The world of garden design can be a tricky one to navigate, especially as so many people use the terminology interchangeably. Here’s a guide to explain just what each of the roles do and how they work together. And if you’re in the industry, there are a plethora of places to connect with a designer or hard landscaper.


What is a landscape designer or architect?
Someone who designs gardens and outdoor areas on a large scale for example large estates such as the new RHS Bridgewater, or the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. A landscape architect must have a degree in Landscape Architecture and most likely be registered with the Landscape Institute, whereas a landscape designer will work on smaller projects. Note: a landscape architect can call themselves a garden designer, but a garden designer can’t call themselves a landscape architect.

What is a garden designer?
Someone who designs gardens, generally on a smaller scale than a landscape architect. A garden designer will generally be trained in horticulture and general design principles; however training may not be as formal and detailed as a landscape architect and level of knowledge will vary between garden designers.

What is a hard landscaper?
The general understanding of a hard landscaper in the UK is someone who ‘builds’ the hard structural elements of a garden (decking, paving, studios, steps) that has been designed by a garden designer. Some hard landscapers may offer a design and build service.

What is a professional gardener?
A professional gardener works with the soft elements of a garden. The plants, trees, and shrubs. A professional gardener should be knowledgeable regarding plants, plant care (pruning regimes etc), pest and disease and be able to bring the design to fruition, then continue to nurture it.

What do you need, a landscape designer, gardener or hard landscaper?

If you are looking to just change your planting or soft landscaping, you’d start with a professional gardener. However for a full redesign, depending on the size of the project, you’d find a garden or landscape designer. A hard landscaping company could also be approached, especially if they have a design and build service. My advice is always talk to a number of designers or hard landscapers in order to find the right one for you.

A good landscape designer/architect or garden designer is someone who has been trained and will have a portfolio of work to show clients. Their communication skills will be excellent, they’ll be on top of industry relevant information and will have strong project management skills. The best designer or hard landscaper is one that creates your garden how you want it, within budget and in a timely manner. Someone who leaves you with a smile on your face.

Poppies in a meadow
© PATRICK PLEUL/DPA/AFP via Getty Images

The most stressful moments between hard landscapers and garden designers often come from lack of communication. But it’s also important to understand the job in hand. It’s easy to think that hard landscapers take a lot of time drinking coffee and having a break. But I once spent a couple of days working with one, and the amount of effort needed to build a deck, put in a brick wall, carry heavy bags of cement showed me why breaks are necessary. Working in high level bursts of moving these items from one place to another, sometimes up to a couple of hundred meters through a client's house, up and down steps by hand is exhausting.

How closely a hard landscaper and designer work together depends on each project. The level of interaction is usually determined by the client with agreement from the designer and hard landscaper. The essential ingredient in all relationships, whether personal or work is communication. This is absolutely the same with a garden designer and a hard landscaper. The key is making sure the designer communicates effectively with the hard landscaper what the designer and the client want. The designer needs to agree with the hard landscaper what is required to carry out the work and the landscaper needs to tell the designer what they need in order to carry out the build effectively. Recently at Wilson | Vokins we have found that each of the four hard landscape contractors we approached needed different levels of detail from us.

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The sorts of issues often faced by a garden designer and hard landscaper vary. But something that will often come up is that during the build, the hard landscaper and the client form a relationship. Changes may come up during the build without the designer knowing, so it’s very important that the hard landscaper keeps them in the loop. Something as small as the depth or number of steps can change the feeling of a garden.

Things to consider

What are you changing about your garden?
If it’s a large redesign, then a landscape designer or garden designer could be the place to start. If it’s just the soft aspects of the garden, a professional gardener might be best.

Try to make sure you get a hard landscaper and landscape designer/garden designer that work well together
They need to communicate well. You may find that a designer has a trusted/preferred company that they work with regularly.

As the client, you determine what you want and how you want things to work
Don’t forget that, within reason, you are able to determine how much the designer and landscaper interact. This is generally determined by costs and should be agreed by all parties.

Don’t be dismayed if your landscaper takes lots of breaks
It’s exceptionally heavy and hard work!

How to find a garden designer, a landscape designer or a hard landscaper

The SGD (Society of Garden Designers)
The APL (Association of Professional Landscapers)
BALI (British Association Landscape Industries
Word of Mouth

For hard landscapers, garden designers and others working in the industry, LANDSCAPE Show features hundreds of exhibitors and products and includes a seminar programme. The show runs between 22 and 23 September 2020 in Battersea Park, London and you can register for free here.


Claire Vokins works for green space design and project management company Wilson | Vokins