A quality garden designer, specialising in sustainable landscapes, should be a professional Horticulturist; that is, they should have a large repertoire of plant knowledge so that they can use plants where difficult conditions prevail. Conversely a landscaper often doesn’t have this knowledge. Most landscapers come from the building trade, where they learn to make retaining walls – usually concrete rendered and usually on flat sites. They will use decking en masse, because they cant fill the space with plants because they don’t have the knowledge. They know very little about plants, and so build walled gardens so that they can fill these with soil to plant the few plant varieties that they know. So these gardens are all about hard landscaping and not plants.

Above: Depth in garden design

Garden designers who have been ‘taught’ how to design gardens often lack absolute confidence when offering advice – their design skills don’t come naturally like a designer born and bred. They have learnt the basics of design that becomes commonplace amongst ‘taught’ designers. And once again, the tutors too often have limited plant knowledge and design skills, otherwise they would be making a lot more money in their own business, than teaching students the rudimentary principles of garden design. A natural designer knows how to question these principles to come up with something really special. Its called lateral thinking.

Then there is the designer who uses the CAD system. Computer Aided Design systems provide plant lists that are traditionally eastern seaboard centric, so that many of the plants are inappropriate for areas other than Sydney or the sub-tropics. And once again, the range of plants is poor, so users of this system can be easily picked because of the plants that they use. And CAD designs lack the personal touch of a free-form designer. Landscape Architects use these systems all the time.

Above: A sustainable garden

I never want anyone to be able to say ‘that’s an Alison Aplin garden’. Each garden needs to be individual, to accommodate the existing façade of the home, the soil type (as I don’t use hard landscaping to enable planting in boxes), the needs of the client, and the garden needs to be aesthetically pleasing throughout the year. A garden should never collapse in winter as this is the most important time of the year to determine the backbone of a garden and to see how well designed it is.

As a specialist in my field, I am of the opinion that my industry needs regulation. It needs government intervention because I am concerned about the direction that the landscaping industry is heading.

In my post on Concrete, I have alluded to the overwhelming use of concrete within landscaping projects. The ramifications to our environment from this overuse are obscene. Listen to the people who speak passionately about climate change – they are all leaders in their field; they are people worth listening to and following.

I see many gardens done by other landscapers – many obviously aren’t garden designers because they lack any design or cohesion. A landscaper will often do what the client asks them to do. Whereas a good garden designer has the ability to offer a range of suggestions and take the client with them.

Poor quality workmanship amongst a number within the landscaping industry is having a detrimental affect on the better performers in the industry. And I am seeing it too frequently. Those who provide quality designs and work to a high standard should be able to stand apart from those who do shoddy work. But currently, the whole industry is intermingled, with the poor projects costing as much if not more, than those of high quality.

Landscaping Victoria’s members, who now refer to themselves as ‘Master Landscapers’ have some poor performers amongst their membership. We chose to leave the Association for this reason – to make a statement. Some members  charge a fortune for ugly hard landscaping. These concrete gardens are unbearably hot in summer with the wrong sort of trees for shade; the hard landscaping causes excessive ambient temperatures, and expensive drainage is required as no rain is utilised on site – it is all directed into the storm water systems. Why would a landscape designer, specialising in genuine sustainable landscapes, want to be part of the ever-increasing vulgar gardens being created that are really nothing but ostentatious concrete and paving with a few token plants as a gesture to the ‘garden’. No idea whatsoever about biodiversity; essential to a real, sustainable garden.

Before commissioning a garden designer or landscaper, the consumer needs to do more homework. Google searches can help, but in the instance of searching for Timandra Design & Landscaping, Ad-Words appear before our actual website, promoting a particular business as providing beautiful but cheap gardens. And it is landscapers like this whose work we get called in to fix after they have walked away from the job. Accountability for landscaping work is imperative. A good, ethical landscape designer provides quality quotes for the proposed work. And ask about their long-term accountability for the work that they provide, during the consultation.

If you are considering taking the next step in approaching a business to manage your project, consider what this business has to offer. How long it has been in existence, photos of work and testimonials – Houzz is an excellent source here, as the testimonials are genuine and not made up by the business, and whether the business has an experienced garden designer who is also a professional horticulturist (qualifications for this) and whether the business provides the landscaping and maintenance. A genuine sustainable advocate is an even greater advantage because sustainable gardens will become the norm in years to come, as people realise that the current concrete jungle trend is really totally out of sync for such a hot and dry country as Australia.

A quality, award winning garden, overseen by professional garden maintenance providers, can be seen at