Paving and Tiling – What’s The Difference?

During the course of my work as a Gardens Consultant, I am tasked with sorting out many problems, every enquiry varying in its’ scope, size, complexity and difficulty. This is one of the joys of the job, especially in my special niche – that of Dispute and Court work. I am totally independent, whether working on a Single Expert commission, Single Joint Expert (where two individuals pay half of my fee each and both agree to use my services) or under a Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) Part 35 Report basis, working under the instruction of a solicitor or Court. I remain 100% impartial at all times, otherwise I could not do my job.

Whilst every case is interesting, as each one has its’ own background, history, reasons for becoming a dispute in the first place, or simply the location and nature of the problem. Sometimes though, a project becomes more than generally interesting – it has a potential impact of the wider industry of Landscaping, and to have an opportunity to prevent a case from causing disruption across the country is very rare.

I have recently had one such case, and without going into detail at the risk of identifying the property and individuals involved, the project was somewhere in England, and concerned a paving contract for a large area of a garden in a private property.

It was a labour only contract, with the landscaper commissioned to lay natural stone paving, 20mm thick, in slabs of 60 x 60 and 60 x 30 to a series of multi-level terraces.  The levels were retained by concrete block walls, backfilled with rubble and whatever else was on site. The owner acted as Main Contractor (which brings up another set of issues regarding CDM 2015 and attendant responsibilities. See elsewhere in The Library). It transpired that the owner called in various friends and others to carry out the construction works including a series of retaining walls, between 1.2m and 2.4m high, without any Architect’s drawings or Structural Engineers specification.

The concrete foundations over which the paving was to be laid were in situ, and the contractor did not know what they comprised of, except that they were constructed by the owner. In the event, it was discovered that the foundations have not been laid on to the walls, rather added behind them and not tied in to the walls.

The design and build element is not particularly germane to this article, but is does provide a background to the problems encountered by the paving contractor, as shortly after completing the majority of the scheme, the paving slabs became loose from their (sand and cement) laying bed, over a 100mm concrete foundation. The job was carried out in 2015/16, before slurrying the backs of slabs became the accepted practice. It is very important to bear in mind, that practices that have changed (often rapidly) over the course of a few years, should in no way condemn what was considered sound practice at the time the work was carried out.

I was called in to produce a report, and duly submitted that the paving had become loose from the laying bed – or rather, the laying bed had become loose from the slabs, as the infill material has settled due to poor construction techniques including drainage issues/total lack of weep holes through the walls etc. To be fair, whether or not the paving had been slurried would have made no difference – except that the slabs would have cracked rather than simply ‘popping’ from their beds. The difference between the finished levels of some slabs I inspected was 20mm from one slab to the next, such was the settlement over an area of 600m2. Fortunately, the contractor had kept a detailed photographic record of every stage of the project, including noting the various cracks and settlement in the foundations, which had been constructed by others

Owner blamed the Contractor – despite being in charge of the project

The owner was not happy, blaming the contractor, and engaged an Architect as an Expert Witness (despite not being a stone specialist), who produced a lengthy report, condemning the paving contractor, blaming him for the failure and ‘falling foul’ of BS5385 in laying the tiling.  Notice, he did not use the word ‘paving’, but rather ‘tiling’ to describe the materials used on the project.

In this instance,  the paving was sawn six sides sandstone @ 20mm thick and sold as EN 1341 compliant.

BS5385 concerns Tiling, and not paving. BS 5385 precludes any stone material over 12mm thick. The expert also referred to the material as ‘slate’ when it was in fact, sandstone, which further diminished the credibility of the report in my eyes.

The owner went to County Court, employing a number of highly paid solicitors to sue the contractor for poor workmanship. I will not go into detail regarding the case, but the most important point being made in this article, is that if the Court found that BS5385 (Tiling) was to prevail, it would mean that every stone supplier in the UK would have to scrap their laying instructions and produce fresh ones, leaving existing warranties null and void.

We have seen natural stone paving products become increasing thinner over the years. Around 2010, a ‘one ton’ crate of sandstone would hold no more than eleven square metres of paving. In 2020, that area has increased to seventeen or eighteen, simply because the slabs have been through a ‘thicknesser’, thereby reducing the previous 25mm slabs to 20mm thus increasing the metreage available in one crate. 

The main message in this essay is to point out that we are getting close to a time when the old BS EN 7533-4, which is the British Standard for paying paving, will become confused with BS5385 at some stage.

Currently, there is no minimum thickness for paving slabs, but it must be twice the thickness of its’ length and a minimum of 150mm (in other words, a slab, not a tessera or mosaic piece). This paving was sold under BS EN 1341, and is a natural stone product. This paving material should therefore be laid in accordance with BS EN 7553-4.

To summarise, there are two messages here; be aware of the two different British Standards. Check them out for full details and information, including keeping up to date with any alterations that may be made, bearing in mind the changing thickness of materials.

The difference in laying techniques for paving and tiling are wide and varied. The Standards for Tiling are largely based on internal settings, and there are some instances of landscaping works that may require BS5385, for example, garden kitchens with overhead covers and requirements for a different cleaning regime that an external patio, even if the flooring materials are the same (e.g. ceramics). These tiling products may be used to clad walls, and will fall under the same BS5385 if they are under 16mm thick.

Keep records of all projects

The second message is very important. The Contractor in this case had retained a copy of the laying instructions included in the original paving packs. As methods change, as contractors, we should not be penalised at some future date simply because recommendations have altered. Whatever you do, whichever product you lay, ensure that you retain a copy of all relevant information, instructions, guidelines and product names, together with any code numbers or other details to protect yourself from future claims.

Luckily, in this particular case, the owner had engaged a Surveyor who was not as expert as he may have been, and because the contractor had been very professional and vigilant in retaining information from the project even five or six years later, the case was resolved in a satisfactory manner.

Record every aspect of a project, including those matters that may affect the success of a scheme. In this particular case, it was the failure of the builder (owner) to correctly construct the walls and foundations. Other factors that may cause concern are drainage, level and falls of any scheme where other trades are involved. Protect yourself at every stage, especially if you were not party to a construction and arrive on site after certain works have been carried out. (See Waivers elsewhere in The Library)

Alan Sargent FCIHort MPGCA

Landscape Library


Selecting Suitable Turf

The extremes of weather we have experienced over the past few years have thrown up a number of problems for Landscapers. Ground heave and shrinkage of the ground under paving has been the most common complaint, although contractors are now more aware of the issues and are taking steps to alleviate potential difficulties.

There has also been an upsurge of complaints from customers regarding the condition of natural grass turfed lawns, although not so much about the preparation of sites, as the resultant quality of the grass conditions soon after the laying of turf.

Turf quality, and the expectations of some customers who desire the ultimate sward in their garden, and who believe that by ordering turf, they will immediately own a Wimbledon Court in their garden, is frequently the cause of Legal Disputes.

When buying a carpet for the house, owners will go to great lengths to choose the right type, colour and quality of their product. Obviously, with turf, the choice of colour is not going to be wide, but quality is something that is often overlooked by both contractor and customer.

Making the correct selection of the turf is therefore neglected by all concerned, until the lawn is laid, and client expectations not met. By introducing a vigorous interview regime with the customer, who should be quizzed on the use and maintenance proposals for the lawn, and following a soil sample analysis by the contractor to enable a recommended choice of seed varieties, a fully specified  selection may be offered.

Many customers do not understand the need to have a suitable seed mix for turf,  able to survive and thrive on their site, with some believing that Rye Grass is something to be avoided at all costs. Frequently of course, dwarf rye grasses are essential for the long term well-being of the lawn, and this fact should be explained to the customer.

Having decided on the nature of the soil, and any potential issues with water-logging or ground that is too free draining, an informed choice of the type of seed mix for the turf may be arrived at. All turf supplied should be to BS3969 1998 plus AI 2013, or TGA Specification approved (Turfgrass Ground Association) Each seed variety should be chosen from those listed by the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI), with tolerances tested to match the type of lawn the client requires.

Close mowing regimes, winter colour choice, disease resistance and leaf fineness (especially if required for ball games e.g. bowls, croquet etc, where leaf resistance is important) will all play a part in making the selection.

The contractor should quiz the client regarding the type of mower they intend to use, and the frequency of cut, to ensure that recommendations may be made regarding future maintenance. Do they intend to play tennis or other games where damage by shoes turning quickly on a small area is expected?

Will they be installing an automatic watering system, and if so, how will it be regulated? Do they have pets or visiting wildlife that may cause chemical issues with the grass? Will there be children playing and riding bicycles on the lawn?

Is the ground likely to become waterlogged at any time, and if so, has the site been fitted with land-drains? Are they working efficiently? Is the site in full or partial shade, or full sun?

If so, these facts need to be noted for use when making the selection of grass seed varieties.

To avoid any future problems though, it is essential that the contractor supplies the customer with as much information and choice as possible, with the conversation recorded in writing, together with any recommendations.

A contractor, issuing a detailed set of aftercare instructions, based on firm evidence gleaned by taking soil samples, proving the pH of the site, nominated use of the lawn, type of mower to be used, and frequency of cuts, will have no difficulty in defending a claim from a disgruntled customer, complaining that the lawn is not fit for purpose.

Without this level of technical and formalised written specification, a contractor is left open to financial claims based on Consumer Protection Acts for supplying a product not fit for purpose. If a customer is not supplied with a written report making recommendations, and providing the contractor with their intended maintenance plans, it becomes difficult for a contractor to prove they have not been negligent or lacking in Duty of Care.

After care leaflets should be considered, or at least, a detailed written aftercare letter, dated and supplied at the time of practical substantial completion, as a hand-over document, passing responsibility on to the owner at the earliest date.

After care information may extend to highlighting any potential problems – botrytis, fusarium or mildew for example – or those manifestations that occur naturally, and are not a cause for alarm such as field fungi that are not harmful.

Seeded turf should be treated as a special element in any Landscape project documentation. It involves living plants, that have been subjected to great stress during the harvesting, lifting, transporting and laying operations, and require greater attention than most other plants in the new garden. It is the duty of the contractor to make the customer formally aware of that fact, and ensure that they fully engage in the aftercare of the installation of the lawn.

Be aware of the customer who demands ‘the perfect lawn’. There is no such thing, and can never be!

By highlighting the nature of seeded grass turf, and the stresses that the plants undergo, the contractor is offering an opportunity to provide the client with a priced menu of turf varieties, costs and the likely maintenance commitments they will have to make to become owners of the lawn they desire.

Of course, some clients may simply request ‘a lawn’. As the contractor you are still obliged to make recommendations and include your choice -and the reasons – in your quotation in order to avoid future claims and complaints.


Construction (Design Management) Regulations 2015

As a consultant, dealing primarily with domestic gardens, most of my workload involves problem solving. Clients commission my practice to provide solutions to a wide range of issues, mainly concerning disputes, mediation and the production of reports for use in Court or other reasons such as insurance claims etc.

My title as an expert witness falls under the general category of ‘Gardens’ including landscaping and design projects, and as you can imagine, the variety between cases can be very wide. So many problems are the direct result of a lack of contractual documentation and communication between the designer/landscape contractor and the client. There is also a strong element of lack of knowledge regarding legal requirements that cause many of the disputes in the first place!

Terms and Conditions become muddled and confused. Often a clause may be inserted that is at total variance with another buried in the small print (which is often generic and not bespoke to the project in hand) rendering the whole document unfit for purpose.

I have recently organised several workshops around the country on the subject of Contracts, intended for Garden Designers and Design & Build Contractors, and have become even more aware that there are opportunities for professionals to both reinforce the strength of their Contracts between Parties, but also increase the understanding of customers when forming the legal partnership that may be called the ‘Contract’

The first and most important to include is that of Contract (Design Management) Regulations 2015. Originally designed for use in the Building Industry in 2007, CDM is a legal requirement for all construction projects, and since 2015, has been an essential part of landscaping works (except planting only jobs, unless heavy lifting equipment is to be used.) Basically, any scheme that has any form of construction, or that requires any kind of Health & Safety element, which covers pretty much all landscaping work, falls under the scope of CDM.

Under CDM, the onus is upon the client to undertake an assessment known as a CDM Plan, which sets out the nature of the works to be carried out and provide a Health & Safety policy to be followed at all times during the works.  In essence, it covers the principles of the Legal requirements of safe working. Under normal circumstances, this onus is passed on to the Designer (or Architect) and the Law assumes that responsibility has been automatically transferred.

Once the project has been designed, and a contractor appointed, responsibility for the scheme may be transferred to the contractor. If there is to be more than one contractor involved, one will be nominated as Principal Contractor. The designer then takes on the responsibility of Principal Designer, and there must be a written agreement with the domestic client, confirming that the designer has agreed to take on what were ‘Client Duties’. Normally the client has no idea of their responsibilities, having never heard of the regulations, but this agreement should be considered a natural and standard part of the contract documents.

In a Design & Build scenario, where both designer and contractor are working for  the same firm, the construction company takes on responsibility for CDM as both Principal Designer and Principal Contractor.

Note that these comments refer only to domestic or private clients. If there is any element of the works being undertaken on behalf of a business – even if the works are to be carried out on a property other than a business premises e.g. a private dwelling, if they are owned by, and the contract refers to, a business or company, further Regulations may apply.

The CDM Plan will include all aspects of H & S together with Method Statements explaining proposals for each element of the construction from start to finish.

Examples that may be included would be overhead power cables, underground services and routes, welfare facilities for staff including adequate toilet and washing facilities, a place for preparing and consuming meals, drying and storing clothing and PPE, First Aid provision including eye washing station, safe parking, methods of preventing the public from harm when entering the site, delivery techniques including on road parking, weight restrictions to manhole covers, existing electrical supplies, their locations, power limitations, working at height, ladder safety, presence of asbestos and a host of other similar factors that may contain elements of Health and Safety.

Evidence of adequate Risk Assessments should be added into the Plan file, together with Key Staff contact details. In some cases, Lone Working Policies may be required, especially if the work involves using power tools such as chain saws etc.

Other factors that must be included, if they form part of the construction works, will include potential trip hazards, retaining wall heights and specific drawings provided by qualified structural engineers, scaffolding including towers and ramps, crane and hoist offloading, manual handling and all types of safety personal protective equipment (and their condition including visibility/cleanliness) should be recorded and included in the CDM Plan.

The Regulations are designed to protect all Parties. The client will be reassured that they are engaging a professional firm, the Designer/Architect will know that risks have been reduced to what may be considered the safest levels, and the Contractor will know that they have done everything to mitigate potential site construction problems.

On larger projects, other factors come into play. The project must be notified to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) if the job is expected to last longer than thirty days AND involve twenty workers at the same time OR it will exceed five hundred working person days.

Far from being another time – consuming thing to add to your busy day, a CDM Plan is a very valuable marketing tool. Your firm will be seen to be a competent and safe pair of hands. By introducing the Regulations at an early stage in your interview with the client, along with your insurance and standard Terms & Conditions, you may be content that you will be seen as a professional.


The Mess Room

(From the old French ‘mes’, or portion of food. Mainly used by the Military where soldiers can eat, rest and change)

In common parlance at places of work where a static room or area is set aside for the rest and relaxation of staff. In the world of Gardeners, usually a converted barn, stable or workshop, or rarely, a separate building constructed specifically for the purpose. Indeed, it is probably fair to say the 90% or more ‘Mess Rooms’ to be found in garden sites and estates will be sheds or converted sections of larger buildings, set aside for the use of staff.

The ubiquitous mess room, conjures up all sorts of images for gardeners, some fondly remembered as warm, relaxing, neat, tidy, friendly havens of rest, and others as being smelly, dirty, damp, dark, rat infested and totally unhygienic!  We will all have our own memories of our favourite/worst case version of the Mess Room.

Travelling around various Estates and properties as part of my Consultancy business, I see many different levels of decency in the area set aside as the Mess Room. It is the huge variations that have prompted me to write this article, in the hope that I might improve the lot of some, and encourage others to feel satisfied with their situation.

Welfare at Work

I have to start by mentioning the requirements of The Workforce Act (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which state that an employer must provide you with adequate toilet and washing facilities, ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’, which is rather a cop-out for many.

Assuming that it is reasonably practicable, there should be enough toilets and washbasins for those who will be using them. If possible, there should be separate toilets for men and women, or at least, a lockable door. The number of toilets should be based on the number of people expected to use them, without unreasonable delay.

Toilets should be clean, or able to be cleaned e.g. tiled or rendered and painted, with a solid floor capable of being washed. A sufficient supply of toilet paper, and a disposal method installed for the provision of sanitary dressings must be available, together with soap and towels for hand washing.

There should be a basin with hot water large enough to wash your hands and forearms, together with a method of drying yourself e.g. paper towels, hot air dryer etc.

If your work site and working methods involve dirty work, a shower should be installed, again, with a lockable door (preferably one for men and one for women)

It may be necessary to consider the need of disabled workers. Such measures may be subject to special regulations, which I have not included in this article. Similarly, I have not mentioned pregnant and nursing mothers.


As mentioned, a wash basin is essential, but also a supply of clean fresh drinking water should be available, free from contamination and preferably from a public water supply if possible. It may be necessary on some sites, to provide bottled water, or a water dispenser. This must be maintained in good order, with regular supplies available. Water must be accessible to all employees.

Adequate heating must be available, in whatever chosen form; gas, electricity, oil fired radiators etc, to maintain a reasonable temperature at all times when the room is in use. The room should have sufficient light, to enable users to read without difficulty.

