5 steps to your perfect garden design – step 5, pulling it all together

Detailing, budgeting and implementation

We are finally here – when I started putting these steps together, I thought I would write one per week and we would be done in a few months, but a few other hot topics got in the way, and COVID and a heavy workload have intervened, so here we are – a year or so later I am finally looking to wrap it all up in a neat bouquet!

Detailing

You can go to the “nth” degree on this, and the larger and more complex the scheme the more you need written or drawn details, but you will definitely want to detail the following:

  1. Materials (see also Step 4 in this series) – bear in mind there are few British Standards in landscaping, and names are variable across suppliers. Thus on the main stone, wood, gravel etc specify the Supplier (eg London Stone), Size(s) (eg All 900 x 600 slabs), the finish (eg Sawn and sandblasted), laying pattern (eg coursed as per drawing xxx) and jointing (eg Sand and cement with 5mm gaps). Stone is often the largest single spend item so take your time getting this right and if you are using natural stone I would pay out to order an “extended sample” ie a few square metres in the right size(s) so that you can see the variability of the material.
  2. Pretty much all materials come in different qualities so ASK and look at samples – Turf, Astrotuf, Stone, Gravel, Edgings, Fencing…make sure you know what you are getting and the cost implications of upgrading or downgrading.
  3. Build ups – in brief, you want to know what is going on under the ground. If you want the lawn relaid you need to know what the supplier is bringing in – how much soil/sand etc and what allowance if any has been made for decompaction, levelling, or drainage. The same goes for planting areas – are they chucking in the plants to the soil that is there or improving it? All hard landscaping has a base preparation of some kind. You wont necessarily know (or want/need to know) all elements, but it is well worth asking for them to be specified and run the quote past someone who does know.
  4. Construction details – you will want to know how everything is to look when done – whilst the drawings should give you a very good sense, pretty drawings don’t usually capture all the details and it is in the construction detailing that the final result is created. For example steps can be built in many different ways, not only check the tread to riser ratio is comfortable, and that there are landings every 5-7 steps, but also what the riser of the step will be made of, will the tread (the top surface) overhang, and will it be bullnosed (ie rounded) or sharp edged, will a drip groove be incorporated? All these have aesthetic, practical and cost implications.

5. Drainage, drainage, drainage! “Where is the water going to go” is landscaping 101. Patios need a fall direction – this shouldn’t be a “black run” but the water needs to go where you want to send it. Any sunken feature needs to drain – this includes firepits and sunken trampolines. A patio created to be level threshold always needs careful planning, and where there are multiple bifold doors at right angles to each other the patio will need several changes in fall direction to work. This can mean slot drains across your patio and soakaways to be dug so make sure this is discussed early.

6. Water and power – think ahead – you may not be installing irrigation and lighting at this point, but if new hard landscaping is going in at least plot it and get a “pull through” across the new patio to avoid it having to be dug up again.

On a large scheme we draw all of these details up in a massive specification pack with drawings, cross sections and construction detailing running to hundreds of pages. This is overkill however for a smaller scheme and the trick is to get the level that suits both the scheme and your appetite for leaving things to the landscaper versus the cost of having this all drawn up in advance.

A word of advice – a good specification simply cannot de-skill the landscaping process entirely. If someone needs to be told they must make the paving level and to line up in straight lines then they will not do a good job however good the specification is!

Budgeting

At design school we are taught to get the designs completely finished, with all the details of materials, construction methods and every last feature, plant and pot all in place before moving to budgets and costings. This is not an effective approach in my opinion. In 20 years of garden design and now more than 800 projects, there has probably been only a tiny handful of people for whom the overall bill of quantities for the design is acceptable without some changes. Most people (well pretty much everyone to be honest, including many designers and architects) have no real idea of what something will cost until it is designed, and are very unlikely to want/be able to spend the amount it would take to do the whole plan. So in our experience there is an iterative loop from putting a preliminary budget in place with suggested details, and then prioritising and adjusting the budget (and therefore the design) to suit the amount you wish to spend, and then following it up with the final detailing. I have written a bit more about this in our “how the budget works” blog.

Implementation

Who is going to do the work?

Landscaping is most commonly a building project not just a bit of gardening. Even a larger planting job is likely to involve diggers and mess as well as waste/skips and builders around.

How you choose to do this will depend on your appetite for spending time on it, the overall budget, and the speed you want it done. You can manage it yourself, use the contractor already working on your house (in the case of a house build/extension), or use a turnkey landscaping contractor – and all shades in between. All have pros and cons. For our builds, it is relatively common for the main house contractor to do the landscaping groundworks, retaining walls and drainage installation etc, and we carry out the soft landscaping and the “twiddly bits” (water features, studios, garden buildings paths and planting, garden lighting etc). We also often supply external stone as we typically buy far more of the nicer external materials than house builders do. Any of the above can work well, it is just worth ensuring you are really clear who is doing what.

A good implementation checklist is below:

  • Quotes agreed and clear, what is in and out of contract and materials and details have been signed off
  • Planning matters are clear, TPO’s sorted if needed and any planning permissions addressed
  • Neighbours informed/bribed/softened up!
  • Contractor is clear about working hours, any deadlines (don’t spring one on them halfway through!) where to store materials, waste and welfare facilities
  • Timings discussed – is this a “drop dead date” or a “programme plan” these have very very different impacts and costs!
  • Payment schedule is in writing and you are up for delivering your part of the bargain. If you want to tie payments to specific work completed or formal valuations ensure this is clear.

During the work

Once work is underway hopefully you need do nothing apart from keep an eye on it and be around when required to answer questions. Make sure that if you wish to add work or make changes you have agreed a process for this to be costed and agreed as this can run away with a project otherwise! Do bear in mind that when your garden looks like the Somme your sense of scale and proportion can be fooled so this is rarely the best time to change dimensions agreed on 3D scaled plans…

Nothing is unchangeable pretty much, but it will all have a cost and if it is not on your spec you will no doubt be charged for it. Most contractors are reasonable about these items, and about unforeseen costs, but it is wise to be ready for some to appear and to be happy with the overall budget at all times.

Timings in landscaping are always subject to external factors (weather and suppliers being the main ones) so make sure that you talk to your landscapers well in advance if you have key events you need them to work around or be ready for. A common issue that causes tension is planning a party around the expected completion date – it can be very disappointing to hear that you shouldn’t walk on newly installed turf for 4-6 weeks even if they do manage to get it in place so be ready for this!

Hopefully all will run smoothly and you will be partying in your garden in good time….

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We are happy to answer directly, and will share here any that have broader interest. This article forms part of a series so do have a look at the others via our news page here https://cgla.co.uk/news/