Why should you hire a garden designer?

Design knowledge, planting expertise and precision draughtsmanship

Table of Contents

The role of a garden designer

The function of a garden designer is a complex and multi-disciplined job role.

A good garden designer needs to be part engineer, part draughtsman, a horticultural expert, have an artistic flair and an incredible spatial awareness. In addition, they need to understand contract law, health and safety regulations, planning issues, and technical specifications and think in three dimensions.

They are effectively “Architects of your Garden”.

By hiring a landscape designer they should provide you with:

  • A design brief
  • A full site and soil analysis
  • A garden survey
  • Advice and help with contracts and legal aspects
  • Mood Boards
  • Sketch and master plans of the garden
  • Plant Plans
  • Construction and Cascade Drawings
  • A design specification
  • Recommendations of good contractors
Top plan of a garden

The Design Brief

What is a design brief?

In basic terms a design brief is simply a list of your ideas and wishes for your garden. Think of it as a shopping list of your requirements.
For example:

  • Wide flower borders
  • Multi-stemmed tree
  • Shed
  • Greenhouse
  • Large patio
What should the design brief contain?

This will depend on what you want your garden to be used for and also the limitations of the site and its surroundings.
Think about what needs to be considered about your site before compiling your wish-list of garden ideas. For example:

  • Do you have a particular garden style in mind?
    • Cottage garden,
    • Tropical,
    • Nature garden or
    • Formal style.
  • What will be the function of the garden?
    • Relaxed seating
    • Outdoor entertaining
    • A productive garden growing fruit and vegetables
    • Do you wish to have lighting?
      • Would you like to include water?
    • What plants do you want to keep?
      • What do you want to lose?
How does it influence the plan?
  • It informs the designer of your intentions for the garden.
  • It is then used determine the design as well as the processes needed to achieve your garden goal.
An urban garden design. A courtyard garden with pergola and seating. These add to the cost of a garden makeover.
Key Plan - used to create construction drawings

Full Site Analysis

A site analysis is one of the most important processes that will affect the outcome of the design. It is a series of practical steps that helps the designer understand and define the outdoor space that will eventually become your dream garden.

What does a site analysis entail?

A site analysis is used to consider all the aspects of your garden and how it’s current condition might affect the future design.

What information is recorded?

What is recorded will depend on the layout, aspect, elevation and the nature of the garden’s surroundings, sometimes called the genius loci or ‘the spirit of the place’.

For most gardens the following information is recorded. This is not an extensive list and in some gardens some of this information is not needed.

  1. The garden’s size
  2. The height of boundaries: hedges, walls or fences
  3. Entrances to the garden
  4. Access for machinery
  5. Orientation: The direction of the sun across the garden
  6. Existing trees and shrubs
  7. Slopes
  8. Existing drainage
  9. Light quality: do trees or buildings restrict the amount of sunlight
  10. Existing views: both good and bad
  11. Soil analysis

Garden Survey


Why an accurate survey is important?

To ensure your garden is built to the highest standards, an accurate survey must be made of the site.

Precision is key, as inaccuracies can compound issues.

What is included in the survey?

A good garden survey will measure the house and its relationship to the garden.

For the house, it will note the house dimensions, positions of windows, doors, drainpipes, drains electrical, telephone and other cables, plus most importantly the height of the damp proof course.

By using triangulation the boundaries of the garden are determined alongside the positions of existing trees, shrubs, existing walls, paving drainage and utility access points.

The slope of the site is important too and measurements of site levels are imperative if the site needs steps or ramps.

Who does the surveying?

This will depend on the size and the type of site.

For small, simple and fairly flat plots we at Jon Norman Garden Design will survey the garden and the house.  This is a very useful and cost-effective solution as we can combine it with taking soil samples, doing the site analysis and photographing the site.

For larger plots or those with very steep levels, we would recommend that a professional surveyor will need to assess the site instead.

Talk to us about your dream garden project

Understand Contracts and Legal aspects of Garden Design

There are a number of legal aspects which should be considered by a garden designer.  The most common are:

Each of these comes into play potentially at different points throughout the design project and will depend on the size and complexity of your garden.

