How to Become a Garden Designer

Turning your green-fingered hobby into a full-time career could be easier than you may think. Garden designers are sought-after specialists who help families, businesses and organisations turn their green spaces into beautiful, functional and rewarding places to spend their time. If you’re interested in taking your gardening passion a little bit further, we’ve answered all the questions you may have in this handy guide.

What is a garden designer?

Otherwise known as a landscape architect or landscape designer, a garden designer transforms outdoor spaces into dream gardens, whether it’s domestic, private or commercial land. Most gardeners are self-employed, though there are employment opportunities within agencies. As the demand for beautiful gardens increases, more people are opting to hire a designer with specific horticultural knowledge to construct the area plan and conduct the manual work, rather than do it themselves. The result of each project should be fit for purpose, match the design brief in appearance, and high in quality, too.

Some drawing up blueprints for a garden

What does a garden designer do?

Whilst potting plants and trimming hedges are sometimes part of the job, it’s not the main feature. Garden designers offer a complete service, starting with architectural planning, and ending with gardening and manual labour. Then, they may add the final touches, such as furniture, lighting, or garden décor. In order to ensure the design is optimal for functionality, maintenance and endurance, garden designers must also conduct assessments of the climate, soil and sun exposure. This is so the selected species of plants and hard structures are suitable to the location.

A garden designer begins by meeting with their client to take a brief and get an idea of their vision. Then, they’ll often carry out a survey of the space available to work with, and draw up a plan with a few concepts to be finalised. Their vision for the new garden should function well within the space whilst bringing the desired appearance to it. To do so, garden designers usually incorporate hard landscaping alongside soft landscaping, such as walls, stones, and decking that complement trees and flowerbeds. The drawings produced in the final designs should be technical, and garden designers often use special software to achieve precision. From there, it’s important that a garden designer sources the best contractors and builders, so that the construction of the garden adheres to the design, whilst meeting a reasonable deadline and budget.

This is a job that changes with the seasons; during the winter, garden designers tend to not have as much work on, as it starts getting dark early, and people are not as inclined to think about improving their gardens. However, it’s an ideal time to gain corporate business and begin the design process for individual projects ready for construction in the spring. An opportunist would certainly make the most of the fluctuating seasons in this career.

What is the difference between a garden designer and a gardener?

Whilst both roles involve creating a beautiful outdoor space, there are major differences between garden designers and gardeners. The bulk of the work in gardening is to carefully place plants and flowers, whilst tending to the natural landscape. Grass cutting, weeding, and hedge trimming are involved, alongside cultivating and harvesting plants. Therefore, the job requires a lot of manual labour as well as knowledge about different plants and their needs.
However, a lot of people see gardening as a hobby, and tend to do the work themselves; professional gardeners are more likely to be hired for larger public spaces such as parks, golf courses, and hotels.

On the other hand, a garden designer has the creative ability to visualise a picture for transforming a space and communicate that vision in a drawn concept. They can incorporate all their knowledge of botanical beauties, with different trees, shrubbery and flora, alongside practical construction, factoring in pathways, walls, and ornamental features.

In order to construct a plan of such variety, personalised to each client’s space, garden designers need a vast amount of knowledge about different natural processes. This includes climates, plant physiology, soil, water drainage, and pest prevention. Garden designers are, therefore, more qualified and are generally better paid than gardeners.

How to become a garden designer

Was art your favourite subject at school? Do you find yourself doodling in your spare time? Do you marvel at beautiful flowerbeds? If so, you’re onto a good start, because one of the most important traits of a gardener is a creative mind and artistic talent. Although, it’s also important to have good spatial awareness and perception, so that your plans can actually be made into a reality! What’s more, you should have a good level of horticultural knowledge, which you can easily learn what you need to know by taking a course.

Whilst much of the work is in the planning and construction of designs, a large part is dealing with clients and contractors. So, it helps to be a people-person with strong communication skills, as you’re more likely to be offered a cup of tea while you work! And that’s important, because you’ll often be working outdoors in all weather conditions. If you’re fit and strong and enjoy seeing a project through to the end, then garden design might be for you!

A pretty garden with a deck and a large pond

What qualifications do you need to become a garden designer?

Some people enter the profession after working as a gardener, though it’s advised to also have a qualification specifically in garden design on top of that experience. This is because you need both hands-on knowledge of horticulture, and a strong understanding of landscape architecture. Whilst working in the field, you could take an online course to build your knowledge, such as our Level 3 Garden Design Diploma.

If you prefer classroom-based teaching, you can enrol with a college to gain a BTEC certificate in horticulture, or a BTEC diploma in garden design. The next stage might be to attend university to achieve a BA (Hons) degree in garden design/landscape design. Although, university isn’t necessary to enter the profession.

Another way to build your reputation in the gardening design world is to enter competitions; garden design shows are becoming increasingly popular, and they’re a fantastic way to get noticed in the industry. You could volunteer to help an experienced designer on their showpiece while you’re training, for example.

What are the benefits of working in garden design?

The most obvious benefit for garden designers is having the creative freedom to work on a wide range of projects. There’s also a huge level of job satisfaction when you finally see your vision brought to life! It’s a privilege to make beautiful spaces in nature for people to enjoy, but it’s also a talent high in demand. Therefore, the potential for earnings is considered high. With the ability to choose your own working hours and set your own fees, it’s ideal for people wanting to work freelance.

After building an expert reputation, garden designers can further their career in larger landscape design, such as a planning and development surveyor or an urban designer. They may wish to set up their own landscape architecture business, employing gardeners and contractors as part of one organisation. For most, however, the career development path is focused on increasing the value of your designs and working with wealthier clientele.

A man in shorts trimming a hedge

How much does a garden designer earn?

An employed garden designer is likely to receive an hourly rate for their services. That being said, the average annual salary of a garden designer in the UK ranges from £27k to £30k. Of course, freelancers can expect to earn even more, charging clients for bespoke designs. But the best place for a garden designer to be for the highest pay bracket is in London, where clients range from celebrities to hotel owners.

If you’d like to take the first step towards a career as a garden designer, Oxbridge can help you secure the qualifications you need. For more information, head over to our homepage or give our experienced course advisers a call on 0121 630 3000.

How much does a garden designer earn?


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