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Landscaping Tips For Self Builders: Your FAQs Answered

25/01/2023 - Developers And Self Builders

Arbour Landscape Solutions are proud to offer a wide range of landscaping materials to self builders across the UK.  Here are some of the most frequently asked questions that pop up in conversations with self builders who are ready to create gardens that will complement their properties.  Richard Bickler, our MD is an experienced landscaper and answers the questions as candidly as he can.

  • enlightened  Do I Need A Garden Designer?
  • enlightened  How Do I Find A Reputable Landscaper?
  • enlightened  Can I Claim The VAT Back On Landscaping Materials?
  • enlightened  How Can I Save Time When Getting Quotes For Landscaping Materials?
  • enlightened  What Time Of Year Is Best For Landscaping?
  • enlightened  Where Can I Find Impartial Advice On Garden Design, Landscaping And Project Management?

Do I Need A Garden Designer For The Grounds Of My Self Build Home?

I’m sure, that as a self builder you’ve been dreaming of your finished property before your project even started.  You must have been picturing a beautiful home that reflects your personality and meets your every need. 

However, before you could secure planning permission and start building, you will have needed an architect to help you design your dream property and draw up plans.  Without a comprehensive blueprint, how could you be sure what you were building? Project management would be impossible. You would have nothing to help you calculate quantities for materials, nothing to help you explain to tradespeople what their brief is, and nothing to help you plan the next stage of the build.

When you pictured your dream property, did you also have a vision for the garden? Had you thought how the building would blend into its surroundings? Or what you want visitors to see as they approach your home? Did you think about how you would use your outdoor spaces or style the garden?

A garden designer will help you to consolidate your thoughts about the outside of your home and create a plan that will give your property the style and panache that only a landscaped garden can.  Garden designers are the gardening equivalent of architects - only they understand plants as well as layouts and hard landscaping.  

When you have a garden design you have the choice of asking professional landscapers to quote for your external works. Or, if you feel confident, you can commission some construction drawings and bring the garden to life with your own fair hands.

Do you need to hire a garden designer for your self build project?  Absolutely, 100%, yes you do.

Visit the Society Of Garden Designers website to find a great garden designer to work with


Newbuild property with black timber cladding and utilitarian front garden

pretty front garden for a newbuild property

This newbuild property has been transformed by the addition of a beautiful garden.  No longer do delivery vans drive across the front lawn.  That boring expanse of grass has is now a welcoming space.  And if you think that's good - you should see the back of the house.  Click here to read how garden designer and landscaper Craig McGibbon created a lifestyle enhancing outdoor space.

How Do I Find A Reputable Landscaper?

When you have invested your life and soul into building a property, the last thing you need is for a rotten rogue trader to come along, mess up your garden and disappear with your hard-earned cash.  So, it’s crucial that you hire a trustworthy, knowledgeable and skilled landscaper.  Your Uncle’s best friend’s cousin’s husband who has watched a couple of YouTube videos may quote you what sounds like a good price for the work…..especially if your build budget has been depleted by works on the house. But Granny was right when she said, “buy it cheap and you’ll buy it twice”.

Fortunately, there are two trade bodies in the UK who expect all members to work to a minimum set of standards.  You can save yourself a lot of heartache by choosing to work with a landscaper who is either a member of the Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) or registered with the British Association Of Landscape Industries (BALI).

If you’ve checked out those two websites and are still not sure who to work with, our MD Richard Bickler may be able to recommend a garden designer or landscaper who can help you.

Click here to email Richard

Can I Claim The VAT Back On Landscaping Materials?

VAT on landscaping work is a difficult subject to fathom.  I would advise any self-builder to talk to their architect and/or accountant about VAT on landscaping works BEFORE the house build begins.

At the time of writing, it appears that VAT exemption only applies to some parts of the landscaping.  For example, paths and driveways that allow access to the property or groundworks to accommodate utilities such as electricity, gas and drainage.  

There may also be VAT concessions on any landscaping features that have been specified at the planning stage. For example, SuDS or features to secure biodiversity net gain.

For VAT to be zero rated or exempt, any qualifying landscaping works must be completed before the house is habitable.  Once the property has been signed off as complete, no more VAT exemptions can be applied. 

Some soft landscaping, and what could be perceived as decorative landscaping are subject to VAT

Take a look at this article from BALI which references the parts of VAT legislation that affect landscaping. But please also follow the links within the article to the HMRC website where you will find up to date (if difficult to decipher) information.     

You may also find these links useful - as recommended to us by Larking Gowen accountants

Building a new home and VAT: Eligibility - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Goods and services you can claim for under the VAT DIY Scheme - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

VAT rules change from time to time, so please double check any information before starting your project.

contemporary garden suitable for a self build property

Contemporary garden built by Landscape One Design

How Can I Save Time On Pricing Landscaping Materials?

If you’re scrolling through the internet and making constant phone calls to find the best value on every single element of your new garden, I really do feel for you.  Having run a landscaping business myself where we sometimes had 3-4 projects on the go at once, I know how tiresome (and important) it is to get the right price AND the right delivery time frame all in the same package.

That’s why I developed a simple to use online tool called My Bill Of Quantities.  In a nutshell, you upload your ‘shopping list’ to the Arbour Landscape Solutions website and a very experienced team of people seek price it all up for you. Best of all - it won’t cost you a penny.  Seriously, it takes five minutes of your time and you’re not obliged to buy. What more could any self-builder want? Oh - and it’s not just for “off the shelf” landscaping products - you can use it to get prices for bespoke stone, specimen trees, hand-made pots - everything!

Read more about quicker quotes for landscaping materials here

What Time Of Year Is Best For Landscaping?

Some aspects of landscaping can go on all year round.  Groundworks, tree planting, fencing, hedging and decking are good examples.  However, anything involving concrete or mortar needs a temperature of at least 5 degrees and rising.  Which means that you need to be mindful during the winter months.

If you’re going down the route of hiring a landscape professional to help with the work, they will be able to advise.  Be sure to choose a reputable contractor though who will do what’s best for the garden - not what’s best for their cash flow.


collage of beautiful gardens which are ideal for self build properties

Where Can I Find Free, Impartial Advice On Garden Design, Landscaping And Project Management?

If you have any questions at all about the design and construction of your garden, our MD, Richard Bickler is always happy to help.  

Richard has worked within the landscape industry since the age of 14. He started his own landscape design and build company at the age of 19 which he ran successfully for over 25 years.  A back injury eventually made hands-on landscaping almost impossible for him and so he closed his design and build company and founded Arbour Landscape Solutions.  

Arbour Landscape Solutions is the one stop shop for the landscape industry.  We believe that we have the most comprehensive product offering of its kind in the UK and our Richard knows exactly how to specify, install and/or use every single product in the range.  In addition, he is very happy to share his knowledge on any aspect of building a garden. From finding a garden designer to choosing the most appropriate materials for the project.

Click here to get in touch with Richard for a no-cost discussion about your self build garden.

More tips on sourcing materials for your self build garden

How to order samples of landscaping materials