« Back

5 Landscaping Tips For Self Builders

05/07/2023 - News

First of all, congratulations for getting this far with your self build project. You’ve doubtless learned a lot of skills along the way and faced many more challenges than you ever expected to. Now it’s time to face your next challenge. Landscaping your garden.

As an ex landscaper and a garden consultant, MD of Arbour Landscape Solutions, Richard Bickler has a wealth of experience to share with first time garden builders. He’s seen some beautiful gardens literally built around new build properties. He’s also learned about some of the expensive mistakes made by inexperienced landscapers who have listened to poor advice.  These are Richard's top 5 landscaping tips for self builders.

  1. Invest in a professional garden design.
  2. Builders are not landscapers! Don’t mix your trades up, hire the right professional for the job.
  3. Gather samples of materials and ‘live’ with them for a few weeks before making a decision.
  4. Bring the design to life in stages if you don’t have the budget to complete your garden in one go.
  5. Make plenty of room for plants, they will make your new property feel more welcoming.

modern garden with lawn, patio and steel clad fencing.

beautifully designed garden with seating area and firepit and views across a lawn and swimming pool

Why Pay For A Professional Garden Design?

Would you even dream of building your home without employing an architect to develop the design and ensure it can realistically be built? No, of course not. A garden designer fulfils the same function as an architect, only their work is concentrated on the outdoor spaces.

Yes, there is a cost to hiring a garden designer and it’s understandable that at this stage of a self build project you are probably being very careful with your budget. However, if you look upon garden design as an investment rather than an expense, you’ll see that it makes sense.

A professionally designed garden will, first and foremost, be buildable. Garden designs are not just pretty pictures. They are effectively a blueprint specifying things like levels, depth of foundations, position and strength of any retaining walls etc. 

Your garden designer, like your architect, will take into account the way you want to use your outdoor spaces and they will ensure that the design ‘flows’. That way, you’ll transition seamlessly from indoors to outdoors and feel comfortable using every bit of your garden and driveway.

You will of course have lots of input into the design, the landscaping materials and the planting style. It is your garden after all.

To find a fully qualified garden designer with the right experience for your project, choose someone who is a member of the Society of Garden Designers

Employing The Right Tradespeople For The Job

By the time you are ready to start landscaping your garden, you will probably have developed a good rapport with the tradespeople working on site. But please bear in mind that building and landscaping are not the same thing. The materials they use are not the same, neither is the way they will ultimately be used. Just as you would be reluctant to ask a carpenter to commission your under floor heating, it’s unwise to ask a builder to lay your patio.

For the best results, your landscaper and garden designer should work together from the very beginning of the project. That way the landscaper will understand the designer’s vision for your garden and offer advice on expected build costs, suitability of materials and practicality of the build. As landscaping progresses there will be a much lower risk of delays due to miscommunications.

Find a trustworthy landscaper in your area on the Association of Professional Landscapers website.

landscapers working on a complex project with retaining walls, terraces and circular features

Experienced landscapers using a wide variety of skills sets to bring a complex project to life. Photo credit to Unique Projects Devon.

Gather Samples Of Materials And 'Live' With Them Before Deciding

Your garden designer will be able to recommend the decorative landscaping materials for your garden. Things like pavers, steps, decking and cladding. But it’s YOU that will be living with them for as long as you stay in your new home. So it’s important to make the right choices for yourself.

Richard Bickler recommends gathering samples of several different landscaping materials to see what they look like in context.  Remember that the appearance will change slightly according to whether they are wet, dry, in direct sunlight, in shade, lit, unlit, beside a pool or beside planting. It’s no different to using paint samples on your interior walls. Don’t rush your decision. You can easily slap some fresh emulsion on the living room wall if you get tired of it - ripping up a patio and changing it, is rather more expensive.

A small selection of landscaping materials on display at a networking event

A great way to meet garden designers, landscapers and landscaping materials suppliers is to join one of the networking meetings organised by Arbour Landscape Solutions.  Click here to find an event near you.

Low On Budget? Bring Your Garden To Life In Stages

Budget needs to be high on your list of topics for discussion with your garden designer and landscaper. Your garden design should represent the final look and feel that you want to achieve. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be built all at once.

If the garden is to be built in phases, your designer and landscaper will work together to make that possible. For example, if you plan to install a water feature or lighting in a later phase, it may be prudent to include the relevant pipes and conduits in phase one.


modern verandah brought to life by a wall of climbing plants

self build property with simple but attractive planting scheme in the front garden

Make Room For Plants

Hard landscaping is wonderful but no garden is complete without plants. They will help to ‘bed’ your new home into its surrounding landscape and somehow just make it feel more welcoming.

From November 2023, it will be mandatory for housebuilding companies to add 10% more wildlife and habitat to land they wish to build on as a prerequisite to obtaining planning permission.  According to NaCSBA, the expectation is that self builders will be exempt from this requirement, however at the time of writing, they were still awaiting confirmation.

Which means, that as a self builder, you may be required to demonstrate biodiversity net gain. And that means putting trees, hedges, living roofs and/or plants into your garden.

Your garden designer will be able to create a planting plan for you if you are not sure which species will love your garden. 

Where To Source Landscaping Materials For Self Build Properties

Arbour Landscape Solutions offers a comprehensive range of landscaping materials all at trade prices. Register as a self builder on their website to take advantage of the raft of free quoting tools that will make your life easier. Plus, all new registrations come with a 5% discount voucher to apply to your first order.  Need help or advice - it’s always free from Arbour Landscape Solutions and you can never ask too many questions.

Visit the Arbour Landscape Solutions website here.

Learn more about the pricing tools on the Arbour Landscape Solutions website

Need help navigating the processes of designing and building a garden? This book by landscape industry guru Alan Sargent is highly recommended. It's the definitive guide to buying a landscaped garden with advice on finding a designer and contractor, method statements and risk assessments, legal responsibilities, materials and ongoing maintenance.

Click here to order your copy of "Buying A Garden" by Alan Sargent.