Author Topic: Engaging a Garden Designer or Landscape Contractor (Part Three)  (Read 2322 times)

Alan Sargent

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Engaging a Garden Designer or Landscape Contractor (Part Three)
« on: January 01, 2016, 04:32:55 pm »
Engaging a Garden Designer or Landscape Contractor (Part Three)

Having made the decision to employ a Garden Designer and appoint a Landscape Contractor, how do I ensure they interpret my wishes once they start work?

In this, the third of a series of three articles, Alan Sargent, who has been building high quality gardens since 1968, Founder of The Association of Professional Landscapers (APL), The School of Garden Management ( and a retired RHS Chelsea Show Gardens Judge will guide you through the various ways of ensuring you get the best out of your decision to trust the professionals.

Garden Designer or Design and Build Contractor?

Let us look at the practical aspects of engaging and instructing a Garden Designer, and their role in producing your garden. As the client, you will have to decide whether or not to employ the designer purely as the artist responsible for drawing up plans, in outline form only or more detailed planting plans and specification, and perhaps construction technical drawings from which the Landscape Contractor will take instructions and information. Having produced all ‘paperwork’, the designer’s work is complete, and should not return to site for any reason, unless agreed beforehand. This cut off point is very important, as the Contractor cannot be held responsible for any alterations that you may request during the building of the garden if such works are at variance to the designers original specification.

Once the designer has left the scene, they should not be invited back to inspect the finished work (unless agreed beforehand with the Contractor) and expect to criticise any aspect – including ‘official’ variations agreed between yourself as the client and the contractor. If the Designer is to give final approval to the project, they should be engaged in a formal manner as the Project Manager. This additional work is usually based on a percentage of the total contract price (10%), and is recommended for larger schemes, especially more complex projects that require artistic direction on a regular basis.

This statement may sound very officious, but it is important to realise that contractually, the Landscaper can only have one person in charge. That person will be nominated in the contract documents as being ‘The Client’ or ‘The Client’s Agent acting for and on behalf of The Client’, and as you can imagine, anyone arriving after completion and making adverse comments on any part of the  works can cause problems!

Obviously, not every project will require this level of management, but even the smaller, sub  £5,000 schemes should be treated in a professional manner to avoid expensive complications and legal problems in the future.

Landscape Contractor – Design & Build

Landscapers who offer Design and Build packages are responsible for all aspects of the scheme, including technical drawings and specification. Just because the firm is building the garden, they must produce working drawings to instruct their craftspeople in exactly the same way as a Garden designer. The firm is completely liable for all works, and often there is a legal requirement for specialists to be employed, including Structural Engineers to produce plans and drawing for those parts of the scheme that may prove dangerous e.g. retaining walls and load bearing structures. Some matters cannot be designed by ‘ordinary’ Designers, and require the input of qualified professional experts. New regulations entitled Contract Design Management (CDM) Regs came into force in Spring 2015 currently only covering ‘hard’ landscape elements.  These are legally enforceable, and your Contractor and Designer should be fully conversant with them.

A Design and Build firm should be able to produce solutions to problems as they arise, with everything carried out ‘In House’ on a day by day basis, but it is advisable to have one named person in charge of the site, usually a Foreperson, and you should expect to engage with him or her at a personal level, exchanging contact telephone numbers etc to ensure a close rapport during the works. You should expect to be kept up to date with progress as often as you desire, and keep a note of all important conversations as they occur.

The person in charge of the site should maintain a Day Book in any event. This ‘diary’ will record all matters such as the weather, delivery dates and times, materials delivered to site and their provenance, staff numbers on site etc.

Materials and their significance in the future

We have already discussed ensuring that a Products Library is established with samples of all important materials to be used in the scheme. This library will ensure that only approved products are brought on site, but another element for the future well-being of the garden is the requirement for a list of suppliers and the provenance of such items as building sand – you will need to record the name/type of sand and the quarry from which it was purchased, together with information regarding the ratio of sand to cement (mortar mix) in case you ever need to extend or repair a project. This record will include a wide range of products, including bricks, paving, timber etc – anything that you may need to purchase in the future to ensure as close a match as possible.

Equally important is the name of plant suppliers. Even if you have been given a warranty against failure of plant stock, once that time has elapsed, you may wish to replace or add  a tree or shrub and use the same supplier. (Be aware that even using the same supplier is no guarantee that plant material will match. This is especially true of evergreens such as Taxus and Buxus. Batches of plants from the same grower/supplier will vary from season to season although technically exactly the same specification)

Warranties and Aftercare

Having completed the project, the Contractor should provide you with aftercare leaflets or written instructions describing the various methods of pruning and watering your new garden. This will either take the form of a site specific schedule of all plants used in the garden, including fertilising and maintenance guides, or a generic document explaining the requirements of trees, shrubs and herbaceous in general. The watering guide should offer advice on amounts and times for applying water, and may even nominate the type or style of irrigation equipment.

Importantly, all written guarantees and warranties should be packaged and presented to you as part of the final Handover documentation and may include instructions for use etc, and again, the name and address of the supplier should be provided.

Whilst these articles may appear too complex for a simple garden makeover - too much fuss and unnecessary bother - consider the ramifications of simply going ahead and engaging a Garden Designer and getting someone in to build the scheme without due regard to the potential cost of making the wrong choice. Not only could you end up with something that was not to your liking, built in a manner that is not going to last very long, with unsuitable materials introduced to your property  (including weed infested topsoil and container grown plants full of vine weevil!) and you may well find yourself involved in costly Court action trying to resolve an expensive and complex problem.

The legal phrase ‘Caveat Emptor’ – Buyer Beware – could have been written to describe the world of Landscape Gardening. Using sound logic and business sense should ensure  you will have the garden of your dreams, designed and built by skilled passionate professionals.

Alan Sargent FCIHort