This article sets out the five stages you need to go through to find yourself a garden designer in or around Oxford who does the job to your satisfaction. If you live in Oxfordshire there are plenty of designers around. The trick is to find one who does a good job for a good price.
Find a garden designer. Try and get referrals from your friends, neighbours and work colleagues to see if they can recommend a designer, or who know somebody who can make a recommendation. Ask at garden centres. Once you get some names check out any designers who have websites so as to get some background information on them, such as how long they have been in business, whether they are a family firm or a part of a larger company.
Selecting a garden designer. On your first contact be specific about what you are seeking and how quickly you will make a decision. Some designers encounter casual or even dishonest homeowners and so they don’t want to waste their time. So say you are interviewing 3 designers and not 10. If you have to leave a telephone message don’t be vague, or you may not get a response. Spell out the nature of the job you want.
Having said that you can expect a good garden designer to be courteous and precise in answering your legitimate questions. In particular you need to clarify:
– the experience of the designer and any team. How long has his/her company been operating and has the company plenty of experience of the type of work which you require
– what references the designer can provide. You need at least three references which must be of a similar type of work. Then check these references out and especially ask the referees whether they consider the designer did a good job and whether the referee would use the designer again.
– what insurance the designer has to cover employee compensation and other insurance requirements
– what warranty the designer will provide, covering both parts and labour for the work done.
– detailed estimates spelling out the timespan of the project, the preparation of the design plan, the materials to be used, and their prices, the labour costs and any circumstances which might mean that the estimate has to be revised. The last thing you want is to be stung by an unexpected demand for cash followed by the threat of walking out if the payment is not made.
A wording of warning. Do not select a garden designer solely because he/sh provides the lowest estimate. While most designers are well established there are some tales of jobs being inadequately done or even left unfinished, requiring the expenditure of thousands more in cash to get the job sorted. Select a garden designer on the basis of their reputation
Discuss the options on materials and plants to be used. Ideally you will have done some research on the internet about different types of plants and materials. You may have some strong ideas of your own. The designer should have up-to-date knowledge on quality products for your project. He/she is the best source of information, but you should play an active role in the product selection process. Ask questions about different materials such as brand names, life span, design, available colours, maintenance requirements and warranties.
Get a written contract. This is really important. The contract should cover:
– the intended starting and finishing dates of the project
– the details of the payment schedule. How much upfront and how much later on and when
– the details of the materials and plants to be used, spelling out brand names and the colours to be used
– On-site procedures – work hours, clean-up procedures on and around your home, safety precautions, etc.
– warranties covering both labour and materials.
Let the designer get on with the job. By all means monitor progress but don’t be hanging over the designer and his team.