Garden Design and Landscaping advice for Self-build projects

23 July 2018

Karl Harrison from Decorum London has years of experience designing and creating bespoke garden designs for luxury residential projects all over the world. Based here at Sky House Design Centre we asked Karl to offer his advice to our wide audience of self-builders, letting them know what they should do about their garden or landscape design when undertaking a self-build project:

1. Use a professional for advice

Whilst you may be using smaller subcontractors or even attempting the build yourself it does pay dividends to see the assistance of a professional garden design and build company. A good start is with the Association of Professional Landscapers. You can search for a landscaper at their website ( or lookout for this logo on their website

2. Get your garden designed before you start the build

Garden Design by Decorum

This can save a fortune and lessen the impact of tradespeople working for prolonged periods of time. Knowing where everything is going to be will aid the main contractor and prevent the same part of the project from being done twice to achieve the same aim. Terracing, decking, correct soil, drainage, planting, lawns, irrigation, lighting and garden features are essential to making your project look beautiful… you can build it yourself but only if it's been professionally designed.

3. Plan your garden well in advance

It is essential to rationalise all heavy plant machinery at the same time as your build, this means you can excavate the garden into the right shape and elevation at the same time as the main excavation of the house.

4. Reuse the spoil for landscaping

When you excavate your foundations, you may find it does have to be disposed of off-site, but if you are having changes in elevation to satisfy the garden design then you may do just as well to use this spoil instead of paying to remove it and then buying new product to infill.

5. Choosing the right materials

Your garden designer will be able to advise on what may work best, usually if they have the interior design scheme they may be able to assist in the overall specification whereby you can achieve the inside/outside look. It is a massive value-add when having the same threshold from inside to outside and something that HAS to be planned well in advance as the main build will have to be constructed differently to accommodate this feature.

6. What about drainage

Water plays an important role in all gardens. You may want a centrally drained point into underground water storage to be pumped back into the planting areas via an irrigation system. You may just decide on a simple soak away, there is regulation for soakaways so do take the right advice.

7. Consider decking for awkward elevation changes

These days there are many products to compensate terraces over difficult terrain, aluminium or steel frames wrapped in porcelain… or you could simply stay with decking… careful, any elevation additions over 300mm need planning permission.

8. Work out weather and sun exposure

If you have a favourite spot to sit in the garden you could consider an IQ Louvre Roof System to control the shade throughout the day which does also create a separate room for use outside in all weathers. Glass sides, heating and lighting can create a beautiful dining area for all year round.

9. Use mature plants to create an established look

Plants grow so don’t buy the big ones, could be a consideration but your garden designer will offer solutions to get the large structural plants in during the excavation stage if possible and then you can add the smaller planting later… don’t forget your irrigation.

10. Subtle lighting that works inside and out

Lighting should be considered at the same time as the interior, having already provisioned switches to control the exterior whilst building the main project will make for a simpler system outside. Colours and types of lighting can be considered but I would recommend the power supply and lighting control be more important to the planning stage. You can then add whatever lights you want later.

11. Don't be your own garden designer

I design gardens so I don’t diagnose medical illnesses or repair cars very well… leave the garden design to the professionals, it's what they do for a living and can offer some brilliant ideas that you never thought existed.

12. Garden storage

Often forgotten and usually, an afterthought… under the deck or a custom-made storage item can add tremendously to the usability of the garden… it doesn’t have to be boring… It should be part of the garden design.

We hope that you found this expert advice useful. Contact us to book your personal meeting with one of our experts. 

Water plays an important role in all gardens. You may want a centrally drained point into an underground water storage to be pumped back into the planting areas via an irrigation system. You may just decide on a simple soak away, there are regulation for soak aways to do take the right advice.

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