What does landscaping cost?

With TV garden makeover programs giving a skewed impression of the price of outdoor improvements, we’re using what DOES landscaping cost?

Why I think TV shows are misleading when it comes to landscaping cost

As a landscaper, I’m always interested in other people’s ideas for outdoor design. It’s great to be inspired and perhaps to be introduced to new combinations of plants and materials. But I do get frustrated when high profile TV shows fail to tell their viewers what the work has really cost.  

The price of materials is a very small proportion of the value of landscaping work. There is the design to consider, the machinery, the labour and quite a bit more.

moderate sized garden with different elements contributing to the landscaping cost

Several different elements contributed to the landscaping cost in this garden

What’s included in the price of landscaping?

  • Garden Design
  • Survey
  • Groundworks
  • Waste disposal
  • Materials
  • Skilled craftsmen 
  • CDM compliance
  • Landscapers’ transport and welfare (hired toilets etc)
  • Machinery
  • Training
  • VAT and Taxes

It’s very difficult to show the entire garden design and build process in a half hour TV show and I think that gives the viewer unrealistic expectations of the time scale and the landscaping cost. But if you sit down, and think it through, it becomes clearer that the £3,000 quoted on the TV would nowhere near cover the cost of creating the garden you see on the screen.

Garden Design

A full garden makeover needs a garden design, just as a home extension needs architects drawings.  If only one or two elements of your garden are to be changed, your landscaper may be able to create the construction plan for a patio or some raised beds. However most landscaping work needs input from a garden designer. 

If your garden slopes, has drainage issues or is particularly large, part of that garden design process is a topographical survey to make sure that levels and measurements are absolutely accurate.

hard landscaping for garden makeover

Groundworks

A good 40% of the cost of landscaping is focussed on the parts of your garden you may not see in the future.  Marking out areas, clearing away old pavers, sheds, turf etc, moving soil, creating the sub base for hard landscaping and footings for any walls…. It all adds up.

If you were doing your own garden makeover, what would you do with the garden elements you no longer needed? The cost of skip hire and/or fees for landfill might surprise you.

Materials

There are more materials involved in landscaping than you first think.  Paving slabs, timber, turf and plants are obvious, but what about cement, mortar, grouting materials, primers, adhesives, fixings, soil, mulch, aggregates etc? Again, the bits that you don’t see, can cost almost as much as the bits you do see.

The cost of skilled craftspeople

It’s easy to imagine that because landscaper’s don’t wear suits to work and their work is quite physical, that their job is similar to a labourer’s. However, these people are more like civil engineers. They will have spent years honing their skills, training and gaining experience. And, unlike many tradespeople, they are very much multi-skilled. A landscaper needs to understand drainage, carpentry, horticulture, how to engineer robust and long lasting hard surfaces, how to care for complex and sometimes dangerous machinery, project management and how to keep everyone on site safe. There’s a lot to learn and, if I’m honest, most landscapers charge much less than they’re worth.

On telly, it takes less than an hour to landscape a garden. In real life, depending on the size and complexity of the project, it can take weeks. If you tot up the hours involved for each team member and multiply that by a reasonable hourly rate, you’ll get an idea of what you can add to the materials cost to find the price of landscaping.

landscaper creating patio with a decorative stone trim

Laying slabs requires a high degree of skill and accuracy. Each piece must be perfectly placed so that the joints are even and the surface level.

CDM and safe working conditions

If you are having some landscaping work done by a contractor, you have a legal duty to comply with the CDM Regulations 2015. CDM stands for Construction Design and Management and mainly covers health and safety on site. Some aspects of the regulations do add to the cost of the landscaping, however that cost is nothing like the potential bill you could face if you are sued for an injury on site.  Before starting a project, ask your contractor about CDM – if he or she hasn’t included it in the contract, you might want to look for a different landscaper!

The welfare of our craftsmen and women is also something that needs to be considered when quoting for landscaping work. At the very least they will need access to toilets and hand washing facilities.  If that means hiring a porta-loo  – then so be it. Working outside can be a joy – but it also involves getting soaked to the skin, being cold and risking dehydration in summer.  We always try to ensure that our teams have a weatherproof shelter to eat their lunch in.

Finally – the dreaded taxes

Unfortunately, there is no way to escape the dreaded taxes. Most landscaping materials are subject to VAT and so is labour.  Sadly, that does add quite a lot to the overall landscaping cost, so always check whether your quote includes all taxes – otherwise you may get a nasty surprise.

In some cases, landscaping work may be VAT exempt, but its up to the client to reclaim the taxes. No reputable landscaping company will forgo the VAT in return for ‘cash’

Setting your budget before employing a landscaper

Every single garden makeover is different. The cost of landscaping is affected by the size of your garden, whether it has easy access for materials and machinery, the changes you want made and the materials you choose. 

Before contacting a landscaper about your garden makeover, it’s well worth thinking hard about your build budget. A reputable company will be able to discuss approximate costs very early in the design and build process. This ball-park figure is not the same as a quote, but it could save you a lot of time in talking to a professional whose prices don’t match your budget.

Getting best value for money

Always work with a reputable landscaper – they may cost more than your cousin’s best mate’s brother-in-law but you can be sure of good results. Plus, a legally binding contract protects you should you be unhappy with any aspect of the work.

Have a professional garden design drawn up. There is a cost to it but it can end up saving you thousands. Let the designer know what your build budget is. That way he or she can specify a layout that is achievable within your limits.  This saves so much frustration and disappointment.

Talk to your landscaper about various choices of materials. You may be able to compromise on more cost effective supplies and still have a top quality garden.

Thinking about landscaping your garden?

You might find these articles useful…

Garden makeover ideas

Landscaping a small garden

Will landscaping increase the value of your home?

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