Things have changed in the garden industry…

Who are you going to call?
Choosing the right garden professional

When Creative director of Secret Gardens Matt Cantwell started his business more than 25 years ago, the concept of garden design was relatively new. Many homeowners were more accustomed to treating their gardens as lifelong projects, punctuated by occasional structural changes, such as the installation of a pool or the construction of a deck.


But as our lifestyles have changed and we’ve embraced the garden as an extension of our indoor living spaces, our expectations have risen.

In short, we want more.

The garden design industry has responded, with greater focus on a full service, from concept and design to installation and even maintenance.


Matt says it’s a long way from where the industry was in the 1990s.


“When I started, people didn’t pay for design and if they did, it usually didn’t go past a planting plan,” he says. “Now we are providing very detailed construction drawings, the same as an architect would do for a house.”


Not everyone will need the services of a landscape architect or designer but understanding just which garden professional you might require can be a confusing and time consuming exercise for many.


“Many people don’t understand what it is they are looking for,” Matt says. “We get a lot of enquiries from people asking about getting their project done but they don’t understand the process and what the different companies offer.”

Size matters

Often, it gets down to the size of the job. If you are generally satisfied with your garden but one section requires something specific, a contractor may well be your best option.


“For clients who have a particular task they need done, like paving being laid or the installation of a retaining wall in a portion of the garden, often all they need is a landscape contractor,” says Matt. “They will be able to provide advice on the best way forward.”


Make sure they are licenced to carry out the work you’ve hired them to do and ask for examples of their work so you know what to expect.


“If you go with a contractor, you will be briefing them and there are lots of things open to interpretation,” Matt says. “Often you don’t find out what you’re getting until you get started building it.”

Diving into the detail

Where the job is larger, more detailed or is part of the broader approval requirements for a renovation or building project, plans prepared by a landscape design firm are a must. Although landscape designers have a Tafe qualification while landscape architects have a degree from a university, Matt says often there’s not a lot of difference in practical terms.


“You may have a scenario where people are rebuilding their house and they need a landscape plan for council approval from a registered landscape designer or landscape architect,” he says.


“They need the design to get the house across the line for their Development Application or Complying Development Certificate. You certainly need a designer or landscape architect in that situation.”


The Secret Gardens team provides a diverse range of landscape specialists, including landscape architects and designers, structural landscapers, horticulturalists, carpenters, stone masons and more.


While contractors may provide a written description of the scope of works, Matt says detailed drawings of the proposed project prepared by a landscape designer or architect can transform it from mundane to mind blowing.

“It’s when you consider the alternatives and think about the spaces and present your ideas to the clients that the best options come together. You can elaborate on the concept with construction drawings and fine tune it.”

“It’s when you consider the alternatives and think about the spaces and present your ideas to the clients that the best options come together,” he says. “You can elaborate on the concept with construction drawings and fine tune it. It can be an added expense but it is a further guarantee that you will get what you were after.”

Keep on communicating

As with all the best building projects, good visual, written and verbal communication will offer the best path to success.


“We can take clients through a detailed concept phase, as well as getting the necessary approvals sorted,” says Matt. “Taking them through the detailed documentation and construction drawings provides clients with the maximum amount of communication in terms of what we are pricing and what the clients are getting so that everyone is on the same page.”


From little things, big things grow.