When to hire a landscape gardener

If you’re building a new house or renovating, the best time to hire a landscape gardener is before you start the build. The simple reason for this is cost. It was perfectly illustrated for me recently with the tale of two houses we worked on at the same time.

We recently finished a big job. It cost the client somewhere around $40,000. The client had wanted an intricate, beautiful design—but that wasn’t where the cost came in. The expense came about because it was very difficult to access the site.

The owner contacted us as the house build finished. The backyard was only accessible via a very narrow path. Had they called us before the build started, we could have put a 20-tonne excavator in the backyard. It would be there in preparation for creating the garden. We could have done all the groundwork before the build closed off access.

At the same time, we did a job close by where they had called us in at the start. We did all the groundwork once they’d put the footings in of the house. So when we came back to do all the planting, we had saved them a lot of money. 

When should the landscape gardener come on board?

It’s a big misconception that you can take care of the garden at the end of the build. If you talk to your landscape designer when you have plans drawn up, it will help with drainage. It will help with contouring. It will help with access. And the biggest thing it will do is save you thousands of dollars.

One of the largest costs in any landscape gardening project is labour. And labour costs increase as access diminishes. When access to the yard is limited, we have to bring in small access machinery. We need to deliver any structural materials that you might need.

The best calls we get are people saying, ‘I’ve just bought a block of land and I’m looking at designing a house and garden’. The worst ones are people saying, ‘We’ve just finished building a new house, and I’ve got a pool of water at the back door. Can you come and design a garden for us?’

Ways to manage costs

In the Upper Blue Mountains now, council requires you to have a landscape plan as part of your development application. That helps people realise they should start thinking about the garden sooner. But that doesn’t happen all the time. 

Sometimes a fear of the cost will mitigate against that. An architect might suggest to the client that they put in a basic landscape diagram. That will tick that box with the development application. They (or the client) may worry that they can’t afford the full concept straight away after a build.

Even so, the preliminary earthworks, drainage and contouring should be done. That way, even if they cover it with mulch until they can afford to plant the garden out, that’s fine. Certainly, in the case of the client I wrote about at the start of this post, having a plan before the job started would have saved $10,000. That would have been a huge plus for her.