Do I need a Garden Designer and if yes, how do I select the right one for my project?

CEO & Garden Designer
Ruth Marshall

spring garden inspiration for hedgerows

Deciding if you need a Garden Designer is an important decision and then selecting the right garden designer for your project is quite personal, but there are some important things to consider. Not all projects will merit the input of a specialist (although most would benefit from it!) and constraints of time and budget need to be factored in. The questions most people have in the their minds are:

  • What design input do I want or need? (and can I do it myself?)
  • What technical assistance do I need?
  • Do I want integrated design and construction?
  • Do I have the budget to employ a professional?
  • What do I need to check I will be getting?

1) What design input do I want or need? (and can I do it myself?)

Absolutely you can do your own garden design you do not have to select a garden designer to do it for you! If you love your garden, have some basic ability to create a scaled plan either by hand or digitally, and feel comfortably doing so. Having said that, you probably are reading this because you doubt your skills or knowledge to do that most effectively and would like some help. We have a series of blogs here covering the steps you might want to follow to do this yourself.

You may wish to design yourself and just have an expert look it over during a consultation with you, or have an experienced designer take on the whole design process (with your input). Whether you want and need this will depend on the amount of technical and creative support you feel you need.

If you feel a design expert will make a big difference to your project, take a look at their work. Some have a very particular style that you would be effectively “buying into” (like the stunning Luciano Giubbilei), others will have a more varied portfolio reflecting a range of in-house designers and client preferences (like ours at CGLA). Garden design is highly visual so their shouldn’t be a shortage of images- if there is, then the designer is probably relatively new on the scene, which is also fine for many projects and likely to present a lower cost option.

spring garden inspiration for hedgerows

2) What technical assistance do I need?

Garden design is not just about creativity although this is of course something most of us value.

Most professional garden designers are perfectly capable of delivering a good basic plan that is appealing and captures all of your practical needs. How creative, gorgeous and detailed will depend on the designer and your needs.

If you want an outdoor kitchen with a pergola over the top, plus heating and lighting (for example) you are likely to want someone to design and cost this for you in detail- a kitchen and pergola company can do it, but you then need to integrate this into the rest of your garden- are you happy to liaise with the lighting designer, the kitchen designer, the contractor and the tree surgeons or do you want it all done by one person?

Many people feel comfortable designing their own hard landscaping, but feel defeated when it comes to plants, and if so, you may wish to simply ask for a planting design or plan to fit into your scheme- many designers will be happy to do that, and often to implement it for you too!

A great low cost alternative to a planting plan is to use the fabulous Garden on a Roll which gives you all you need to layout and plant a border across a range of sizes in one handy box (including the plants!).

spring garden inspiration for hedgerows

As a general rule, the more complex and larger the scheme, the more need you will have for an experienced team to create accurate plans, work with other professionals like architects, and the time and resources to plan the work carefully. These projects are significant investments and a great deal can go wrong if this is not done- planning them properly is definitely money well spent!

3) Do I want integrated design and construction?

Maybe! The construction of a garden design is always going to be the more expensive part of the package, so as a rule I advise paying separately for the design so that you are free to ask for alternative quotes for the landscaping work at the end of the design.

There are advantages and disadvantages to integrated design and build:


  • The designers work regularly with their landscaping teams so are likely to understand practical and cost effective implementation.
  • A single team following the whole process through avoids mistakes and misunderstandings, and often reduces the costs of the design.
  • The value-engineering and budgeting process is typically simpler and more streamlined
  • It is typically easier to deal with design changes, and as a client you are likely to be dealing with a single team throughout, with whom you have built a relationship and who thoroughly understand the results you want to achieve.


  • Some landscaping companies offer a very minimal design service, focussed on being able to quote for, and win, the landscaping work- this will be great for a simple and budget driven process, much less good for one where design aesthetics and detailing are important.
  • Depending on the fee structure, you may be locked into using “their” landscaping team- since this is the pricier part of the project you may be stuck not being able to competitively tender your project should you wish to.

4) Do I have the budget to employ a professional?

We have more specific advice on the costs of Landscape Design here. Bear in mind that typically the design fees will be less than 10% of what you will spend on the implementation- only you can decide if you feel you will get enough support and expertise to justify that.

As the build becomes more complex, the more likely it is that the designer will in fact save you money on materials choices, avoiding mistakes, and on larger planting that is less cost effective at retail pricing.

5)  What should I check?

Garden design is a very personal matter – the aesthetics, personalities, and how you want to work together are definitely a matter for you. However there are some things worth checking as different designers will offer very different packages.

  • What drawings do I need? The designer should tell you specifically what drawings you need and will be getting. You will always need base scaled plans, but check you are also getting set out plans, levels plans, materials schedules, a lighting schedule, irrigation, and planting schedule- these are typically the basics for a proper quote for implementation.
  • Will I see 3D graphics or just a flat plan? It is often hard to envisage the space in flat plan but for simple flat spaces this will work. Flat plans could risk a costly mistake if you have a site on a slope, as visualising steps, banks, and retaining structures is difficult in plan.
  • How far will the design go? Will you be given a plan to like or lump, or engage in a collaborative process to resolve queries and likes and dislikes, and how many rounds of changes are included?
  • Budget and costing support? This is the point at which many designs founder! Once you have a design you will need to get the implementation priced. At that stage you may well want to adjust the designs to hit a more acceptable budget or prioritise a staged work plan. This is often an iterative process, and on a larger or more complex site is very time consuming (and can go on for months!) so check how and whether this is covered!


A meeting with a designer covering the aspects above, followed by a detailed fee proposal will allow you to narrow down what will work best for your project. At CGLA, we are an integrated design and build studio, offering entirely separately costed services, with the option of taking design right through to completion if that proves to be the best option for our clients.

The CGLA team includes acclaimed landscape architects, award winning garden designers, landscape project managers, costings professionals and landscapers. Our approach is to offer our clients as much or as little of this expertise as they wish to use without any requirement to take the total package if that does not suit. This is typically cost effective for those for whom design is important, and unlikely to be the cheapest solution if budget and basic practicality is the driver.

Checking what support you need and what your priorities are will assist you in choosing the right route for your project.

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