How to work with a garden designer for less money

We just wrapped up a phase one project with a homeowner and realized it was the perfect example of how to get the most of a garden designer for less money.

The homeowner has a large area in the back section of her backyard and wanted to turn it into a woodland wonderland. However, the client wanted to save money and cash flow by stretching out the project, as well as by doing some of the work herself.

Here is what it looked like on our first visit.

Easy. This is what we call a Garden Design/DIY/Coaching job (we just made that up).

Here is how we did it. First, we put the design down on paper. Here are those pieces.

The next step was to figure out what could the client do herself in order to save money. The design already called for four berms in order to transform the flat space into a more interesting landscape, so we ordered 10 yards of dirt and the homeowner wheelbarrowed it all to the back yard creating four big berms. That saved a good $1,500 in labor. The client also decided to do the final mulch, and to lay the top dressing down for the paths … saving another $1,000 or so.

After that decision, we looked at the available budget for the first phase and decided what would be the best bang for the buck. In consultation, we choose to look at what takes the longest to mature over the greatest amount of time and get started there, first. In other words, we put the bones of the garden in first.

The bones are those trees and shrubs that will perform the functions of screening, focal points and elevation. Because the budget didn’t call for bringing fully grown plants in by crane, we decided to go with shrubs in five gallon containers and trees in 10 gallon containers. All in all, the first order was roughly 100 plants in that category and these plants will grow to provide different heights, colors, textures, shapes and more.

Once we set aside the money for the bones, we saw we had enough to do another major project in the design. It made sense to install the 20-foot diameter bog garden. The client did not want to dig that out, and didn’t have the experience creating a sustainable wetland, so we installed it with 50 wonderful bog plants. Over a short amount of time they’ll grow (right now they are all the same heights, that will change), knit together, and be a unique conversation piece for visitors. Plus, it allows us to save money not having to irrigate that section as well.

Finally, we had enough money left to add in 50 more smaller plants to fill in some of the berms, plus start on a future seating area behind the bog. The homeowner also had twenty plants in other parts of her garden she wanted us to use, so we threaded those into phase one as well.


Here is where the relationship between client and garden designer gets fun. While we wait for phase two, we instructed the client to collect plants she likes and finds on sale, and every time she gets 15 or so, call us and we’ll come over to place them where they should go. Then, the client will dig them into the ground. Repeat. We do this for two reasons. One, we love to coach and help our clients do as much on their own and in the budget they can afford, but also, we want to maintain the integrity of the design and we are just pompous enough to believe we know best where each plant should go (lol).

And that is how we did phase one for $8,000, and how we empower the client to go forward. In Phase Two we will continue to build out the back of the space, bring in BIG boulders, plus likely either go forward with all of the hardscape, or if the client’s budget is still soft, we will focus on the middle section for planting combining our install team and the client’s own muscle.

Want to do something like this? Call Ken at 253-691-4495.

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