Getting the Landscape You Deserve

Looking from your house into the garden through the winter can be frustrating. All many of you will want to do is get back into the garden and you yearn for the spring.

But even in the winter there are many things that can be done, as long as the snow and hard frosts stay away.

The winter is a great opportunity to give your garden some well-earned TLC, to get your outdoor space in great shape for the spring. Late winter is a great time to prune fruit trees and smaller trees. Whilst there is no foliage on the trees you can see the shape. It is also easier to thin out and take out any dead or diseased branches whilst there is no covering of foliage.

It’s a great opportunity to get fences repaired or painted and get your garden machinery and tools serviced ready for the new season ahead.

Make sure your lawns are cleared of any leaf debris and cut back any perennials, you can even lift and split some of the clump forming varieties to fill in any gaps in the borders.

Looking out over your garden in the winter also allows you see where there are gaps or even things you may wish to hide. The bareness of the winter with the lack of foliage really highlights the shape of the garden and any new features you may wish to include.

Winter for the garden is a great time for planning, whether this be a new border, some fresh planting or even a complete garden makeover. A complete makeover would take some planning and in this article The Association of Professional Landscapers hopes to help you with this process.

Planning a garden

Planning a new garden can be one of the most exciting things you will ever do around the home, but also as it is something that many of us rarely do can also be the most daunting. Establishing a clear design brief for your garden project should be the first stage of the process. This is essential, especially if you are considering using a professional garden designer. You will need to sit down and think about exactly what you want to achieve from the space you have and develop and a list of requirements that could be passed on to the designer.

Be clear about what you really require, even down to giving measurable information like the amount of people you wish to entertain and what sort of surfaces you wish to incorporate in the space. This early part of the process is vital, it will avoid wasting a lot of time and money as the project develops.

Using a garden designer or design and build company may seem expensive, but these professionals will be able to effectively translate your wishes in to reality and at the same time advise on the best way to build your garden taking in to account any issues that may arise from their surveys.

Research costs and set your budget.

You can get a small idea of the costs simply from the area. You can look at the materials you wish to use and then look at the costs per m2 and work out a cost from there. But remember, a significant amount of the cost of your project lies beneath the surface and in the labour. Typically labour could be as much as 60% of your overall budget. So think carefully about your budget. There is no real easy formula to this figure. Some will say estimate on £250/£300 per m2, so will say look at the value of the house and apply 10-15%. Unfortunately although these may give a figure, it is largely inaccurate as it really depends on what you want and what materials you use. So it’s down to you and what you wish to spend. It may always look expensive but think about the cost of a kitchen and how that adds value to the home. The garden will have the same affect and if done properly will essentially become the largest room of the house.  Be honest and upfront with the designer or landscaper, as without this guide it will be very difficult to deliver the project. The Association of Professional Landscapers are pleased to be able to assist with this and are building a garden at the 2020 BBC Gardeners World Live show entitled “What Lies Beneath” to fully explain the costings, what’s involved and what to look out for. So come along and take a look.

Engaging the services of a professional.

There are many ways to seek out a garden designer or landscaper. Often it is from referral. You may have been lucky enough to have had a friend who has recently had a project completed that will be able to pass on the details. Referrals are nearly always the safest way of engagement. It is almost as if the relationship is already there.

However if you are not able to use this route then look for professional accreditations. Affiliations to organisations like The Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) provide you with companies that have had regular and rigorous inspections, ongoing financial and insurance checks and a minimum period of trading before they are able to join. The APL has designer members and landscape members who can provide you with a clear and cohesive approach to a garden build.

The Designer

If engaging the services of a designer first, there will be a range of services they will be able to supply at various price points.

A typical design process may include the following. An initial consultation to discuss the brief of the project, which if agreed would be followed by site survey and possibly an analysis of your soil. The designer will then most likely provide you with a presentation plan showing layout of the garden and the design intent usually with some mood boards all based around your brief. If you are happy with this there will then be a planting plan and construction drawings and specifications.

This will then leave you in a position where you can engage a landscape gardener to price up the project. The designer will be able to do this for you if you would rather and supply quotes from their preferred landscaper if available or provide you with more than one quotation for comparison.

