garden is a mud-bath and you have nowhere clean to park your cars!

By this time, access is often tight, and decisions have been made on services and drainage that will impact the landscaping. Co-ordinating levels, groundworks, retaining structures, steps, electrics and the positions of other items to go outside (such as air source heat-pumps and electric vehicle chargers), ideally should be planned at the same time as the architecture, and definitely prior to the construction being commenced if at all possible.

Planning ahead will definitely make the overall project more cost effective, and aesthetically better too. Even if some of the physical landscaping is left for a later date for reasons of budget constraints- all the more reason to plan the end goal effectively so that you know what is to be slotted in later and how to do it!

Budget early as well

Sometimes the house build starts when there is no landscape design in place (or only something very simplistic), and frequently as a result, any external works have not been properly costed. Suddenly there is a rush to get a design in place while the construction continues, and provisional costings are often a long way off from a realistic sum. What a contractor puts in as an entirely provisional cost (and when attempting to win a house build contract!) is often significantly lower than will be required, particularly if your aspirations go anywhere beyond the most basic.

Ensure everything is captured

In our experience, the tender for the House Build will make assumptions at to the parts of the overall plot construction that fall outside that tender, and these do need to be checked! The most frequent “missed” items are:

  • Does the house require retaining walls around the sides to achieve the revised level of the new build?
  • Will you now need some large retaining structures behind the house to achieve a level patio, and steps to reach the rest of your garden?
  • Are there gates, driveway finishes and boundary walls and fencing in your quote?
  • Have you included replacing the stand of trees or hedging that is on the boundary but in the way of the construction work?
  • Has someone costed the excavations across the site to achieve the required finished levels (or only in the immediate house area!)
  • Who is doing drainage for the garden- particularly important on a sloping or wet site!

The Main Contractor will quite rightly be focussed on building you home. Their skills and expertise are to deliver this, not co-ordinating a complex landscaping programme. Involving a specialist in planning and co-ordinating the relevant trades, suppliers and programme. If the landscaping is simple, then they will almost certainly be able to manage the process efficiently for you, if however it is a larger or more complex project then they are much less likely to have the time or inclination to deliver this to a high standard.


Depending on the scale and complexity of your plot and your ambitions for the overall project, you are best advised to get a plan in place early for the landscaping (you will likely need this anyway as a planning condition to meet with the new Biodiversity Net Gain regulations (see our blog). Once you have a plan, then we suggest you have a detailed discussion with your proposed Main Contractors about which parts of the landscaping they are best placed to take on and which they (and you) would prefer are carried out by a specialist. Where there is significant soft landscaping to be done (trees, hedging, lawns and planting) you should almost certainly involve a specialist.

When CGLA are running a project we would typically do this on your behalf and manage the co-ordination of other specialists too, but you may wish to contact suppliers yourselves and manage this process. We advise having a specialist contractor involved where you are adding an outdoor kitchen (maybe start with  The Outdoor Kitchen Collective ), hot tub (we like Riviera ), and pools (try CB Pools)

You may also wish to consult our guidance on Do I need to get a garden design to have landscaping work done and How much will it cost to landscape my garden.

If you have a new build project you would like to discuss, do contact our team for a chat about how we may be able to assist you in making your project a success!

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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