Landscaping a garden can be a costly business. There are certainly ways keep costs down but there’s one thing that will really screw up any landscaping work you have done…

Not having a design.

I see this all the time. People hire a professional landscape team, pay out several thousand to create their dream garden only to find it doesn’t look a great deal better at the end of it.

Undesigned v designed garden - good design doesn't need to be complicated
Undesigned v designed garden – good design doesn’t need to be complicated

It’s NOT the landscaper’s fault!

Really it’s not. They might have built you a fantastic patio, using lovely materials, laid to perfection but unless the shape is right, it can end up making your garden look smaller and very dull.

Landscapers on the whole just build. Very few consider themselves to be designers.

Building and designing, very different skills.

That’s not to say all landscapers can’t design, some can, pretty well but most aren’t schooled in it. They will try their best for you but the results aren’t likely to be on a par with a good designer, especially if they’ve provided you with a free sketch or budget design.

In fact, I came across a really horrific example of this just yesterday!

Learn fast-track garden design methods in Rachel’s FREE web class

This Really Upsets Me…

So I’ve come back to the UK for Christmas. Whilst out on our traditional Boxing Day walk a friend of mine points out the back garden of someone in her village that’s recently been landscaped. She excitedly tells me “They had landscapers in for three weeks, must have cost them a fortune!”

Now, I’m on a break, not thinking about gardens at all but as we got closer to the garden, which was near the woods we’d just walked through, I could see there was a gap in the hedge, needless to say curiosity got the better of me…

Oh dear! Really wish I hadn’t looked. I could see that about £4-5,000 (approx $7,000) worth of landscaping work had been carried out. Very good build quality, so the landscapers clearly knew what they were doing on the construction side but they didn’t know about design. It did not look good at all.

They Needn’t Have Wasted Their Money

If they had just spent a little bit of time thinking about the design shape first, they could have created an amazing looking garden for the same amount of money. Such a waste.

The main problem was the pond, pergola, path and focal point had been placed in the garden rather than designed into it. If you just add a pond, pergola or other feature rather than ‘designing’ them into the scheme, they tend to look like they’ve fallen out the sky and landed in your garden. They will never look like they belong there.

Design can be so SIMPLE if you go about it the right way. That’s the part that really gets to me. So many people add ‘stuff’ to their garden rather than planning it properly. It’s so important to start with the overall shape of your lawn and patio areas BEFORE you add the features (you can do this retrospectively, if you’ve already added lots of features, it’s just a bit trickier to do).

My biggest wish for the upcoming year is to demonstrate just how easy it can be to transform a garden, without spending a fortune. So I’m planning on doing a lot more FREE stuff – particularly video tutorials and online garden design classes.

If you’d like to learn more about design, attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

Register on this page:



Rachel Mathews
Rachel Mathews

Professional international garden designer for over 30 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!

    12 replies to "Landscaping Disasters – How to Avoid Wasting Money in Your Garden"

    • Zakaria

      I am Zak. I live in Yemen.
      i am os happy to hear that from you . You are going to help me so so thanks . My problem I can’t get the way how to start design the garden . I am veery interested to be a garden designer. I appreciate your help thanks.

    • Pat

      Hi Zak,

      My back yard garden is wonderful. The problem I am having is with the front yard. I don’t want my front yard to stand out in a bad way from the neighborhood. The other yards are very plain and I don’t do plain nor do I know how..

      Will you be doing front yard plans for Calgary, Alberta, Canada which is a zone 3???

      • Rachel Mathews

        Hi Pat,

        Front yards is definitely on my to-do list but there isn’t anything on the site at the moment – I will try and get a blog post done in the next few weeks. If you’d like to email me a picture of your yard, I will see if I can give you some suggestions in the post.

        Best wishes


    • yvette michalska

      Hi Rachel, I bought your course, but then ran out of time to actually do anything…. pah!

