A very common experience for us is being asked to landscape a building project or extension that is finished or nearly finished. With so much to think about, it’s easy to leave garden planning until later in your project. But this can cause problems. Our clients sometimes find themselves unable to achieve that zero-threshold they’d been dreaming of, walking mud all over their new flooring, or with very little budget left for hard landscaping. Time spent early on planning your garden will give you more options, so your new home will look great inside and out, and your money will go further. In this blog, Kebur Landscape Division‘s Craig Deeley shares his top tips on how and why to make your garden an integral part of your extension or new build plans right from the start.
Why are gardens important?
Outdoor living spaces can improve our quality of life, giving us a place to socialise, dine and have fun, especially in the summer months. As an extension of your living space, planning your garden is every bit as important as the inside of your home.
With modern technology dominating so much of our lives, our gardens are also the ideal place to boost our wellbeing by giving us a fix of nature and a calming view every day from inside our home. Plants and trees are also essential for removing CO2 and pollutants like carbon monoxide from the air, so are vital to creating a healthier environment for us all to live in (see RHS Why should we green Great Britain?).
Many studies show that money well spent on outdoor living spaces can increase the saleability and value of your property. Your front garden is just as important, a recent report suggesting a new driveway might add up to £13,354 in value to a Surrey home (Federation of Master Builders, 2018).
So how do I plan my outdoor space?
1. Treat the design as an important part of your overall project
Think about how you plan to use your garden as early as you can, as it might well influence the design of your home. How and where do you want the inside of the house to flow through to the outside? Do you want to match the materials or at least the colour scheme? If you are looking for a zero-threshold (i.e. the external floor height to be the same height as your internal floor), it’s crucial to think about this at the construction stage. If your damp proof course and drainage aren’t right, you could have major damp issues later. And you might want to choose paving that’s suitable for both indoors and outdoors.
Think about where you’ll position your main patio and any additional seating or dining areas to make the most of the morning, afternoon and evening sun positions. Your main seating area doesn’t have to be connected to the back of your home if that area receives the least sunlight throughout the day. This is especially important if you have a North-facing garden.
If you’re planning to dine alfresco, how much space will you need to entertain? It’s best to plan for at least half a metre behind a chair that has been pulled out. That way, there will be plenty of space to walk past without having to step off the patio.
Will you be storing garden furniture, bikes or barbecues outside? Whatever your storage needs, there is nothing more frustrating than paying for a shed and its base only to wish that you had one twice the size.
Protect your investment by designing security features into the garden like lighting, fences, walls or prickly hedges. The crunching sound of gravel is also a good way to deter thieves.
As well as being practically useful, garden lighting on pathways, seating areas and features is a great way to create interest and impact. Plan this ahead as fewer visits from your electrician will be more economical.
If your property is on or near a busy road you might want to disguise the noise. Water features or planting like tall grasses or bamboo can be a great way to do this.
2. Consider a garden designer
With all these things to consider, it can be a good idea to employ a garden designer. They can help you plan a space that really meets your needs. Most designers offer a free first consultation. Their services can range from design only, to planting plans, specification and project management. A design can help you compare quotes from landscaping companies and your designer may suggest some that they are confident working with. Check out the Society of Garden Designers to find the right person for you.
3. Plan your budget
There are many things that can affect the cost of your landscaping work. Labour and raw materials for your base will make up the majority. These can be affected by things like poor access or no access for machinery, which could mean the contractor will need to hand-excavate the plot. If your plot is very clayey, you might need a reinforced concrete sub-base. This could increase your sub base costs by approximately £20 per square metre. The materials you use on the surface will make up a fairly small proportion, maybe 20% of the cost.
4. Don’t cut corners
If you’re planning a patio, you’ll most likely be choosing from concrete, natural stone and porcelain. And there are other options for surface covering like timber decking, composite decking and turf. You’ll need to choose carefully depending on your budget. You can forfeit the stone of your dreams to bring the cost down a little, but don’t make any decisions that you might regret a few months down the line for the sake of £10-£20 per square metre. Think about how easy your surface will be to maintain and whether it will need sealing to protect it over time.
Whatever materials you use on the surface, getting the sub-base right is vital. There may be some jobs you are confident to do yourself (eg. spreading new shingle) but the quality of any excavations and sub-base is critical to the longevity of your installation. A poorly prepared surface can quickly lead to cracks and movement in your patio and its joints. And if your drainage isn’t SUDS compliant, you could end up with damp issues within your home.
5. Be creative to save on materials
The easiest way to save money is to upcycle materials from your existing garden. There are some excellent, inexpensive specialist cleaning products that you can use to bring driveways, patios and decking back to life. You can also re-use paving elsewhere to create an extra seating area or for a bin store or shed base.
Another way to make your budget go further is to mix solid paving and decorative aggregate. Decorative stones can cover a large area using a small amount. Depending on which stone you choose this can be a fraction of the price of paving. Breaking up driveway paving with decorative aggregates can be a good way of reducing material costs. It can soften the look, and is automatically SUDS compliant because it is great for drainage.
If you’re looking to cover a large area quickly, turf or grass seed can be cost-effective and has great environmental benefits. There’s also the therapeutic value of being outside and cutting your grass from time to time, which will encourage you to be in your garden enjoying nature.
6. Choose your contractor carefully
If you’re keen to make sure the quality of your landscaping matches that of your build, it’s important to choose your landscaper carefully. A good working knowledge of the latest materials and installation techniques is crucial. It’s a good idea to seek quotes from landscapers who are members of a trade body that accredits or endorses them. One such association is the Association of Professional Landscapers, which comprises accredited landscape companies who design, build and maintain gardens throughout the UK. The APL has one of the toughest inspection processes in the industry. This is done annually and includes insurance, compliance with health and safety law and site visits.
Whilst there’s so much to think about on your building project, spending a little time planning your garden early on will go a long way. You’ll not only maximise your budget but also create an outside space you can enjoy for many years to come.
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