There should be a suitable seating area, comprising of bench seats, chairs, owner supplied armchairs, settees or whatever seating the staff are comfortable with. (Very often, a person’s seat is their personal ‘space’ in the room, with their books/food box/newspapers etc remaining in place. I feel this is an important element of having a mess room where people feel comfortable. It is also an occasion  for the Head Gardener to be aware of a form of bullying, if a person is forced to move to a different position against their will)

Cooking and heating of food is an essential part of the mess room, with some form of a food heater (usually a microwave oven) available for staff to use. If there are several users, a second or third oven may be required.  A refrigerator will be required to keep items such as milk and bottles drinks suitably cool.

All electrical appliances are subject to annual checks by a qualified electrician, and each should be labeled with a valid dated PAT certificate.  Fridges and Cookers should be kept clean at all times, and I suggest that a rota is maintained with one person being made responsible for a given period of time.

On a side note here, I have inspected various mess rooms as part of my work for years now, and on more than one occasion have discovered a fridge full of alcohol of various types. Bought to work by those who have been on holiday in an exotic location, for their colleagues to sample, the fridge was bursting with booze!  Whilst it may seem innocent fun, if there was ever an accident at work involving alcohol, the HSE would not be very happy with a Head Gardener in charge of a brewery at work!

Storage of Personal Belongings

Each mess room should have, either in the same room or building, a number of lockable stores where workers can leave their personal belongings during work periods, or store their PPE and other work related personal items in a secure place. This should include hangers for clothes, and if the work involves essential changes of clothing (e.g. chain saw trousers, spray protection suits etc) then a seating area, with lockable doors may be required, especially if both men and women are expected to use the facility.

On a second side note, I visited one site where I discovered the mess room table cluttered with expensive personal items belonging to the staff members. These included a camera, watch, personal stereo, and at least three wallets. It had apparently been a standing practice that, as everyone trusted each other, it was almost an act of friendship to leave their valuables on the table as a badge of honour.  I quickly put an end to the practice, as it could have been a major problem if anything went missing, either through a misunderstanding or indeed, a stranger had entered the room and stolen an item. Every single worker in the place would have become a suspect in a matter of theft.  What may, at first sight, appeared to be a friendly act could have devasted the team and cost the Estate a whole department of employees!

If possible, a suitable area should be set aside, with heating facilities including hot air dryers,  installed near the mess room, for the drying of wet clothing and footwear. Due to steam and odours, this facility is best placed away from the dining area.

Finally, although I am sure you will have many tales to add to this article, may I point out that the mess room is for the welfare and comfort of staff. It is not a place that is tacked onto another room or part of a building. It should not have fuel cans, rat poison, chainsaws, mowers and other machinery in the same place. I am sure we have all seen mess rooms that are little more than a cleared space amongst the rest of the Gardens Department clutter.

The very worst incident I ever came across was a brick building, with a flat concrete roof, doubling up as a mess room (with no toilet, wash basin, cooker, fridge or any other welfare item) the walls of which were running in water, both from the leaking roof and condensation.

Inside the building, I discovered  a box full of Phostoxin. This is a brand name for aluminium phosphide, which is used to kill moles and rabbits. It is a highly toxic compound, available in tablet form, and is activated by moisture. The slightest hint of moisture, and the tablet releases lethal gas. There were around one hundred tablets in aluminium tubes. Any one of which would have killed the whole room full of people in seconds.

In closing, I would add that, in my opinion, the Mess Room is the most important part of any Estate. It is the heart of the Team, and a well run, clean, tidy, pin-up picture free area where staff can relax and chat is paramount in the working life of gardeners, all of whom work with happy hearts and healthy minds!


The Complete Quote

(An Example Of A Project Carried Out By Alan Sargent)

The project involved clearing and rebuilding of a collapsed retaining wall, comprising natural sand stone and flint, capped with bricks laid soldier course on edge. The original wall was over 100 years old, and had been leaning for many years. The wall runs along side a narrow lane in the centre of the village.

The wall collapsed during Bonfire Night, and the owners thought it was a firework exploding, only realising that their wall had collapsed across part of the lane when neighbours knocked on their door to tell them. I went past the site at 05.30 en route to another site, and anticipated a call from the owners, whom I knew well (and they knew of my walling skills).  They duly called me at 07.30 and I dispatched two men to clear the road as a matter of urgency. I knew they would not refuse to settle my account in this emergency.

However, when I returned later that day, I went to site and issued them with my Terms and Conditions, and provided them with all necessary documents, including a written quotation for the clearance works, before I gave a formal quote for the rebuilding of the wall.

I give this background to the project, as although I knew the owners well, living in the same village, I still treated them as though they were formal clients, and not in a friendly manner. In all such cases, formal quotations and protocol should still be followed. I do not have friends in business, only clients. Hence my introduction to the quote is formal – Mr and Mrs Hill, not John and Sue.

Mr and Mrs John Hill,


10th November 20xx

Dear Mr and Mrs Hill,

Reference xxxxxx  House – Front Retaining Wall

Further to my letter of report dated 7th November and our subsequent conversation, I have pleasure in confirming my negotiated price of Ten Thousand Pounds (including VAT on materials etc, with no VAT payable on the labour costs) for the restoration of the ten metre section (approximately) of walling that collapsed on Thursday/Friday 5th/6th November.

(I have submitted an invoice for the road clearance works, separate from, and additional to, this quotation)

For carefully excavating and clearing the remainder of the rubble and soil etc, removing the material from site by means of skips placed in your car park. All reclaimable walling materials including flint and sand stone to be retained and stored on site, also in the car park area, and placed on tarpaulin sheets and covered to keep them as dry as possible for re-use.

This work is planned for Monday 16th November, when Anthony and Jonathan will arrive on site (at 08.00) and clear as much as possible by the end of Tuesday 17th November. I have arranged with Goss Skips to deliver at least one four yard skip on the Monday, with a second unit in reserve if time permits. (I am away from mid-day 16th until early Wednesday 18th).

Once the clearance work has been completed, the second task is to excavate the new foundations, 600mm x 800mm wide to support the new/replacement walling. This operation will take place as early as possible after the initial clearance, in any event, by the end of November (weather permitting).  Again, we will fill skips placed in the driveway, as we will not be able to obtain a licence to place skips on the highway without undue delays.

The concrete foundations, in 1 part OP cement to 6 parts sandy ballast, will be shuttered with timber to ensure a series of stepped level sections, all interconnected  and cast as one unit, and reinforced with triple 18mm metal re-bars set into the concrete. Additional bars will be set into the wet concrete at approximate spacings to allow construction of walling blocks on to and to form part of, the base foundations.

Construct, in hollow 225mm wide concrete blocks, set on to the upright re-bars, and filled with rammed 1.6 concrete to form a retaining wall. These blocks to have stainless steel ties set into the block joints @ 45cm spacings to retain the facework.

The concrete block wall to be set 150mm back from the boundary, to allow a 150mm face of flints and natural sand stone to be built to clad the blockwork. The new facing work to match the existing as far as possible, with new imported flint and stone to be selected to match. Samples of imported materials to be agreed prior to ordering.  Pointing mix six parts Rock Common sand, one part 3.5 lime and one part OP cement. Pointing to be agreed, but to match the existing as near as possible (there is more than one style in the remaining wall sections)

The retaining wall to be 1000mm high, with a further 120mm of reclaimed brick coping units (we will salvage all possible, but no guarantee that there will be sufficient bricks).

Where the new wall meets the existing right hand wall, the face work will need to ‘bend’ to tie in with the bulging/sloping existing wall. Similarly, the wall to the left hand side will need to be married into the new work, by sweeping a clean arc between the new wall and the taller section.

(We will treat the left hand side of walling as being dangerous, as until some form of additional key (e.g. the new works) is constructed to help support the tall wall, it remains potentially liable to fall. We can in no way offer any guarantees or warranty on this wall, nor be liable for any further collapse/damage)

Leave the site in a clean and tidy condition. Client to provide water and electricity at no charge to the contractor. All works to comply with CDM Regulations 2015 (H & S regs)

All persons working on the site are self employed, and we carry Public Liability Insurance. All personnel to wear hi-viz jackets and personal protective equipment (steel toe-capped boots etc at all times. Road safety/men at work signs to be placed as appropriate on the verge and working areas.

All cement mixing works are carried out on tarpaulins to minimise any mess, and mixer washed clean and emptied into wheelbarrows to avoid any cement staining of the driveway.

Total inclusive labour and materials as specified, Ten Thousand Pounds, payable in three tranches;  £5,000.00 with order; £3,000.00 payable following the construction of the blockwork and all attendant works and £2,00.00 on practical completion.

I will raise a Pro Forma Invoice in the sum of £5,000.00 in the next few days, and look forward to starting work on Monday 16th November.

I anticipate the clearance works being finished by the end of November, with the foundations and blockwork completed by Christmas week. I would like to work some of the Christmas Holiday period (to be agreed with your selves) if possible.  All works to be completed by the end of January – again, weather permitting. (Wind and rain are no problem, but severe frosts may delay the project)

Finally, you would prefer us to use your gardener’ s toilet and washing facilities than hire a PortaLoo. We will of course, respect and maintain the cleanliness of the room.

Thank you for your kind instructions.

Yours sincerely,

Alan Sargent

You will notice that I have combined the quotation with a method statement, advising the customer of what will take place, when and how. It also ties them into the story, as they have to allow certain facilities to the Contractor, including access to site, use of their water and electricity. We have agreed welfare facilities, using their toilet and wash room rather than hiring in an unsightly unit.

The clients were delighted with the full storyboard, as they felt part of the project, knowing what to expect, when to expect it and how the works would progress, giving us complete control of our working area, and affording them the safe knowledge that they could plan around the works.

Mr and Mrs John Hill,


24th November 20xx (16.00)

Dear Mr and Mrs Hill,


As required by CDM Regulations, herewith an update and progress report on the works to your front retaining wall.  I confirm that we have now received the Structural Engineers plans, specification and drawings, showing two potential solutions, subject to site conditions discovered at the time of construction.

Payment received by cheque for the mobilisation sum of £5,000.00.  Thank you.

The size and quality of some of the stone is thicker/better than anticipated. Most of the retained stone has been partially cleaned, and I will be on site tomorrow to continue the work, ready for building works to commence.

The foundations are less deep than originally specified, as we were breaking out solid chalk (with a mechanical breaker), and the need for the anticipated depth was unnecessary as envisaged by the Structural Engineer.

However, the thickness of the reclaimed walling material, and therefore need for increased width in the overall structure has meant that solid concrete blocks will be used instead of hollow blocks . This change has no effect on the strength of the project, and is only noted for the records. The re-bars will instead be set within the poured concrete and the facing works as described below.

The steel work will not be fixed into the concrete blocks, but will be set in between the solid blocks and the (wider) concrete/stone/mortar walling. These vertical rods, fixed into the base foundation concrete, will be secured by stainless steel brick ties to form a strong bond between the two structures internally, and strength will be further increased with  triple lateral bars fixed approximately 30cm, 60 and 90cm above ground level, woven in between the vertical re-bars, forming a steel mesh set within the poured concrete.

The wall will be at least 45cm wide, increasing to maximum 65cm, as the wall build progresses and different/thicker stone is introduced, i.e. the wall will be constructed in full as works progress, and no longer as two separate entities tied with only stainless steel brick walling ties, effectively increasing the overall thickness and strength of the project.

The shelter is in place, and rain water no longer a problem, both for working in a dry environment, and to prevent erosion of the bank. (For information, I allow £100.00 per project of this nature for ‘tentage’, and replace/renew various items (planks etc) on each, and ownership remains with me for these items)

I have ordered (and paid for) two tons of 8 – 10” Field flints, due in w/c 30th November. Works on constructing the wall as above with commence on Monday 30th November.

End of report and update.

Yours sincerely,

Alan Sargent

24th November 20XX

At the end of the first week, a report and update is provided to the client. Note my reference to CDM Regs. Whilst it is not mandatory to issue the client with these updates under CDM, I like to draw attention to the fact that we are following legal guidelines, therefore by introducing and referring to CDM, it reinforces the fact that we are acting as professionals.

I am drawing attention to the changes in specification and the reasons for making the alterations, as this information is essential for the records of the Contract. Without inserting the changes, there could be a claim for Breach of Contract if the variations were not properly dealt with. Variations should always be agreed and recorded as accepted, and signed for by both Parties to ensure there is no breach.

Mr and Mrs John Hill,


8th December 20XX

Dear Mr and Mrs Hill,

Reference XXXXXXX House – Retaining Wall

Further to my progress report dated 24th November, the wall construction has proven easier than anticipated mainly due the good quality (and quantity) of the reclaimed stone from the original wall.

I confirm that I will be rebuilding the wall to the original heights, i.e. not limiting the works to the 1.2m as described in my quotation. I have reservations regarding the number of coping bricks being sufficient to complete the project, and have located a high quality walling brick that I can cut down to match ( as near as possible), the end colour of the existing bricks. Obviously, the new/sawn edge will appear brighter until weathered, but I will endeavour to ‘age’ the cuts on completion of the works.

To that end, I have ordered fifty hand made bricks for delivery, along with one more big bag of Rock Common sand for delivery next Monday. This should complete all deliveries to site.

The large flints have been successfully integrated into the walling as works progress, and any residue materials will be removed off site before Christmas.

I further confirm that the total paid so far is £5,000.00.

I enclose an interim invoice in the sum of £3,000.00, leaving the sum of £2,000.00 to be paid on practical completion.

I further confirm that the area outside the site will be turfed following site works clearance, leaving the front area in a clean and tidy condition.

There are no other matters to report. The works are progressing ahead of schedule – thanks to decent materials and dry weather working!

Kind regards,

Alan Sargent

This is the third and final update, including the notification that the wall will be built back to the original height (we thought there would be insufficient reclaimable material to rebuild the wall to its’ original height of 1.5m).

Obviously, the clients were delighted, especially as we went beyond the original specification by tying in the side walls (i.e. the undamaged sections to either side of the collapsed section) by clearing the soil away by around 90cm to the rear of the walls and backfilling with strong liquid concrete, effectively gripping both sides and creating a much stronger wall as a result.

I commend this style of Quotation and combination of quotation, specification and method statement as it easily and clearly understood by the client.  They feel involved and included in every part of the scheme.  This greatly reduces and even eradicates any problems or mis-understandings in the future.

To repeat – even though I know these particular people well, I treat everyone as customers, and not as neighbours, friends or colleagues, as this avoids any question of nepotism or unprofessionalism on either side………..all thanks to CDM Regs 2015.


Garden Parties and Events

Most Head Gardeners will not have to accommodate regular events, unless their estates are those which cater for Garden Shows, Wedding Parties and other commercial style occasions that bring income into the House finances, and where the public are admitted as paying guests or general Open Day visitors.

Most however, will occasionally have to manage a one-off event that will impact on their work-load and time schedules, even if it is only a family wedding or other function. These events will vary from size, from a few dozen souls to many thousands, but they all probably require the same type of facilities, including marquees, temporary toilets, caterers and car parking, all of which can cause damage to carefully manicured lawns.

Car Parking

A sudden influx of dozens of cars, perhaps to be parked off-road in paddocks or fields, will require marshalling, something that often falls to the Gardens Team to cope with. Even with sufficient staff, you will always find those who wish to do their own thing, parking wherever the fancy takes them (because they are family/friends/colleagues who have been told to make themselves at home) driving on to verges and generally causing mayhem with their reluctance to comply with inexperienced gardens staff’s instructions.

To try to direct the flow of traffic, it is essential to be prepared and not suddenly caught unawares by the need to maintain regular order. A set of white painted wooden posts are fine, but can be difficult to secure into the ground,  cost time and effort to produce, store and install, quickly becoming chipped and quickly looking somewhat second hand.

As an alternative, 20mm steel bars, sold in builders merchant’s as reinforcing bars, sawn into lengths of 75cm, may more easily be hammered into even the hardest of ground, and tapped into a vertical position. Using white conduit or 25mm waste piping, sawn into 90cm lengths  then  placed over the upright metal posts to form a uniform height, smart looking, set of posts that will not be so readily damaged. They may be washed and stored for re-use with minimal effort and cost.


Marquees are the biggest headache for the Gardeners Team, not simply because of the amount of damage that may be caused to lawns, with many feet trampling over a restricted area in a confined space, walking over matting (usually hessian or coir, sometimes rubberised and liable to heat up the ground where they cover) laid over grass will cause potential damage to the lawns. This may manifest itself as a weakening of the grass plants allowing fungal attack, or simple compaction, with the air forced out of the trampled areas.

The Head Gardener should work in liaison with the Marquee company management team, to ensure that the matting only goes down at the very last minute to minimise these problems. Similarly, that the matting is removed immediately after the Guests have left, especially in hot weather or warm/damp conditions. This should mitigate any long term problems with overheated grass.

Catering inside a marquee usually involves a lot of hot water, heated by gas cylinders, anything from boilers to washing up and making hot drinks, coffee, tea etc. The Head Gardener should agree with the caterers which location they wish to site the downpipes or drains from these hot water facilities, then remove the turf from that area to a thickness of 75 – 100mm.Carefully store the turf nearby, to be replaced after the event.

