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General Cost Estimation
It is incredibly difficult to say how much it will cost to hire a professional garden or landscape designer. Many factors come into play but the basic rule of thumb is to set aside 10 to 15% of your project budget to pay for the design. Therefore, if your project’s budget is $10,000 then you can expect to spend $1,000 to $1,500 on the design alone.
But there are other influences that can change the price or help you get the most value for your money. One of the biggest influencers of cost is education and/or experience of the designer. Another is bundling the design with the actual physical work of landscaping the space. I will talk more about that later but first let’s focus on the types of designers.
Types of Garden Designers
Now is a good time to point out at for the most part the terms garden designer and landscape designer are interchangeable. Each designer will have a specialty or certain style but just because they call themselves a landscape designer doesn’t mean they can’t design a vegetable patch.
When you are thinking about hiring someone to design your garden you may initially look for a landscape architect. This title sounds like someone who would be very educated and experienced, right? Right. But probably too educated for your needs.
Landscape architects must graduate with at least a bachelor’s degree but many have also earned a Master’s degree. They then need a specific license to work as a Landscape architect.
People with this education and job title tend to work for municipalities and create landscape plans for parks or other large scale developments. Your little backyard is below their pay grade. Unless you actually have a very large plot of land which needs specialty water management or something else outside the normal scope of backyard gardens.
Plus they charge about $90 to $150 an hour.
Certified Landscape or Garden Designer
To design a lovely garden you don’t need the landscape architecture degree but some education and experience are helpful. There are university programs that teach landscape design but experience can also qualify someone for a certificate from The Association of Professional Landscape Designers.
Then there are different licencing requirements in each state. Or many times none at all, so check with your state to understand what they require of someone doing business as a garden designer.
Most certified garden designers charge $50 to $75 an hour.
Landscape or Garden Designer (no certification)
Since many states do not have licencing requirements to work as a garden or landscape designer it is completely feasible that the designer you hire has no accreditations. Many designers have learned their craft through years of experience so looking at their portfolio would be a better way to judge their skills than by the letters at the end of their name.
But don’t confuse certifications with being insured. There still may be state requirements to be bonded and insured depending on the type of work being done so make sure you know your state’s requirements.
Another consideration is for those just starting their careers who might not have enough experience to obtain a certification yet. If you are up for it then giving a new designer a shot can be cost effective for you and helpful for their career.
Uncertified garden designers might charge a little bit less such as $30 to $60 an hour.
Types of Companies
Now that you know what to look for from an individual designer it is time to consider the company model you might hire. There are two main types.
A solo designer is someone who does just the design work. You tell them what you want and they create a pretty plan for you. They do not do any physical labor.
Designers may have landscaping companies who they work closely with that can execute the design. Or they may have recommendations of a couple different companies that can do the actual work but they, themselves, just create a design.
This could be useful if you want to do the work yourself or if you want to do the project in increments but want a cohesive design with which to start.
Design + Build Company
A design and build company is one that will create a design and then execute the entire project. This can be very helpful for two main reasons.
First, the actual cost of the design may be lower because it is not the only way the company is making money. A solo designer is charging by the hour to create a design that will then be executed by another company with whom they may or may not have direct contact.
A design and build company usually has a dedicated team and the designer might not have to spend so much time creating detailed plans to be followed. They may be able to give their work crew a rough sketch and a few verbal directions to achieve the desired look.
Another benefit of the design and build company is that you can set a budget for the entire project and not have to do the math. Instead you can focus on paying one bill and getting the finished garden of your dreams.
Considerations When Hiring a Garden/Landscape Designer
Now that you understand your options when it comes to types of designers let’s now look at other considerations when choosing who to hire.
Have an Idea What You Like
Do some research and get an idea of what styles you like. And by research I mean scroll through Pinterest and look at garden magazines. You don’t have to know exactly what you want and where it will go but knowing you like the English cottage garden style or a clean modern look will help.
“Gardens can be so diverse. You should have somewhat of an idea before you hire a designer,” says Phillip Farris, Manager and designer at Grassroots Landscape in Eugene, Oregon. “Design is subjective. It might be a great design but not fit your style.”
Know What You Don’t Like
Even if you can’t put your finger on exactly what you want then at least know what you don’t want. Maybe you hate formal italianate gardens. Or the idea of mowing grass fills you with dread.
Telling your designer what you don’t like or don’t want in your garden can be just as useful as telling them what you do like. So be honest.
Think About The Users of The Space
Who is going to be using the garden? Children? Pets? Sunday afternoon tea parties? The function of a space is usually defined by the users and their needs. If you know who is going to be in your garden then tell your designer so they can create a functional and inclusive space.
What is the Designer’s Specialty?
Before hiring a professional designer it is a good idea to look at their portfolio and get an idea for their style. Do they only create formal rose gardens? Have they ever designed a midcentury modern herb garden?
Maybe you never knew you wanted a mermaid inspired wading pool but after seeing one in a designer’s portfolio you just have to have one. So don’t skimp on looking at a designer's portfolios because they can give you inspiration and help you find the right designer for you.
Ultimately hiring a designer is about finding someone you trust to help you get the most out of your garden space and budget. “A design is just a way of communicating an idea,” says Farris. Get someone you trust to coach you through the process.
What You Should Expect When Hiring a Garden Designer
Whether you hire a solo designer or a design and build company there are a few things all good businesses have in common.
Many companies offer free site visits and estimates. This is a good way to get to know a designer and ask questions. Just like any work you might have done to your house it is worth investing some time and energy into finding the right person. Getting multiple quotes for a new landscape project is reasonable.
Once you have decided on the person or company you wish to hire it is time to make sure you know what you are getting. Make sure you agree on:
- What is the physical space to be designed/worked?
- What is the timeline for the project?
- What exactly will be included?
- Estimated cost?
- Cost of revisions or changes to the design?
- Any guarantee of work?
Sign a contract and hold them to the deadlines. You are paying for a service and you should get what you are paying for. It may seem like a lot of money to hire a designer but a good garden design can increase home value and give you a wonderful space.