Designers share timelines, key project stages and other insights to help you kick off an outdoor overhaul this season.
Many people start thinking about redesigning their yards and gardens in spring, but it’s better to kick things off in the autumn or winter, the landscape design experts we spoke with say.
By planning early, you can get around the issues of bad weather and seasonal planting, and book good local contractors ahead of time. We asked the pros about timing and other aspects of getting a new landscape. Read on for their advice.
How Long Does It Take to Create a New Landscape Design?
Our experts estimate it can take around six months to a year or more to get from an initial appointment with a landscape designer to a fully built and planted plot. “Every garden design is different,” designer Phil Hirst says, “but it will typically take at least two months to prepare a [landscape] design before everything is ready for a contractor to start work.”
“There’s a lot that goes into designing and building a [landscape] properly, and it’s best not to rush the process,” designer Julia Cody of Hamilton Cody Garden Design says. “It’s a big investment for the client, and it’s worth taking time over the process.”
“The weather and the seasonal aspects of the business have an effect too,” designer Roberto Silva says. “Some plants can only be planted in a certain season, or they’re not available to buy at certain times of the year.”
What Time of Year Is Best for Approaching a Designer?
“The best time would be autumn, as the design can be done in the next couple of months, then built in winter [depending on your region’s climate] and planted in spring,” Silva says.
It’s a common misconception that designers are busy in summer and have nothing to do in winter, Hirst says, adding: “Designers work all year round and, since a lot of the work is studio-based, they don’t have to stop for bad weather.”
He continues, “A lot of new inquiries tend to come at the start of the year when people are looking forward to having a new [yard] for spring or summer. November and December are often quieter, as thoughts turn to Christmas, and the short days and bad weather take attention away from gardens. Paradoxically, this may be the best time to approach a designer, so you can get booked in before the New Year rush.”
How Much Notice Do Landscape Designers Need?
Hirst says the earlier the designer is involved the better. “The designer should be able to give you an indication of how long they expect the design element of the project to take and when they’d be able to start,” he says. “Depending on workload, it may be possible for this process to begin quite quickly, but that won’t always be the case. It’s likely a designer will be working on more than one project at any point in time.”
“You always have to wait a while for a good landscape contractor to be available,” Cody says. “Their schedules constantly shift, because it’s weather-dependent work and other clients’ plans change. But they may be able to slot in a smaller project sooner between larger ones.”
What Are the Stages of Creating a New Landscape Design?
The process usually involves:
- Establishing a brief
- Gathering information about the site, including existing features
- Creating a concept design and master plan, then detailing the design
- Getting a contractor to build the landscape
- Installing plants
The initial consultation to discuss requirements and obtain a brief normally takes at least an hour — more for a large yard — Hirst says. A site survey takes up to a day, or more if a professional surveyor is involved. Allow two weeks for creating a concept plan and two to four weeks for getting a more detailed design.
“Landscaping a small, straightforward garden can take as little as two weeks,” Hirst says. “For larger, more complex sites, it can be many months. All is dependent on the availability of the landscape contractor and the size of the team working on the project.”
He adds that the time it takes to plant will depend on the yard’s size and design complexity. A small yard “could be done within a few hours, but larger [landscapes] may take several days. Plants also have to be sourced from nurseries,” he says.
“Planting is traditionally done in the autumn, and it’s the best time if possible,” Cody says. “It allows the plants to establish over the autumn and winter, so they’re robust and ready for the growing season the following year.”
What Do Most People Overlook in Planning and Creating a Timeline?
“It’s easy to overlook the fact that the seasons need to be respected,” Silva says. “For example, we can’t plant bulbs in summer. Clients also tend to underestimate the cost of the hard landscaping and design.”
People often will use an upcoming event as the impetus to hire a landscape designer, not realizing the time it requires, Cody says, adding: “This is totally understandable, but if the time is too tight, it can create a lot of stress all round. A [landscape design] is a large investment, and it’s best not to rush the process. Enjoy it and take your time.”
“One of the most frequent causes of delay on a design project is the availability of homeowners for meetings,” Hirst says. “If meetings can only take place in the evening or at weekends, it can sometimes be several days or weeks before they happen. And come winter, evening visits to see a [site] are impossible [in regions with cold winters].”
What Tips Would You Offer to Those Just Starting the Process?
- Cody advises contacting a few designers before booking an initial meeting. “Trust between client and designer is key,” she says, “so find someone whose work you like and who you feel comfortable talking to.”
- “Decide what level of service you’re looking for: a complete, start-to-finish package, or just help with the layout or planting,” Cody says. “Most designers are happy to tailor their service to your requirements and will help you identify what those are.”
- “Research designers properly,” Silva says. “Have a separate budget for the design work. Look at the designer’s portfolio and contact one of their previous clients. The internet also helps if designers have [been] featured in any press articles. Always search locally first, because travel time can increase the cost of the design work.”
- “If the [project] has to be finished by a particular date, don’t be tempted to use a designer or contractor just because they’re available, with no other assurance they’re the right person for you to work with,” Hirst says.
- Be financially prepared, is Cody’s rule of thumb. “Even if you have to build the [landscape] in stages, it’s a good investment to have the layout well planned in advance,” she says. “We have a client who employed us to design and specify the garden, and then saved for a few years before they could afford to build it. It’s very small but one of our favorite projects.”