Many fine gardens evolve gradually through the loving attention of their owners with little or no outside help. But when it comes to creating a new garden, or taking over an existing one that has fallen on hard times or that does not suit your taste or needs, it is well worth seeking advice from a professional garden designer.
The issues involved can be unexpectedly complex, from drainage and construction through to sitting trees and planting a border. How to deal with slopes and levels? How to forge a harmonious relationship between house, garden and surrounding landscape? What materials to use? How large to make a patio or pergola, how to site a water feature, pond or lake? How and where to incorporate outdoor lighting? Might planning permission be needed for any of this, and what order of costs might be involved?
Some of these questions may be answered by a knowledgeable gardener, others by a landscaper or builder, but for professional advice covering the whole process of planning and making a garden it is best to consult a qualified garden designer. Of course, before engaging any professional advisor you should first check their credentials and satisfy yourself that they are someone you can trust to interpret your brief in a sympathetic manner. The Society of Garden Designers, now celebrating its 25th year, is the only professional body in the UK devoted solely to garden design. Registered members have had their work individually assessed and must adhere to a code of professional practice. In the United States the equivalent body is the APLD (Association of Professional Landscape Designers).
A professional garden designer will listen carefully to your wishes before making any detailed proposals; time spent discussing practical needs and your likes and dislikes will help achieve a result that both you and the designer can be excited by. The hoped-for reaction from a client when they see that first presentation plan is "I never imagined anything quite like that, but it's exactly what I want".
Beautifully drawn plans are all very well, but can they be put into practice? A garden designer will have thought through the practical implications of his proposals, including cost. He will be able to provide detailed working drawings and to source materials and plants, giving you a much wider choice than could be found at your local garden center or builder's merchant. He will be able to find or recommend contractors to carry out the work, with costs and specifications agreed beforehand.
There is no denying that creating a garden can be expensive: expect to spend about the same on a new garden as on a complete new kitchen. Having detailed plans puts you in control and reduces the risk of unforeseen extra costs. A well designed garden makes good use of space that might have been wasted, making a small plot seem bigger and a large uninteresting space more intimate. The benefits of a new garden go on improving over time – planting typically takes three to five years to mature, for a larger garden ten years or more. Research shows that patients who have access to a garden, even if they can only look at it from a hospital bed, recover more quickly than those who do not, confirming what gardeners have known all along: gardens are good for you.