Building Regulations and Planning Permissions

For most gardens, building regulations do not apply. If the garden is fairly flat and requires no more than a lawn, some planting, a deck or patio and even a pergola then building and planning regulations can be ignored.

However if the site requires certain types of steps or walkways, high retaining walls, or out buildings then building regulations and potentially planning permissions will apply.

A garden designer should have a good awareness of what building regulations and planning permissions could affect your build. 

Hire a garden designer to help with plans and tender documentation

CDM Regs

CDM Regs are the regulations used for the health and safety of the contractors and the designer when they are working on a client’s site that is doing construction work.

JCLI Contracts

Joint Council for Landscape Industries (JCLI) is a forum of associated industries, notably:

The JCLI Homeowner Contracts are for a homeowner or occupier who intends to have work done by a designer and/or landscape contractor to create or improve their garden. They comprise of:

  • A consultancy agreement between the client and designer
  • A landscape contract between the client and contractor

These documents ensure the work done in both the design and the construction can be monitored and managed and appropriate payments and certifications for completion are made.


The Party Wall Act

Whenever a wall, fence, shed or building shares a boundary with your neighbour the Party Wall Act applies.  

Therefore any changes made to an exiting wall or fence, or even the foundations of an existing wall will be covered by the act.

This is something your garden designer can advise on but needs to be made with common agreement by both neighbours.

Tree Protection Orders (TPO)

TPOs prevent the removal, wilful damage, lopping and trimming of trees protected by this order.  They may be applied to your existing trees which could change how your garden is built.


Soil Analysis

Why soil analysis is so important?

Understanding the nature and consistency of the soil in your garden is one of the most important things to make sure the plants in your garden thrive.

If plants are planted in the wrong soil they will not grow very well and could even die.

Understanding the type of soil you have in your garden ensures that we can source the best plants to thrive in your garden’s growing conditions

Soil Analysis

Testing the soil

The soil on your site will be tested for the following factors where appropriate.

Soil Quality

The soil on your site will be tested for the following factors where appropriate.

Soil Consistency

Soil consistency is the strength by which the soil particles are bound together. This affects how easily root systems can grow in the soil and water can drain away.

The common types of soil consistency are:

  • Clay
  • Sand
  • Loam
  • Silt
Depth of Topsoil

The soil on your site will be tested for the following factors where appropriate.

Soil pH

Soil pH is the measurement of the acidity and alkalinity of your soil. It is a number scale measuring from 1 to 14 where 1 is highly acidic and 14 is highly alkaline and 7 is neutral.

Neutral and very slightly acidic soils are the best for growing garden plants, however, some plant types prefer acidic or alkaline soils.

Chemical composition

This is the measure of the toxicity of the soil. It has a greater detrimental effect on plant growth and survival than anything else.

Project Mood-boards

Garden design mood board

What are mood boards?

mood board is a visual tool that communicates concepts and pictorial imagery. 

It is a collection of images, textures and colours which evoke ideas of what your garden will look like when complete.

These will be sent to you early in the process and you are free to suggest changes or add your own imagery to the boards.

Sketch and Master Plans

This is the “traditional” expected role of the garden designer, the creation of the garden plan.  However it is not just a case of drawing a “nice design”.

From the site analysis, the designer will understand the structure of the site and where the potential issues could arise, and create the best design that complements the nature of the garden.

The Sketch Plan

The creation of the garden begins with a Sketch Plan. This is an initial drawing which is used as the basis of the design.

If needs be, this design will be revised until the best solution to your perfect garden is found.

The Master Plan

Once the sketch plan is finalised, the Master Plan can be drawn up.

This is where the final design is accurately drawn out to scale and fully labelled.

This plan will become the basis for plant plans, construction and cascade drawings.

