Sarah has designed many different styles of gardens. Photo: Leigh Clapp
Sarah Morgan MSGD shares tips on making a career in garden design
Start your career as a student
Students on placements often get snapped up for their technical skills in long-established design practices. Volunteer, get involved – it’s good for networking and future employment. Address your weaknesses and build on your strengths – one student I know is mixing cement and building steps in their summer holidays. Another works in a garden centre at weekends, and has got some design work from it.
Get a mentor
I’m still in touch with my tutor from Wye College, now in his 80s. I often advise students to work in a practice for a year, and to align themselves with the SGD – it will link you with industry specialists and suppliers and fast-track your professional practice.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
Aim for a mix of small, big, quick and long-term projects. If I don’t have a lot of design work, I’ll do more practical work, such as planting and pruning. There are other areas where you can earn, such as writing. When people ask me what I do, I say I make gardens and improve landscapes.
Be realistic about what you charge
How much time are you going to put into the project? What, as a client, would you be prepared to pay? Have an honest conversation with your clients. Stake out what everything will cost, even during the initial phone call.
Trust word of mouth
A website is useful as it points clients to a resource that they can look at. Advertising can be useful initially – but you don’t want to be fielding enquiries all the time.
Do a show garden
Some designers say they get no enquiries from shows, as they are seen as expensive. Others say they get good commissions. Consider your local county or garden show – that’s where you’ll find local clients.
Join the SGD
Garden design can be a lonely path and being a member enables me to talk to like-minded people. The conferences are inspirational. I’ve got work through the SGD website, www.sgd.org.uk, and clients are reassured to know that I am an SGD member.