Consider whether you will do the landscaping yourself or employ professional help. Some ideas for garden features and what work might need building and resource consents.

What are the options?

A well-designed garden can be a perfect setting for your new house. It can provide pleasure and useful indoor/outdoor living space, save you time and effort if it is designed for easy care, and will also add value if you decide to sell.

For many people it is not until they move in and face the mud and piles of dirt surrounding their new home, that their thoughts turn to landscaping.

Registered architects and some designers are trained in landscaping, and when you hire one to design your new home you can choose whether to include this service in your brief with them. This might be particularly important if you start out with a vision for the entire finished project.

Similarly, if you are having your house built through a group housing company, the package may include some basic landscaping, such as driveways and paths.

If you are doing it yourself, for many people it can be a pleasure to spend weeks, months and, more likely, years planning, digging and organising their garden and outdoor areas. Others are happy just to put in some lawn and a few necessary paths, and forget about it.

If you decide to do your own landscaping, it pays to have a plan – draft up where the clothesline will go, the paths and the garden beds. See if it works on paper. This could save you a lot of hard work shifting things around later when you find it doesn’t work as you envisioned.

Professional landscape designer

If you don’t want to design your garden and/or do the work yourself, you can employ a professional landscape designer.

To find and employ a landscape designer you need to follow a similar process to finding and briefing your architect or designer.

Look in the Yellow Pages and search the web for names. Ask for referrals from friends, family and colleagues or your local garden centre. If you see a garden you admire ask the owner who they used. When you get a shortlist, you can meet with each of them and get an idea of their prices.

Find a designer that you like and that listens to you. Have magazines, pictures, books or photos of designs you like. The garden is one area where you can really express your personality. But give the designer room to make suggestions about layout, plants and features.

You need to be able to give them ideas about your lifestyle – are you the outdoor barbeque type of person? Do you love gardening or do you want something that will just take care of itself? What sort of garden do you like – cottage, formal or native for example? What features do you want - paving, fencing, a pool, fishpond, glasshouse, spa, or gazebo? Is privacy from the neighbours and the street important to you?

The type of soil and exposure to the elements will dictate what will be best for your location.

Registered landscape architects

Landscape architects are trained in landscape design, contract documentation and supervision. They often won’t do the actual work, but can help you choose and invite tenders from landscape contractors, organise the contract and oversee the project for you.

Their fees will reflect the scope of services required, the time that it will take to complete the work, and their expertise. The landscape architects professional body is the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects (NZILA) and has information on the range of services offered by a landscape architect, and the range of fees that might typically be charged.

Garden features

Like gardening, many people enjoy building outdoor features. There are lots of readily available magazines specialising in landscaping to give you ideas. Your local library is a good source of information.

But if you don’t have the skill, time or inclination, you can employ others to do the paving, concreting, plastering, fences and even to sow the lawns, make gardens and paint.

Ideas for garden features include:

  • Paving and pathways: concrete, tiles, concrete pavers, wooden decking, stones, pebbles, shells.
  • Fences, walls and screens: for privacy and to create ‘rooms’ in the garden. These features should meld with the materials and style of the house.
  • Water features: fish ponds, fountains, pools and spas. They need advance planning as earth will need to be dug out and water systems put into place. Be aware of fencing requirements for pools.
  • Lighting: for security, effect and safety.
  • Art and sculpture: sundials, statues, birdbaths.
  • Areas for compost, rubbish bins, clotheslines, tool sheds, glasshouses. Best put in areas out of the way.

Building consent for garden features

Some outdoor and garden features will need building consent. Under the Building Act 2004, building work includes:

  • Building decks one metre or more in height above ground level.
  • Building retaining walls that:
    • Are above 1.5 metres in height above ground level.
    • Will retain driveways or structures regardless of height.
  • Plumbing or drainage work that is not routine maintenance.
  • Construction or installation of swimming and spa pools.
  • Installation of roof, wall and free-standing communications aerials.
  • Construction of ‘substantial structure’ fences, i.e.
    • A fence constructed of concrete, block-work, steel, etc which requires heavy foundations; or
    • A fence of any other type of construction over two metres in height.
  • Building garages or garden sheds over 10 sqm.

When you apply for building consent, you will be given the Project Information Memorandum (PIM) which contains all the information relevant to your landscaping project. It is a good idea to apply for a PIM before you get building consent so that you have all the information about the site at hand, as this could affect your planning.

If you are working with a landscape professional, they should be able to advise you about PIMs and building consent, and may apply on your behalf. Or contact your Building Consent Authority first and find out if building consent is needed for your proposed garden feature.

Resource consent

You may also need resource consent before building or installing some features. For example, you may need resource consent to remove a tree so you can build a fence, or your neighbour’s consent may be required to put in a garden shed that will block their light or line of sight

You may already have a copy of the Land Information Memorandum (LIM) from when you bought the section telling you where stormwater or sewage drains are and any special features that the land might be prone to, such as erosion or flooding.

If you have any doubts, it is best to check with your local council first and find out if building consent is needed for your proposed garden feature.

Taking care with ground levels

Make sure, when building garden beds close to the house, that the ground level stays below the floor level – failure to do this contributes significantly to leaky home problems.

For timber floors, outdoor ground levels must not be built up higher than the ground levels under the house. For concrete floor slabs outdoor paved areas must be 150mm below the slab and gardens must be 225mm below the top of the slab.