The designer would also be a happy to remain involved through the project as a consultant, where they can monitor site works and very often oversee the planting. This is usually a good idea, as very often a project may change as the build progresses and having the designer still engaged will mean the brief will still be adhered to.  A professional Designer will also be able to make sure that planning conditions (If any) are followed and your obligations under CDM 2015 (Construction Design and Management) Regulations are adhered too.  Both of these are obviously very important.

Your designer will have a range of prices for each element of the design process and these should be discussed ahead of entering into any formal contract.

The Landscaper

As previously mentioned, if you have used a designer, your garden landscaper will be most likely recommended by them, but if you have simply bought the design and wish to locate your own landscaper, then you need to look at some form of affiliation/accreditation. The Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) amongst others are an organisation that provides this type of accreditation and support.  The importance to you using a company with this type of pedigree is simple. There is a governance to their membership, they are kept up to date with changes in legislation and should something go wrong (as it occasionally does) there is a support mechanism behind the contract.

A typical build process with the landscaper depends on what stage they are engaged, but clearly a starting point would be the landscaper would visit the site. They may conduct their own site survey or if working with a designer, conduct it with them. The result of the survey will support the creation of a design and specification. The specification is important as it forms the basis on what the landscaper will price against. Specifications should clear and easy to understand. For example as a minimum for paving they should provide information like area to be paved, depths of sub-bases, depth of mortar bed under paving, what jointing material will be used on paving and what paving will be used. It sounds obvious, but with out this type of information, if something were to go wrong, then you would have a hard time to prove anything. Most companies will provide quotations over estimates. However some companies will estimate clearance and dig out, as until they start to dig, they have no idea how far they will need to get down to reach solid ground to start to build up gain for paving. This can be costly but is no ones fault and it does happen.

Ensure that if you have more than one quote they are pricing against similar specifications and do not be afraid to question if one seems far too cheap against the others. This could simply be that something has been forgotten.

Ensure that you understand the landscaper’s terms and conditions especially payment terms. It is very usual that on larger projects landscapers will seek a non-refundable small deposit to hold a date in the calendar, then 3 payments of 30% with the final 10% payable on completion. There are opportunities to have this type of schedule placed in an Escrow account, so it is safe.

Finally make sure the landscaper explains his role in CDM 2015, what their arrangements for welfare will be, how they intend to protect your existing landscape and finally what their estimated finish time will be.

A professional landscaper will be able to provide all these points.

The build

Remember that old saying, “You have to crack a few eggs to make an omelette”. Well having your garden landscaped is not to dissimilar. Depending on the size and complexity of the build the first few days of the build can be quite distressing as the garden you once had is being ripped out. This must happen to get to a solid footing to start to build again. A professional landscaper will not lay paving on an existing sub-base as they have no idea if it is fit for purpose and therefore could never guarantee it. But before long the garden will start to come together. Make sure you have regular meetings with your landscaper and/or the designer. This will enable you to make changes if you want, but also be kept completely up to date with the progress.

A garden build whilst a bit stressful at the start is supposed to be an exciting process, as your dreams and wishes become reality. So be involved.

The Aftercare

Depending on the size of the garden and the materials used, aftercare may or may not be a big issue. It is very common today for people to ask for a low maintenance garden. The problem that has been discovered is that people assume this mean NO maintenance. Sadly this is not the case. Porcelain paving DOES need cleaning, Artificial lawns DO need brushing and re sanding, Composite decking DOES need wiping down. So whilst maintenance is low, there is some.

For many the aftercare of the garden is part of the hobby, but for those who have a large garden and are time poor, you could engage the services of a landscaping maintenance company or a professional gardener.  Again it is useful to seek out trained professionals. The APL have maintenance landscapers and Professional Gardeners on their lists. Once again all checked and accredited. So do your research again before engaging.

So winter is a great time for planning your garden, whether it is just where to plant a few new plants, what seeds to order or plan a complete makeover. But time is always of the essence.

A professional landscaper is usually booked anything up to 4 months ahead, some even more. So if you want your garden for the summer. You need to be thinking about it NOW..

Phil Tremayne General Manager Association of Professional Landscapers (APL)