Garden Designer

The Job and What's Involved

Garden DesignGarden designers work with clients to design gardens to suit their requirements and tastes. They often design gardens for clients' homes, so need to consider people's lifestyles and personal preferences. They may also design gardens in places open to the public or temporary gardens for special events and celebrations.

Their job involves combining creative skills with knowledge of horticulture and plants. Usually, their tasks include:

  • Discussing ideas with clients, their preferences for particular plants, flowers, colours, and how they want to use the garden.
  • Visiting to see the garden's size and shape.
  • Preparing a summary of the client's requirements and an estimate of the fees, which may include creating the garden designed.
  • Once the summary, design and fees are agreed, taking exact measurements, testing the soil for acidity, nutrients and drainage.
  • Producing plans showing the main features of the new garden and sketches showing detailed proposals for different areas.
  • Once their designs are complete, some clients carry out the work themselves. If not, the designer carries out all or some of the following:
  • Preparing specifications for building and gardening contractors.
  • Selecting people to do the work.
  • Perhaps carrying out some work themselves.
  • Supplying plants, shrubs and trees.
  • Overseeing the work of outside contractors.
  • Supplying clients with maintenance plans to keep the garden looking its best in different seasons.

The designer has to consider how the plants, shrubs and trees will look at different times of year and how colour schemes look in different areas and lights. When working on very large gardens, it may be necessary for professional surveyors to carry out surveys before work can start.

Some designers use special computer software packages to produce designs on screen and in print. Others prepare their designs and sketches by hand.

Garden designers usually work quite flexible hours, depending on their clients' needs and timescales. Their hours often include evenings and weekends.

Their working time is divided between design work at a desk or computer and outdoor work, visiting clients, potential clients and gardens. The working hours may be long some days, making the most of suitable weather conditions for outdoor work.

A driving licence is necessary. As well as clients, garden designers visit garden centres, nurseries and exhibitions to make purchases, check products and see new ideas.

Bending, lifting and carrying are involved in creating gardens. Chemicals such as fertiliser and weedkiller are sometimes used, also machinery such as cutters and strimmers. Protective clothing, strong boots, gloves or face shields are worn for some gardening work. The job may not be suitable for people with severe allergies.

The starting salary may be around £15,000 a year. Self-employed garden designers charge fees based on hourly rates or give a price for each specific project.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are few companies throughout the UK which employ garden designers. Most designers are self-employed and run their own small business. Work opportunities are increasing as people become more interested in the appearance of their homes and gardens.

Jobs may also be available in larger or group garden centres, design practices and landscaping companies offering design services.

Jobs are advertised in the Professional Gardeners' Guild Professional Gardener magazine and on the Growing Careers website in the job vacancy section. There may occasionally be job advertisements in local papers.

Education and Training

Some garden designers enter the profession after working as a gardener, others with a garden design qualification.

Specific courses/qualifications available are:

  • BTEC Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Horticulture (Garden Design).
  • BTEC Higher National Diploma (HND) in Garden Design; Garden Design with Plantsmanship; Horticulture (Garden Design).
  • Foundation degree in Garden Design; Garden Design and Landscape Design.
  • BA (Hons) Degree in Garden Design; Garden Design, Arts and Management; Garden Design and Landscape Design; Landscape, Garden Design and Management.

Check on the UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) website, www.ucas.ac.uk, and Edexcel website, www.edexcel.org.uk, for universities and colleges offering courses.

For HNC/HND courses, applicants usually need one A level/H grade and four to five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3). For Foundation degree courses the qualifications are usually one or two A levels/H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3). Degree courses usually require at least two A levels/H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3).

There are also HNC/HND, Foundation degree and degree courses in horticulture, which provide relevant background qualifications to progress to garden design. The Institute of Gardening offers a Diploma in Horticulture with a home study option and City & Guilds has a National Certificate in Horticulture Level 2.

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HNC courses usually last two years part time, HND and Foundation degree courses two years full time, and degree courses three years. Course content combines academic study with practical tasks, and often work placements.

NVQ's/SVQ's are available in Horticulture at Level 3 with design options. These can be gained at work, as part of the training involves practical workplace assessment.

The Society of Garden Designers runs a registered members' scheme which is open to garden designers with two years' practical experience.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A garden designer should:

  • Know a lot about horticulture.
  • Have both design and gardening skills.
  • Have excellent communication skills.
  • Be creative and imaginative.
  • Be practical, well-organised and a good planner.
  • Be physically fit for garden creation and planting.
  • Understand relevant health and safety issues.
  • Have supervisory skills to work with staff or outside contractors.
  • Be able to work within budgets and deadlines.
  • Have computer skills, if required, for design work.

Your Long Term Prospects

Designers working for garden centres, design practices and landscaping companies may have the opportunity for promotion to senior designer or a management role. Some move into freelance work or start their own businesses.

Self-employed garden designers progress by building a reputation in their field and through recommendation from existing clients.

Some garden designers move into landscape design or management.

Get Further Information

Growing Careers, The Careers Centre,
Writtle College, Chelmsford, Essex CM1 3RR
Tel: 01245 424200
Website: www.growing-careers.com

The Institute of Gardening, Overbrook Business Centre,
Poolbridge Road, Blackford, Wedmore, Somerset BS28 4PA
Tel: 0800 781 1715
Website: www.inst.org/garden

The Institute of Horticulture,
14-15 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8PS
Tel; 020 7245 6943
Website: www.horticulture.org.uk

Lantra, Lantra House, Stoneleigh Park,
Coventry CV8 2LG
Tel: 024 7669 6996
Website: www.lantra.co.uk

Professional Gardeners' Guild,
55 Holmesdale Road, Burgess Hill, West Sussex RH15 9JP
Tel: 01444 232973
Website: www.pgg.org.uk

Society of Garden Designers, Katepwa House,
Ashfield Park Avenue, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire HR9 5AX
Tel: 01989 566695
Website: www.sgd.org.uk

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