Sketch Plan

Plant Plans

It is expected that a garden designer can put together a plant plan, but there is more to this than meets they eye. A good designer should have:

  • A considerable horticultural knowledge to ensure the long flowering borders  
  • Should know how to combine plants for best visual results
  • Be able to create pleasing colour combinations
  • Draw plant plans that can be read by the client and the contractor
  • Create a visual sketch or CAD view of a border and 
  • Show the intended design using plant mood-boards.
For more information, look at this blog post: Plant Plans.

Construction & Cascade Drawings

What they are and why they are needed?

Construction drawings are technical drawings, blueprints if you wish, of the structural elements of your garden. They are created to show the contractor how specific parts of the garden are built.  For example, the construction of a pergola or to show the jointing pattern of a patio.

Cascade drawings, or setting out drawings, show the dimension measurements of the garden as well as indications of drainage, lighting and spot heights (elevation measurements) to ensure that the garden is built to the correct specification.

A designer should create both Construction and Cascade drawings. These give the client peace of mind as they ensure that the design built correctly. They also future proof the plan against potential problems. If, for some reason, a contractor cannot finish a build, the master plan, construction and cascade drawings, as well as the specification (see below) will ensure that the garden can be completed by another builder.

For more information look at this blog post: Construction and Cascade Drawings.


The Garden Design Specification

What is a specification?

A garden design specification is a set of information about the types of materials used in your garden and how these materials are constructed. It also sets out the expected timescales of the project, and the best practices for health and safety and ensures a good standard of work on site.

It also forms part of the tender documentation given to the contractor.

How are these related to the construction drawings?

Depending on the complexity of the design, specification information can be added to the construction drawings as specific annotations.

Specification Document

However, for larger designs, a separate specification document is created to aid the wider scope of the project.

How does a specification benefit you?

Specifications give Tenderers detailed instruction and information on quality and working methods. This is essential to obtain a competitive price and an enforceable contract.

The purposes of a specification are:

  • A means of obtaining comparable competitive tenders
  • to assist and instruct the contractor in detail during the construction stage
  • to help prevent or resolve disputes by providing unambiguous information
  • as a technical checklist for the designer
A garden design specification

Recommend Contractors

Which contractor?

All the planning in the world cannot create the perfect garden.  At some point, your design needs to be turned into a physical landscape by a contractor.  It would be dishonest to say that all landscapers are the same. Some are highly professional outfits who will do a superb job. Others, sadly, will not, and will likely do a poor job costing more money in the long run.

A good garden designer will be able to recommend trusted landscapers who have a good and reliable reputation.

Who do we choose as contractors?

We will only work with reputable landscape contractors and, where possible, use the expertise of a BALI or APL-registered landscaper.

They are experienced in garden construction and will return a fair and competitive price for your build.

Landscapers in action

A garden designer can save you money

A worthwhile extra expense

Employing a garden designer is very much worth your while.  Their skills experience and knowledge can help you save money on your design.

Knowledge, Skills and Connections
  • A garden designer has a vast knowledge of materials, construction techniques, plants, furniture and garden accessories
  • Their understanding of the garden space means they can visualise your completed garden easily.
    • This saves both time in getting to the final design and guesswork on materials and planting.
  • They will work within your budget and if necessary, find more cost-effective solutions to keep the design on track.
  • A garden designer’s plant knowledge means they can easily find the right plant for the right space, preventing you from wasting money on unsuitable plants. 
  • They know how a garden works. 
    • You will be investing a lot of money so you’ll need to get it right the first time and avoid costly mistakes.
  • They have specialist connections within the landscaping industry giving them access a large and helpful knowledge-base.
  • Finally they have lots of ideas which can be used to transform your garden.
Contractor tendering
  • The final design will be given to several contractors to tender.
  • All of them will quote from the same blueprint.
  • There can be a considerable difference in final prices
Table and chairs beneath a pergola


Why you should hire a garden designer

As we hope you can see from this article, there are many good reasons to get the services of a garden designer to help you create the perfect solution for your outdoor site.

A garden designer will help you with the design brief, site and soil analysis, your garden survey, potential legal issues, the design and planting of your garden, construction documents, the design specification and recommend good contractors.

They can also save you money.

Talk to us about your dream garden project

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