Many moons ago when I was busy ripping up the world of Retail IT consulting I investigated having my postage stamp of a London garden designed by a pro. In the end I designed it myself and with a friends ‘handy’ husband built it, planted it and sat back and enjoyed it. So why employ a designer? Well in hindsight I wish I had because I hit every bump in the road there was to hit, a tiny space but no less complicated. These are some of the issues I encountered doing it myself that I now know my designer self would have known already and been able to preempt saving time and consequently money for me the client.

1. Conservations areas and TPO’s – I was lucky enough to live in a conservation area. Which meant installing unbelievably expensive box sash windows and clay tile replacement rooves. But for the garden does this matter? Well yes it does. EVERY tree and shrub  in a conservation area is protected, not just those with a trunk over 75mm at 1m high, those on private and public land. EVERY ONE. There are trees with TPO’s (Tree Protection Orders) on them too but all your shrubs and trees are also in the sights of the local Tree Officer.

There’s a local tree officer? oh yes he or she is responsible for deciding if / what work can be done on your conserved trees and TPO’d trees, they are also responsible for assessing specimens for  TPO status.


SUmmer house nestling in the trees at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saison, Oxfordshire

This means before every snip and prune you need to complete a form and have it approved.

2. Planning regulations – We built a deck over about 1/3rd of the garden, I later found out it was ‘too high’ at just over 300mm and I should have had planning permission. I was lucky enough not to have to rebuild but it would have been a very expensive mistake. Garden designers know the relevant planning regulations and usually have a trick or two up their sleeves to work within them.

A secondary element was choosing unsuitable boards and laying them the wrong way. Who knew that when it rained they would become an ice rink and in the winter covered in slimy green algae. Not the man at the timber merchant where I bought them apparently. My garden designer self would have known and suggested suitable solutions and basic good practice e.g. spacing boards so they could drain directly and ‘move’ in the changing season without buckling.

3. Front drives and SUDS – We hear all the time that front drives are being paved over and that there is a loss of greenery to the nation. What we don’t hear is that for more than a decade all this paving MUST have been permeable and must follow the SUDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems) regulations so as not to add to the already overburdened waste water systems in our towns. My designer self knows of several lovely materials and layouts that do this job, she also knows how to green a perfect, useable driveway making it dual purpose. Functional and beautiful, and with clever planting wildlife friendly too boot.


4. How small is too big – We all impulse buy now and then but impulse buy garden furnishings at your peril as I did, I bought a 6 seater when in fact I only had space for a 4 seater with room to actually move around it. Do you know how big the average Terrace is? and how much space you need to comfortably seat 6 or 8 or 12 people without them being trapped in their seats for an entire meal? How wide should a path be? can you get a digger through your side gates? How high is a conformable sitting wall? How high can boundary fencing be? and so on, all rattling around in the mind of the designer as they prowl through your outside spaces.


5. Right Plant Right Place – This is a fairly obvious expertise for your appointed design guru, or it should be. Not only can they produce half a dozen perfect plants for your dry shady spot but they can usually give you seasonal interest year round while they do it. We all love to impulse buy plants and garden centers sell plants in flower pretty much, very little else sells. That’s the truth. Buying something to fill a spot for a given seasons vibrant flowers can be a good idea  but  does is also do good things in non flowering times? which will be much of it’s year. Garden designer plants have to work hard for their place in a planting plan. I expect mine to do a minimum of two seasons of interest usually more.

Designers are no less impulse driven than you are but in our minds we are impusling for a specific spot, in a specific client garden. We NEED to see plants in flower and foliage too, we fall in and out of love with plants just like you do, though I suspect you don’t have a list of never again plants! I do. Garden centers are fun but they are comparatively expensive and buying a plant that won’t thrive in your garden conditions is either a shame when it turns up it’s toes and dies or a slog when you have to molly coddle it continually so it grows.

This is the one area I didn’t get caught by costly mistakes. Well, no too much!


Walled garden borders at NT Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire

Of course there are many other reasons why getting a designer on your team early on is a great decision, sign up to our new newsletter for more in depth hints and tips – top right of the page……

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