pro landscaper magazine
pro landscaper magazine

5 things I wish I’d known when I became a garden designer

by | 08 Mar 24 | Garden Design, Long Reads

Emma Tipping garden design

Emma Tipping shares her experiences from starting out as a self-employed garden designer and what she wishes she’d known when she first embarked on her career.

Last year I decided to take the plunge and become a freelance garden designer. I’d spent several years beforehand working as a gardener and had most recently been looking after a formal garden. I love gardening and saw design as a pivot within horticulture rather than a complete career change, but it requires a whole new skillset and is an exciting new challenge. I am just at the beginning of my career in design with so much still to learn but these are a few things I’ve learnt so far:

1. Starting is scary but it’s good to be scared. I was confident working as a gardener, I was part of a small team and, as someone who is naturally pretty quiet, it suited my personality. But I’ve also found huge satisfaction from challenging myself within design; it’s brought so many new opportunities and I’ve become more capable as a result.

2. The jobs don’t get easier but they do get better. Every time I finish a job I think that the next one will be easier, but the truth is that each job is different and has its own challenges. Hopefully, though, the jobs you work on will become more interesting and they’ll be a challenge not because you’re inexperienced but because you add more detail and intricacies to your designs. Whatever the job, there is always a client trusting you with their money, so it’s good to have that drive to do well.

3. “I’d love a kitchen garden but I also need it to be low maintenance.” There are a lot of practical restrictions to designs – it could be a small budget, the aspect of the garden, or the maintenance requirements. Generally, clients will have an idea of what they want, but it might not be completely realistic in practice. Some advice I once heard was to under promise and over deliver. Part of the job is to help manage clients expectations and to come up with creative solutions that result in a brilliant garden everyone is happy with.

4. You’re a designer but you’re also possibly a project manager, accountant, admin assistant and entire marketing team. This will be different if you’re designing for a studio but if like me you’re self employed and just starting out then design is a relatively small part of the job. A lot of time is spent building your business, finding new clients, liaising with contractors and taking photos of receipts for your tax returns. What’s nice is that everyday is different and it’s really rewarding when you realise you’ve developed a new skill.

5. It’ll seem like it’s going wrong but it will come together in the end. All the difficult days when things don’t seem to be going to plan or new challenges crop up are soon forgotten when it all comes together. Seeing your design come to life is really exciting and it’s lovely to get positive feedback from clients too.

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