Image of a landscaper designer and the type of service they offer
CHRIS SLAUGHTER

CHRIS SLAUGHTER

Do you really need a landscape designer?

All too often we are told by our clients that they need or want some ‘work’ done on their garden areas. The challenge they face is knowing where to start. Understandably, it can be overwhelming as landscaping work can cross over many trades, depending on what you have in mind and the condition of your land. This is where a landscape designer can come in handy. 

Do you call a landscaper, do you engage an architect, or do you roll up your sleeves and say goodbye to the next 8 or so weekends? All are valid outcomes and have their place depending on your requirements.

Spoiler alert: don’t call the local landscaper, just yet.

Let's do a quick assessment of your requirements

Here’s how. Find a piece of paper and jot down all of the ‘things’ you need done. For example, do you need a retaining wall, perhaps a new lawn laid, or even a pump for your fishpond. Do you perhaps need some lighting or heating or a better solution to make your outdoor kitchen more useable year-round. There could even be more complex requirements like swimming pools, veranda’s and hard surface areas such as decking, pavers or concrete. Make the list as detailed as possible. Try not to focus on the ‘how’ just yet. Only write down the ‘what’ i.e. the building blocks of your new outdoor space.

You will see how the process of writing down your requirements will create a list. Next step, we suggest you ‘bundle’ like items together. For example, an electrician will be able to install a pond pump, complete your lighting plan and also to run power to your pool filtration system. Likewise a structural landscaper can take care of your new awning, retaining walls, raised veggie patch and fencing.

Now that you have a list of trades that you will require, you can start to explore if the requirements mean you will need to source multiple contractors. If so, we recommend finding ones that specialise in their trade. You wouldn’t ask a heart specialist to do your bi-annual dental check-up would you? I joke, my message here is to avoid the ‘Jack of all trades’.

Where possible, it can work well if the contractors you select have existing connections with the other trades you require. This means they have a well-established working relationship and will be empowered together to see your project completed to an acceptable (or better!) standard.

Feeling overwhelmed?

If you are looking at your list of requirements and trades and feeling overwhelmed, that’s ok too. You are not unique in this feeling. You are definitely not expected to be able to pick this up and run with it. Not everyone has effectively managed a garden or landscaping project and as they say, practice makes perfect.

when do you know if you need a Landscape Designer?

This can be a loaded question, but speaking in general terms, if you say ‘yes’ to any of these three criteria, then it’s time to get some expert help:

  1. Are there 3 or more trades required?
  2. Will the total build budget be more than $30k?
  3. Do you have no idea what you need, let alone the how?
Learn how to find a good landscape designer in Sydney

Let’s quickly break down the above criteria

1. Are there more than 3 trades required?

We ask this one as it’s an indicator of the projects complexity. Too many cooks in the kitchen will spoil the broth. There needs to be a beacon of light steering the trades to stay on course and to ensure you get the best results out of each respective trade. Sometimes and only sometimes, one of the trades, such as a landscaper, can pull the rest of the contractors together. But, in our experience, we often find that they are too close to the project and mainly have an interest in seeing their components completed in a way that favours them.

My tip: a mutual third party, employed by you to manage all of the trades has no agenda other than to get you the outdoor space you desire. That is their only goal and deviation from this is extremely rare. More on this later.

2. Will the total build budget be more than $30k?

Money is an secondary indicator of complexity, but also brings into question ‘value’. I say value, because if you take on a small project, say a garden path to the clothes line, your investment will be low, and hence your risk is low. It may cost $500 for the materials and labour. If it works, great! If it doesn’t work, then you have only wasted $500. Yes, it’s still hard-earned money, but, it’s more of a speed bump than road-closure if that makes sense? Now imagine you just parted ways with $30k, the project is ‘finished’ and it’s not what you asked for, poorly executed AND the clincher… Your mother-in-law has just popped in to expect the work and is not going to let you forget the error of your ways anytime soon. (True story!)

Our tip: it would have paid for itself many times over to have a professional manage the project, would it not? How much would you now be willing to pay on top of the $30k to have it done right in the first place… $5k, $8k maybe even $15k given the amount of drama this has caused in your life recently. A wise man told me that ‘something is only expensive if it doesn’t deliver on your expectations’. 

