Do I need a garden design to have landscaping work done?

CEO & Garden Designer
Ruth Marshall

We are often asked “do I need a garden design to have landscaping work done?” The short answer is “usually” although there are some projects that don’t need one at all, and many that can get by with something simple done at home.

As designers, at CGLA we have to declare an interest, although we do landscape for those who have not had a design created by our in-house team, (as well as designing for those who build themselves) and therefore have plenty of experience of the advantages and pitfalls either way. Here Ruth Marshall, CEO of CGLA writes from her personal experience across over 900 projects…

A design has 3 main purposes:

1) To demonstrate exactly what you are aiming to achieve, including colours, styles shapes forms and functionality. You need a way to share your visual intentions and check that what you are hoping for is exactly what the landscaper is planning to build. Arm waving on site is a start, but weeks later this is hard to recall and even harder to hold someone to. The basic plan can be a rough sketch, preferably scaled, but if it does not have details of everything you want built, you will not have a leg to stand on if something is not done as you had imagined and thought you had agreed.

spring garden inspiration for hedgerows

2) A sketch on its own is not enough – you will need annotations and measurements or scaling to allow the landscaper to quote accurately to complete the work. A works schedule with a simple list of tasks can be appended to a sketch, or you can label up a diagram. You need to include details of specific materials, heights of walls and fences, paving laying orientation, and construction methods for a start. A very simple example is below. A good landscape contractor will provide you with something a great deal more detailed than this, but if not, then you should do it yourself before finalising their works. A good tip is to get two contractors to quote, compare their methodologies and ask your preferred contractor to explain the pros and cons of any differences.

spring garden inspiration for hedgerows

3) A good design drawing with 3D perspectives can be used to share ideas and options as to how the garden might feel. It will show accurate views from key points (like windows and doors) and options for key features, levels and materials choices. The scale and feel of the finished design is easy to see. This approach will also allow value-engineering of the design, providing accurate measurements for different materials, construction details, and design options so that you can settle on a budget that best suits you, having seen the various options.

spring garden inspiration for hedgerows
spring garden inspiration for hedgerows

In general, the first 2 of these can be achieved by a competent homeowner with a bit of research and a landscaper with a can-do attitude. The third is likely to require a landscaper with design capabilities or a specialist designer.


If the work is a simple replacement of a fence or patio in the same shape as the present one, or a simple lawn or planting bed shape that you can spray out directly on the ground, then you do not need a significant design, although a works schedule would still be required.

The more complex the works and the more cost involved, the more essential it is that the design is clear, detailed, and something that you can hold the landscaper accountable for. It is also more likely that a specialist designer can add some real value to the end result, both in terms of creative design and in good robust technical and aesthetic advice.

At CGLA we do not offer landscaping services (with the exception of planting only works) without a design being in place. This is partially because we do not typically work on the tiny repair projects where they are less essential, but also because we believe strongly that it is in the clients (and the landscapers) interests to be clear and detailed about what is to be done (and how) before anything is started. We are not precious about where the design comes from,  but are convinced that they add more value than they cost!

If you want to read more about the design and landscaping process then check out our other insights, the two below may be of particular interest.

How do I choose the right designer for my project

Top tips for designing my garden

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