The Relationship between Client and Garden Designer – Mole Hills, Not Mountains

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a complaint as “a statement that something is unsatisfactory or unacceptable”. The process of garden design is emotive, exciting and personal, therefore as emotions can be heightened, there is always the potential for some customer complaints, or how I like to see them; questions, clarifications and possible variations. Virtually all can usually be predicted in advance and then eliminated through an enjoyable structured process which keeps the client involved in, and happy with, every step. Without this, common complaints could include: “That’s not the type of garden I wanted”, “I expected all planting to be mature and in flower”, “I was expecting it to be completed a lot earlier”, “there was far too much mess and disruption”.

One of my key roles as a garden designer is take every customer on a journey of knowledge, excitement and eventual trust, to help me to create a bespoke outdoor space of their dreams. If I was to step into a client’s shoes and had no knowledge of how the process works, then I too would start from quite an insecure and nervous position.  The client is investing a significant sum of money into the project and needs to have absolute confidence in my skills and ability to deliver the highest quality product, whilst giving the best value for their money. I want every single client to love their finished garden. If they don’t, then I have failed.

The key to this is to ensure that the client receives no surprises at any stage of the design and build. Constant two-way communication is essential from start to finish. This begins with the initial consultation where I can learn the client’s aspirations for their new garden. Whilst many will have a vague idea of the general functionality they require, it is my job to provide a vision of what could be possible, and equally important, what might not be possible within the restrictions of the site and budget. If expectations are managed and possibilities are explored at this early stage, the foundations are laid for a successful productive relationship between the client and myself. From there a more detailed design brief can be explored, together with key milestones being agreed for client “sign off” to avoid any misinterpretations on what the finished garden will be. These milestones would include the final brief, the concept plan, final plan, build schedule, and budget staged payments.

The project budget is usually the biggest surprise and discussion point. Gardens are not particularly cheap, and with the trend of TV programme “instant gardens” where plants are already mature, these unfortunately come at a higher cost. Well designed and maintained outdoor living spaces should, however, always be considered as an investment, but more importantly as a beautiful and relaxing haven and perfect extension to the indoor living accommodation.

So, all that sounds perfect? Well, all the best laid plans can go awry sometimes. Perhaps the client has a change of mind on the colour palette half way through the project? Perhaps they don’t like the initial, or revised, or further revised concept design? Perhaps the weather delays the build schedule? These are just a few scenarios from a myriad of possibilities, and the clear majority can always be worked through and rectified, but only if the early “foundations” are locked into place. If the customer has little confidence in either me or the project, then potential problems which may rear their head in later stages of the build will appear as ‘mountains’, when they should be ‘mole hills’.