All water from sinks, toilets, and especially, boilers, must be discharged into the soil, not on the grass. On some soils, you may have to create a soakaway, perhaps with a free-draining layer of shingle at the bottom at a suitable depth to cope with the likely volume of water. Permitting boiling water to be poured onto the lawn will probably kill the grass. The provision of a soakaway will remove any excuses and allow the area to be quickly and successfully reinstated.


Even if the display contractor has agreed and arranged to collect and remove firework debris after the event, there will always be detritus left behind that you will continue to discover for weeks afterwards, some of which can damage machinery, especially mowers. For this reason, it is sensible to consider a Fireworks Fee of (say) £500.00 to be reimbursed after a month if no damage or excessive detritus is discovered following their official clearance, which is often carried out after darkness has fallen, before the contractors leave site and on to their next commission.

Damage to lawns caused by percussion style mortars can involve 75 – 200mm deep depressions in the lawns, that will require treatment as soon as possible requiring lifting/re-turfing and levelling.  This too, should be included in the Fireworks Fee.

Metal detritus

After any event involving marquees and grandstands, it is normal to find screws, nuts, bolts, off-cuts from scaffolding, and other pieces of metal left on the ground. Much will have been trodden into the ground, and will only become evident when loosened by heels or mowers, ready to puncture tyres and other wheeled vehicles.

Such an outcome impacts hugely on the Garden Department’s time and can cost hundreds of pounds in damaged equipment. Even pieces of timber, used to prop up tent poles, but remain in the ground, unseen, just below ground level, only to become lifted by a passing mower wheel, can destroy a fan blower system on a mower and put a vital piece of kit out of action for weeks whilst awaiting repairs.

All of these items should be included in the Events Contractor’s manifest, not simply agreed, noted and then ignored.

The Public

The biggest challenge for a Gardens Team with public events is The Public.

Dealing with often fraught situations whilst remaining calm and diplomatic at all times requires some special training. Evening parties are the most difficult, when after a few glasses of bubbly, Miss Amorous and Mr Macho decide to leave the rest of the party and find their own entertainment elsewhere, often trampling over flower beds, wildflowers and vegetables looking for a quiet and secluded spot.

Apart from leaving a trail of horticultural devastation behind them, they often manage to leave gates open, whilst strewing champagne bottles and broken glass around for others to clear up in the morning.

Without security guards and barbed wire netting, signage is required.  It is no use erecting signs such as Keep Out, or Dangerous Site, as Mr Macho would definitely ignore those. Better still, try ‘Beware of Baby Adders – Their Parents Get Very Angry!’   Or perhaps, ‘Keep out – Dangerous Chemical Spill’  or even ‘ Beware of Poison Ivy – Irritant to Skin’.

Definite ardour dampeners!


Creating Raised Beds Using Metal Edging

The clients had purchased a large house, around twenty years old, that had a large area of paving – 650 sq. metres of concrete paving stones laid in a random rectangular pattern.

 The whole area was considered too large for the scale of the property, and far more than they required as a couple to use as a garden area.

They requested two beds, raised to prevent them from becoming filled with rainwater, which would have been a considerable amount, given that the whole area was hard landscaped, with walls in three directions and minimal falls.

Having agreed the scale required, I set about drawing a scaled plan of the paving, and marked the area in square metre sections i.e. one square metre blocks. Using tracing paper for the plan, I cut out several different shapes and sizes, all with curves edges to allow the proposed metal edging to bend to shape, and laid these shapes under the tracing paper, and agreed the sizes, shapes and locations of the beds with the customer.

These shapes were then transferred to the actual paved area, marked out in chalk and confirmed. The attached quotation shows how the project was approached, allowing some scope for variations, especially on the make up of the ground beneath the paving.

 In order to achieve the correct profile for the metal edging to be inserted neatly, it was essential to ensure that the cuts were sawn vertical, accurate and only to the thickness of the concrete slabs. (50mm) The area below the actual slabs was sawn approximately 75mm smaller than the outer perimeter. This allowed the metal edging to be installed accurately on the exterior perimeter, whilst the metal edging had a clean, uniform line of concrete/mortar upon which to seat the edging without it falling into the void.

The topsoil was spread and trampled into position and depth, with a mound of soil towards the centre of the feature. Once the metal edging was in place, the soil was pushed against the internal wall of the metal edging, trapping to into position. This method allows the landscaper to have greater control over the installation, as the metal cannot move about whilst being bolted together.

Mr and Mrs David XXXXXX





19th October 20XX

Dear Mr and Mrs XXXXX

Reference Greenacres

Thank you for your kind enquiry reference works to be carried out at Greenacres. I have pleasure in submitting my fixed price quotation for those works.

For creating three beds, shape and size to be confirmed on site, but essentially three areas of curved beds cut into the existing paving. The total area of the beds to be thirty-five square metres with edging totalling approximately fifty linear metres.

Beds to be sawn to shape using diamond blades, with all arisings to be removed off site. Reduce dig beds to an average of 400mm, giving a total spoil of fourteen cubic metres in the solid, seventeen cubic metres in the loose (Five skips required).

Once excavated, 150mm deep Metal Everedge to be installed to the outer edge of the excavations, set 100mm above the paving levels, providing a total depth of 500mm to the internal bed.

Supply and spread seventeen cubic metres of topsoil to BS3882 delivered in .6m3 bags (total thirty bags) and place in the excavated beds

Total materials;   Fifty linear metres of Everedge, Thirty .6 bags of topsoil.

Total non-materials;  Five six yard skips.

Total project cost, including labour, tools and equipment;  Eight Thousand, Eight Hundred and Twenty Pounds including VAT.

Terms;  £5,000.00 payable with order, balance on practical substantial completion of the works.

Client to provide electricity at no cost to the contractor.

Price to remain fixed until the end of January 20XX, acceptance before that date will ensure no increase in the cost of works.

(PLEASE NOTE – I am assuming that the material under the paving is not reinforced concrete. MOT Type 1, mortar bed, lean mix concrete, soil and subsoil are allowed for, not reinforced concrete!)

Thank you for the opportunity to tender.

Yours sincerely,

Alan Sargent


Thresholds and The Landscape Designer

In recent years, it has become more and more common for home owners to demand that their patio paving is laid at the same level as the doors and other thresholds as their interior flooring, thus creating a seamless hard landscaping ‘carpet’, often requiring the same product, laid on the external patio as used on the internal flooring – usually tiling thickness porcelain or ceramic units, matching the same colour and pattern to give an impression of infinity paving.

Owners demand that designers work on the brief of this seamlessness, without having any insight or knowledge of the technical factors and techniques used in the construction of their houses. They have seen it in magazines, their friends have something similar, and they want the same – even if their house if fifty years older than their friends new-build unit.

Designers, often reluctant to disoblige, go ahead and produce drawings and plans showing the same tiling throughout, even colour matching and instructing the contractor to use the same tiles including the manufacturer’s product code numbers and source of the original products.

Thus, the homeowner becomes encouraged to think that they can have this seamless effect without any problems.  The designer or owner duly involves a contractor, either as a Builder or Landscaper, and charges them with constructing the scheme, somehow making it work – even if the designer has not produced any cross sectional or technical drawings showing how this is to be achieved.

All new build houses must be designed and constructed for use by ambulant disabled people and wheelchair users, to allow for the person to approach the entrance and either turn to face the door, or achieve unimpeded access from one surface to another (there is a 15mm upstand allowed, if the edges are rounded) i.e. from indoors to outdoors or vice versa.

It does not follow that older buildings – indeed, it would be unusual unless new patio doors have been fitted retrospectively – will have been designed to the same standards as new builds (not necessarily in build quality, but in the technical detailing). Older properties are not able to achieve this seamlessness without special ramping to maintain a minimum of 150mm between the paved surfaces and the damp proof course membrane (d.p.c.) to prevent water from gaining ingress to the brickwork above d.p.c. or by rainwater splash.  I will discuss these later in this article.

Building Regulations

Level Thresholds and Water Ingress Statutory Requirements

In England and Wales, the Building Regulations Document M Clause 6.19 is effective in the matter of thresholds and water ingress. This information is easily obtained from the Internet, but understanding how the subject effects the landscape industry is less clear. Anecdotal evidence is passed from one designer to another, landscapers discussing the topic unable to agree, because essentially, the type of property is less important as to how it was designed and constructed having due regard to water ingress and disability.

Put simply, the design of the internal floor and construction techniques employed in the house build and door type are critical. Unless the main building has been designed to permit such unimpeded access, with a series of special barriers and configurations to prevent not only water ingress, but also thermal insulation (to prevent capillary action or water ingress through hot air within the building, drawing moisture into the floor construction), no amount of external designing can mitigate potential problems with moisture.

The external approach to an entrance should consist of a reasonably level platform or ramp to provide an accessible threshold. This should slope away from the building by between 7 and 15 degrees to prevent rainwater from building up or being driven towards the building.

The threshold design must satisfy the provisions of The Building Regulations in respect of minimising the risk of water ingress or damp entering the building (Part C). This regulation goes on to mention vitally important elements of the house construction, that if a designer wishes to create a seamless vista, they should first of all contact the Architect of the building to obtain written instructions or receive a copy of the internal floor plans and cross-sectional drawings as used by the main Builder during construction works.

The internal floor must have been installed using adequate sub-flooring ventilation, with thermal insulation to ensure there is no thermal bridging (i.e. capillary action as described above). An internal perimeter insulation strip must be installed as part of the construction, together with a non-deformable insulated cavity between the brickwork and cavity insulation. This feature is to be found under the floor screed level.

In other words, the interior design of the floor and threshold must have been designed to allow for wheelchair access. The job of the designer is to ensure that nothing takes place outside the house walls that could compromise the design of the internal flooring/threshold.

It is permissible to install a channel, at least 63mm wide as a semi-circular unit, open at least one end, freely discharging into an adequate system to allow water to leave the channel cleanly and without impediment or allowing water to enter and remain within the channel. Both ends of the channel must be free draining, either into a rain water drain or across the fall of the garden, without discharging rainwater on to a neighbouring property in an obvious manner.

This channel must be set into lean mix concrete, with a cross fall of 1:60 to discharge water. There should be a gap between the external paving and door threshold of a maximum width  of 18mm to prevent disability equipment e.g. walking sticks, from becoming trapped in the groove.

In essence, the works designed into a new build house, allowing for wheelchair access, may be continued in the garden and landscaping schemes. Using the same logic and technical detailing, an external means of preventing water from laying against the house walls, allowing adequate drainage away from doors and patio windows, the designer should ensure that there is no compromise between the Architect’s intentions and the owners wishes. If in doubt, the Architect or Builder should be pleased to work with you as a designer or design and build contractor to advise you on the internal makeup and compliances required to avoid breaching Building Regulations. It is in their interests to do so, as the new-build will be under an NHBC warranty for many years to come!

Bear in mind that timber thresholds may have a shorter life span than polyurethane or other plastic compounds, and it is essential that the wood remains free of standing water.

Older Properties

When asked to achieve the same seamless paving scene on older properties, it is essential that some alternative logic is required. Older houses may not have the same Building Regulation restrictions regarding wheelchair and disability compliances, the most significant of which is the maximum gap of 18mm between the paving and threshold. This difference allows the designer to consider wider and more creative methods of preventing moisture from becoming a problem.

As every site is different, with levels, falls, crossfalls, soil types and drainage, slope and size/area of ground beyond the immediate threshold/patio doors/doors there can be no hard and fast rule pertaining to designing a seamless visual from interior to exterior flooring for a garden design.

Obviously, by using the same products internally and externally it is possible to achieve a universal visual appearance in the paving (although laying methods will vary. Internal Tiling comes under  BS 5385 which involves different techniques including a waterproof membrane for internal floors, and laying of paving, which falls under BS 7533, and is another subject altogether!)  These variations may manifest in different jointing gaps, and it may be difficult to marry straight lines in a design or pattern if the joints are wider/narrower.

The damp proof course membrane level difference between the hard paving and dpc are 150mm, ( Building Regs ; see above) and any raising of that level must be carried out in a way that protects the building from rainwater. Bear in mind, the new build houses have a host of internal protective features as mentioned previously, and the brickwork of the structure may not be protected by any insulation barriers in older houses.

Beware of suspended floors in buildings. These may be indicated by the fact that air bricks are situated under the damp proof course membrane, so that air may freely pass under the building to prevent damp issues. It is technically very difficult to achieve seamless floors with such properties, and will certainly require expert opinion and specification, skills that fall outside the insurance cover provided to garden designers!

Therefore, all protective methods must be carried out externally.  These may manifest themselves in different ways. On some sites, provided that the thresholds are designed to prevent water ingress whilst affording a seamless level between interior and exterior paving, the levels across the house walls will require a graduated system to return the laying levels to 150mm below dpc, or seek another method of achieving the same effect i.e. preventing rainwater from laying against the walls, and alleviating rain water splash from making the brickwork damp.

There is a wide range of decorative metal channel covers available in various patterns, to cover drainage channels set 150mm below dpc to accord with the Building Regulations. Other channels may be filled with rounded pebbles (rounded to reduce rain water splash) to a depth of at least 150mm, ensuring they are free draining as previously discussed. These methods should be discussed with the Local Authority Planning Department to ensure that you do not fall foul of their regulations (some are more relaxed than others, but ensure you get their ruling in writing. This is NOT a waiver, but an Approval Document)


To summarise, the requisite for designing seamless, same level paving/tiling patterns from internal floors to external patios and paths will involve research and due diligence on the part of the Designer or Design & Build Contractor.

The first step is to carry out a complete survey of the exterior of the property, paying attention to existing drains and the potential to discharge rain and surface water away from the house walls, at the same time evaluating the potential for storm water from causing problems with water ingress.  Look well beyond the immediate area under discussion to gain a general overview of the site.

Ask to inspect the Architects drawings and cross-sectional plans from the builder (if known).

These documents should be referenced on the designers plans as evidence of due diligence.

 Under no circumstances should the designer accept a verbal or written waiver from the customer by means of mitigating your responsibilities. (See Waivers elsewhere in The Landscape Library), as by accepting such a document it will indicate that you knew there was a problem, but chose to ignore it one the say-so of an amateur (the customer) As the Professional Designer, and Principal Designer under CDM Regs 2015, you will be deemed to be the Expert should any future claim arise through your actions.

There is plenty of detailed information available from the website, including  cross sectional drawings, which should be carefully noted. The points I have raised above go beyond those advisory notes, as I have been dealing with Claims cases and Disputes as an Expert Witness for many years now, and have seen too many designers turn a blind eye to potential problems, only to find themselves in financial trouble once a project fails. These failures manifest themselves in different ways, but always involve damp ingress, mould, rotting floors, ruined carpets, furniture and fittings, plus claims on health grounds.

Alan Sargent

Modern fashion plus traditional threshold equals wet carpets!

The Professional Gardeners Guild – A Personal View

In 1997, Brian Hutchinson, then Head Gardener of Castle Howard in Yorkshire, realised that people such as himself were rarely able to discuss matters relating to his job with others in the same position due to lack of contacts. With so much time spent, working on everyday obligations without any opinion or shared knowledge being available to him, he set out to organise a network of people in the area and beyond, creating a line of communication between Head Gardeners at establishments across the UK.

New products, staff problems, new techniques, types of machinery and equipment, exchanging views on methods of working practice – a very wide range of topics indeed!

Joint exchange garden visits were arranged, and the network grew wider, and thus The Professional Gardeners Guild was born. Many employers were very supportive of the aims and ambitions of the PGG and remain so today. The value of mutual discussion is beyond price, and as the Guild grew, so other industry assets were recognised, including the successful Trainee Scheme, whereby Students can gain work experience at different types of garden, learning new skills whilst under a bursary type of funding to enable them to develop their careers.

Being a progressive Guild, the PGG formed a Charitable Trust, now run independently, where both members and non-members can apply for funding for all manner of horticultural Training Courses.  I myself have organised many such courses, including the Managing As A Head Gardener seminars held annually since 2011. The Guild is run completely by volunteers, and is funded purely by subscriptions without any external funding.

The Professional Gardeners Guild is the world’s premier organisation for Professional Gardeners, mainly in the private (employed) sector, although with a growing number of self-employed (often ex-full time employees now turning freelance) it is now over one thousand strong.

Although the Guild does not conduct any formal vetting procedure, entry is on a meritorious system based on time served and recommendation by fellow members. Categories of membership are limited to four; Full Member, Associate and Affiliated – plus Retired members who wish to continue with their friendships built during their careers.

I joined as a Full Member around 2005, and have had a very warm relationship with the Members ever since. I was Head Gardener at Goodwood at the time, and although I left there in 2007, I have retained my membership as I act as Consultant to several large Estates in the South of England.

As a part of my consultancy work, I undertake commissions to find new Head Gardeners for clients. Not as an Agency, or Agent, but as a bespoke service to particular clients, always at the very top end of the market!  My clients allow me to interview them to discover exactly what type of Head they require (many do not know exactly what it is they want from a Head Gardener when it comes to skills and knowledge). They allow me to set the salary and conduct the whole process from advertising and arranging job interviews etc on a sole basis. Only once I have a short list, do I introduce the prospective employee to the client.

When I am formulating the adverts and deciding the type of person I wish to attract, I prepare a list of attributes for the job.

Top of that list is Membership of The Professional Gardeners Guild. I value membership of the PGG as highly – more so – than any Degree or Diploma, for the simple reason that I know that the candidate has shown a commitment to the industry that a degree cannot. Passing an exam is great, but the standard entry for membership to the PGG – whilst not formalised but it is a general fact that most have at least seven years of practical experience, usually at Senior level, something I value very highly when assessing candidates.

