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Starting from scratch

By garden designer Andrew Fisher Tomlin. We all lead busy lives these days and only the few are DIY'ers keen enough to attempt building a whole new garden from scratch.

Whilst many of us are able to plant a garden and even turn our hand to putting up a shed or laying a path some of the larger jobs like walls, fencing, water features, patios and lighting are best left to a professional who can provide a fast, efficient, professional service.

So what are the most important considerations to think about when setting out on a new garden project? Well, the first step is to agree the underlying structure of your garden. Think about where you want to sit out, where you might catch the sun or, if your garden is overlooked, where you feel the most privacy. You might be able to improve privacy with new fences and tree planting or you might want to enjoy your garden 24 hours a day by lighting it. Do you need grass and it's maintenance or do you want, say, a low maintenance gravel garden?

When planting what is the garden's aspect, soil and drainage like? Have you got some favourite plants you'd like to integrate into the garden? You could take a theme, a colour or maybe create a collection of plants.

There are lots of elements to think about and if you are struggling or want the eye of an expert cast over your outdoor space a good landscaper can help by putting you in touch with a garden designer. Designers come in all shapes and forms and can provide anything from a quick on site consultancy to full construction and planting plans. Prices are normally about 15% of the total project price and you will more than appreciate the value by avoiding costly mistakes and possibly getting a garden beyond your dreams. Full members of the Society of Garden Designers (see below) have been assessed by their professional body and are a good guarantee of professionalism and competency. Ask for references and if you've found a designer already they will nearly always be able to recommend contractors whom they have worked with before.

As with any home service it always good to have a recommendation from a friend or neighbour. If you are also looking for a landscaper its also a good idea that they are registered with the British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI). Every member has been fully assessed for quality of service and construction. Brian Fox of Fox Landscaping is a member and has just won the BALI National Landscape 2000 Award for a Wimbledon garden. He told us "Becoming a member is a very rigorous procedure but it's a good guarantee that the contractor knows how to approach a job properly. When its your own garden and the job can be very messy its good to know that the contractor has proved himself on other projects".

Of course not all of us want a full makeover and there are lots of garden companies that can help you with the smallest of tasks from digging over a border, giving your garden an autumn tidy or supplying a lorry load of compost. In the end your garden is what you make of it and the sooner you get digging now the better it'll be next year!

By Andrew Fisher Tomlin

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