Why does landscaping cost so much?

This is a question we are often asked, and what people generally mean is that they are shocked by the cost of a garden design because it is too expensive. Many people want to find out; what is the cheapest way to landscape my garden, or at least understand; why is landscaping so expensive?

In this article we’ve laid out some reasons that explain why landscaping costs so much. Firstly, we’ll show you where to find some more reasonable expectations of how much it will cost to landscape a garden. Then, we’ll tell you about all the cost of the work that you don’t see, the cost of offsite planning and what “extras” are. This information might help you understand how to decide which landscaper to use. Finally, we’ll talk about our own “solution” for how to maximise budgets when redesigning your garden.

1)     Setting expectations

It can be very hard to find out what a sensible budget for landscaping work should be. We have addressed this in some detail in our blog “How much will it cost to landscape my garden”. The answer is often a bit surprising, and when faced with a large number that perhaps you don’t like the look of, you will no doubt want to dig down into the detail of your particular case. You can then get caught in the loop of not being able to be specific about what it is that you will want done until you have a detailed design in place (see also “Do I need a garden design to have landscaping work done“) and that feels immensely frustrating. “Surely there must be a way to do this for less” is how many of us feel. There can be a way- and understanding what the trade-offs are to allow that to happen is the key (see below).

VAT is not an optional cost (with a few exceptions!) and obviously this is a large number that can be excluded when early discussions are had. Do make sure you are clear whether VAT is or is not included when you are looking at preliminary budgets. See some more detail on this here.

2)     Unseen works

When considering how much things will cost when getting a quote for a landscaping or in fact any kind of construction work, it is all too easy to only consider the costs of the finished surfaces or items you see.

A patio is a good example- you can look up the cost per square metre of paving materials- typically between about £25 and £95 per square metre depending on the material. The cost to actually install the patio will need to include the following:

  • Set up on site, with a risk assessment (compulsory) and welfare facilities for the team- this is not just portaloos but drying space, somewhere heated to eat, and running hot and cold water.
  • Bring in required machinery
  • Set out the area accurately and check levels, managing drainage
  • Excavate whatever is there now (usually some existing hard materials) to a depth of at least 200mm, remove the spoil from site (skips or grabs)
  • Back fill with a stable base (usually mot type 1), compact and level
  • Receive order of paving, unload, move to working area, lay on a full mortar bed, checking levels and laying pattern
  • Point or grout the paving
  • Clean up, remove waste materials from site and leave tidy, making good around the area (often turf repair)

This results in the fully fitted price of installing a patio usually being more like £330-£350 per square metre (plus VAT). This is a single example, but a similar build up is required for every element- fencing, decking, walls, planting areas, lawns, all have required preparation and build ups before fitting.

Drainage, lighting and irrigation all need pipework to be trenched in and made good afterwards, and heavy or large items need machinery and people to bring into position safely. In general labour is typically at least half the cost of the work, so any add up that you make on materials needs to be doubled to include fitting.

3)     Offsite planning

Offsite planning can be hugely time consuming- on larger and more complex projects this can require full time management to liaise with the huge number of suppliers and other contractors such as architects, M&E teams, and main contractor that are involved. Tracking the finances, changes, information requests and programme are basic requirements.

This management can be done by the designers, project managers or the site managers but ultimately someone needs to do it and it will be part of your costs somewhere.

4)     What are ‘Extras’?

“Extras” are the additions that you make after the initial contract is agreed. Most builds will have some- they may be through changes of mind, or items that simply were not nailed down at the beginning or needed to be resolved as the work progressed. These should all be totally transparent, agreed up front and properly authorised by the client prior to commencement.

Do bear in mind that these can add up quite fast- a little extra paving, fencing or planting, an irrigation system and a lighting upgrade could double the original budget so do ask for a regular add up as you go! The timing on completion of the works will usually also change as a result so this can be another cause of tension on a landscaping project.

How can I build my garden at a lower price?

If you mean “can I build at a lower price than I have been presented with by a contractor for a specific set of deliverables”, the answer is possibly yes. The caveat is that you may have to take on more of the risk and leg-work yourself, be prepared for a more disjointed process, one where no single contractor is taking responsibility for the overall results, or perhaps risk using an untested contractor with less certain results.

Our advice is to be clear what is it that is driving a difference in cost or a perceived saving. If a team is less experienced, but the work you want them to do is not complex then that is perhaps a risk that you are happy with. If a fencing or paving price is dramatically different you would be well advised to ask why and check you have signed off samples and fixing methods. Typically the higher priced contractors will be happy to explain the likely causes of difference as they will be aware of where others may cut corners- then you can decide if these are things you are relaxed about or not.

Summary- why are gardens so expensive to build?

From our experience, a big chunk of this view comes from the fact that many of us simply have no idea of the cost in the first place so hearing a big number makes it feel very expensive. When we start to work through the complexities and details of a bespoke building project we can take a more educated view as to whether this is “too expensive” for our own tastes, and how to manage this. At CGLA our recommendation is to design what you say you want, provide a budget cost for that, and then help you to value engineer the project to maximise the budget according to your personal priorities and the specifics of the site and the design- redesigning the garden if needs be to achieve this.

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