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How to employ a garden designer

How to employ a garden designer

It’s important to pick a garden designer who understands what you want and are looking for from your garden. Photo: John Campbell/

Louise Curley asks why you should employ a garden designer and discovers how to pick the right person for you

Does your garden need a makeover? It’s tempting to think of tackling the job yourself but it can be incredibly useful to see your plot through the eyes of a professional garden designer. “Our role as designers is to listen to our clients and then use our creativity and skill to design a garden which surprises and delights,” says Janine Pattison MSGD, an award-winning garden designer and horticulturalist who runs a design practice in Dorset.

While putting together a bit of decking may be a DIY job, other projects such as hard landscaping, building retaining walls or making a water feature can be complicated and expensive, so you need to get these right first time.

Your garden may be on a tricky site or you might want to make the most of a small space – garden designers aren’t just for those with large gardens. A designer will know how to make the most of your garden and be able to advise on all elements of the design from the best hard landscaping products to what sort of lighting to use.

A good designer will be horticulturally trained and be able to put together a selection of plants that will suit the climate, soil and aspect of your garden.

Many SGD members, such as RHS Chelsea Flower Show Gold medallist Cleve West MSGD, create home gardens as well as show gardens. Photo: John Campbell/

Choosing a garden designer

So how do you find the right designer? The Society of Garden Designers (SGD) has a website which is the best place to start. As chairman Philippa O’Brien explains: “The SGD was set up more than 35 years ago and since then has been helping garden designers to achieve professional excellence. We have established a vigorous adjudication process that makes sure every Registered Member meets our very high standards and we continually revise this to make sure that it meets the changing way that designers practice.” Membership of the SGD gives clients the peace of mind that registered members are experienced, operate under a strict code of conduct and are insured.

The SGD website has an easy-to-use search facility with brief details of each Member designer and a link to their website. A good designer will have plenty of images and examples of work, which will give you an idea of their style.

Monmouthshire-based garden designer Cheryl Cummings MSGDsuggests thinking about what you want from the garden before you meet a designer. “Favourite photographs of gardens, plants, accessories, materials or anything the client really likes are very helpful, whether clipped from magazines, collected on Pinterest or taken from other online resources,” she suggests. “I find the most helpful thing a client can do to achieve the best result from the design process is to be as open with me and forthcoming as possible,” explains Cheryl. “Besides the more obvious association with the landscape surrounding the house, gardens are very personal spaces, so a designer really needs to have an insight into their client’s personality, as well as their likes and dislikes and practical requirements.”

Decide if you want your outdoor space to be for entertaining or a place for the kids to play. Photo: John Campbell/

The design process

If you’ve never commissioned a designer before it can be daunting not knowing what the process will involve.

For Janine Pattison MSGD, the site assessment and client briefing stage is critical. “This is when we discover much about the project. Once back in the studio we will work in a small group with the lead designer to explore ideas and options for the design. This will be done on paper and only after the ideas have been explored will we move onto computer designs. We present fully worked up plans with sketches and mood boards to support the proposals. At the presentation we discuss the design and explain all the elements in detail. We do not push the client for decisions at this stage as they need time to digest the proposals and then give us feedback a few days later.”

Cheryl works in a slightly different way, and explains, “Registered Members of the SGD all offer a professional garden design service to a high standard, but we all have our own specialities and preferred way of working. Personally I try to be as flexible as possible and offer a range of services to suit each individual client\'s needs, from a single consultation or advisory visit to full scaled drawings, engagement of a landscape contractor and ongoing support as needed though the build and beyond.

“At my first meeting with new clients I usually sketch a few ideas as we chat about the garden so that they get to see straight away how I envisage the design developing and I get immediate feedback which I find invaluable.”

Sian Phillips from South Wales commissioned Cheryl to revamp her garden. “Planning a new design for my garden, when I have lived here for 20 years, could have been confusing, time consuming and open to all kinds of expensive pitfalls, but with Cheryl’s help the whole process became exciting. Cheryl viewed the project with a fresh pair of eyes and gave me a different perspective, but at the same time was sympathetic to my wish list and ultimate goal.”

Whether you want an English country style garden or a chic city retreat, there will be a designer for you. Photo: John Campbell/

To find out more about employing a professional garden designer for your project, go to the SGD website for a fantastic section on what to expect and to find contact details for qualified Members in your area:

If you fancy becoming a garden designer yourself, read our guide to how to start your new career here. 

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