Garden and Landscape Design Online – How NOT to Get Caught by Cr@p this Christmas

Gifts for gardeners are plentiful this time of year, especially online but how do you know if what you are purchasing is as good as they say it is?


In this post, I’m going to give you my top 5 ways to spot a great garden gift idea from a ghastly one! Before we get to these top tips, I’m going to share one of my own ghastly experiences from, well, earlier this week actually…

This week I was researching other products that help people design their garden. I came across one that looked excellent. I decided I should purchase it before recommending it, just in case…

Fantastic Online Garden Landscaping Product – It Looked The Biz!

It consisted of a gallery of thousands of beautifully landscaped gardens to give people inspiration. Included was access to a variety of ebooks on various aspects of gardening and landscaping.

The sales page was very professionally done and the product created by a very experienced garden designer. I’ve been professionally designing gardens for over 20 years and teaching design for the last three years, so I was really looking forward to seeing someone else’s work.

My excitement didn’t last long after purchase though…

O H  M Y  –  T H I S  W A S   A W F U L !

Although there were some professionally landscaped gardens there were also a fair few that weren’t. Some pictures looked like they’d been taken from a moving car, showing only the side of someone’s house and their hedge in detail.

In the front yard section, there were pictures of someone’s steps with a flowerpot either side of them – there was no garden, just the original steps that came with the house!

Included was a nice selection of pictures of Orchids – yes, the ones you can only grow inside your house (unless you live in a tropical rainforest). Fabulous landscaping idea they’d be, if you want to spend a fortune and have the entire neighbourhood laugh at you when they all die a month later.

There were some nice garden images but nowhere near the quantity the product name implied (presumably, each picture contained several “landscaping ideas” to reach the allotted quantity advertised) – in my opinion it was a complete rip off.


Perception is everything. I thought the landscaping ideas thing would be good because it was created by a professional landscaper designer (there was a nice picture of her, looking trustworthy). It even listed the professional landscaping association she belonged to.

The other factor that pre-disposed me to assume it was a quality product was the price (it was $97 reduced to $47) that’s dearer than many of the courses I’ve worked very hard for months to create (that are good and actually show people step-by-step how to design a great garden, as well as provide them with lots of landcape garden photos)!

I really wasn’t expecting a bunch of pictures shoved on a crumby looking webpage along with a load of ‘bonus’ ebooks on how to garden, written like a collection of cheap articles taken from the internet.

This made me mad. Rubbish like this tarnishes everybody’s reputation, and those of us that are genuinely trying to create something of value get tarred with the same brush as a result. It did get me thinking, though…

If I got sucked in by the professional sales page, someone that’s professionally trained AND writes garden design books and online training materials, how on earth are other people supposed to know the difference?

Checking It Out Properly

So, I did some digging behind the scenes. This enabled me to come up with some top tips on how you can avoid buying yourself or a loved one something as bad.

Top 5 Tips to Avoid Buying Rubbish Online

  1. Search to find out more online before you buy. I should have done this. When I did finally put the “garden designer’s” name into Google I couldn’t find her, other than on various different versions of the sales page. You’d expect at least a website for such an accomplished designer – there was nada for this mysterious professional.
  2. Be really careful of reviews – has the evaluation been done by a genuine customer? A lot of these types of products have reviews written by affiliates (which is fine if they disclose the fact they are on commission). Not everyone does, though. So if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  3. Watch out for ‘As seen on TV’ or the logos of various magazines. The term ‘featured in’ could just mean they advertised there and not that the magazine or TV show is recommending the product.
  4. Keep an eye out for negative language – this product kept saying how much garden designers rip off their clients with overcharging. Considering this was (allegedly) created by a garden designer, that should have flagged it immediately. A good designer would never say that (yes, I am feeling stupid I bought this now – say nothing and learn from my error [yes I am still waiting to hear back about the refund, 5 days and counting] – update, I did get a refund after a month).
  5. BONUSES worth hundreds of dollars! – I’ve saved my favourite till last. If there’s a list of bonuses as long as your arm, that’s one thing, but when you’re told this incredible info is worth $$$ more than the actual product, it’s a red flag in my book. You don’t see Apple listing hundreds of dollars in bonus items when you buy an iPad, do you? There’s a reason for that – they have a good product.
  6. UPDATE – thought of this one belatedly – if there’s no contact details on the website, there’s no way of getting in touch if the online ‘help desk’ option fails. To get my refund processed I ended up contacting Clickbank as I never heard back from the help desk!