Vetting for membership of the Guild as such is unnecessary, as the candidate is very likely to have been working in full time employment, and the previous employer will have thoroughly vetted the person, far more thoroughly that I can!  Based on their curriculum vitae and general demeanour, I am of the opinion that Membership of the PGG is to be highly rated amongst Consultants when selecting staff.

I have enjoyed a personal, and very warm relationship with the Chair of The PGG – Tony Arnold – who has been in charge for as long as I can remember!  And long may he continue!

His enthusiasm for the industry and the needs for training, especially of young people, is extremely valuable to Horticulture in general, and the welfare of Garden Estates in particular.

With a great team behind him, including Treasurer, Secretary, Membership Secretary and Employment Liaison Officer, the future of the PGG is secure. The Guild publishes a quarterly glossy magazine to all Members, (The Professional Gardener) filled with news, views, reviews, articles and features, which is a fine testimony to a great organisation.

Alan Sargent

(Personal view)


Pruning Wisteria

There is a balance between the plant’s needs and the needs of the garden and garden owner that isn’t always reflected in standard pruning textbooks. Its up to you to find the right balance. Managing client expectations may add a level of concern, but it shouldn’t affect your horticultural judgement.

What you need to know is how, and how much, to prune; also why pruning is needed.

Wisteria is a true climbing shrub: it has twining stems which will coil around a support. This may be a trellis or pergola, but it will also use its own older stems. Or indeed, nearby trees and shrubs, fences where there’s a small gap for it to slip a tendril through…Its not described as a vigorous climber for nothing!

But oh so beautiful with those pendulous scented racemes of flowers in spring and often a second, summer flowering.

If you’re lucky, the wisteria you face will be a youngish one that has seen some pruning.

However, if you’re faced with a mature un-pruned wisteria in a client’s garden, the matter is less simple, but still doable.

Why Prune Wisteria?

The reasons are to: –

  • remove dead, diseased or dying stems
  • keep it to a manageable size
  • train it to grow over a pergola, etc
  • encourage formation of flowering spurs
  • reduce excess foliage
  • encourage second flowering

Remember when you’re feeding after pruning that Wisteria is a member of the Leguminosae family and requires little extra nitrogen. However as a flowering plant it will thank you for potassium-rich feed.


In spring Wisteria flowers from the buds that were formed in late summer the previous year. A second blossoming in summer is more likely if those flowers are removed before they ran to seed. Other summer blooms come from buds which were still juvenile in spring.

Wisteria is hardy, but will not flower as profusely in a shaded site. However, the plant will put out more green leaves in order to maximise its ability to photosynthesise. If possible, the easiest solution is to relocate the wisteria. Pruning would allow more light to the flowers but is likely to reduce the overall health of the shrub in the long term.

Summer Pruning


To remove the long ‘whippy’ stems and spent flowers.

Wisteria is rampant in growth and removing excess foliage restrains this tendency. Furthermore it allows light and air to reach the flowering spurs (short stems with flower buds) and encourages new flower buds.


In early to mid summer, after the first flowering.

How and What

Prune the long shoots of the current year’s growth back to 15cm, or 5 buds, making the cut just above a bud.

Remove any stems not needed for the main framework of the plant or that are in the ‘wrong place’. For example, those growing outwards away from the fence.

Prune away root suckers, which you may see on grafted varieties.

Remove spent flowers by taking off the stem, not just the blooms.

You may need to repeat this pruning after the second flush of flowers, although it would normally be a lighter prune.

Winter Pruning

Wisteria is deciduous, which is a great aid during winter pruning as the tracery of twining stems is easily seen.


To prune away long shoots that have grown since the summer pruning and make sense of the overall woody structure which can become very entangled.


Mid-winter, ie January, or early February, but not during a hard frost.

How and What

Considering the shape of wisteria before and during pruning is a critical element of the task; your client wouldn’t want a lop-sided climber! Its made easier as the overall structure is visible in winter.

Firstly do the usual check for dead, diseased and dying branches and remove these. I also look for other signs of pest and disease as I’m inspecting the climber anyway.

Next I would suggest checking the support, whether that’s trellis or pergola. Mature wisterias can be heavy and it’s easier to carry out repairs in winter.

Then cut back the summer-pruned stems to 3 buds form the base to ensure new flowers will not be obscured by leaves.

Pruning Young Wisteria

A pleasant task, best carried out in mid-winter. Stand back and consider not only the shape of the wisteria but whether it has been planted in the best place. If not, then it should be small enough to move without too much damage to the roots.

Depending on the current height of the main stem, reduce it to 75cm – 1m. Untangle the side branches, remove those heading in the wrong direction and reduce the remaining ones by up to a third, always cutting to just above a bud.

Tie into the support, stand back and admire your work.

Renovation aka Hard or Restorative Pruning

Young wisteria or those which have been regularly and correctly pruned are now sorted with the above tips. But what if you’re faced with a towering shrub with stems the sized of your muscled arms?

Wherever possible, hard pruning is best carried out in the winter, or certainly when the plant is leaf-free. Depending on the amount of pruning required, it may need to happen over 2 or 3 years.

Its not a quick prune. You’ll need to trace back twining stems to where you need to cut to be sure of pruning the correct ones. I’ve found marking the one to be cut with twine or pen at intervals along the stem is helpful.

Some older branches may need to be cut back almost to ground level, just above a growth shoot. The wisteria should respond with new growth in spring, but may take 3 years to develop new flowering spurs from such a drastic prune.

If it is a grafted plant, keep all cuts to 3 buds above the graft, giving a safety margin in case of frost or pest damage.

Marie Shallcross


What’s In a Name?

Choosing a name for your business is often one of the most difficult decisions a new firm can imagine. What can I call myself?  If I work under my name, how will anyone know what I am offering? If I call myself my name plus a word to describe my work, what if I want to diversify or add more services to the name?

What does everyone else call themselves?  Should I use a pleasant sounding name that makes me look friendly and approachable, or will the name make me sound silly, flippant or amateurish?  Shall I take professional advice? How much will that cost me?

Can I copyright and protect my name?  What if someone else claims that they had the name first?  Can they prevent me from using my chosen name at a later date?

What font or colour scheme should I opt for?  Should I invent a logo, or use one of the many different ‘free to use’ logos available on the Internet, and add my name to it? Should I choose something that looks gardenesque?  A spade handle with green shoots growing out of it?  Or a rose motif with a quill pen for the stem, showing that I am a green fingered garden designer?

Choice of Name

Obviously, your personal choice will be something that you are happy to be associated with. Something that you are confident and comfortable with. A name you feel really encapsulates and describes you and your services in a pleasant way.  A name you can easily recite over the telephone when answering incoming calls.  Tongue Twisters are not useful when trying to appear bright and alert when answering a call!

You need to feel comfortable with your choice for many reasons. It is very difficult when you start out to feel that your name belongs to YOU. It is your firm, your name, your public image, and anything remotely embarrassing should be avoided.

Try to imagine how your company or practice name sounds to a potential customer. Does if really sound like a name they will be happy to repeat to their friends and neighbours when they explain who it is they have chosen to carry out work in their garden.

If you decide to use your name, do you call yourself Alan Sargent, or A. Sargent. Alan Sargent Gardens, or Alan Sargent Garden Designer.  Should it be ‘Designers’, to make the firm sound larger?  Or ‘Designer’ to make the firm sound small and friendly.  All of these factors come into play when trying to decide.

Alan Sargent Landscapes, or Sargent Landscapes?  Landscapes By Alan Sargent?  Sounds a little pretentious perhaps?   Alan Sargent – Landscapes of Distinction. Does that sound positive?  Or pompous?

Try out several variations on the theme, and ask family and friends to help you with your choice. Try not to pigeon-hole yourself, unless it is for a positive reason. I know of companies that call themselves by their service offer.  ‘Lawns & Hedges’.  ‘Mow and Go’.  ‘Rock and Water’.  ‘Block and Slab’ .   You would not contact any of these firms for services other than their nominated skills offer. This is great, if all they want to do is to remain within their chosen field.  But if you want the business to expand and grow into new pastures, by adding fresh offerings to your client base, it is perhaps not a good idea to publicly limit your offer.

The use of initials can be acceptable, if the rest of the name is obvious.  There are of course, exceptions to this rule. You have only to look at B & Q, M & S, P & O and others to see that initials can be used successfully, but these are well known brand names, with a massive publicity machine behind them. A.S Gardens, A.S Landscapes, A.S Garden Maintenance does not have quite the same ring as the more famous names. Indeed, I would aver it sounds as though I have been too lazy or lacking in imagination to come up with a better name!

Often, the same ‘set’ of letters are used by more than one company, but if they are different types of business, it does not matter.   SCATS = Southern Counties Agricultural Trading Society, and also Southern Counties Air Taxi Service.   PGCA = Professional Garden Consultants Association and Professional Golf Club Association.  No problem with sharing initials in these cases!

Thinking Ahead

Many years ago, I used to run as Alan Sargent Landscapes, with a strap line underneath stating ‘Town and Country Gardens of Distinction’ from around the mid 70s until the mid 80s, when I became fed up with people wanting free advice, free site visits, free this and free that. It is all very well providing potential clients with helpful advice, but there comes a time to say No!

I chose to operate thereafter as Alan Sargent, and split Town And Country Gardens away from the company as a trading title. Everything else remained the same. Same bank account, same insurances etc, but now with two persona.  Alan Sargent is now charging for his time and advice.  Town and Country Gardens now build gardens. By separating the two, I earned far more money for my time, without losing any revenue from the Landscape side.

By doing so, something unexpected happened……..Town and Country Gardens took on a life of its’ own as a Trading title.  I built many gardens as Chelsea and other RHS Shows under the banner of Town and Country Gardens, whilst developing Alan Sargent into a consultancy business.  In 1995, I was approached by a Company who wanted to upgrade their public image by changing their landscape business and buying the name of Town and Country Gardens.

I sold the name and logo to the new owners, and continued operating my consultancy business without any loss or detriment to myself or connections. So it does pay to look to the future.  If your business name is desirable, one day you may find yourself on the receiving end of a business sale transaction!  (I could never have sold the company as Alan Sargent Landscapes, as I was not for sale!  In any event, without the main person being part of the sale, it would have no value)

Public Image

If you are running a garden design practice, it may seem a good idea to use a flower or plant name to call your company. There is no reason for not doing so, but how many other practices are using the same flower?  What image does that flower conjure up?  Rose for Cottage gardens?  Yucca for Modern Town gardens?   Petunia for Soft and Fluffy gardens?  Or Poppy to Wildflower Meadow gardens? 

By careful choice of plant names, you can indeed, conjure up the style of design that you specialise in, so in some cases, it may be very useful.

There are many other company names that appear across the country. Indeed, there are several Town and Country Gardens, along with Allseasons, All Seasons, Four Seasons, Muddy Wellies, Graduate Gardens (or Landscapes), Evergreen Gardens and a host of other similar names, to be found even in the same county as each other.

Your choice will, to a certain extent, depend on your local marketplace. Having shortlisted a few names, it may pay to check out your region, via telephone books/Google etc and research who else has a name the same or nearly the same. Perhaps you will discover they have a very poor reputation, and you do not want to be associated with that name!

Beware too, that some names are ‘owned’ by businesses that will take great offence if you try and copy their name!  One firm in particular, who shall remain nameless (!) started a business in the UK in the 90s. Their Trademark name was an easy one to copy, as it was made up of two words rolled into one. The first part of the name was half of another common word, and when combined, created a single word. A word that could be altered in around a dozen different ways with different spellings, some invented, others in common parlance.

The firm spent years and a fortune in lawyers, demanding that each new name closed down or changed their name to protect their Trade Mark!  Although this occurred at the beginning of the Internet days, if they wanted to protect their Trade Mark name from all comers, they would have to own over fifty different domain names.

Common parlance is the key.  Nobody nowadays can own or copyright letters or words that are in common use. Hence Town and Country Paving, Gardens, Landscapes, Garden-wear, Designs etc are not able to become copyrighted.  Logos of course, and a combination of colour schemes, letter styles and fonts may fuse into one brand, and therefore the whole may be copyrighted.

I know of some growers and small nurseries who operate under a long term name involving only letters or a simple name. Perhaps a family name, or even the name of a village or location. They may have traded quietly for years under their chosen name, and are horrified to discover that another grower or gardener has started their own business, using the same name/letters/location name, in their area.  Unfortunately for the long term user, there is nothing that the Law can do to prevent the new firm from using the same name if the words and letters are in everyday use.

Therefore, the best recourse for the original owner is to rebrand themselves by adding the words ‘The Original’ to the brand name. Something to establish that they are the original user of the name and therefore establish their credentials and gain fresh publicity from that scenario. As a grower, when displaying your wares at the local market, highlight the fact that you are the original, trading since 1980, rather than trying to compete with the newcomer.

Logos are of course, a different matter, especially if you have spent time and money on having your own design created.  It is possible to protect a logo by taking our a patent on the image, but even then it is very difficult to prevent someone from using your logo if they choose to ignore you, especially if they live in another country, where Laws may differ from ours.

An example is the ‘trug’ logo which my son, Luke, designed for me for the Landscape Library and also my Consultancy business.  It is a truly unique design, and one which caught the eye of a Garden Designer in America, who promptly utilised it as her own!  No amount of emails and cajoling would make her desist in using the logo.  She liked, it, and there was nothing I could do to stop her! (Nothing remotely affordable in any event).

So, if you see a Garden Designer, working in the United States of America, with a brilliant logo based on a trug containing books, you will know that there is a little of piece of English imagination advertising her practice!

Alan Sargent


Television Garden Makeover Programmes – Positive Or Negative?

In 1991, I was involved in building garden makeovers for a BBC Television series called Old Garden – New Gardener. Produced by Mark Kershaw of Catalyst Television programmes, it starred Geoff Hamilton and Gaye Search, with a spin-off book on the series of the same name printed in 1992.

Designs for the series were produced by Robin Williams, and I carried out the construction works as shown on the programme. The concept was to locate three main gardens which would be subjected to a complete makeover, and the chosen are was the Rugby region for various reasons.

Each garden was currently either very bland and boring, or a total wreck, with builder rubble strewn across the site. The objective of the series was to demonstrate how to go about landscaping an old garden, from the viewpoint of a new owner. Broadcast over a few weeks, the series set out to show, step by step, how these gardens could evolve and become attractive new sites.

The whole emphasis was on entertaining education, with serious matters being discussed in a very informative manner. Geoff was the consummate professional presenter, and Gaye was highly respected as a professional gardener. Every step was shown in detail, with no tomfoolery or treating the viewers as children.

I believe the series was successful, although another series was not commissioned, and I do not have the viewing figures. I do know the book was very successful!  I have discovered several copies in good bookshops since then. (Although I have a name check in the book, I cannot say that I ever gained any landscaping projects from the series. However, it gave me a TV Pedigree, that opened further doors, courtesy of the Produce, Mark Kershaw.

This connection presented another opportunity a couple of years later, when I was invited to be the landscaper for another series, this time in Birmingham, called The Terrace. It was also BCC, and was presented by Mike Reid, of Frank Butcher/East Enders fame. It was similarly serious, and included making over both indoors and the (small) rear gardens. I designed these, although ‘design’ is too grand a word to the imagination involved in laying simple paths, patios and turfing the plots.

Although Mike was famous also as a comedian, the programme was scripted to be serious and professional, as the spin-off from the series – which was shown on day-time television – was to be a series of printed features showing all elements in a step by step/Barry Bucknall way. (Barry was a famous 1950s DIY presenter on BBC)

Both of these series were presented and scripted to be serious and educational whilst being entertaining. To repeat, there was no tomfoolery (although Mike could not resist some funny asides from time to time)

Moving on a few years later, a new concept of television garden makeover programmes appeared in 1997 that set the public viewing figures soaring!  A new aspect, showing a team effort, complete with comedy, sexy presenters, an unsuspecting deserving individual who would be presented with a brand new dream garden whilst they were away from the house. Time really was of the essence, with the team desperately trying to complete the makeover before the owner/wife/husband/child/partner came home.  The programme was, of course, Ground Force!

Suddenly, television gardening became massively popular!  Viewing figures were through the roof! Spin-offs abounded, and the BBC were ecstatic with their success. The presenters, Alan Titchmarsh, Charlie Dimmock and Tommy Walsh became household names. The premise of the makeovers was speed, no cost, rush, rush, rush, forget horticulture or professionalism in techniques, just beat the clock! At the end of each programme, a list of expenses was shown, including X slabs @ XX prices, XX plants @ XX cost with absolutely no recognition of labour, tools @equipment, skip hire and a host of other real life expenses. The bottom line was the whole garden cost £100.00. This was 1995, not 1895!

Needless to say, professional landscapers throughout the land were incensed at the message being given to the public!  If Alan Titchmarsh can build a whole garden for £100.00 – why can’t you? Suddenly, every contractor was being challenged by their clients regarding their high costs.

The Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) took issue with the BBC, who passed them on to Catalyst Television (again) who pooh pooed the whole complaints, saying how popular the programmes were with the viewers. They did not care tuppence about a bunch of disgruntled landscapers!

