Hi I am a garden designer in North London and I understand where you are coming from with the issue of landscapers saying that they are designers when they have had no actual training in this respect. What you need is a properly qualified garden designer who will come to your home for a consultation and discuss with you what you want from your garden, the style you are looking for , what you will be using it for, what type of plants you like and so on. They then go away and draw up a initial plan which you can approve or change as you wish. Some designers are also landscapers but the majority will have trusted landscapers which they use and can recommend to you. Sometimes they will oversee the work for an extra fee. Lots of designers will supply and plant up the garden for you. The time for the design work would include an initial consultation followed by a survey of the garden to measure all the dimensions /slope etc then probably be a week or two for the initial plan. A few days more for the final plan depending how much you want to change, if anything. The price of a plan is dependent upon how experienced the designer and what you are doing to the garden, some designers base the price on the size of the garden. The official body representing garden designers is the society of garden designers. I hope that is useful to you. If you want more information have a look on our website fentonrobertsgardendesign.co.uk which explains in more detail the steps I have outlined above in the 'process' menu.
Thanks for the bump, whitewine! And to both who have replied.
LadyMud, thanks for the useful links. I think we are slowly getting a clearer idea of how we want to use the space (play area, outdoor seating, etc), so some of the layout decisions will just follow on from that, exactly as you say. I think my difficulty is that I don't find it easy to visualise how it might look, and being quite a beginner at gardening, I don't have such a clear idea of how the planting will work. I guess I will work this out as I go along, but would be happier if someone could talk through my somewhat half-formed ideas and suggest improvements etc., so that we get the basic shape right.
MrsFox, sorry to hear you had such a bad experience! I think you raise an interesting point though, that you can't tell if someone is actually going to follow your taste. This is probably why I would like a design agreed and on paper before starting any work. I have spoken to more than one designer/landscaper who more or less said we would work it out once they got the earth-moving equipment in. Too vague for me!
I am very South Bucks corner and have just been through the landscaping/garden design process - it was very painful, but we did quite a lot of hard landscaping. You are probably better off with a garden designer who you pay to do a design (it seemed to vary from £200-£700 for our project). Some landscaping companies will do it for free (or for a nominal amount) but tie you in to their company for the work. The problem I found is that there is such a mixed bag, and it's quite hard to tell if someone will be able to reflect your taste.
I can't recommend any of the 3 companies we worked with as they all had serious shortcomings and I wouldn't touch them again with a barge pole! Green Dot did give us a quote which I discounted as too pricey, but with hindsight I wish we had gone with them as I think at least they were upfront about the cost and from what I hear they do a good job. They are more hard landscaping though.
The first step is to decide what you want to use your garden for. Children's play area? Lawn? Growing veg? Growing flowers? Low maintenance? Trees for privacy or shade? BBQ and outdoor dining? Relaxation?
Some of the Shoot gardens have planting lists, which are useful.
Once you've made these decisions, the layout might just fall into place eg eating area near kitchen door, play area visible from window, etc. Otherwise a designer will help you get it right, for you and your family.
We have recently moved house and need help to sort out the garden. It slopes in all directions and is not particularly child-friendly. Being fairly novice gardeners, I think we need someone to help us get the basic shape planned out properly before spending any money on levelling, turfing, fencing, etc. We have spoken to a couple of landscaping firms who advertise as offering 'design' services, but it seems they are more geared up to the hard landscaping side of things than actual gardening/planting.
Is a garden designer what we need? And if so, would they be able to do (or subcontract) the landscaping work themselves, or would they just come up with a plan which we would take to someone else? How long would the design process take, and roughly how much would it cost? Any particular qualifications/membership of trade body that we should look for in choosing one? If anyone can recommend a local one, that would be even better. We are in South Bucks.