I know some people out there just want to make a quick buck without working hard to earn it, but even so I’m am genuinely shocked by how bad this overly priced product is. Aside from that, it has made me re-evaluate what I’m offering here at Successful Garden Design. How are people supposed to know about how much work, love and attention to detail goes into every course? How do people know that I care about what I do here?

Truth is, they don’t.

My existing customers do, though. They know how much has gone into it all because they’ve experienced it. But I bet there’s a lot of people, if they’ve been stung by something dodgy off the internet, will think this is the same.

A Change is Coming…

My original plan was to make everything very affordable so everyone can easily learn how to create a great looking garden. So all the online garden design courses and design formulas have been vastly underpriced for years. I’ve realised, though, after this experience, that if the price doesn’t reflect the quality of the goods people will assume it’s cr@p. I’ve worked too hard on all of this to allow that to happen, so it’s time to rectify it.

Prices Are Going Up Significantly

By approximately a third, as of next week! The Great Garden Formula is long overdue an increase as a lot more content has been added in the new 2.0 version this year. It’s going to increase by £100 (approx $160) before Christmas and again in the New Year when I’ve added a couple more style guides to it.

Everything, from garden design courses to design services will increase after Tuesday. So if you’ve been thinking about buying a design course or service, now is most definitely the time to do it if you want to bag a bargain. I will be doing a Christmas buy one-get-one free offer in December for a few days, but if you just want to buy for yourself, you’ll get the best price now. Even with the price rise they will still be great value though.

p.s. if you Google ‘Rachel Mathews garden designer’, you will find I’m a real garden designer!

p.p.s I am definitely not saying all online photographic collections of gardens are bad – a few years ago I was asked to contribute photos of contemporary gardens for one [update: I’ve now remembered the name of it – this is how it should be done. Properly designed gardens, displayed on a really good website that’s had a lot of time spent putting it together]. It was put together by a qualified garden designer.

Had a similar experience or have additional online purchasing advice? Leave a comment in the box below. Please share so people you know can avoid buying you bad gifts!




About Rachel Mathews

Professional international garden designer for over 20 years. My mission is to de-mystify garden design and make it easy for people to successfully design their own garden - without needing to spend a fortune!


  1. Hi Rachel,
    This is so funny that you have this experience and then write this post. I happen to come across this person’s offer as well.

    As a designer/contractor I was initially intrigued at the thought of all these garden images categorized in one resource – a potentially great reference for ideas.

    Then, like you, I thought I’d Google this person to see what her background is and what else she’s done. Any link I clicked on took me to her product landing page or a “review page,” which eventually linked me again to her product page. Hmmm…..Just who is this “landscape designer”?

    I even came across a version of her product page where she had the “images collection” offer and all these other bonus offers for just $27, showing the previous mark-down from $97 to $47. Now I was really getting skeptical and doubting more and more the quality of this thing.

    I have to tell you I did not click the “Buy” button, but you should not regret your purchase and experience. What a great conclusion you’ve come to in terms of pricing your products and services.

    People that look closely at your offerings, plus your other content and design background will quickly see the value in your work.

    From one professional to another, “Keep up the good work”!

    • Rachel Mathews says:

      Thank you Roger, that’s really lovely of you to say 🙂

      I can normally spot these fake ones a mile off, but they did such a good job with the product page combined with my readiness to believe in a ‘fellow professional’. If the gardens in the product had all been as good as those shown on the offer page, it might have been worth the money.

      Interesting you found it further discounted. With the likes of Flickr and Pinterest I guess it must be harder for them to sell it.

      You have a great website by the way. Nice to see another professional offering great advice unlike our friend with her ideas!

  2. This is a really useful blog for those who intend to do buying some online gardening products. Gives some tips how not to get caught in their snares. Thanks.

    • Rachel Mathews says:

      Thank you, I hope it does help people.

      BTW you have a very nice website – alas my Dutch is somewhat limited, so I only understood a little of it (it’s been about 22 years since I was living in Holland!)

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