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Handling design budgets with Catherine MacDonald

Pro Landscaper speaks to Catherine MacDonald about handling budget expectations, and ask for Catherine’s top tips to reduce project costs without compromising a garden’s design

“Due to my nature, I prefer to be completely honest with clients, telling them straight if their expectations are exceeding their budget – of course telling them in a diplomatic manner,” Catherine says. When asked about a standard client reaction to this reality check, she explains: “Sometimes this leads them to change their expectations and alter their design brief or it can lead to clients increasing their budget, to allow the garden to be completed to their preferred specification.”

If a client wishes to get a project underway immediately but budget is still an issue, Catherine sometimes recommends phasing the installation. “When completing a project in phases we create the finished design and then advise on how the project could be broken down,” Catherine tells us. “By having the garden constructed in stages, the costs of labour and materials is spread out, allowing the project to get closer to the client’s wishes.

“As part of the design process we will often provide a ballpark figure for projects, based upon square metre rates and average material costs. This gives the client a rough idea of what the project could end up costing, and to perhaps adjust their expectations or review the design if necessary.”

Alongside labour, hard materials, such as paving, are a major cost of a project. When asked how to save on material costs, Catherine tells us: “We always advise clients to select quality products. Although when it comes to reducing a budget, without compromising on quality too much, we recommend substitutions such as a generic sandstone as opposed to something more specific like York stone.

“Changing the specification of trees can also be an effective way to bring a project’s cost down. Purchasing smaller trees, that will of course take more time to develop, could sometimes offer a substantial saving.”

In terms of altering the design to reduce costs, Catherine says: “Provided that it is not too detrimental to the overall design, it can be feasible to reduce the amount of hard landscaping within a project, as this is one of the more expensive aspects of the design. Feature items, such as pergolas, BBQs and water features, may also have to be removed as they are typically high-cost and are not always the most integral part of a design.”

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