Designing your dream garden? It might cost more than you think

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Many home renovators think creating a garden requires just selecting a few plants and working out where a barbecue should go. However, while many homeowners may claim to have green thumbs, the task of designing and implementing a garden in a professional’s hands is vastly different.

Furthermore, while most people have a budget in mind when building or renovating a house, these figures are often not forthcoming when they relate to the potential spend of designing a garden.

While most people have a budget in mind when building or renovating a house, these figures often don’t include the potential spend of designing a garden.Credit: Will Salter

“There’s a general rule of thumb of 10 per cent of the value of a build when it comes to a garden, but it really depends on what’s involved. Sometimes, an excavation of a property can come close to that amount,” says landscape architect Mira Martinazzo, director of Mud Office.

So, while a $1 million build may result in a $100,000 garden, the amount of the landscape spend, according to Martinazzo, is never 100 per cent entirely accurate until the preparation for a site commences.

“There are sometimes surprises after you start to turn the soil and, of course, the more expensive items include swimming pools, pergolas, hard paving, lighting and irrigation. The cost of the actual plants is often a fraction of the overall cost,” says Martinazzo.

A garden design by Pandolfini Architects.Credit: Rory Gardiner

They suggest using softer materials rather than extensive paving to reduce the cost of a garden. This includes using loose gravel (not near the entrance to a home) and increasing the amount of lawn. And when it comes to tree selection, Martinazzo suggests investing in large trees, at least a couple of metres in height. “These larger trees will give an outdoor space a presence until the lower shrubs take hold.”

Seeing the value a garden has on the resale of a property is often as difficult to estimate as so many factors come into play. But, according to Martinazzo, “investing $200,000 in a garden can often result in an increase of $400,000 when a property is sold.”

Myles Broad, director of Eckersley Garden Architecture (EGA), is known for his thoughtfully conceived gardens – many of which frame a number of high-end homes. As with Mud Office’s approach to costing a garden, there are a number of unknown variables.

“Generally, we start with a client’s brief rather than trying to work out exactly their budget,” says Broad. “The cost comes out as part of our design process, from the initial schematics. If a budget has to be trimmed, then we start eliminating items, whether that be a spa or an outdoor pavilion.”

Broad has seen an increase in the cost of outdoor surfaces – $400 a square metre for imported limestone to up to $600 a square metre for crazy paving. “There are always options to explore rather than setting out with a precise budget and then creating a scheme that makes this fit,” he says.

According to Broad, part of the cost of a garden should also be attributed to its maintenance. “Box hedges require considerable maintenance in terms of clipping.”

Sioux Clark, an interior designer and co-director of architectural practice Multiplicity usually gets involved beyond the parameters of a house, whether it’s a new build or a renovation.

“Many people see the value of a build but fail to see how it sits or connects to a landscape, irrespective of scale,” says Clark, who sees the value of architecture, interior design and the garden in a holistic way.

“There’s often the notion that when it comes to creating a garden, people feel like they can do it themselves,” says Clark. “Outdoor spaces need to respond to ways people use a garden and as importantly, how they connect to the indoor areas of a house.”

Stephen Crafti is a specialist in contemporary design, including architecture, furniture, fashion and decorative arts.

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