Landscaping by the Numbers



By Katie Costain and Ben Freeman

Whether you’re designing a new garden or renovating an existing one, bringing your ideal landscape to life can be a pricey endeavour.

With so many options available across a wide range of products and design styles, it is important to know when to splurge and when to save.

By putting a bit of thought into your design, plants and hard materials ahead of time, you can keep to your budget without sacrificing your style.

Getting help from landscape professionals (designers and contractors), can save you the stress and cost of making mistakes during your garden renovation.

If hiring a professional is not in your budget, spend a bit of time doing some research. Garden centres and nurseries offer free landscaping and planting advice, while websites and books can help with the more practical side of things.

If you’re willing and able to roll up your sleeves, you can save money on the cost of installing your new garden. Most landscape designers will be able to order the plants they have suggested for your property.

If you aren’t able to follow their plan, it might be possible to get your designer to set out the plants for you to then dig the holes and plant them in the ground.

It should go without saying, but if you’re not experienced with installation, hire a professional for the landscape projects you can’t undertake. Fixing DIY mistakes on garden projects can be very costly down the line and, in the meantime, poor installation can create an unsafe environment in your yard.

Hardscape spaces like pathways and courtyards are much more expensive in both materials and installation than softscape areas. You can significantly cut down your costs by selecting less expensive hardscape materials, or utilising larger planting areas.

Material selection will have a significant impact on your budget. There are many options available for New Zealand gardens – from decking to paving to permeable chips and stones.

Each of these materials includes a wide variety of treatments at varying price points, so it can pay to consider the application of your chosen material; cheaper materials like gravel and chip are great for side yards and pathways where they are less often used. Where hardscape is the focal point of a design, like a courtyard or patio, it can pay off in the long run to go for your top choice of material.

Often underestimated, plant selection can make or break your landscape. Avoid the temptation for “instant gardening” (overfilling a bed by planting too close together). Instead, space your plants for what the garden will look like in five years, taking into account the plants’ mature sizes.

While hardscaping will use up the majority of your budget, purchasing plants to fill an entire garden, or even a single garden bed, can add up very quickly. It is easy to get carried away at the nursery, but it is important to remember that not all plants are created equal.

Evergreen trees and shrubs are a great way to add structure to your garden. They anchor the planting in your garden beds and will look good year-round. Opt for perennials and flowering shrubs that bloom year after year, rather than annuals which require replacing every season.

Including plants in your garden that are native or well suited to your region and climate will reduce your irrigation and maintenance requirements – native plants get an extra tick as they support native birds and insects.

Save your budget to upgrade plant sizes that will make a big impact in your garden. If your budget allows; spending that little bit extra will get you trees and slow growing shrubs in larger sizes, which means you’re not having to wait for those key plants to grow.

If you choose to purchase a mature tree, ask for the help of a landscape professional for installation, in order to reduce the risk of the tree experiencing shock when transplanted.

Dividing a project up into multiple phases will probably not save money in the long run, but it will ease your budget now and allow time for you to replenish your savings. In order to do this, you will need a master plan for the finished garden before you begin.

A master plan should clearly indicate zones so you can determine which areas are your top priorities and the best order in which to complete the work. There is no point starting with the front of your property if you have limited access to the back and may end up damaging and having to redo your new garden.

Putting a bit of time and thought into the way you undertake your garden renovation will help save you time and money, and more importantly enable you to spend your budget more wisely, so you can get the most out of your garden.

Katie Costain and Ben Freeman are the directors of Billygoat Landscape Architecture (BGLA), based in Canterbury and Wellington. For more information, visit


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