With autumn being the other planting season, it presents a good opportunity to scrutinize the garden. Review the garden’s layout, begin on a new design, expand the garden, consider adding or subtracting plants or simply decide to revamp the whole. Perhaps the existing garden has become too much to maintain or lost its former appeal. Life changes might demand changes in the garden. Beginning a new garden or trying something different can be a tad overwhelming. One can use some advice and help. It might be time to work with a designer and/or employ a gardener. But how does one choose the right one or know what to look for?
Lets first consider the possibility of working with a designer.
Going on the adage that two heads are better than one, a good designer will share ideas that you may not have thought of or even known of. No matter if you are a garden veteran or a hesitant beginner, there is value in receiving an expert’s advice. Design plans must be both practical and tasteful; suited to the client’s preferences, budget, style of house, lay of the land and regional climate. A good designer will steer you towards what is appropriate and point out what is not possible or plainly not right. A complete overhaul of the garden or a redoing of a section that has become irksome will benefit from some professional input. A designer’s horticultural knowledge and aesthetic sensibility should not be underestimated. Needless to say, both client and designer must be comfortable with each other.
Before you begin with a designer, take a hard, honest look at your garden. Own up to what is wrong and appreciate what you like. Evaluate what the garden means to you. Very importantly, determine your budget. Be realistic about it. This will later help the designer prioritize the things you’d like to get done in the garden. It works to your advantage to be upfront about finances.
Designers are used to hearing – “I don’t want to spend too much money but, I’d like …”. A litany of garden wants will then follow. For whatever reason, the uncertainty of plants thriving or simply not being aware that making a garden is akin to furnishing a house, people are loathe to allow a suitable if not generous budget. A designer is not out to squander money but knowing what you can honestly afford will make the difference between nice and amazing, pretty and inspired. They know where to cut corners and where to invest. Bear in mind, any additional requests will increase the original cost. Size and complexity will affect costs. Small but sophisticated can be more expensive than large and lawn-dominated. Big garden projects can be done in stages to suit budgets. In return, the designer should be clear about their fees and other expenses. Trust goes both ways.
In order to best serve you, a designer needs to really understand you and your needs. This will happen with briefs or questionnaires requested from you as well as face to face meetings. Your style, needs, use of garden, time in garden etc are all relevant to coming up with the right designs. If your goal is to out do the neighbors or welcome more butterflies, express that as well. In the end, your garden must be a reflection of you and not the designer.
Being frank about expectations is crucial. Its vital to establish what you want and how much you will do yourself. The three typical service options are –
1. Design only which entails a drawn plan, details of plants and structures i.e. soft and hardscaping information.
2. Design and implement which means the designer will her/himself install the agreed upon plans.
3. Design and overseeing. This last one means the client will hire the required labor (or contractor if necessary) and the designer will keep an eye on progress and make sure plans are followed correctly.
Whatever service you choose must be made clear from the start.
From redoing a single flower bed to creating interesting paths to remaking the whole garden, hiring a designer can be a real asset. Ask yourself how much it means to you to have a beautiful, enjoyable garden.
Next week, in Part II, I’ll discuss the ifs and hows of hiring a gardener. “Mow, blow and go” is not your only choice!