By Peter Fudge

Creating a stylish liveable outdoor space can be a big task. Often gardens evolve naturally and develop their look as a result of years of experience and activity. When you decide it’s time for an overhaul, it can sometimes be hard to know where to start.

It’s easy to understand the tendency to feel like much of the garden design can be done yourself but if you’re doing more than just paving the patio, it’s often a good idea to seek professional advice.

Even the smallest simplest spaces can work beautifully if they’re well designed. What’s more, a well thought out garden may actually save you money by preventing you from making costly mistakes or more commonly, discouraging you from continually buying “just one more pot’ to try and make an area work.

Like many aspects of building and renovation, when people engage a landscape designer for the first time, they can be surprised at what things cost. But like all investments, it pays to spend a little money upfront during the planning phase so you know where you’re headed and what you’re aiming for. What’s more, because the designer doesn’t live in your home, they can bring a clear objective eye to the project and envisage the finished result.

It’s really important to invest some of your budget during the planning phase, you’ll get the return tenfold with a garden that looks great, fits your style and usage, and is easy to manage and maintain in the long term. And remember, a well-designed outdoor space adds value to your property not to mention your lifestyle. You can always talk to your designer further down the track about staging costs or doing some of the planting yourself.

Garden design often feels like something that we could do ourselves. We can buy a few pots, move some plants around, put some paving down and create a fantastic outdoor space. And the truth is that we can. But when you engage the services of a professional landscape designer or architect, you can see the difference. They’re thinking about the overall feel of the space – how the space will work, how it flows from one area to another and how to create a space that feels good to be in. They’ll also consider functional issues like what planting works best in each area, how the drainage works and any potential problems with the site.

Top tips to help you get the most out of your designer

1. Choose a designer whose work you’ve seen. The easiest way to tell if you’ll like the style of the designer is to look at a few projects they’ve done before.

2. Come prepared. Spend some time before you meet with the designer collecting images and pictures that appeal to you. Design can be a subjective thing so the more images you have to talk through, the better.

3. When you meet the designer, think about whether you can communicate well with them and whether they listen to you. If you’re uncertain at the first meeting, don’t proceed.

4. Be realistic about landscape design costs. How much are you spending on the overall garden? If it’s a significant investment, think about what is a reasonable amount to invest in the planning of that space. Be sure to tell your designer how long you intend to stay in the house. A short-term property holding requires a design with broad appeal whereas a home kept for the longer term can be a lot more individual in design.

5. Ask to see a preliminary concept – which will be a series of sketches or an outline of an overall scheme before the designer completes their plan. That way, you’ll know if you’re in agreement before you get too far down the track.

6. Talk budget at the brief stage. It’s important to get the design at the installation price you want; otherwise it wastes everyone’s time. The cost of a garden can vary dramatically depending on the size of land and type of planting.

7. Once you’ve done the preparation, be firm with your brief. Don’t let a designer bulldoze you into the latest fad, make sure they understand what you want.