      I’m in a situation of analysis paralysis! We have a squarish back yard that is divided into 2 rectangles by a low (12-18inch) high wall running from left to right. The garden is on a gentle slope (higher at the back and lower as you come towards the house), and the wall separates the two rectangles.

      It’s not a huge slope, but do I bite the bullet and level the land or use the slope to make it (possibly??) more interesting? Is the moving and/or removal of earth very expensive?

      Thanks for your help

      • Rachel Mathews

        Hi Yvette,

        Great question. The short answer is yes, changing levels does cost.

        The somewhat longer answer – It all comes down to just how much soil you are moving and if you can get machinery in or if it has to be done by hand. Part of the problem with levels is, although the slope may not look much, it can be quite deceptive and is usually a lot more soil to be moved that you could ever have imagined.

        When it comes to the initial part of the design phase, forget the levels completely. Don’t get hung up on the details in the first stages of planning. I know that might sound difficult to do, but if you focus on the ‘issues’ that’s all you’ll see and you will get stuck, guaranteed!

        So to begin with, focus on nothing but shaping the empty spaces. Have a quick read through the ‘Shape first system’ part of the course. Good design is really about how you arrange the empty areas of space, like your lawn and patio areas. Once you have these outline shapes in place, then you can work out the levels. You can then see if it will look better to terrace it or have it flat.

        It’s funny, I find the clients with slopes always want to flatten them out and those with completely flat gardens want to create ‘levels’ to add interest! If you’ve got the shape right, it really doesn’t matter if the garden is flat or terraced. My personal preference, unless the garden is really small, is to terrace as it does add another dimension to the design.

        Hope that helps – let me know how you get on.

        p.s. there’s no rule that the existing position of the level change has to stay where it currently is. You can move the position and change the shape of the terrace. That’s why I recommend you design the garden you want, without the issue of the levels. Once you have a design that works, then sort out the level change.

        • Yvette

          Thanks this is exactly what I needed to hear! Motivation is on the ” up” again!

          • Rachel Mathews

            That’s great news Yvette – good luck with it, I’m sure you’ll get there with it. Keep us posted! 😉

    • Brenda Trotter

      We recently purchased a house with a delapidated four tier garden. The walls were crumbling and the paths dangerous. We have taken out all the old shrubs and now have what looks like a much bigger garden, which we want to make into just two tier. The paths and walls still need to be removed and we would like a patio at the top, a lawn at the bottom with a retaining wall. Can you recommend how we go about this as I am now getting desperate? I have had a few quotes but the figures are way beyond what we can afford and to be honest I am not sure whether they are quoting high so they dont get the job!
      I will arrange to send photos to give you a better idea of our nightmare!

      • Rachel Mathews

        Hi Brenda,

        Landscaping can be a costly endeavour when there’s soil and level changes involved. The price will all come down to if the landscapers can get machinery in or not. If they have to dig out by hand it will be expensive. I suggest you get 3 quotes and get them itemised to you can see where the costs are occurring. By all means send me a photo – I’ve now added a file upload button to the contact page so you can send an image.

        This might also be of use to you – I have a free guide that covers how to work with landscapers, designers & DIY designing. It’s always a good idea to have your ideas for the garden down on paper first. Having a scale plan means that everyone is quoting for the same thing and it enables you to check your ideas will work before you spend any money with the construction. It costs more or less the same to build a nicely designed garden as it does an undesigned one, but the difference in the end result is enormous!

        Here is the link to the Landscaping Guide.

    • Jan Welch

      I was wondering since it’s March 12 if you started your workshops yet ? I live in Washington State.

      • Rachel Mathews

        Hi Jan,

        I’m not sure when the next workshop will be as it’s been crazy busy here. I have started doing bite size versions on a fortnightly video podcast called the Garden Design Show, you can get it free on iTunes or on YouTube

        The previous workshops can be purchased from this page, if you missed them the first time round:

        I will keep you posted once I have a firm date for the next workshop but I suspect it won’t be until the autumn now, if I do one this year.


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