Garden surveys – what you need to know

New clients sometimes ask us whether a garden survey is really necessary. Our response is always that garden surveys are an essential part of the garden design process and not just a ‘nice-to-have’. A garden survey is an accurate record of what is in the garden at the outset of the design work.  It includes the detailed measuring of an existing garden, together with its topography, features and services.

A successful design is based on good use of the space available, and how everything fits together in pleasing proportions.  Important factors for the designer to consider include the position of the house, plot boundaries, ground levels, views (in and out of the space), alignment of windows etc.  A survey also includes details about drainage, heights of eaves of buildings, heights of existing trees and their canopies (to calculate shadow lines at different times of the day). Needing to move something at a later stage can significantly ‘throw out’ proportions and designs that have been harmonised at the start.  For this reason, an accurate survey is critical to a successful, smooth design process.

What is typically included

Typically, garden surveys will include the items shown below.  However, this is not an exhaustive list.  Your designer may request additional items that are specific to your site.

  • Buildings
  • Surfaces (paving, grass etc)
  • Trees and shrubs
  • Borders
  • Overhead or underground services
  • Garden features – e.g. water features, walls, buildings
  • A North point
  • Potential hazards

Landscape architect working at PC with hand drawings in the background.Expect your plans to arrive digitally unless you’ve specifically paid for paper copies.  Make sure to obtain a pdf and dwg version.  Architects and garden designers require these to be able to build on the plans.

How to get a survey carried out

While a survey is always required, it can vary from very simple (e.g. a new build house with a ‘blank canvas’ of a garden) to a large estate with wooded areas and sprawling grounds.  Depending on the complexity of the survey, the designer might do it themselves.  There are also many specialist survey companies available.  Most of the time at The Garden Company we work with an external surveyor.

Costs involved

The cost of a professional survey starts from several hundred pounds and can be up to several thousand.  The price depends on the size and complexity of the site. Survey quotes are easy to obtain.  They don’t require a site visit – surveyors can use eg Google Earth to estimate the survey price.

The Garden Company approach

Garden designer James Scott MBALI MSGD working at drawing board.We usually arrange to provide a survey as part of our overall design ‘work package’.  This is mainly because we prefer to work with surveyors that we know, who understand the type of information and level of detail we need.

We always follow up a survey with a site analysis.  Once the survey has been done, we annotate it with the following details:

  • where the best views are
  • areas that we want to screen
  • areas that get the sun
  • where clients are likely to want to sit etc.

Without an accurate survey you can’t produce a good site analysis. Following the site analysis, all of our designs (residential or commercial) start with hand sketching over the annotated survey.

Once a design is complete, we leave a faint copy of the survey below. This makes it easy to compare the new positions of features relative to existing features.  In other words, we show the ‘before’ and ‘after’ together on one document, helping our clients to understand and visualise the proposed design.

Our top tips 

If you are commissioning a garden survey yourself, make sure to discuss it in advance with your garden designer.  This will help to ensure that it fits into their design process as outlined earlier.

In a practical sense, you shouldn’t need to do anything prior to the survey taking place except for making sure that access is cleared.  If the garden is very overgrown, then some general clearance of unwanted growth could be useful for access to all areas. It’s also sensible to inform the surveyor of any known hazards e.g. unsafe buildings.

This blog is based on an interview with James Scott on the role of garden surveys that originally appeared in Dream Garden magazine, November issue 2021.  This monthly magazine is available at Waitrose, M&S and other retailers or by subscription.


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