What the hell is a garden consultant – and should I employ one?
Many horticulture professionals are now offering garden consulting services. Could your garden benefit from their help?
A garden designer can provide us with the garden of our dreams, eliminating our existing niggles, offering solutions that we may have not considered, and creating a beautiful and useful space that is perfectly tailored to our lifestyle.
A full garden design and build, however, and is beyond the means of many of us. It is often said that a new garden is as big an outlay as a new kitchen, with a price tag to match.
However, there is another option. It's possible to find garden designers and landscape architects who also offer garden consulting services. Enlisting their help means that you can benefit from their professional advice – often focusing on a specific issue or area – for the fraction of the cost of a full garden design. Often, an hour or two of their time may be all you need to get your garden on track.
Here are some professionals who have recently launched garden consulting services.
Lottie is a garden designer who trained at trained at the Inchbald School of Design and won Silver Gilt for her show garden, A Textile Garden for Fashion Revolution, at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2022. "I started doing garden consultancy in lockdown," she says. "It was really popular, so much so that it slightly took over. When lockdown ended, I decided to stop doing it in order to fit in other work. But I still get messages about it, so I’m offering a limited number of consultations each month."
She explains: "The service is aimed at people who either find the garden design world quite intimidating and have never worked with a designer before – it’s like a try before you buy. Or for people who already have established gardens but are in a bit of a rut, and need some help with a specific area."
"It is great for generating ideas – there is nothing like a fresh pair of eyes. I can also be useful for tackling tricky areas and specific issues, for example environmentally-friendly paving options, or improving an existing design with a few clever tweaks."
"I think people see gardens in magazines and have no idea how to achieve that look at home, and often feel really overwhelmed. Or they have lived with a space for a long time and can’t see how it could be reimagined. Obviously there is only so much we can cover in an hour, but I hope it gives people a confidence boost and inspires them to make the most of their green space as it’s such a precious resource."
Kew-trained Hannah launched her garden consultancy service last year, aimed at large gardens or small estates. "Having been a head gardener for more than 20 years and having run my own design studio, New British Landscapes, since 2010, I decided to make the leap last year and go freelance as a horticultural consultant," she says. "I have a breath of experience and a broad skillset in horticulture and people management."
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Hannah's client portfolio has quickly filled with a selection of regular large gardens and estates. "Some clients require planting rejuvenation or complete re-designs," she explains. "I identify new opportunities to enhance their space and supervise and drive forward these initiatives. I work with sustainability as a core value and only practice organic horticulture."
On other projects her role is more that of a roaming head gardener. "I lead and manage the work of a team of gardeners and students. I can visit on regular days each week or visits less frequently through the seasons."
Aaron is a Kew-trained gardener, cook, lecturer and writer, and was a key figure at Great Dixter from 2006, where he was in charge of the vegetable garden, house and the kitchen. He is the author of two books, The Great Dixter Cookbook and Grow Fruit and Vegetable in Pots, both published by Phaidon. Aaron has now launched his own business, Grow Something, and helps domestic and commercial clients create aesthetically pleasing, edible spaces.
"A consultation represents really good value for money," says Aaron. "It's a great alternative to looking for advice online or in books, as the advice is tailored to the person's own garden and their exact needs. I give clients a plan of action, and they do the work themselves."
Aaron's clients include everyone from celebrities with large plots to people who simply want to grow herbs in a few pots: "In fact, the smaller the space, the more important it is to get everything right," he says. "It's really important to grow something that we will want to cook and eat, and I help clients achieve that."
Aaron charges from £90 per hour for consultations.
Having originally trained as landscape architect at the University of Gloucestershire, Chris has been part of the garden media for the past 25 years, most recently as editor of RHS The Garden magazine and in charge of publishing at the RHS. He has written two books – RHS Encyclopedia of Garden Design (DK) and Take Chelsea Home (Mitchell Beazley). In 2021, he lauched CY Gardens, a multidisciplinary business that includes garden consulting. "I needed a change and wanted to diversify – and that included going back to my roots to make places for people. Designing a garden is one of the most personal and special things you can do for someone, so I launched my landscape design service."
"Whether I’m working with a business or an individual, it’s always about what they want. My top question is ‘what do you want to do in your garden’ and ‘how do you want it to make you feel’. I offer everything from advising on plant choice, through the design process, all the way to working with a landscape contractor to build the scheme. I’m even happy to go with a client shopping for a couple of hours – many people find that it’s cheaper to pay me to advise going round a garden centre, than them go on their own and buy a load of plants that will then die."
Chris offers either a day or hourly rate. "I want to be super flexible for people – they can buy an hour of me or 100 hours. I’m there to help them get the most from their garden, and it’s something I love to do. So a flexible approach often helps them decide what they want from me."
Natalie Ashbee has been working in the world of horticulture as a gardener, garden designer and horticultural producer for TV shows since 2003, having qualified in Garden Design at the Duchy College in Cornwall. Post-pandemic, Natalie has moved to Cornwall, and now undertakes a range of consulting projects.
"I have a huge bank of knowledge built from experience of gardening, planting, garden renovations and garden styling which enable me to visualise what a garden needs, be that new planting, a new design or renovation of the existing plants. I’m very happy to take on small gardens or even balconies and patios – they are all equally important to the client in terms of outdoor space. I usually source and set out the plants or give plant lists for the client to source and they can either plant it themselves or use a gardener, which is more cost effective. I love seeking out furniture and pots to complement the style of their property."
She adds: "Most of my work is either done on site, on email or the internet so my overheads are fairly low. Therefore my hourly rate is lower than that of a garden designer, depending on the complexity and length of the task, plus travel costs of course. Some projects such as bigger hotels will stretch over many years, whilst local garden consultations might take a couple of hours on site with a pad and pencil. It’s a fun way to work and I like that I get out and about regularly, exploring the glorious Cornish countryside." One of Natalie's projects is shown in the header image of this feature.
Veronica Peerless is a trained horticulturalist and garden designer.