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Garden Design on a Steep Slope

Hi All,

So after 20 years of garden maintenance including design and development, the change over to design and landscaping has started (

I have to admit it's really stressful, with a steep learning curve. Currently halfway through the first big job in Wembley, with another one seemingly lined up. Really have to work hard to get my head around the new scale of things.

I'm going to look at a potential job which would involve terracing a moderately steep slope, where the soil is thin, and on chalkland (Dunstable area).

When I did a short course in garden design many years ago, there was no mention of surveying the area, but recently I met a garden designer who always surveyed her gardens using a theodilite. Can anyone tell me please, is that standard practice now? I'm not sure exactly how to handle this particular design/landscaping. I think for me to actually design it, I'll need to invest in a theodilite and maybe some other equipment I have not yet laid my hands on?

I would be very grateful for any guidance or advice about a project like this please?

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  • PRO

    If I was you, with a steep slope, I would have a land surveyor do the survey. 

    I stick to surveying only simple gardens, anything large, or with significant changes of level, I have a professional do it.  You don’t want to get it wrong, it will be a huge and potentially costly headache.  

    • PRO

      I agree with Nicola berry's comment . 

      I planted out a terraced garden on a slope which was a modest affair but it still involved the designer bringing in an Architect and involved alot of mechanical plant .

      Steps and paths were put in which dominated the planted areas but were essential . 

      The main problem however was it somehow changed the water course causing flooding towards the property and so a land drain had to be installed . 

      I would get a good surveyor involved as above .


    • Thank you Nicola

  • I have a friend who has been a landscaper for at least 20 years, maybe 30, and he believes it isn't necessary. I'm not sure on all the details of how he works it out, but I know how honest he is and if he had ever come unstuck he would have changed his point of view. I'm trying to do it in the most cost effective way for the client, I feel I have to give the trust to him in view of his honesty and many years of experience.... But I remain open minded, this is always a "live document".

    • PRO

      Hi Karsten, it is commendable you want to make the client’s budget stretch as far as possible, but honestly I do not think this is the place to cut corners.  remember you will be liable if anything goes wrong, so you need professional indemnity insurance in place.


      • Sheesh, really? I mean, I'm hot about having the insurances that I need, but I have been paying out hand over fist over hand over fist to support this business. It actually makes me feel a little ill when I think about how much it is costing at the moment. The landscaper will carry out the work independently from me, could I still be liable? He has public liability insurance, but I don't think he has professional indemnity insurance.

        • PRO

          Yes, absolutely.  I know it’s expensive, but if you design the garden, you take professional responsibility for the design.  I use Simply Business for my insurance if that’s any help.  

          • Thanks Nicola.

            So even though the landscaper does the work on the basis of his own professional knowedge, I am liable because I, together with the customer, asked him to do it?

            • PRO

              You are the person employed by the client to deliver a design for the landscaper to build.

              It would be expected for you to have dealt with any structural & safety issues understand any building control issues ( height of walls, decking bylaws, electrical requirements etc ) and finally a design that lives up to clients expectation. 

              Not much really :-0)

              The landscaper would be expected to have sufficient skills to decipher your plans, implement H&S, discuss any concerns, deal with change control and finally build it to requisite level.

              Your PLI’s will cover some of this, but PI protects your further if advice you give as part of your business causes subsquential damage or financial loss to your client or there property 

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