Eventually, I wrote to Alan (I knew him through other meetings) and explained the problems that professional landscapers were experiencing, knowing him to be a consummate professional himself. After that, at the end of future programmes, he would point out that the costs were subsidised, that skips had been donated, and that labour was not included, so a lot of feathers were smoothed over.

Professional Landscapers also realized and appreciated the great impact on the public’s conscience of having their gardens made over (I think this must be a television phrase) and indeed, after a while, the public began to realise that is was purely television, and not real life.

Many of the practices carried out during these programmes were ignored by the public, as they realized that everything was being rushed for a purpose, and corners were being cut. The shift of emphasis moved away from the low cost of the gardens, and on to the clock. Can they possibly finish in time?

And so the format became stale, and viewing figures dropped, the world moved on……..

In 2016, another new series started on the BBC, produced by Spun Gold Television, starring Charlie Dimmock, this time in the lead role as presenter, with two very personable landscapers, The Rich Brothers as her buddies.

This time, the premise of the shows is garden makeovers, only by this time, producers have decided to concentrate on the friendly banter of the Team, paying scant attention to technical information or complying with professional techniques, presenting purely Fun Time Television.

Once again, the BBC were inundated with complaints from the professional landscape community, and once again, viewing figures were paramount and all complaints were once again ignored.

Meanwhile, other excellent programmes such as Gardeners World and Alan Titchmarsh’s Love Your Garden continue to educate and enthuse the general public, and I know that many thousands of professional gardeners watch the programmes, together with owners and managers of garden centres, in the certain knowledge that if a plant or product is mentioned on either of the ‘serious’ garden programmes, they need to stand by for the rush of enquiries the following day from gardeners, keen to get hold of the latest rose/daffodil/radish.

Both programmes explain to the viewers, what they are doing, and why they are doing it, discussing horticultural practices and offering timely advice across a range of garden related matters.

Such is the power of television!  Love the programmes or hate them, they are here to stay.

If you cannot beat them, why not make use of them?  As Garden Centres look at shows to generate sales, if Landscape Designers and Landscape Contractors celebrate the recognition of the industry to potential customers, at the same time demonstrating the Real Life Legal Requirements that professional companies have to comply with, such as Contract (Design Management) Regs 2015, Waste Carriage Licences, Operating Licences and Certificates and so forth, thereby educating the public about the serious realities of life, as opposed to fun television, it is a golden opportunity to show the difference between the two.

Treat television for what it is. Entertainment. Such chasms as exist between reality and fantasy may be highlighted and treated in a positive light.


The Society of Garden Designers

In the beginning…

Until the early 80s, Garden Designers were not able to display their work in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show Design marquee. Although this was little more than a large tent, with boards containing sets of plans and photographs of designer’s work and finished projects, only Landscape Architects were allowed to take space in the tent.

A small group of Garden Designers, who were not Landscape Architects decided to make presentation to the RHS with a view to getting the rules changed, to recognise Garden Design in its own right, and garden designers as serious professionals worthy of inclusion in the Garden Design section.

These were seasoned and experienced people, with a strong background in the industry.

The ‘leader’ or instigator of the project was Peter Rogers, a Garden Designer based in Oxted in Surrey, who ran a sole practice supplemented with a small nursery growing open ground plants, installed by Peter and his colleague Tom Hardaway. Peter was mainly involved in producing planting plans for Building Developers, helping them with Planning Applications, but with a fair percentage of his work coming from private clients.

Peter had already designed several gardens at Chelsea, for local firms such as Knights Garden Centre in Warlingham.

Robin Templar Williams – father of Robin Templar Williams (Robin Senior dropped the Templar (a family name) to Robin T Williams, Robin Junior as I have always called him, became Robin Templar Williams, who is also a highly successful Garden Designer in his own right) was the second of the group. Robin started out as a landscaper in the Bristol area in 1958, but his skill with a pen and his highly sought after hand coloured final plans were often framed by his clients and hung on the walls in the house, they were so attractive!

Paul Temple, a London based garden designer (whose daughter, Gillian Temple has carried on the tradition as a successful Garden Designer) was also a successful Garden Designer, who latterly specialised in interior landscaping.

Paul was a regular Chelsea Designer, and his practice took on commercial works as well as private gardens.

I had the pleasure of constructing many gardens for the above trio, especially Robin Williams and Peter Rogers, winning the 1982 British Association of Landscape Industries Principal Domestic Award for a project in Knightsbridge (as Adecksol Ltd) and several Golds at Chelsea with Peter in the 80s with my firm, Town and Country Gardens, for sponsors such as McAlpine, Countryside, Telegraph, NSPCC, London Association For The Blind and many others.

Father and son Basil and James Seymour, of Seymours Landscapes, a well established firm who have been building gardens in the Surrey and South London area since the 1920s were numbers Four and Five in the Magnificent Seven as they became known in the Design world.

Seymours are a successful landscape business, now running out of Cobham in Surrey, but at the time of getting together were based in Ewell in Surrey.

Seymours are founder members of BALI, and have strong connections to this day. Robin was also involved with BALI at the time of meeting, acting as Secretary to the South Thames Region sector.

Number Six was Geoff Whiten, who with his then wife Fay, were successful Chelsea Designers, working mainly with sponsor Bradstone, building their award winning gardens. Geoff has since broadened his career, becoming Chair of the Garden Media Guild and holder of many other distinguished industry posts, as well as designing dozens of other Show gardens and private domestic schemes, plus writing several successful books.

Number Seven of The Magnificent Seven was Rosemary Alexander, although she unfortunately was unable to attend the inaugural meeting, sending her apologies instead.


The first meeting to discuss the probable formation of a professional body governing the activities of landscape and garden designers was held at Pit House, Ewell in Surrey at the offices of Seymour Landscapes (and not as is often reported, at Paul Temple’s house) on Thursday 15th October 1981.

The original title for the new organisation was The Society of Landscape and Garden Architects, although this was altered at the next meeting to The Society of Garden Designers, as those present were not Architects and the title would have led to some confusion by the RHS.

The primary business of the inaugural evening meeting was to appoint Principal Officers to enable the Society to move on to other business.

Chairman – Peter Rogers.     (Prop. James Seymour, seconded by Paul Temple)

Secretary/Treasurer – James Seymour  (Prop. Peter Rogers, seconded by Paul Temple)

Publicity & Press Officer – Geoff Whiten   (Prop. Peter Rogers and seconded by Robin Williams)

Robin Williams was nominated to formulate preliminary rules for the Society, and also design the Society’s logo (which was a rather splendid rampant lion and shield as I recall)

It was agreed to open an account with The National Westminster Bank, and each person present to paying £50.00 into the new Account.

The main business proposal after the elections was to agree and write to the RHS requesting Affiliation to the Society as soon as possible. No mention of the new Society was to be made to a wider audience until the matter with the RHS had been resolved i.e. that Affiliation was possible.

Other business was fairly routine, agreeing to request that the RHS allow the new Society to  stage a board at the 1982 Chelsea Flower Show, and to attempt to produce some Terms and Conditions and Standard Specification for working with Landscape Contractors.

The meeting closed, with a second date agreed as 19th November 1981, again at Pit House in Ewell, Surrey.

There followed many other meetings at various locations, and once the RHS had readily agreed to allow the new Society to display at Chelsea, the new organisation was announced to the wider world, quickly becoming THE place for professional garden designers to join.


The Society of Garden Designers is the premier organisation for Garden Designers in the UK, probably thorough out the world!

With over 1600 members, now including Fellows, Full Members and Pre-Registered Members, although other organisations such as the British Association of Landscape Industries and the Association of Professional Landscapers now have Designer Members, the SGD remains THE Society for aspiring Garden Designers.

Now with The Garden Design Journal, Awards Ceremonies and mutual shared meetings between the Landscape Industry working together as one united front, the Magnificent Seven would have been surely very pleased to see their efforts come to fruition.


For the record, I was invited by Peter Rogers to become involved in ensuring that the new Society could work amicably with the Landscape Industry. I worked closely with Peter on various projects and he used me as a sounding board for all kinds of industry matters. He shared his thoughts and ideas for the creation of the SGD, allowing me full disclosure of minutes and other business papers, which I have not mentioned in this article.

I was heavily involved with BALI at that time, an Officer on South Thames Regional Committee and keen to see the Landscape industry grow and become ever more professional.

Alan Sargent


Bespoke Screen Fencing

I was commissioned to supply and erect a fence across this garden as a screen to shield the owners from public view, whilst at the same time, provide them with a different style of fence, one that would complement the natural building materials used in the house construction.

The site was prone to high winds, and therefore I did not want to erect a solid panel fence of any description. I wanted something modern yet traditional. Something bespoke to reflect the quality of the house (million pound plus) that would provide screening, under windy conditions, look expensive, exclusive and be affordable.

I showed the customer some photographs of willow and hazel hurdles and other projects including a woven willow sided timber bridge I had designed for Chelsea (Alfred McAlpine garden – Silver Gilt) which they loved the look of.  How to produce a woven hazel/chestnut or willow screen that passed all of the criteria. Something bespoke to the actual site, bearing in mind the sloping nature of the ground (which precluded refabricated panels). That was the challenge!

The two low panels of brickwork and flint were already on site, with a low picket style gate between the pair.

I designed a series of timber frames, all connected as one length, comprising 100mm x 100mm upright posts, with 150mm x 50mm and 75mm x 75mm internal timbers as shown in the photographs.

The capping was made from 50mm x 200mm timber (all timber was planed and prepared, tanalised and heavily impregnated with clear preservatives and double coated in primer before construction)  Non-ferrous screws were used throughout.

One side of the fence was completed using 25mm x 100mm frames, much like a picture frame, and the woven hazel panels, each designed, shaped and measured to fit into the frame were screwed into position. I selected woven panels as they are not easily affected by high winds, the air passing freely through the gaps. (On hot days, the air is cooled by travelling through the gaps in the roundels)

Once the woven panels were secured, the second section of the picture frame was added and screwed into position, securely retaining the screen, again, much like a picture in a frame.

The woven panels will last for around six or seven years provided that they are treated with clear preservative on an annual basis. This treatment was clearly underlined in the quotation. Failure to treat the woven panels would reduce their lifespan.

I manufactured the higher gate using the same grade of timber, retaining the picket fence appearance to reflect the fact that the house was in the middle of the countryside and not in the middle of the city.  The cost?  Around £6,000.00 inc VAT for the work shown.


An Alternative Pergola Solution

The project demanded a sturdy pergola, one that was capable of being clad in climbing roses, bordered and segregated the patio/outdoor dining area from the rest of the garden, at the same time as not obscuring the views from the ground floor windows of the house.

When building pergolas, I prefer to use very strong timbers, both visually and structurally, eschewing the prefabricated versions available from well known manufacturers using thin legs and scrawny rails.

Here, I have opted for 225mm x 225mm upright posts, in sawn, planed and prepared well seasoned pine, pressure treated for extra longevity for the upright posts, and 75mm x 225mm rails.

The structure as shown is a very simple build, with the main structural lengthways rails bolted to the uprights, and double cross rails secured one either side of the uprights, again, bolted into position. I used Timberlok screws throughout.

This system is very simple, requiring no jointing, whilst at the same time, creating a very strong, linked and integrated structure, with the cross timbers acting as joints.

In order to preserve the views, I have installed stainless steel 6mm cables forming a series of struts or corner supports, which act as guide wires for the growing and frameworks of the climbing roses.

These cables are fixed using stainless steel round eye bolts, secured into the timbers, with one continuous length of cable being tightened with a single barrel tensioner linking both ends together. (If the cables become slack over time, they are easily re-tensioned by the owner using a couple of small spanners or pliers)


The second and third photographs shows the same cable logic on a smaller scale. The cable system allows for vines to be grown over a pergola feature without the need for corner brackets, which are unsightly and awkward to fit by landscapers such as myself who are not carpenters!

This pergola required some joints to be made, although I minimised these to simple half joints, sawn to suit the fan style of the roof timbers. (the rear section is considerable narrower that the front, resulting in a splayed effect)

Both pergolas were constructed using heavy duty timbers, as I consider them to be long term features, which cannot be built using flimsy pieces of wood. Total working time on the pergola was four man days. Total cost of the pergola was £1,900.00 plus VAT. (Paving was extra)

NOTE: the corners of all uprights on both schemes have been removed to create a tactile edge, much as a non-regular octagonal pencil, with 25mm taken off each corner. This does not materially weaken the posts, but reduces the visual impact of 225mm wide timber.


Ecologists and the Landscape Industry

The requirement for ecological input

Let’s take a scenario:

‘Client A has a large garden that had become completely overgrown and has requested that the garden is cleared and tidied up, they approach two contractors in January for quotes. The property is in the countryside and backs onto farmland, within the garden lies an old pond now covered with dense shade and vegetation. The client has asked a landscape contractor to completely clear the garden.’

‘Contractor A has given a price to clear the garden, no questions asked and is available to undertake the work when convenient. Contractor B has given a price but has considered the job more widely and has suggested there may be protected species on site and suggests using an ecologist. Contractor B mentions that the work needs to be undertaken before the end of February. The client goes with contractor A as the quote is significantly less than contractor B. Contractor A then carries out the work in May’

So, this may seem a simple scenario but let’s look at it in more detail.

Contractor A has simply agreed to undertake clearance of the garden, in this case with no concern for what may be on site and the fact that they are undertaking the work in May. As the garden is overgrown and contains a pond, there is the potential for protected species to be on site, for instance Great crested newts. If the contractor undertakes clearance and it is reported that there were potentially protected species on a site, then this can be looked at as a breach of the wildlife and countryside Act. The fact that they carried out the work in May, also brings the clearance work into bird nesting season, with again a potential issue of disturbing nesting birds.

As the ‘competent’ person, the contractor and not the client would be responsible for any fines / prison sentence handed out as a breach of legislation.

If contractor B had been awarded the work, they had already priced in for using an ecologist, either to undertake a baseline phase 1 survey to assess the potential presence of protected ( and invasive) species, or as an Ecological Clerk of works  (ECoW) on a day rate. ECoWs will supervise clearance work and check for the presence of protected species whilst on site and will stop the work if any are found and then the appropriate mitigation licences can be applied for. Contractor B also understood bird nesting season and the restrictions that that brings.

This may seem a simple scenario, but you will not be surprised at the number of requests that come in from clients that want sites cleared and they want them cleared now. With regards to the competent person part, the client can not be blamed for any breach of wildlife legislation if the contractors are carrying out the work.

The requirements to perhaps engage with an ecologist can vary with the work and especially at what stage of the planning process for new developments.

Pre-Application stage / clearance works

At this stage, ecologists can aid with;

  • Extended phase 1 habitat surveys
  • Protected species survey (bats, great crested newts, dormice, otter and water voles, badgers and reptiles);
  • Invertebrate surveys;
  • Appropriate reporting for submission with planning applications;
  • Production of appropriate site-specific ecological impact assessments and mitigation hierarchy (avoidance, mitigation or compensation) strategies;
  • Biodiversity Net Gain and Biodiversity Metrics (DEFRA);
  • Production of an Ecological Constraints Plan, which gives an overview of the ecological constraints of the site, within 24-48 hours after the initial survey; and 
  • Liaison with Local Planning Authorities and other appropriate organisations

As specialists, there may be a requirement to use ecologists for more specialised survey work which can include:

  • National Vegetation Classification surveys for a range of habitats including grassland, woodland, heathland, swamp, bogs, riparian and wetland, coastal and open habitats.
  • Botanical walkover surveys;
  • Rare arable plant surveys;
  • River corridor surveys;
  • Hedgerow surveys (which can be fed directly into the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species Great British Hedgerow Survey database); and
  • Habitat condition assessments (particularly so in the case of designated sites such as SSSIs etc)

Above all, ecologists are the ones that have detailed knowledge of current legislation and protected species mitigation. licensing and habitat creation, enhancement and restoration.

Biodiversity Net Gain

The environment bill, once it becomes legislation will provide opportunities for the landscape industry and will ensure that ecologists become a more integrated part of the landscape industry. One of the aspects the environment bill will encourage / promote and ensure happens is Biodiversity Net Gain.

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is an approach to development that leaves biodiversity in a better state post-development which will become mandated into legislation for all new developments.

  • Biodiversity metric calculations;
  • Mitigation hierarchy strategies;
  • Stakeholder liaison;
  • Habitat creation/restoration or enhancements using appropriate habitat types and management techniques;
  • Green roofs and walls;
  • Species specific enhancements (e.g bird boxes)
  • Compliance monitoring.

Hopefully this short article will encourage landscapers / garden designers and those involved in our industry to take up conversations with ecological consultancy experts and integrate them into their work.




Customers Cheating The Taxman

It is a fact that some people simply do not want to pay their way through life, and try and find any way they can to reduce their costs and outgoings to a minimum, even if it means failing to pay their dues by avoidance.  By this I mean taxes. By fair means or foul.

Value Added Tax, Income Tax or any other kind of taxation becomes a personal challenge to these people, when trying to avoid paying their taxes.  I suppose I should say, Tax Evasion, as Tax Avoidance is quite legal, and encouraged by Accountants. Mitigating or reducing your tax burden is one thing. Deliberately trying to cheat the Taxman is quite another, especially when they try to involve a Third Party into breaking the Law.

Unfortunately, this is not a new problem. For many years – certainly the past fifty as far as I am concerned – certain clients seem to think it is quite acceptable to coerce small companies into evading tax, either by false documentation or cash payments.

