The Garden Design Process

davises I was delighted when Tim and Ruth called me over a year ago, they have a gorgeous house in Larkhill, Bath and wanted me to come in and help them transform the outside space around it. In that time we have designed and built their front garden and are expecting to start on the back later this year. They have been very good garden design clients. I particularly appreciate how they have trusted my judgement and experience throughout. Also they have impressed me with their imagination and flair which is best seen by their unique ‘anemone garden gate’.

ironworkThey commissioned Iron Art to create this striking and characterful entrance gate, which I am not surprised is quite a talking point in Bath and the surrounds. I have chosen to describe their journey to show how the garden design process works although I have never come across a typical client or typical garden to be designed. My aim is always to match the client’s needs with what is possible.

Part 1 – Garden Consultation

The Davieses were moving to Bath for their retirement and planned to buy an attractive red brick house in Larkhall. Our first contact was via email in which Tim set out a list of requirements for the garden. I appreciated his clarity and explained the first step was to meet for an on-site garden consultation. As Tim and Ruth had already looked at my portfolio and seen the range of projects I had worked on we could spend our consultation time making a start at designing their garden. Also importantly getting to know each other as a good relationship between designer and client is vital.
Some clients have a clear idea of what they want in their garden which is very helpful but for those who don’t then I send out a questionnaire before we meet. This identifies how they want the garden to be used and what they would like it to look like saving time later on. It was unusual that my clients hadn’t even lived in their house for a day.

They were phasing their relocation; using the time to have work done to the house. Tim’s garden list was a good start, detailing what they planned to bring with them but it didn’t consider what the new garden itself had to offer. Together we looked at it from all angles, both inside and out, spotting the opportunities as well as the restrictions. I asked lots of questions to be sure I had understood what they were looking for and I showed them pictures to find out what they liked and disliked. When I felt I had a good grasp of their wishes I offered my suggestions of how it could all fit together plus I gave them a few ideas they hadn’t considered before.gate
I suggested to Tim and Ruth that as it was a corner house they might think about moving the entrance gate from the main road to the side road which would completely change the approach to the house. I couldn’t tell whether they liked the idea or not.

After a fairly intense hour or so the consultation was over and I explained what further options were available. Making a new garden has many different stages and I can take you through every one to the end or you can choose the particular stages you need and at the times you need them. Here is the list.

  • Site survey – a detailed survey measuring the house and garden dimensions, recording the site aspect, tree locations and taking photographic records of key views and features.
  • Concept plan – a drawing showing your new garden layout with everything you wanted worked out to fit your garden.
  • Master plan -a final drawing with all the details explained and the materials chosen.
  • Introduction to a landscaper – a meeting with a landscape contractor to go through the specifics of the project so they can quote for the works.
  • Planting plan – a drawing showing the locations of carefully chosen plants which are suitable for the garden’s soil conditions and aspect in order to give the effect you want.
  • Plant sourcing – collating the whole plant order and arranging its delivery to site.
  • Planting – positioning the plants according to the planting plan and planting them correctly.

Alternatively I offer the garden consultation as a ‘standalone’ service. This option is becoming increasingly popular. Many clients find that by exploring their own ideas with me combined with some of my suggestions too they have found the best layout for their garden. Often during the consultation I use quick sketches to give an impression of how things could look and this really helps clients make the decisions needed. Indeed this option works particularly well when clients want to do the work themselves.

plantsIf however the consultation has been mainly about how the plants are performing then the solution might be reshaping a border and rejuvenating the plants or even creating a new bed from scratch. Depending on the complexity sometimes it can be possible to improve the planting without preparing a planting plan in advance. Here I would collect the right plants from a local wholesale nursery, bring them on site and place them in their new position. I would only charge for my time and a small fee for plant sourcing. I always aim to match the project with the right service and that isn’t always to have a set of drawings.

I was pleased when the Davieses asked me to come up with a quote for the full garden design package. I didn’t know I was up against 2 other garden designers for the job so when Tim emailed me with the commission and told me I had won over the competition I was really flattered and wanted them to feel they had made the right choice.


Come back for part 2 on Wed 24th June!