How much will it cost to design my garden?

CEO & Garden Designer
Ruth Marshall

One of the most asked questions when starting a new garden project is ‘how much will it cost to design my garden?’

Having a professional garden design will not suit all projects, but getting an idea of the likely cost ranges (and what work is likely to be required) will help you to decide if this is the right approach for you.

In this blog, Eike Selby, Head of Design for CGLA (cgla.co.uk) will share his experience of 25 years as a Landscape Architect, working on a huge range of domestic and commercial projects in the UK and abroad.

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“Answer first”:

In our experience, we see the following:

Typical design fees for high quality domestic gardens not linked to larger construction projects are in the £4,500-£9,500 range (ex VAT)

Typical design fees for larger and more complex projects are £15,000-£30,000 (ex VAT)

Typical design fees for Estates and projects requiring a more extensive range of services are in excess of £30,000 (ex VAT)

We of course see all shades of grey in between and some large projects cost less and some small projects cost more for reasons outlined below!

A good designer will be able to refine this very quickly having listened to your needs and viewed the site.

Here I will talk about different ballpark averages and what makes a project more or less expensive.

At CGLA we work on a wide range of projects, typically those for clients wishing to work with very experienced designers. We use high end 3D imaging and provide a comprehensive service, including costings and project support as needed. Whilst some of this is optional, the approach is always thorough and bespoke. This will not suit every project, and the information here will help you to decide which approach works best for you.

There are 3 commonly used approaches to estimate design fees:

  • The likely build cost (as a proxy for overall scale and complexity)
  • The scale of the garden itself (as a proxy for the likely work involved)
  • An estimation based on a site visit, detailed brief and scope

The first 2 can be used to drive a ballpark estimate, and understanding what the designer will be looking for in their site visit (that will drive costs up or down) will help refine this somewhat in advance of an in person discussion.

1. Design costs as a percentage of the build cost

The Society of Garden Designers which is the main trade body for Garden Design in the UK provides guidance on design fees as a percentage of the construction cost (typically 9% for larger projects, rising to 20% for smaller ones) . Thus for a project of £25,000 build price, the design fees guide is £5,000 and so on (see below)

SGD Design Fee Guide

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This is not a great deal of help if you don’t know what your landscaping will cost at the outset! We have separate guidance on this (see Landscaping Cost blog) but do think we can do better than this. The value of the build is a blunt instrument a proxy for how much design work is needed. Large areas of driveways and patio may cost a lot, but do not take as much design time as tiny courtyards with complex features.

It is the CGLA experience of over 900 projects, that by adjusting the work to best fit your requirements, our fees are typically a lower percentage than this for most domestic projects which I will expand on below.

2. Garden Size

Just because a garden is larger, does not necessarily mean it is more work to design, although typically the requirements tend to be more ambitious. A few broad examples will explain this further….

a)      Small gardens – up to 400 square metres, design fees typically £1500- £3000 plus VAT

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What the final outputs typically include:

  • A scaled plan of the garden as it is now
  • The proposed new design in plan, and accurate perspective drawings of the new design
  • At least a couple of iterations on the design
  • A simple 3D model, including the house
  • Details of proposed materials
  • Planting lists
  • Lighting and irrigation strategy plans

b) The mid range- 400-1500 sqm- design fees typically £4,000-£8,000 plus VAT

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In addition to the above, these projects typically also require:

  • Additional iterations or time on design process
  • Set out and levels plans
  • Materials and details selection process, with optional budget costings
  • Typical details construction drawings
  • Details, options and prices of bought-in elements such as water features, furniture, pots and pergolas
  • Optional budget costs and value-engineering process with revised outputs

c) Larger sites over 1500 sqm design fees typically £10,000-15,000 plus VAT

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  • Co-ordination with external consultants and architects, multiple design iterations/ changes
  • A professional topographic survey of the existing site
  • Integration and option development for outdoor kitchens, fireplaces, pools, pergolas etc
  • Day and night render images
  • Complex lighting/power plans
  • Drainage strategy
  • Complex budgeting and value-engineering support
  • Optional ongoing project support

d) A significant new build, or major project typically costs £15,000-£30,000 plus VAT. An estate project will exceed these fees.

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In addition to the above, these projects typically also require:

  • All of the above plus more significant liaison with the Architects and other professionals working on a larger project (such as Mechanical and Electrical contractors, pool contractors and Main Contractor)
  • A significantly extended process through the design stages with evolving designs on other parts of the project to be captured
  • Organisation of structural calculations and specialist suppliers to provide quotes and fabrication details
  • Detailed sourcing information and quotations for complex items such as larger trees, sculptures and buildings
  • Extensive budgetting, value on ongoing project engineering support

3. What makes a typical garden more or less expensive to design?

The typical ranges are a rough guide. Your designer should take into account the complexities of the site, available information and your requirements in order to tailor your design fee to best meet your needs.

Designs are typically cheaper if:

  • The site is level
  • You have an up to date topographic survey
  • Your requirements are largely paving paths and planting without complex additional features
  • You really only need a plan so that a landscaper can price the work rather than design input from a specialist (in some cases a landscaper will offer this free of charge)

Designs typically take more time (and cost more) if:

  • The Architectural plan is not yet finalised and is likely to change
  • You need planning submissions/conditions discharged (often costed separately)
  • The site is on a slope that will require some level changes and/or retaining structures
  • You have an ambitious list of “add-ons” such at kitchens, overhead structures, and bespoke play structures
  • Complex site restrictions such as biodiversity requirements (BNG), TPO’s and drainage issues
  • Large project teams requiring co-ordination and a likely lengthy design process
  • You would like to see multiple options for the scheme
  • You will want the designer to also provide site supervision and construction support (usually costed separately)

Summary

With average fees for mid sized domestic sites in the £5-9,000 range (exclusive of VAT) this is a significant investment that you will want to ensure you get right for your project.

A ‘Big Name’ Designer will certainly charge a great deal more than the ‘Typical ranges’, and a sole trader perhaps a little less. In some cases as mentioned above, it could even be free. Your choice will likely depend on your plot, ambitions, design interest and budget.

Feel free to contact our design team for a no obligation chat if you would like more information.

We have some separate advice on choosing a garden designer that will work best for you here

You may well wish to understand more about a typical design process and outputs to assess if these range feels like good value, we have advice on this here. You may also wish to have a look at the likely costs associated with landscaping which we have guidance on here.

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