Landscapers and designers want the same things – to create beautiful gardens, that are well constructed and durable.

I have found the different groups able to bring a different perspective to any given problem.

Landscapers are often called upon to read the mind of a client and make something for them, with little to go on but the vague statement…

‘I don’t know what I want but I’ll know it when I see it.’

Because landscaping is a craft based work, many people working in this area have learnt through an informal apprenticeship. The advantages of this method are that the student gets an important hands-on experience while seeing how a more experienced person works through construction problems as they arise. The student also hopefully picks up on the importance of good timekeeping and how to keep a good relationship with others who may be involved in a project.

The disadvantage of this system of learning is that the student learns only from the range of skills or work of the person from whom he/she is learning.

Our second group of landscapers works within the industry to begin with but supplements on site experience with a supervised course of study in the further education field. With a combination of academic learning and practical experience the student gets a wider range of skills plus learns more of the ‘business’ aspects of running a successful company.

Designers also come with a wide range of skill and experience. At the lowest level, we have the unqualified practitioner who merely uses the handle as a means of attracting business. There are people who have a degree of ‘flair’ in some other area of design and apply the same principles to garden design. These people don’t necessarily have any understanding of either the materials they are specifying or how the design is to be implemented.

This is usually the group that attracts the greatest resentment amongst landscapers…

…as they can be dangerously dismissive of the landscaper’s advice.

Our third group of designers has attended an appropriate course of study to learn the skills of garden design and, depending on the quality of the course, will have learnt how to communicate their ideas to the client as well as the landscaper.

With such a wide range of possibilities confronting us when choosing the best person for a job, it is important to obtain some supporting evidence for a person’s skills. It is with that in mind that professional bodies such as the Society of Garden Designers (SGD), the Association of Professional Landscapers (APL), and the British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI) were formed. Registered members of these bodies have been assessed by their peers both for their skills in their particular area, and their ability to understand and comply with all relevant best practice and legislation regarding the design and implementation of a garden project. These bodies also have their own continuing professional development programs and complaints procedures to follow in the event of a dispute. Choosing a member of one of these bodies is the most secure way of engaging with either a designer or a landscaper.

Designers and landscapers either find each other or are brought together by a client. An early meeting in the relationship is important to determine who is going to be responsible for what and who is paying and when. Logistics for a garden project can involve nothing more complex than ensuring that the correct building materials and labour are brought together at the right time. On longer projects especially, the client needs to be reassured that all the parties are working well together.

In many projects, the landscaper and designers contract separately with the client and set their own schedule of payments. The designer is usually employed to ensure that the project is realised as planned and that any significant alterations are flagged up and agreed. Many clients are happy to cut the designer loose after the master design stage has been reached and instead, rely on the judgement and management of the landscaping company. In these cases, the designers may not even see the project brought to its completion. However, the designer will always appreciate some feedback from the landscaper on how the project concluded.

Other arrangements may include a sub-contracting relationship, whereby the designer enters into an agreement with the landscaper and pays him/her directly from own funds and in turn, invoices the client for all costs directly attributable to the garden project.

A common approach taken by many garden designers is to take responsibility for the sourcing and implementation of the soft landscaping (the plants) while leaving the hard landscaping aspects of the project for a local contractor. This allows the designer to make plant selections and adjustments according to the availability and quality of the plants sourced. This can be quite a time intensive process and may involve sourcing plant material from a number of different nurseries.

Whatever form the relationship between a designer and a landscaper takes, the fundamentals remain true. It is essential to form and maintain good communications and to have respect for each other’s role in the project.

The benefits to be gained should not be under-estimated. A well-designed and constructed garden is a living advertisement for the skills and expertise of all involved. When visitors appreciate a garden it is for the whole of the composition. A good landscaper enhances the work of the designer by the quality of his/her craftsmanship and many of my projects have been improved by the good refinements suggested during the construction phase.

When we respect the way each other works, we are able to bring contracts and work to each other by our recommendations and therefore, need to spend less time worrying about the marketing aspects of our businesses and more time concentrating on the things we love most – designing and building beautiful gardens.

Peter Thomas MSGD is the principal of a landscape and garden design company Peter Thomas Associates. . He is also Chairman of the Society of Garden Designers. He moved through academia, obtaining an honours degree in landscape and garden design, then worked for a successful design & build company before setting up his own consultancy The Society was established in 1981 and is the only professional body in the UK dedicated solely to garden design. It is active both nationally and internationally, promoting its aims through its journal, workshops, seminars, conferences and links with the construction industry. For more information on the SGD call 01989 566695 or visit

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