I find this attitude most annoying, because they would never have the nerve to make such suggestions to large firms – only to those they deem to be malleable, small, and unwilling to lose the business.

There are many examples of this attitude, including the customer who asks you to invoice their Company for works completed at their business premises, for work they had carried out at home. Invoice for ‘Office Cleaning’ if they do not have any outside grounds, or ‘Grounds Maintenance’ if they have a tiny car park or courtyard.

Some even expect it to be a regular occurrence.  Weekly home visits are to have the invoice either split between their home and business, or totally misrepresented by never mentioning their home, only the business premises.

Another example is a dentist, who asked the landscaper to provide him with a separate invoice in the sum of £8,000.00 plus VAT for works carried out at his practice premises. The Contractor had carried out a larger project at the dentist’s house, but he wanted and expected the contractor to reduce his personal debt by £9,600.00 (inc VAT) with a fabricated invoice, although the Contractor had never set foot in the place.

You will all have similar stories, ranging from a few pounds to many thousands, of offers of cash payments to avoid VAT, making out the bill to a Third Party or a host of other ‘Indecent Proposals’

Other claims may be made that there is no VAT payable on new builds. This is a common device, but you should be aware that the Contractor cannot make that decision. It is up to the owner to reclaim any overpaid VAT, nothing whatsoever to do with the Contractor.

Disabilities are often raised as being reasons why VAT should not be charged on projects. This announcement may only be made at the end of the job, when the invoice is raised, when they express surprise and even aggression that the contractor is trying to claim VAT for zero rated works, and taking advantage of their disability.  Once again, this is not a matter for the contractor. If the client is genuinely allowed to reclaim the tax, it is precisely that – reclaiming tax paid on a zero rated project. The invoice must be paid, in full, as per the terms of the Contract.

(New builds or specialist builders will already have this documentation and procedure in hand, and so stories of zero rating may apply to those firms, but not to landscapers and garden designers.)

Be in no doubt. If this happens to you, you are being asked to become complicit in an illegal process, one that could land one or both of you in Court. As the Contractor, HM Customs and Excise has much greater leverage and pressure over you, which would be placed on you as the ‘professional’ Party involved, fairly or unfairly.

At the slightest hint of impropriety, the Taxman can arrive on your doorstep without warning and take away all of your books, computers, records and all documents, effectively shutting your business down in seconds. You could be forced into administration by having everything seized as evidence, making it impossible to continue in business whilst a case is investigated/compiled against you.

You can reduce the risk of any misunderstanding between yourself and your clients by operating a system that is transparent from the outset, and adhering firmly to it.

Even if you are a sole operator, with no employees, you should act as though you are totally professional firm from the outset. By having compliances in place, with all documentation that would be expected in a large company, you will seriously reduce the risk of being asked and expected to become complicit in any illegal schemes.

These compliances will be essential once your business starts to grow, and the earlier you have them in place, the more professional your company image will become, sooner rather than later.

Begin with a simple document, produced on your headed notepaper. This may be headed with your company name repeated at the head of the wording, then include your company profile information. This should include Insurance details, Bankers details including sort code, Waste Management certificate details and any other ‘Establishment’ information that you may have.  This becomes your foundation statement, and shows that you are a professional firm, and thus less likely to be willing to be compromised with offers of illicit ‘deals’.

I have known too, occasions where the customer has suddenly announced that the works must be completed on a cash basis, as they have run out of money. Either take the cash or absorb the VAT. Either you are prepared to accept the large drop in profit on the project, or walk away. I am not going to advise you on that matter.

Bear in mind however, that should you decide to accept the situation, and accept cash no VAT, everything that has gone before becomes meaningless. The contract would have been breached by both Parties. All Terms & Conditions would be void, any warranties no longer valid as you have jointly decided to scrap the contract documents, and neither Party can refer to them or rely upon them once breached.

In summary, when a client asks you to break the Law, consider if it is really worth taking the risk of losing your business, potentially your house and marriage – possibly even gaining a criminal record, and with the taxman looking over your shoulder for the rest of your life just to save someone else from paying their dues.

Ensure your paperwork is professional, terms and conditions watertight, documents including quotations and specification are sound, and you will, hopefully, avoid these characters in the first place!


Coping With Cashflow Problems Caused By Interrupted Work Schedules

(Latin; Meaning – made discontinuous (Botanical) Not followed by the expected chord (Musical) or Stop the continuous progress (Activity)

In the case of Landscapers, probably all three are relevant, plus more besides, given the dreadful weather we have been suffering for several weeks now. Last year, most contractors were pleased to see that the promised downturn in work as a result of Brexit was confounded by the resilience of our customers and the positivity that had grown out of too many years of austerity, both real and imagined.

Wallets were opened, and a lot of seriously exciting projects were accepted and commenced, only to be interrupted by the aforementioned weather. No matter how well the work was covered, once ground conditions became too problematic, no amount of tentage could cope with flooded land and Somme-like conditions of access.

Plants cannot be installed into waterfilled pits, turf cannot be laid on slurry soil and joints will not cure in paving projects. Hence projects gradually grind to a halt.

Unfortunately, so do does the cashflow and interim payments become less than enough to cover outgoings. It does not matter how many projects you have on the go at once, the amount of labour and materials will be related to that number and scale of your business.

Businesses of all sizes are not immune to cash flow problems, although some have deeper reserves, and are able to cope with short term problems, the majority of Landscapers have suffered some serious and detrimental traumas caused by the weather during the autumn and early winter.

Consolidating the position

If I was able to wave a magic wand and offer solutions to all problems, I would be a magician or a charlatan politician. Every firm is different. Each has their own outgoings, debts or reserves, materials in store, vehicle costs including insurances, taxes, servicing etc that cannot be postponed but have to be met.  Even with no income, outgoings do not cease, and the cost burden grows twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

I would suggest that you take a step back from the coal face and examine carefully your situation and try to rationalise your position.

Make a careful inventory of all known costs that must be met. These may include all of your ‘Establishment’ costs e.g. insurances, rent, wages, staff pensions, VAT outstanding, heating, lighting, fuel, bank charges and interest.  Extrapolate that figure over three months (until the weather improves!) and arrive at a total figure. These are your costs that must be met irrespective of any income.

You should include all of your own living costs, as these too will have to be met.

Then examine all of the work you have contracted to carry out. Undertake a similar exercise only this time, listing all of the outstanding amounts of money and the relative position in the works programme they may fall. By this I mean assess how much money is left on each stage of the project, after payments already received are removed.

For example, paving works are 100 metres @ £150.00 per metre. Original contract price was £15,000.00.  You have been paid £10,000.00 already, leaving £5,000.00 on the job (ignore VAT for the sake of this exercise). The project is complete except for pointing, which will cost £2,000.00 leaving a ‘credit’ on completion of the project of £3,000.00.

Continue scheduling all elements of the scheme, listing each item as a separate project. In this way you can highlight how much money there is left on the job, at the time of writing.

Show the outstanding projects as individuals, with a total amount of work COMPLETED against the amount of work already completed and paid for, thereby highlighting an amount of money that will become payable against that item once it has been completed, and not as part of the overall scheme. (Not as a percentage of a scheme, but a factual figure)

Carry out the same exercise across all of your projects, and arrive at a mini work programme showing the amount of work to be completed and once it has been finished, the amount of income that completion will furnish.

In legal terms, this is known as Quantum muriet (as much as it is worth) which is an exercise that is carried out once a project has fallen into the net of a dispute issue, where an Expert Witness is called in to evaluate the works at the time of valuation, usually after a job has been terminated prematurely. Only in this case, it is essential to understand how much value to your business the non-completed works is to provide you with cashflow.

Assessing your assets.

Once you have arrived at your status quo – how much work there is to do to complete a particular element of a project – and discovered how much money may be payable with agreement with your client – you should find that you have a decent reservoir of money that will become available once those individual items have been completed.

The next step is crucial. You will have to be honest and open with your customers, advising them clearly that you are in need of funds, and gain their agreement to settle these amounts once that particular job has been finished, irrespective of your main Contract Terms. You need this money to survive the current weather disasters, and ask for their help. They will not wish to see you in difficulty I am sure!

By adopting this technique, you can concentrate on completing PARTS of projects, and collecting income from each one as a mini-contract. You can move from site to site, choosing whichever job suits the weather at the time (ice, frost, snow and rain) and employing your team/s to projects and specific sites for the duration of that part project. Once the weather improves, you can move back to site and complete in the normal manner.

Your clients will see progress, and you will see income!


Cautionary Tales – Japanese Knotweed Surveying

There has been a great deal written about the vexed subject of Japanese Knot Weed, (JKW) or more correctly, Reynoutria japonica a.k.a Fallopia japonica or Asian Knot Weed.  This native of East Asia was sold in nurseries and garden centres until the early 60s, when it was discovered to be simply too invasive for the United Kingdom climate.

In 1981 The Wildlife and Countryside Act included JKW as a plant that must not be planted, or allowed to grow in the wild.  This meant that landowners were obliged to control the plant within the confines of their property, otherwise become liable for on-the-spot fines or prosecution. This Act was reinforced in 1990 by Part 2 of the Environmental Protection Act, now classified as Controlled Waste, to be disposed of only by Licensed means, by qualified, licensed and insured Waste Disposal Experts using transportation/burial methods.

It is widely held that the most effective control is Glyphosate. The plant is from a single female clone, and the seeds are therefore sterile. However the plant is extremely invasive and highly problematic once it arrives on site, often causing massive amounts of damage to structures and by blocking waterways.

I do not intend to produce a lengthy document regarding the methods of control, as these vary from site to site. Once identified in a garden site, the control will depend on a range of factors beyond the scope of a general article.

However, the purpose of this essay is to bring to the attention of the Garden Surveyor – whether Designer or Contractor – visiting a site with a view to producing drawings, plans, quotations, site evaluation documents as a Consultant, or any other reason that you may have been called in to assess a garden. (I do not recommend that you attend site to assess a potential infestation of JKW unless you are qualified and insured to undertake such works).

A recent study (January 2020) showed that over 5% of British Properties with a total value in excess of £5 billion pounds are affected by JKW.  No assessment was possible regarding the cost of eradicating the problem, as there are too many factors involved regarding the degree and location of the infestation. Some plants will be growing freely in the grounds, whilst others will have affected foundations, buildings, drains etc.


The information shown above is well known, but as a Garden Surveyor (of whichever hue), you should be aware of your responsibilities to your client when it comes to assessing and surveying a garden site/property. Irrespective of your brief; either to measure, survey and assess a site prior to producing drawing and plans as a designer, or evaluating the costs involved in clearing, grading, terracing etc a site ready for landscaping.

YOU ARE THE PROFESSIONAL.  You have been asked to attend site with a view to providing the customer with an end product. One that will be evaluated on the information you have gleaned from your visit. (There is a detailed Site Survey Assessment Guide available in the Landscape Library for use in all such situations).

You will be held liable and responsible in Law if you fail to properly assess the site, especially in respect of matters of pernicious weeds, dangerous situations and potential hazards. You cannot simply ignore a dangerous tree, a flight of steps that should be closed off from use, or a rotten handrail that you could not have failed to see when carrying out your survey. 

In all such cases, a separate written note, highlighting the dangers as seen at the time, must be given to the client/owner/householder as soon as possible, with a copy for your own files, signed and dated as being submitted.  This is your DUTY OF CARE.

If, during the survey, you believe you have seen EVEN A SINGLE PLANT, STEM OR LEAF of KJW, you must notify the customer, in writing, of your discovery. Even if it means that the operation has to be halted or abandoned (this situation should be covered in your Terms & Conditions) because of the discovery, all movement should cease. This is especially important during the growing season (April to October) when the JKW stems/leaves are green, as even the smallest part can be transferred on a boot or shoe to another part of the garden without being noticed.

A considerable part of my Consultancy work involves disputes and resolutions, and I recently had two calls from Solicitors to assist with sites where JKW had been discovered. Both sites had been inspected  by qualified surveyors, who had completed their inspection forms, both finding no sign of JKW.

In the first case, the surveyor carried out their inspection in early April. There was no sign of any JKW noted, and no reason to suspect the presence of the plant. The plant dies off over the winter months, and if the dead stems are cleared, there is no visual sign above ground level. The surveyor duly noted that there was no sign (“none seen”) of JKW (a question requiring an answer is included in the survey document). The survey was carried out on behalf of a mortgage lender for the sum of around £500,000.

Three months later,  standing tall and majestic, there is a stand of healthy looking JKW, three metres tall!  My brief was to comment on the PROBABILITY of there being any sign of JKW at the time of the survey. My answer was that, JKW grows at a rate of 10 cm per day during the early growing season (April to May) and therefore, ten weeks later, it was perfectly possible for the plant to have reached ten feet tall, without being visible at the time of inspection. The value of the claim was for around £200.000 for excavation/clearance and loss of value on the house.

The case against the surveyor was dismissed. (As an aside on this story, the primary reason given by the Claimant for bringing the case was because the house was called Japonica Cottage. I pointed out that Japonica Cottage was a popular house/cottage  name, used to celebrate Cydonia, Chaenomeles or Quince, especially in the 30s, 40s and 50s. Because of its name, the house must have been infested with Fallopia japonica for decades according to the Claimant!)

The second case also involved a surveyor. This time, the house was inspected during December, when the garden was very overgrown. This time however, the surveyor had written the word ‘Clear’ against the question/tick box titled Japanese Knot Weed. They had not seen any JKW in the garden, but they did not inspect BEYOND the garden.  On all three sides of the (rear) garden, over the six foot high fences, dead stems of JKW could be clearly seen – in forests!  The surveyors lost their case, and were found liable in the sum of over £30,000.00 for the excavation and removal of the plants.

Surveys should ALWAYS include neighbouring gardens and sites. Indeed, Surveyors should always inspect a site, including viewing from upstairs windows (how many of us do that?)

Be aware, JKW is a great problem for our industry, and is not something we can ignore. Neither can we plead ignorance of its’ presence when conducting site surveys.

We cannot abdicate our responsibilities as  professionals when conducting surveys. This is a fact, irrespective of whether or not we are being paid to conduct such inspections. Money does not have be involved, as you will be deemed liable as you will be held to have a financial interest in the survey, even if it is only speculative (in the case of Contractors, assessing a site).

For more information, and to view many similar features and articles, please see

All articles are written by Professional Consultants, mainly Members of The Professional Garden Consultants Association (PGCA)


Articles For February 2020

History Of The Society Of Garden Designers

A personal account by Alan Sargent including the origins of the Society from the Inaugural Committee Meeting through to the present.

Professional Gardeners Guild

A look back to the early days of the PGG, with a personal view from Alan Sargent as to why he values Membership of individuals so highly when it comes to selecting and interviewing potential Head Gardeners.

Screen Fencing

Hints and Tips showing a new and unique method of constructing screen fencing using formal prepared and painted timberwork combined with traditional woven materials.

Plant Aftercare Leaflets

Designed to be provided to Clients on completion of planting projects involving shrubs and herbaceous material

Television Garden Makeover Programmes

A not so light hearted look at the history of Television Garden Makeover programmes, and how we, as an industry, can either learn to love, hate or use them to our advantage

Clients Cheating The Taxman

 How to avoid becoming involved with cheating and defrauding the Taxman and VAT Office without losing customers whilst protecting your business.


Standard Terms and Conditions for Garden Designers


Throughout my career, although I have designed around two hundred gardens for private clients or House Building Firms in the domestic sector, including thirty-seven Royal Horticultural Society Show Gardens at Chelsea, Hampton Court, Gardener’s World Live and Tatton Park, I have never considered myself a Garden Designer.

Contractor first, Designer second. For this reason, I have always taken a pragmatic view of my work, concerned primarily with getting paid. Over the past ten years, the majority of my work has been Consultancy, mainly involving dispute issues and problems, and I now think of myself as Consultant first, and Designer/Contactor second. Indeed, now that I have retired from both design and build, I am now a full – time consultant.

The Society of Garden Designers have a comprehensive template for Terms and Conditions for the Designer world, and although they are known as Terms of Engagement, they cover almost every aspect of design work, including a considerable amount regarding copyright and intellectual property rights.

The following Terms and Conditions are not intended to rival or compete with the SGD document in any way. They are simply another version designed to protect you as a professional individual, concentrating on Getting Paid rather than trying to protect your work from plagiarism. I consider copyright issues to be a confusing distraction in many ways, as the words and circumstances under which such claims may be made are too myriad and complex for what should be a simple set of rules under which a designer can operate and run their practice.

This is a purely personal view, and I totally understand why Designers wish to protect their ideas and integrity. My pragmatic Contractor brain has always managed to steer me away from ‘trouble’ with Lawyers and Courts in my own business dealings!

Terms and Conditions should be separated in some way, as your Terms are Your terms of selling Your services, skills and time. How much money per hour/day/project/mile etc; and when and how payments should be made and to whom. Conditions are the structure under which you are prepared to offer those Terms. Keep everything as simple as possible, so that Clients can clearly understand what you are offering and for how much money.

The following Terms and Conditions should be understood and known in detail by the Designer, almost as second nature. I strongly suggest that you do not add, alter or delete any one of them, as they are a combined chain. Coming across a Term you have discovered elsewhere and like the sound of, by adding it into the progressive chain of words, you may negate some part, or all of the rest of the document by repetition or contradiction without being aware of that matter.

