Garden design goes online
by Rhiannon James
Once upon a time, if you wanted to redesign your garden, the choice was clear. You could either call in a professional garden designer to manage the project or do it yourself with sweat, tears and squared paper. Now though, the web is providing a middle way. If you want to go it alone, web tools are making some parts of the design process easier to navigate, but equally, if you feel in need of professional advice, you can commission a design online at a much lower cost. And if you want a really quick and easy way to create a good-looking space, you can even order pre-packaged borders and gardens – all you’ll need to do is open the box and get planting.
Designing your own garden can be a rather scary process, whether you sit down and plan it all out or make it up as you go along. Now though, there are a number of online tools which are aiming to make it easier to achieve a look you’ll love.
The newest kid on the block is a free tool from plantify.co.uk, launched last week, which focuses on helping people to pick the best plants for their plot. To get started, instead of measuring out the garden by hand in the traditional way, DIY designers just enter their postcode and highlight their garden on a Google map. From this, an outline plan of the garden is automatically created which comes with useful information such as the garden’s orientation and graphics showing where sun and shade will fall at different times of the day and year. After drawing in any flower beds, lawns, hard landscaping and features, users can go on to picking foliage and flowers using the site’s database of 3,600 plants. The system can be used to find plants that’ll suit the garden’s conditions (meaning they should do well) as well as its style and colour scheme.
The tool is the creation of former entertainment software executive Peter Laughton, who says: “In my previous job most of my staff were under 30. At first, they all thought I was a bit odd because I was into gardening but gradually I persuaded a whole bunch of them to get into it too. So the key thing that I wanted to do with this tool was to help to get a more casually-interested and time-restricted audience into gardening by making design less intimidating and more fun.”
Laughton intends some of the enjoyment to come from creating a plan that looks good fast. The developing design can be viewed in ‘realistic’ mode so “people can quite quickly create something that’s graphically pleasing,” he says. The tool will also become more intelligent over time. For example, as more people use the site, the system will start recommending plants based on combinations used in other designs in the same way that sites such as Amazon or i-Tunes suggest books, music or films.
One more to try: As a member of Shoot (www.shootgardening.co.uk), you can access a simple online design tool that can be linked to a list of plants that you have, or would like, in the garden. Shoot’s database has more than 12,000 plants to pick from and once you’ve made your choices, you can sign up for monthly emails with care instructions for them too. Membership for one year costs £19.99.
Professional design online
If you’re planning a full redesign of the garden and would like some professional help without breaking the bank, you could consider heading online. A number of designers are using the web to offer a remote service to owners of small gardens who are happy to look after the building and planting work themselves. Mygardn.co.uk, for example, was launched by Chelsea gold medal-winning designers Chris Deakin and Jason Lock last year to provide a cost-effective alternative to their standard service. Garden owners send over a survey of their space along with details of their requirements and receive a design for their garden which they can go on to create themselves. “Landscape and garden designers are geared up to do the design, the project management, everything, which, for those who can afford it, is the right thing to do to ensure the garden is the best that it can be. The problem is, most of us can’t afford it but we still want good, professional advice,” says Chris Deakin. “With our online service, you’re still getting someone skilled and experienced looking at your plan but you’re cutting out all the added costs around that.”
Chris and Jason charge between £125 and £225, depending on garden size, to create a design via mygardn.co.uk and from £199 to £399 if detailed planting plans are included. The fee for a design commissioned through their standard service would normally be four to five times higher according to Chris, before the costs of sourcing, project management and other elements are added in. So what’s the downside? “The plan is not as detailed – it’s more of a concept design. Although, the more information people send us, the more detailed and accurate we can be,” Chris explains.
David Stevens, who has won Best in Show at the Chelsea Flower Show three times, offers a similar service via email, and Kathryn Pledger and her husband Dean are two clients who have commissioned a design in this way. When they moved into their two-bedroom flat in Camberwell, they wanted to re-do the garden without spending a fortune, as they knew they would be moving again within a few years. They initially intended to design the garden themselves but found the process to be trickier than they’d first thought. “The garden was such a horrendous mess; it was very difficult to know where to begin. And if you don’t have much gardening knowledge, you have to gain all that before you start,” says Kathryn. The couple explored the possibility of hiring a garden designer to manage the project in the usual way but decided this option was outside their budget. Then Kathryn found David’s service online. “I saw he was very experienced and I just thought the service looked ideal,” she says. The couple measured up their garden, took photos and made a list of their requirements which included plenty of space for entertaining and a low maintenance, flower-filled planting scheme. David then provided two plans: one for the hard landscaping, which included details of all the materials to be used, and one for the planting for a cost of £273.49 (including a 5% discount which Kathryn was eligible for). The couple employed a company to do some of the hard landscaping work and finished the rest themselves last year. They also took charge of the planting. “Just being told what to plant and where, was exactly what we needed. We could have wasted so much money buying things because we liked them but which wouldn’t have survived in our garden,” Kathryn says.
Two more to try: If you just want to revamp a bed rather than transform the entire garden, there are a number of designers who offer planting plans for borders. Philippa Pearson, the garden designer and writer, will create a design complete with an annual maintenance schedule for between £180 and £400 depending on the size of the border. And if you’ve got a specific type of planting in mind – there is often a specialist that can help. Jekka’s Herb Farm, for example, offers bespoke planting plans for culinary, medicinal and scented herb gardens.
Border in a Box
If you’re looking for a quick and simple fix for the garden, it might be worth considering a package operator. Garden On A Roll (www.gardenonaroll.co.uk) supplies borders in a box complete with all the necessary plants and a plan to lay over the soil to ensure everything goes in the right place. There are ten styles to choose from, such as Mediterranean and Bee and Butterfly, and there’s even a wedding option that would be good for those celebrating their big day outdoors. The service is run by garden designer and plantsman Antony Henn. He says, “I came up with the Garden On A Roll concept a few years ago while helping a school with some planted borders. I wanted the kids to be able to continue without me so I drew up a plan on biodegradable paper with coded circles marked on it for each plant and labelled the pots to match. From this, the idea evolved that the system could be used to help the non-gardener,” he says. “The service works well for people who have a limited budget, little plant knowledge and don’t want to waste time and money trying to do it themselves and getting it wrong.” Costs range from £127.45 to £394.45 depending on the length and width of the border. This month, the company has launched a new edible border design which includes a soft fruit plant, herbs and vegetable seeds – it can also be ordered with a raised bed kit.
Three more to try: If you’re looking to fill the garden with tasty treats then you could also try Rocket Gardens (www.rocketgardens.co.uk). There are various fruit and vegetable garden packages to choose from, some specifically for containers, and you can even sign up for the subscription service, which includes five deliveries of plants over the course of the year. For ornamental options, try crocus.co.uk, which offers ready-made border collections or Burncoose Nurseries (www.burncoose.co.uk) which will be offering colour-coded selections from next month.
Credit for header image: www.crinklecrankle.com