3. Do you have no idea 'what' you need, let alone the 'how'?

This is the most common criteria that gets a resounding ‘Yes’! Understandably too. I more than anyone understand this scenario. As a creative, people often expect us to stare at a garden, kick back and simply scribble down the completed design as it miraculously flows out of our minds. Admittedly, sometimes it does feel like this, but often, we need to work through our process to really examine, access and create the ideal outdoor space based on many factors including the land, the gardens purpose, accessibility issues, council regulations, privacy and the list goes on. This is even before we have taken into account our clients requests.

So why should you be any different? We are the professionals after all and even we get this feeling. But, the difference is that we know that means it’s a challenge and from personal experience, I know that if I’m not feeling a little bit uncomfortable then I’m not pushing myself hard enough. Sounds odd, yes, but the desire to continually produce gardens that get the best solution given the requirements and clients brief is what keeps me going. Better still is the ‘buzz’ I get after popping in 6 months after the project’s completion. It’s very fulfilling to witness how well integrated our client’s and their families are in their new outdoor spaces.

SO YOU need help... what next?

We need to find you a qualified landscape designer *ahem* yes, that’s us. But, we want to detail how to find and select the right company for the job. We can’t be everything to everyone and given to our respect for our chosen profession, we are very passionate about ensuring clients are paired with the best provider for their situation. The ultimate goal is for each and every one of you to end up with the outdoor space of your dreams.

I’m going to detail some tips for finding the right landscape designer, but first, I want to detail exactly what it is that we do. The profession of landscape design is not too well known. We are often considered as either a landscape architect or a typical landscaper. We are neither and sit comfortably somewhere in between the two.

Getting help and advice from a landscape architect

What is a landscape designer?

A landscape designer is an experienced professional that is well versed in both the disciplines of design (such as architecture) as well as the disciplines of construction (such as a civil engineer). They bridge the gap between design and execution of the plans and have the ability to strategically float between these two elements as needed. The end result is a beautifully designed and delivered outdoor space that is fully functional. They also have the ability to see a project through from conception stages to completion (and everything in between). Some of these skills include:

  • Producing designs to scale and in 3D
  • Running a tender process to present shortlisted contractors to clients for final selection
  • Sourcing and selection of materials to suit purpose and budget
  • Effective budget and contingency management
  • Onsite project management to steer the ship
  • Liaison between the client and contractors
  • Council, legislation and legal management
  • Access management to ensure trades have the required access and permits
  • Planting plan to ensure the best plants are selected and instructions for post care are provided
  • Drainage, water management and water storage solutions

The above list just scratches the surface of ‘what’ a landscaper designer does for their clients. These will also flex depending on the requirements of the project.

How do I find a good landscape designer?

Ah, the million dollar question. Once again, I’m biased, but want the best for you. So here is a list of things that I would look for and I’ve also added some great questions that new clients have asked me over the years (and yes, I have more years under my belt then I care to admit!).

You should be looking for:

You can also ask them:

  • Can I have a look at some of your previous garden designs? Look for the quality of the drawings, the details, is it to scale? Is it 3D? Does it look like the end result?
  • Can I visit one of your gardens to see your work in person? Did they flinch? Are they open to this? Have they worked in your area?
  • Do they have contacts or experience with dealing with your local council? How did they react? Did they sigh? Were they understanding of this requirement?

You should also consider:

  • Do I get the right ‘gut feel’ from this company?
  • Will I be happy to work with them for the next few weeks/months?
  • Do I feel like they understand and respect my requirements?
  • Have they set clear expectations? Do I know what I’m getting?
  • Have they been open to my feedback so far? Or was there resistance?

Selecting your landscape designer

Now that you have explored all of the above and you have a shortlist of landscape designers you are well placed to make an informed decision. Just as we will shortlist and put forward contractors for your project, we encourage you to meet with 3 landscape designers and go through the same process. This will make you comfortable with your decision and show your seriousness to get the project right the first time.

My final tip, when you award the project to us (I mean your preferred landscape designer), let us/them know why you selected them in particular. It will be the final step for you to emphasise what is most important to you with regards to the project. It’s a step that is powerful, but often missed.

Onwards and upwards, you are one step closure to seeing your dream outdoor space come to life. If you need any advice at all, feel free to contact me at [email protected] or to call on 0405 663 222.

I will be more than happy to help!

Contact a Sydney based landscape designer

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