Alan Sargent

Standard Terms and Conditions for Garden Designers



Address of Site

Project Number

  1. The Term ‘The Client’ shall mean……………………………………………..who will be responsible for all payments to The Designer unless otherwise notified in writing prior to commencement. Unless otherwise stated in writing, the Client shall be deemed to be the rightful owner of the property as per the address shown above.
  2. The Term, ‘The Designer’ shall mean…………………………………….who will be responsible to the Client for the works as described in the Contract attached.
  3. Nothing in these Terms shall affect the Client’s statutory rights as a Consumer.
  4. All requirements and obligations concerning The Construction (Design Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM) shall be properly identified and dealt with under the Contract documents, and responsibilities designated within that CDM Plan. The CDM Plan shall form part of the Quotation and must be read in conjunction with that document.
  5. For the purposes and with general regard to CDM, The Designer shall be deemed to be The Principal Designer in respect of The Regulations. This responsibility will automatically end once the Designer has completed the design works involved in the project, when the responsibilities will return to the Client under the Regulations unless or until a Principal Contractor is appointed.
  6. The Client shall provide access to site for the purposes of carrying out surveying and site evaluation, and the Client shall make the Designer aware in writing of any pertinent matters relating to the property, including any problems or matters concerning the boundaries or neighbours, especially in regard of dispute issues or other site problems or potential problems.
  7. The Client shall instruct The Designer to carry out certain works, which will be identified and clearly stated in the Designers Quotation. These works are sectioned including Initial Survey and Concept Drawings, Further Drawings up to Final Draft Stage, Detailed Planting Plans and/or Detailed Structural Drawings (or any combination as set out in The Quotation) Payment for each stage shall be clearly stated and settlement made before commencing the next Stage.
  8. All Specialist Experts that may be required to carry out the survey or technical or legal design elements of the plans e.g. Structural Engineer, Surveyor etc shall be engaged directly by The Client, and settlement of their accounts made directly by The Client. This is an essential element of the Contract to avoid any future matters of responsibility between the Specialist and The Client.
  9. Any additional works required beyond those on site e.g. research into materials, supply of product samples, sourcing or resourcing in respect of the project shall be properly treated as Additional Works and subject to separate payment as may be required, including travel costs or other disbursements.
  10. Once each section of the Project is completed, this should be signed off by The Client as being accepted. Any subsequent alterations, additions or reductions to each section, shall be properly treated as Additional Works or Variations and will be charged at the agreed rates as shown in the Quotation.
  11. The Designer cannot be held responsible for any damage to, or costs involved in, any underground hazards, obstructions or services not made known in writing or apparent on visual inspection prior to commencement of providing the Client with ideas or drawings.
  12. The Client remains responsible at all times for any matters regarding Licences, Permits, Planning Permission or similar Legal requirements, unless such responsibility is specifically assigned to The Designer (See CDM Plan/Contract document).
  13. The Designer shall hold and maintain in force, all such Insurance cover as may be required for the project including Public Liability, Employers Liability and Indemnity cover.
  14. Once the design element has been completed, the responsibilities under CDM Regulations cease to be those of Principal Designer. Should the Client wish The Designer to attend to works other than design, e.g. Planting or Site Supervision, these works must be clearly stated in writing and become subject to separate suitable Contracts, either as a Supervisor or Contractor.
  15. The value of any claim made against The Designer shall be limited to the value of monies paid to The Designer at the time of the claim.
  16. This Contract and Terms and Conditions are governed by The Law of England.

Notes and Explanations.

  1. It is vital to identify the person or persons you are working for. If more than one person is involved e.g. husband and wife, both must be included and named. In the case of a Company, the Director responsible for the work must be identified and named.
  2. Your Practice or name must be shown in full, including status i.e. Fairacres Gardens Designers Limited.
  3. Legal Statement included to prove that you understand the need for Legal documentation.
  4. CDM Plans must be produced. Responsibility under CDM falls upon the Designer (Principal Designer) transferring the legal obligations under the Regulations away from the Client to the Designer.
  5. Again, under CDM Regulations, once the Designer has completed their work, responsibility returns to the Owner. If and when the Client appoints a Contractor, they become Principal Contractor who will then resume responsibility.
  6. Never assume that you will be allowed free access to a site, or that you may have unrestricted access at all times during normal working hours. This access must be agreed in writing as part of your Quotation (which form your Conditions).
  7. A very important point. As Designers, you should be paid for each part of a project in my opinion. It is not unreasonable to request money in advance (mobilization) or to be paid on completion of various sections of the project. As each project will vary in size, it is up to you to decide the tranches you would like to be paid for. This is known as Quantum muriet (As much as it is worth) in legal terms.

    A major source of difficulty for Designers is cash flow. Clients are unwilling to settle their current account, preferring to wait and see what comes next. What amendments are to be made. It prevents Clients from saying ‘I don’t want that.’ ‘I have changed my mind and want something different now’ or ‘I have been given this present of a fountain. Can I have a pond please?’
  8. This is to prevent the Designer from having to bear the cost of engaging outside experts from their own pockets, then trying to get money out of the Client. Bear in mind that you may have not appreciated the need for such experts until later in the survey, and have not included any money for their fees.

    In any event, the contract should be between the Specialist and the Client to avoid any dispute issues in the future.
  9. The Term allows you to charge for any incidental works, including researching and providing samples or discussing problems with a Landscape Contractor. Always ensure that you agree the extra works with the Client beforehand if you wish to claim for the time spent on such matters.
  10. Self – explanatory.
  11. This clause prevents you from being claimed against for any problems that were not made known to you in writing before you started work.
  12. Self – explanatory, or chargeable under Item 9.
  13. Self – explanatory.
  14. This is your ‘Sunset Clause’, handing back responsibility under CDM to the Client on practical completion of your design work.
  15. Self – explanatory. This clause prevents you from being involved in a Joint and Several Claim made against you and a future contractor should a case ever arise.
  16. Self -explanatory. May be England, Wales or Scotland of course!

All other matters, for example permission to display the finished project on Pinterest or Public Forums etc may be included and highlighted in the Quotation, and should not be included as a ‘Term’.

Your payment fees and structure, payment methods and interims are also matters for inclusion in the main quote, and not hidden away in Terms & Conditions. They are there solely for your protection and to ensure that you get paid with the minimum of fuss.

The Terms and Conditions as set out above remind (or educate) the Client to the fact that they have legal responsibilities they are not aware of under CDM. (Please see CDM under separate cover within The Landscape Library)

And don’t forget that anything you would like to see highlighted in future articles, please email me at outlining your request, and if there is not an article already in The Library, I will produce a feature for inclusion with a copy to you direct. Your name or region will not appear in the article……..


Contractors Terms & Conditions

The following Terms and Conditions are intended for Landscape Contractors only. They are designed for use when tendering for construction contracts. Other Terms & Conditions for Designers and Maintenance Contractors are under separate sections, indicating the needs for different levels and types of protection.

Use the Landscaping and Associated Works Terms & Conditions on your own headed notepaper, making reference to their existence in the wording of your Contract documents.

Draw attention to the various clauses in your quotations, and not treat them as ‘small print’, rather as reinforcing the professional nature of your business.

Each Term has been provided with Notes and Explanations under separate cover as part of this article, and these should be read in association with the Terms and Conditions form.

I suggest that you do not add, alter or delete any Term, or substitute anything with another Term that you have discovered elsewhere. All such additions or alterations may render the document meaningless or valueless in case of conflicting statements.

Alan Sargent

Standard Terms and Conditions For Landscaping and Associated Works



Address of Site

Project Number

  1. The Term ‘The Client’ shall mean…………………………………… who will be responsible for all payments to the Contractor unless otherwise notified in writing prior to commencement. Unless otherwise stated in writing, the Client shall be deemed to be the rightful owner of the property as per the address shown above.
  2. The Term ‘The Contractor’ shall mean……………………………………who will be responsible to the Client for works as described in the Contract attached.
  3. Nothing in these Terms and Conditions shall affect the Client’s statutory Rights as a Consumer.
  4. All requirements and obligations concerning The Construction (Design Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM) shall be properly identified and dealt with under the Contract documents, and responsibilities designated within that CDM Plan. The CDM Plan shall form part of the quotation and must be read in conjunction with that document.
  5. All requirements and obligations under any Plant Biosecurity or Plant Passport Regulations shall be properly identified and dealt with under the Contract documents and any planting schedule/plan. Any such plan shall form part of the quotation and must be read in conjunction with that document.
  6. The Client shall provide water and electricity at no charge to the Contractor.
  7. The Client shall provide access to site and storage space for materials at all times during working progress. Welfare facilities and their siting/location are subject to written agreement between the Client and Contractor. The Contractor to provide the Client with a written Method Statement setting out agreed working practices including parking prior to quoting for the works.
  8. Any additions or alterations to the Works Schedule shall be properly treated as variations and subject to written instructions. Persons authorised by both Parties to issue such instructions shall be agreed in writing prior to commencement of works. Any variations may not be subject to pro rata cost equations, and must be detailed within the Variation Order, scheduling any financial and/or time implications which may affect the programme of works.
  9. The Contractor is not able to accept responsibility for any damage to, or costs involved, with any underground hazards, obstructions or services not made known in writing or apparent visual inspection prior to commencement of works. The Client remains responsible at all times for any matters regarding licences, permits, planning permission and similar legal requirements, unless such responsibility is specifically assigned in writing to the Contractor.
  10. A mobilisation payment of £……………………… VAT is payable with order. Stage payments against works completed/materials on site shall be made at ……………………intervals, payable within three days of the date of invoice. As the contract is expected to last………………weeks, this will amount to ……………. such claim/s. A final payment to be made following practical substantial completion and payable within …………..days of invoice, otherwise subject to 3% interest per month thereafter until paid. The mobilisation payment may be used to purchase material necessary for the construction of the works, and is therefore not subject to a percentage value of the project total. The works shall be deemed to be substantially complete when all items in the works schedule have been constructed or installed. In the case of certain items e.g. bulb planting, which may not be possible due to seasonal delays in obtaining materials, these works will be shown in the Contract as being outside of the time schedule and therefore subject to a separate Contract.

    Substantial completion shall not include adjustments, repairs, replacement or cleaning of any item so constructed after practical substantial completion, and any warranty periods shall commence from the date of substantial practical completion, and not following any such remedial works. Requests for any such adjustments, repairs, replacements or cleaning of any item constructed or installed following practical substantial completion shall not be the cause of any delay of final payment, but shall properly be considered as warranty items.
  11. Price to remain fixed until the end of ……………………………………..Acceptance before that date will ensure no increase in the cost of the works specified. Any special conditions are noted in the Quotation.
  12. The Contractor is not able to accept responsibility for any plant material, including turf, following practical substantial completion. If necessary, we reserve the right to substitute any plant with another of equal value and growth/habit/colour unless specifically instructed otherwise, when the quotation may be adjusted under a Variation Order.
  13. The Contractor is not able to accept responsibility following practical substantial completion for any damage caused by frost, snow, wind, drought or animals or other physical action beyond their control.
  14. All materials surplus to the requirements of the contract shall remain the property of the Contractor, and removed from site on completion.
  15. This contract contains the entire understanding and agreement between the Parties with respect to the work and supersedes all prior or contemporaneous written and oral agreements and understandings with respect to the subject matter thereof. No oral promises or agreements are part of this contract.
  16. The Contractor shall be entitled to suspend performance of, or terminate the contract if the Client fails to pay any sum due in accordance with the payment terms, or is in breach of these terms, or becomes bankrupt. In such cases, the Contractor shall be entitled to payment for all works carried out and all goods supplied at the date of termination or suspension of the contract, and retain any deposit or interim payments made toward this. Any materials on site that are not fixed remain the property of the Contractor and may be removed from site by the Contractor or their Agents.
  17. If the contract is suspended or delayed for any reason beyond the control of the Contractor, the Contractor reserves the right to transfer labour and equipment to other sites. Upon recommencement, any costs involved in leaving site and returning to site including off hiring/rehiring machinery and equipment shall be assessed and agreed prior to recommencement of works.
  18. Any defects in the works which result from faulty workmanship or materials must be notified in writing within six months of practical substantial completion, and may be remedied by the Contractor without charge to the Client. Any plants that fail within the first twelve months following practical substantial completion shall be replaced by the Contractor without charge to the Client (substitute plants may be required, to the same value as the failed plants)
  19. Warranty works shall not extend  to, and defects arising from, the Client’s actions or lack of care, including any Agents that may have been employed by the Client. Such actions include watering, staking and tying of plant material or other Horticultural procedures including mowing and lawn care.
  20. The value of any claim made against this Contract shall be limited to the value of the agreed works and values contained and described within the Quotation.
  21. It is important that the Client reads and understands the Terms & Conditions that apply to the Contract prior to signing. A separate Notice of The Right to Cancel this contract is attached under separate cover, and must be signed by the Client and appended hereto as part of the Agreement. 
  22. This Contract and Terms and Conditions are governed by the Law of England.       


  1. It is vital to identify the person or persons you are working for. If more than one person is involved, e.g. husband and wife, both must be included and named. In case of a company, the Director responsible for the work must be identified and named.
  2. Your Company name must be shown in full, including status e.g. Arun Landscapes Limited.
  3. Legal Statement included to prove that you understand the needs for Legal documentation.
  4. CDM Plans must be produced. Responsibility under CDM falls upon the Designer (Principal Designer) or Contractor (Principal Contractor) transferring the Legal obligations under that Act away from the
  5. The Contractor must take responsibility under the Law for any Plant Passports, which should be retained by the Contractor under the Regulations.
  6. Never assume that you will be allowed to use the customer’s services and facilities.
  7. You may wish to nominate your times of working as part of the ‘access to site’. This avoids being refused entry as being ‘too early’ or ‘too late’. You may wish to add the word ‘dry’ as in dry storage.
  8. This is a protection against the client changing their minds regarding areas, products, etc. It is also a safeguard against the client from requesting additional works pro rata, recognising that the cost of one metre of paving (for example) will cost more than a percentage of the main contract figures. A Method Statement should form part of the main quotation, and will identify those staff members who are authorised to make decisions on behalf of the Company.
  9. Legal safeguard for the Contractor, unless something untoward happens that should have been obvious to any professional designer/contractor. Take plenty of photographs during the project.
  10. Your payment terms are yours to agree within your Company. It is best to adhere firmly to your chosen terms without deviation, so you are always clear and aware of your financial situation.
  11. Self explanatory. It can act as a spur to getting a firm decision from the client.
  12. Self explanatory. You may wish to take time dated photographs of the finished project to avoid any questions regarding the condition of the site one the day you left.
  13. As above, but including the condition of the whole site, especially cleanliness and any existing visual damage to your work, or the area in general.
  14. Some clients think they own everything that has been delivered to site.
  15. Very important. This statement clearly states the foundation of the contract documents.
  16. Very important. In the event of non-payment for whatever reason, the Contractor need to protect their interests, especially in regard to bankruptcy.
  17. Self explanatory, but essential to prevent the client from delaying the project through their own indecision, ensuring they realise the cost implications of the Contractor leaving and returning to site.
  18. Self explanatory. This statement ensures that the Client is aware of the need to proclaim Practical Substantial Completion i.e. the end of the contracted works. Unless and until this statement is made, any warranty period cannot be fixed as a date for starting the warranty obligations.
  19. Very important. This statement ensures that anyone taking over the maintenance of the completed site must be responsible for their actions and assiduity in properly maintaining the site.
  20. Very important. This statement prevents (or reduces) the opportunity for a client to make a claim against a Contractor for a sum greater than the original contact price.
  21. This statement draws attention to the essential requirements of the Terms and Conditions and understand their obligations to you as the Contractor. It also draws attention to their Legal Rights.
  22. Very important. This statement confirms the Region and Laws under which the contract was written and agreed.

It is very important that you understand your Terms and Conditions, and have them in mind at all times during a project.

It is equally important that you do not undermine those Terms by allowing any slippage or deviation from them, otherwise they will be devalued in the eyes of the Client.

(Consumers Home or Place of Work Regulations 2008)

This notice must be read in conjunction with Project No…………………………

The Client may cancel the Contract at any time within fourteen days of receiving it, by delivering by hand or recorded post, or sending via electronic device, giving a Notice of Cancellation.

This Notice of Cancellation shall be deemed to have been given at the time of sending it.

If the Client wishes the Contractor to commence work or purchase materials before the end of the fourteen day period, and issues a Notice of Cancellation during that period, the Contractor shall have the right to be paid for materials and services provided up to the date of cancellation.

Notice of Cancellation should be in writing, and include the name and address of The Client, and name and address of The Contractor, quoting the Project Number.

The Contractor is not obliged to carry out any work during that fourteen day period unless requested in writing by the Client and agreed with the Contractor.

(These notes refer to Contracts signed at Home or a Place of Work)

If the Client wishes to terminate or cancel a Contract at any time during works progress, this must be done in writing and delivered personally or by electronic mail including the date and time of Termination.

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Getting the Landscape You Deserve

Looking from your house into the garden through the winter can be frustrating. All many of you will want to do is get back into the garden and you yearn for the spring.

But even in the winter there are many things that can be done, as long as the snow and hard frosts stay away.

The winter is a great opportunity to give your garden some well-earned TLC, to get your outdoor space in great shape for the spring. Late winter is a great time to prune fruit trees and smaller trees. Whilst there is no foliage on the trees you can see the shape. It is also easier to thin out and take out any dead or diseased branches whilst there is no covering of foliage.

