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How To Choose A Garden Designer

An excellent place to start is by looking at the website of the Society of Garden Designers (www.sgd.org.uk). All those listed on their site are Registered Members or Fellows of the Society and will have a minimum of two years’ experience, have gone through a rigorous process of evaluation and proved they can carry out their work to a very high standard. However, if a designer is not listed it does not mean they cannot provide a good service. Becoming a Registered Member requires a significant portfolio and there are many designers out there working hard on projects of the highest standard that may eventually become part of their submission for membership. Always ask a designer if they are a Registered member of the Society or working towards registration (anything other than Registered or Fellow means they have not yet had their work approved by the Adjudication Panel).

Most designers will have their own websites and an internet search for a designer in the local area will probably bring up several possibilities. Many designers also advertise in local village or county magazines. Local designers will have a good working knowledge of the area for example any traditional regional style, typical soil conditions and local suppliers.

It is likely that most designers have completed some type of garden design course. There is no one set standard for such courses and they can be carried out as full-time study or independent home study. Any designer should be more than happy to discuss their background and experience with a client.

Top-of-the-range designers are likely to command the highest fees and also have a long waiting list but students or newly qualified designers will be keen to find work to begin to build up their experience and portfolio. That does not mean they should be cheap but they will no doubt wish to proceed with the work as quickly as possible. For a variety of reasons new designers may not have photographs of completed projects however they should be happy to show plans of their work which will give an indication of style and quality of work.

Designers have different ways of working and the client will have to choose what is best for them. Some will pay a brief visit to the site (free of charge if it’s local) to meet the client and assess the basic needs for the garden after which a quotation can be prepared. If the quotation is accepted a meeting would be arranged to obtain the client’s brief which could take up to two hours. Others prefer to take the brief at the first meeting for which they will make a charge. If the client subsequently employs their services it is likely the charge would be deducted from the final invoice.

It is up to the client to decide which of these two options suits them best. If the designer has been personally recommended or their work is well-known then the second option is probably preferable. However, with time being a precious commodity if the designer is an unknown quantity the free short initial visit is likely to be the best choice as it gives both parties the opportunity to get to know each other a little before any money exchanges hands.

Ideally client and designer should get on well as this will lead to a happy and productive project. Good communication is essential for the initial exchange of thoughts and ideas during the design brief and as the project progresses it is beneficial if the designer can work well with not only the client but also any contractors hired to make the design a reality.

Just as designers themselves come not only in all shapes and sizes they also have differing personalities, portfolios of work and experience. Before going ahead, the client should ask the designer as many questions as possible to ensure that not only is the final result a good one but the process leading up to it is as painless and enjoyable as possible.

© Sharon Brown 18th January 2008, updated 1st February 2009

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