The Design Process

We have developed a simple 9-stage garden design process, which takes you from your initial contact with us all the way through to your finished dream garden.

Stage 1 - Initial Contact

Now that you've had a good look at the website, decided that I'm the designer for you and filled in the contact form, you can expect my welcome email which will detail our whole-garden pricing structure, and consultancy fees for smaller parts.

Rather than having you living with uncertainty, we have developed a fixed pricing structure for a whole garden design according to the size of your garden; it's so easy!

After you've confirm that you want to go ahead we’ll send you the pre-consultation questionnaire and call you for a brief discussion of your garden issues. Then we’ll arrange a mutually convenient time for your initial consultation.

The questionnaire will help you to think about your wants and needs for your garden and also to help me prepare, so we can have a productive first meeting. I charge for this initial consultation, but it's at a reduced 'taster' rate.

So, you fill in the questionnaire and email it to me along with some images of your garden and prepare for the excitement to begin!


Stage 2 - Initial Consultation

We meet and discuss your detailed requirements. This will involve a close inspection of the garden and in-depth discussion of the styles and forms of garden you prefer as well as more mundane matters such as "Do you need a shed"?.

If the garden is very small and we agree on the design fee immediately, we can sign a pre-brief contract and I can survey straight away. This will save you some travel fees. Otherwise I’ll take a few measurements to establish the size of the garden and will then prepare a brief & quote for the design work.

Once we are agreed on the brief we both sign the contract and the garden survey will be arranged.

Stage 3 - The Garden Survey

The survey measures your boundaries, important changes in level, the house for viewpoints and entrances, elements to retain and other necessary items. The garden's aspect, wind exposure, soil pH and many other details are essential to creating an accurate picture of your garden so that the patio, paths and other features may be positioned with care.


Stage 4 - The Draft Plan

After a period of reflection, Sophia will prepare a one or two concept plans for you to consider. We will talk through which elements you prefer, and their locations. Upon agreement your design can proceed!

If appropriate to this visit, we will look at paving catalogues and samples to help you choose your materials

Stage 5 - The Presentation Plan

Your presentation plan will be an illustration of the location of all the important garden features. It will be an interpretation of everything that you have requested for the garden, in the most suitable locations. This will be printed full size in colour. There will be additional black and white printouts which have the new levels; drainage arrangements, and electrical routing for lighting.

For small gardens these plans can be on a larger scale, and combine layout and planting plans; for larger gardens there will be separate layout and planting plans.

Once you have seen your beautiful new design, we will discuss how the garden is to be created. If you wish to DIY, we can give advice on how to proceed. Alternatively, you can employ us to oversee the build process.


Stage 6 - Contract, specification document, structural and setting-out drawings

We use a form of contract which is a standard form published by The Joint Contracts Tribunal for homeowners. Once the client/consultant section is signed, the next step is to write specifications so that we can ask contractors to tender for the work.

Specifications describe and define a plan for the contractors so that the work is completed to the designer's and clients ideals, rather than to the contractor’s interpretation.

If you imagine the Presentation Plan as something like how you see a street in a Wild Western Town used in filming, you would know where the bar and grocery were, where people went in and out and looked out of windows, but you could not tell if it were a true building or just a façade. The specifications and structural drawings make sure that the building (of course garden in our case) is built with foundations that accord with local building regulations and will stand the test of time. The setting-out drawing makes sure, to continue our metaphor, that a door is not put in where the window should go and enables the contractors to work efficiently on the site.

In total, specification documents include a description of the designer’s vision, a detailed materials list, structural and setting-out drawings. These become tender documents that the contractor can base his costs upon and be compared with on an equal footing with all other bids. They can be sent to a number of contractors or Sophia's Gardens can select the contractor felt best for your needs.

Stage 7 - The Build Process

Once we are satisfied with a contractor's bid and chosen our preferred company, we will decide the time scale and the contractor will sign his section of the contract.

Throughout the build process you will be kept informed and your site progress will be monitored at regular intervals.

This is an opportunity for your continued involvement, or to just relax and watch the men work!

On completion of the build, you pay the contractor 95% of his fee and then planting commences. Often we work in the garden with clients as they like to be involved in getting to know the latest horticultural practices and learning about their plants.

After a settling in period of 3 months, a final inspection is performed, any faults are put right and a certificate of completion issued. The retention of 5% is paid to the contractor.


Stage 8 - Planting

This is a favourite stage! Once the planting plans and the build are complete, it's time to shop for plants.

Our system is to buy and plant in the appropriate season and to plant ‘bare-root’ where possible, which improves plant establishment and keeps costs down. So, bulbs, shrubs and trees are planted in autumn; perennials in the spring. For cold sites, shrubs and trees in containers will go in during early spring.

It’s cheaper and faster to plant smaller plants, which establish just as well as larger ones. However, this is not instant gardening. The plants are spaced, for example, so that perennials fill their area after 3 years, at their mature size.

If you want more instant effects this will cost more for both the plants and the man-power to plant them. Either way, your garden will be colourful and attractive very soon!

If the build is completed at an inappropriate planting time the bare soil can be sown with a decorative green manure, to be dug into the ground in autumn.

Planting will be done by the Sophia's Gardens team, with you taking part also if you wish. Many happy hours have been shared with clients getting to know their new plants and enjoying the satisfaction of taking part in their garden creation!

Stage 9 - Handover

You have a brand new, beautiful, easy-care garden to watch grow and develop; play and relax in; show to the neighbours… So many possibilities!

If you require assistance with maintenance, we can help you to find a gardener, and the support of regular consultations are available to you.

Many clients have become good friends and part of our wider family; you will always be welcome to get back in touch.