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Tips for Hiring a Garden Designer
by Carol Michel - March 2013

Are you just a little unsure of what to do in the garden this spring after last year’s drought? Do you look at the results of your efforts in the garden over several seasons and feel like they aren’t producing the kind of garden you imagined or read about in magazines? Do you have existing trees and shrubs that you think may be past their prime or just planted in the wrong place and you don’t know if you should pull them out and start over? Have you fallen out of love with the plants you grow? Is your garden less enjoyable than when you first started planting it? Has it failed to become the garden you envisioned?

If you answered “yes” or “maybe” to one or more of these questions, you may benefit from hiring a garden designer.

I answered “yes” to those questions and hired a garden designer three years ago. With her design, my backyard was transformed. Where I had a few trees planted along the side of the yard with lawn around them, I now have a large garden with a path that wanders through it. On one side of the path is a woodland garden with trees underplanted with shade-tolerant shrubs and perennial flowers. On the other sunnier side of the path, I have a perennial border incorporating plants that bloom mostly in August or later.

Before hiring a garden designer, part of my back yard included a blank canvas of lawn and a few trees.
My garden designer designed a garden where existing trees were incorporated into a garden border that included additional trees, shrubs and perennials.

My garden designer also suggested removing my small, square patio and replacing it with a larger patio with curves. With her help, I hired a landscape architect to design and build the patio. We also formalized the “entry” into the vegetable garden, already bordered on three sides by a privacy fence, with a gate that would also serve as a focal point.

Some gardeners are concerned that if they hire a garden designer, their garden will no longer be their garden because it will reflect the tastes and plant preferences of the garden designer. Good garden designers will never let that happen. They will work with you and help you turn your dreams into your garden.

Based on my experience, here are 10 tips for hiring and working with a garden designer.

Tip 1 – Find a garden designer you know has experience. Ask other gardeners whose gardens you admire if they used the services of a garden designer. Also check at local independent garden centers. They may offer garden design services or keep lists of local garden designers.

Tip 2 – Ask for a ballpark price. Don’t decide you can’t afford a garden designer until you’ve asked for pricing. Some garden designers will do a small design for a set fee. Others will charge by the hour. If they charge by the hour, ask them for an estimate of how many hours they think they would spend on your garden design, based on the size of your garden and your wish list. 

Tip 3 – Check references for the garden designer. Drive by or visit some of the gardens the designer has worked on and ask for names of customers who wouldn’t mind if you called and ask them about the garden designer’s work.

Tip 4 – Write down what you want in your garden design as a way of introducing yourself to the garden designer. Include in your description what kind of garden you envision and a list of plants you want to grow. Note if there are areas of your garden that you are happy with and which areas you would like to change. Expect the garden designer to also visit your garden and ask lots of questions to clarify your ideas and expectations. 


A garden designer may start out with a concept drawing to show placement of beds and borders.

 

Tip 5 – Decide if you want just a concept design or a garden design with every plant specified. Do you also want help with digging and planting? Some garden designers only provide a design and a plant list and leave the planting for you to complete. Other garden designers will also oversee some of the planting, usually for an additional fee.

Tip 6 – Talk openly with the garden designer about your gardening budget so that you don’t end up with a design you can’t afford to plant. A good garden designer can help stretch your budget by helping you avoid costly plant choices or by breaking down the plan into phases that can be planted over several seasons.

Tip 7 – Ask questions about the design when you review it with the garden designer and ask for changes if you aren’t sure about the proposal. If you are going to do most of the planting yourself, ask whatever questions you have until you feel like you understand the plan well enough to work with it.

Tip 8 – Be open to suggestions from the garden designer. She or he may have suggestions about plants you’ve never considered or may build on your ideas with options that you didn’t know were available.

Tip 9 – Ask your garden designer to help you find the plants he or she has suggested, even if you will be doing the planting yourself. The designer may have access to wholesale nurseries or know where the plants suggested can be purchased. 

Tip 10 – Know when you need more help than a garden designer can generally provide. If you are considering adding patios, retaining walls, fences or other permanent structures, look for licensed, bonded contractors or landscape architects to design and perform this work.

This spring, before the leaves come out, is the time to look at your garden with a critical eye. If it isn’t the garden you hoped it might be, you may benefit from hiring a garden designer to help you come up with a design that could take your garden to the next level. I did just that and have a better garden today, the kind I imagined years ago. 

 

Photos courtesy of Carol Michel.

 

 


Carol Michel is a freelance writer with a degree in horticulture from Purdue University. She blogs about gardening regularly at maydreamsgardens.com.

 

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