Specifications for Garden Designer Pt 1

The importance of a Specification

Contractual problems can arise on any project what ever its size. However, the larger and more complex a project the more scope there is for arguments with the Contractor because the amount of money at stake is potentially larger.

The Client who is faced with additional , unexpected and perhaps avoidable costs is not going to be pleased and may hold the Designer liable. The way to avoid argument is to produce clear "documents", i.e. drawings, schedules, specifications and instructions, so that your Client, all the Tenderers' and the appointed Contractor fully understand your design intentions.

What a Specification is

The Specification is a written description of requirements. On a small, simple project it may be possible to cover the necessary information by writing specification notes on the drawing. On most contracts a separate document is usually necessary.

For convenience the Specification is normally divided into two sections. The first section deals with administrative matters and is commonly called the Preliminaries. The second section defines the quality of workmanship, materials and plants required.

The Specification should be used to define quality and sequence of work etc. while the drawing is best for defining shape, size and location.

Few designers bother with specification writing and those that do, often don’t fully understand the full legal implications of this document.

In this litigious world, sooner or later one of us is going be sued and the line between bankruptcy and survival could well be a comprehensively written specification.

The Specification and its relationship to the Contract

You should always advise your Client to enter into a written Contract . Any Specification should be one of the "contract documents". The Contract is between your Client and the Landscape Contractor. You, as Designer, are not a party to the contract although your role as agent for your Client should be defined in the Contract.

Model Specifications

At the Oxford College of Garden Design we have written are own ‘Model Specification’ published by Packard Publishing which has been widely adopted as the industry standard.


Aimed at novice and professional garden designers, this work book explains a method of producing instructions for garden design work which can be tailored to an individual designer's current project.

It has been developed over many years and most importantly is thoroughly tried and tested. It has been kept deliberately brief and is flexible enough to allow designers to expand or condense it to suit their needs, and to allow use of their favourite products and plants.
Students and newly-qualified garden designers will find the model specification particularly useful both as a contract document and as a technical check-list; it can be used on the smallest projects where the specification clauses are annotated directly on drawings or plans or as an independent document.

The overall format assumes a designer is acting as an independent consultant and not as an employee or partner of a contractor offering a package design and build service.

My Concerns!

What worries me is that specification in the UK is often taught by tutors with a limited understanding of the legal implications or worse still, by former contractors that often have a very biased attitude to specifications and see them at little more than a nuisance.

Making a specification short and simple yet comprehensive enough to avoid ambiguity is extremely difficult. Those that advocate writing your own specification can not possibly expect students to have enough skill and understanding of the subject to prepare documents that are legally water tight? Yet this is exactly what is happening today in many courses across the UK.

Your comments and feedback are always welcome