It’s a great opportunity to get fences repaired or painted and get your garden machinery and tools serviced ready for the new season ahead.

Make sure your lawns are cleared of any leaf debris and cut back any perennials, you can even lift and split some of the clump forming varieties to fill in any gaps in the borders.

Looking out over your garden in the winter also allows you see where there are gaps or even things you may wish to hide. The bareness of the winter with the lack of foliage really highlights the shape of the garden and any new features you may wish to include.

Winter for the garden is a great time for planning, whether this be a new border, some fresh planting or even a complete garden makeover. A complete makeover would take some planning and in this article The Association of Professional Landscapers hopes to help you with this process.

Planning a garden

Planning a new garden can be one of the most exciting things you will ever do around the home, but also as it is something that many of us rarely do can also be the most daunting. Establishing a clear design brief for your garden project should be the first stage of the process. This is essential, especially if you are considering using a professional garden designer. You will need to sit down and think about exactly what you want to achieve from the space you have and develop and a list of requirements that could be passed on to the designer.

Be clear about what you really require, even down to giving measurable information like the amount of people you wish to entertain and what sort of surfaces you wish to incorporate in the space. This early part of the process is vital, it will avoid wasting a lot of time and money as the project develops.

Using a garden designer or design and build company may seem expensive, but these professionals will be able to effectively translate your wishes in to reality and at the same time advise on the best way to build your garden taking in to account any issues that may arise from their surveys.

Research costs and set your budget.

You can get a small idea of the costs simply from the area. You can look at the materials you wish to use and then look at the costs per m2 and work out a cost from there. But remember, a significant amount of the cost of your project lies beneath the surface and in the labour. Typically labour could be as much as 60% of your overall budget. So think carefully about your budget. There is no real easy formula to this figure. Some will say estimate on £250/£300 per m2, so will say look at the value of the house and apply 10-15%. Unfortunately although these may give a figure, it is largely inaccurate as it really depends on what you want and what materials you use. So it’s down to you and what you wish to spend. It may always look expensive but think about the cost of a kitchen and how that adds value to the home. The garden will have the same affect and if done properly will essentially become the largest room of the house.  Be honest and upfront with the designer or landscaper, as without this guide it will be very difficult to deliver the project. The Association of Professional Landscapers are pleased to be able to assist with this and are building a garden at the 2020 BBC Gardeners World Live show entitled “What Lies Beneath” to fully explain the costings, what’s involved and what to look out for. So come along and take a look.

Engaging the services of a professional.

There are many ways to seek out a garden designer or landscaper. Often it is from referral. You may have been lucky enough to have had a friend who has recently had a project completed that will be able to pass on the details. Referrals are nearly always the safest way of engagement. It is almost as if the relationship is already there.

However if you are not able to use this route then look for professional accreditations. Affiliations to organisations like The Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) provide you with companies that have had regular and rigorous inspections, ongoing financial and insurance checks and a minimum period of trading before they are able to join. The APL has designer members and landscape members who can provide you with a clear and cohesive approach to a garden build.

The Designer

If engaging the services of a designer first, there will be a range of services they will be able to supply at various price points.

A typical design process may include the following. An initial consultation to discuss the brief of the project, which if agreed would be followed by site survey and possibly an analysis of your soil. The designer will then most likely provide you with a presentation plan showing layout of the garden and the design intent usually with some mood boards all based around your brief. If you are happy with this there will then be a planting plan and construction drawings and specifications.

This will then leave you in a position where you can engage a landscape gardener to price up the project. The designer will be able to do this for you if you would rather and supply quotes from their preferred landscaper if available or provide you with more than one quotation for comparison.

The designer would also be a happy to remain involved through the project as a consultant, where they can monitor site works and very often oversee the planting. This is usually a good idea, as very often a project may change as the build progresses and having the designer still engaged will mean the brief will still be adhered to.  A professional Designer will also be able to make sure that planning conditions (If any) are followed and your obligations under CDM 2015 (Construction Design and Management) Regulations are adhered too.  Both of these are obviously very important.

Your designer will have a range of prices for each element of the design process and these should be discussed ahead of entering into any formal contract.

The Landscaper

As previously mentioned, if you have used a designer, your garden landscaper will be most likely recommended by them, but if you have simply bought the design and wish to locate your own landscaper, then you need to look at some form of affiliation/accreditation. The Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) amongst others are an organisation that provides this type of accreditation and support.  The importance to you using a company with this type of pedigree is simple. There is a governance to their membership, they are kept up to date with changes in legislation and should something go wrong (as it occasionally does) there is a support mechanism behind the contract.

A typical build process with the landscaper depends on what stage they are engaged, but clearly a starting point would be the landscaper would visit the site. They may conduct their own site survey or if working with a designer, conduct it with them. The result of the survey will support the creation of a design and specification. The specification is important as it forms the basis on what the landscaper will price against. Specifications should clear and easy to understand. For example as a minimum for paving they should provide information like area to be paved, depths of sub-bases, depth of mortar bed under paving, what jointing material will be used on paving and what paving will be used. It sounds obvious, but with out this type of information, if something were to go wrong, then you would have a hard time to prove anything. Most companies will provide quotations over estimates. However some companies will estimate clearance and dig out, as until they start to dig, they have no idea how far they will need to get down to reach solid ground to start to build up gain for paving. This can be costly but is no ones fault and it does happen.

Ensure that if you have more than one quote they are pricing against similar specifications and do not be afraid to question if one seems far too cheap against the others. This could simply be that something has been forgotten.

Ensure that you understand the landscaper’s terms and conditions especially payment terms. It is very usual that on larger projects landscapers will seek a non-refundable small deposit to hold a date in the calendar, then 3 payments of 30% with the final 10% payable on completion. There are opportunities to have this type of schedule placed in an Escrow account, so it is safe.

Finally make sure the landscaper explains his role in CDM 2015, what their arrangements for welfare will be, how they intend to protect your existing landscape and finally what their estimated finish time will be.

A professional landscaper will be able to provide all these points.

The build

Remember that old saying, “You have to crack a few eggs to make an omelette”. Well having your garden landscaped is not to dissimilar. Depending on the size and complexity of the build the first few days of the build can be quite distressing as the garden you once had is being ripped out. This must happen to get to a solid footing to start to build again. A professional landscaper will not lay paving on an existing sub-base as they have no idea if it is fit for purpose and therefore could never guarantee it. But before long the garden will start to come together. Make sure you have regular meetings with your landscaper and/or the designer. This will enable you to make changes if you want, but also be kept completely up to date with the progress.

A garden build whilst a bit stressful at the start is supposed to be an exciting process, as your dreams and wishes become reality. So be involved.

The Aftercare

Depending on the size of the garden and the materials used, aftercare may or may not be a big issue. It is very common today for people to ask for a low maintenance garden. The problem that has been discovered is that people assume this mean NO maintenance. Sadly this is not the case. Porcelain paving DOES need cleaning, Artificial lawns DO need brushing and re sanding, Composite decking DOES need wiping down. So whilst maintenance is low, there is some.

For many the aftercare of the garden is part of the hobby, but for those who have a large garden and are time poor, you could engage the services of a landscaping maintenance company or a professional gardener.  Again it is useful to seek out trained professionals. The APL have maintenance landscapers and Professional Gardeners on their lists. Once again all checked and accredited. So do your research again before engaging.

So winter is a great time for planning your garden, whether it is just where to plant a few new plants, what seeds to order or plan a complete makeover. But time is always of the essence.

A professional landscaper is usually booked anything up to 4 months ahead, some even more. So if you want your garden for the summer. You need to be thinking about it NOW..

Phil Tremayne General Manager Association of Professional Landscapers (APL)

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APL Showtime.

Much of the inspiration for today’s gardens come from the various garden shows. From March right through to July there are several shows around the UK that play host to some of the top designers and landscape contractors in the country.

Many members of the Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) are involved in creating these fantastic spectacles, but do they deliver the correct message to you? The actual people looking to have your garden done.

At these shows you are very often presented with a fully matured snapshot of a garden or piece of landscape in a space ranging from 50m2 to 200m2. The plants are immaculate, the paving is spotless, and the finish is superb.

These gardens are built to the highest standard, by professional landscape gardeners at the pinnacle of their careers. However the time and effort that goes in to building these gardens shouldn’t be underestimated.  For instance, a main avenue Chelsea garden is usually at least 2 years in the planning and even some of the smaller shows are at least a year.

From initial conception of the idea, time must be taken to locate a sponsor, which will then usually mean a further tweak in the design. Then you have look at materials and if there are bespoke items these have to be designed, commissioned and tested. Then and almost most importantly you must look at the planting.

Designers tend to have favourite nurseries they have worked with. There are several nurseries that specialise in growing for the shows and have various different methods of forcing or holding back material, so it will arrive in tip top condition. Even then it can go wrong, so you must have contingencies in place.

Contractors will have a bank of specialist suppliers they work with who can support in paving and other features like water and lighting.

Finally you have to make sure you have enough skilled labour to complete the project. Time scales for bigger gardens is just 3 weeks, smaller ones it drops down to 2 weeks. It is very hard intensive work, filled with highs and lows. But for those involved, there is no bigger buzz than building a show garden. Its not long before they’re hooked.

This years Chelsea Flower Show saw gardens supported by APL members that promoted Donkey Sanctuaries, Motor Neurone Disease and children’s charities and also helped you explore Dubai, Latin America, Finland, Africa, Manchester, Bridgewater and of course let’s not forget the amazing canal in Yorkshire. But whilst on point for the judges and the sponsors, do they deliver for the gardener or homeowner looking to get their garden landscaped. Or are they simply an inspirational art gallery, that is fantastic to see, but mainly unobtainable.

The feed back from visitors to APL gardens was the latter. So in response the APL devised a competition at another garden show called BBC Gardeners World Live “APL Avenue”.

APL Avenue, now in its 4th year is a series of 5 gardens in plots no bigger than 64m2 of traditional, attainable gardens that you could re create in your own home. These gardens concentrate on small back or front gardens and explore usages of the space. Be it entertaining, relaxing, veg growing and one year Up Cycling.  More importantly the APL are also willing to discuss with visitors roughly how much it would cost to have the garden built.

The APL have often found that this piece of information is usually sadly lacking at other shows, and have found many people really don’t understand the cost of having a garden landscaped.

This is not a criticism, why would you? Most people don’t have their garden landscaped at all. Those who do, it’s usually just the once.  Unlike a car, a kitchen or a bathroom, the internet cannot provide you with an off the shelf price for a garden. So you have nothing to gauge it against.

You can see costs of materials on the internet, so many people happily look at these and try to work out the cost of their garden by just adding up the veneer of paving,  decking or artificial grass that will cover the ground. But you may be surprised to hear that almost 60% of the cost of a garden is in areas that you won’t even see.

For patios, paths or driveways the sub-bases are the most important part of the construction. If a contractor gets this wrong, then you will have a whole host of issues further down the line. 

Patios and driveways rely on good foundations, for decking a well-constructed frame that is raised of the ground and has it’s posts in a sleeve to protect from the cement will cost more, but you will have a frame that will last 10-15 years. Get this wrong and it could be rotten in as little as 3.

Artificial grass should be laid almost identically to a block paved driveway. Again this ensures it will last and continue to deliver the purpose it was built for.

Even the removal of soil and waste from a garden is a very expensive action, so this is always something to bear in mind.  

It was for all these reasons The APL built a garden at Ascot Flower Show called “What lies beneath”.

In the garden we explained exactly the costs and what materials lay beneath your garden installs. It was amazing to see people’s reactions as they finally understood why a garden being landscaped attracts the price it does.

The shows are a great opportunity to explain these things, but quite often the landscaper’s biggest enemy is the TV. Programmes like Ground Force, Love Your Garden and most recently Garden Rescue are excellent at promoting the garden industry, but quite often are not so good at managing people’s expectations. People see a garden built over 5 days and quite often have price tags like £10-£15k when in reality, the cost could be almost double.

So when a designer or contractor visits their prospective clients garden and gives the actual price and says it will take a minimum 4 weeks for something similar to what they have seen on the show. They nearly fall off their chairs. In our last article we discussed giving a budget as soon as you can. Its good advice. Only then will you know what you can get.

So after all that, what about those garden shows. A good thing or bad thing?

Its got to be a good thing, I mean what’s not to like?

I personally think they are an excellent way to promote this fantastic industry. They allow garden designers to explore ideas and innovations to inspire people to try in their own gardens, suggest and set trends for the world to follow and create a theatre in which contractors can push all the boundaries to be able to build them. They show people what can be achieved in a small space and provide inspiration and a visual / tactile brochure of the materials on offer to today’s landscapers. If you have never been to a garden show, then give it a go.

If you can’t make a show, then other avenues of inspiration are websites, magazines and companies’ websites. All will be packed with information and ideas of how you can transform your garden. It would obviously be remiss of me not to suggest you look at the APL website.  There is a lot of information there.

I am lucky enough that in my career I have been involved in building gardens at Chelsea, Hampton Court, BBCGWL, Ascot, Tatton Park and Harrogate. They can be the most exhausting, physical and stressful days ever, but at the same time some of the best.  Gardening, Landscaping, Horticulture or whatever label you wish to give it is a fantastic career. Its always a pleasure to deliver dreams for people and hopefully at the APL that’s what we will continue to do.

Phil Tremayne General Manager Association of Professional Landscapers (APL)

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Caution Urged By Growers And Traders On Oak Imports

A group of HTA traders and growers are urging importers to ensure oaks being brought into the UK not only comply with current legislation to combat Oak Processionary Moth (OPM), but are not sourced from Italy’s recently declared Pest Free Area (PFA).

The HTA are seeking guidance from Defra and awaiting confirmation that the proposed PFA meets the international standards for phytosanitary measures.  Until this is confirmed, the HTA asks that UK businesses continue importing oaks that only comply with legislation which is designed to ensure that the UK imports OPM-free trees. Defra have confirmed that until the proposed Italian PFA has been corroborated and reviewed, that trees from the designated region in Italy will not be allowed entry into the UK.

Tree traders and growers met with Defra representatives at a pilot meeting hosted by the HTA designed to share knowledge about pest and disease issues facing the horticulture and forestry industries in order to ensure UK business interests are represented and aligned with Defra policy.

Recently introduced National Measures state that oak trees over a certain size cannot be imported into the UK Protected Zone unless they fulfil the following criteria; –

They are from an OPM free country

They are from designated pest-free areas including Protected Zones

They have been grown under complete physical protection for their lifetime

Nicola Spence, UK Chief Plant Health Officer, commented, “Wherever the trees and plants are sourced, be it home or abroad, we must place the strongest emphasis on biosecurity.  This collaboration with the HTA, growers and traders that are seeking to strengthen biosecurity practices across industry is welcomed.”

HTA Chairman, James Barnes, commented, “The HTA have and continue to play a major role in plant health and raising the importance of biosecurity. As an organisation we continue to work with Defra and are fully supportive of Government initiatives to protect our environment from imported pests and diseases.”

The HTA also reminds businesses that oaks cannot travel through the PZ to reach the OPM infected zone in the South East of England, even if on a dedicated transport.

The legislation does not apply to cork oaks (Q. suber).

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It’s time for horticulture to take centre stage…

Now more than ever, we need to be at the top of our game for: Plant health and biosecurity, sustainability, quality standards, maximising the grower/retailer relationship, trends, best practice and technology. 

The Horticultural Trades Association’s (HTA) Contact Conference invites those working across the nursery sector to sit up, take notice and act. The spotlight is about to shine on the state of the horticultural nation.  

Sponsored by ICL, the HTA Contact Conference will kick start the year with a horticultural bang on Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 January 2020 at Horticulture House, Chilton.   

Latest programme updates include: 

A DEFRA representative will expand on how having a strong and vibrant horticultural industry is essential to underwriting the Government’s 25-year Environment Plan, its biosecurity ambitions, and to help mitigate the fundamental concerns of climate change.  

Harper Adams University is working to improve vine weevil control in Hardy Nursery Stock through the AHDB Horticulture project HNS 195.  A representative will talk about the work which has focused on methods to reliably monitor for the presence of this pest within crops. This includes comparisons of a range of monitoring tools and the potential to use a lure.  

HTA Contact Conference combines a day and a half conference programme with a networking dinner and overnight stay at Milton Hill Hotel near Horticulture House.   

Programme summary: 

State of the Horticultural Nation  

  • The big picture – 25-year Environment Plan 
  • Brexit and its impact on Horticulture  

Plant Health and Biosecurity  

  • Plant health update – Professor Nicola Spence, UK Chief Plant Health Officer  
  • International Year of Plant Health activities – Lucy Carson-Taylor, DEFRA 
  • The BRIGIT Project – Reducing the chance of Xylella being introduced and becoming established in the UK – Dr Gerard Clover  


  • Sustainability in Horticulture – Sally Cullimore, HTA Policy Manager  
  • Best practice from within the Nursery Working Group – Bransford Webbs, Porters Fuchsias and Modiform  

Horticultural Quality Standards 

  • BOPP session – the ultimate tool for managing your nursery – Hills Plants/Hill Brothers and Walberton Nursery  
  • Pesticides update – Crop Protection Association with information sourced from industry 

Adding value to the grower/retailer relationship  

  • Trends/consumer behaviour/growing plants that people want – David Denny, HTA Sustainability and Insights Manager 
  • FERA – Glyn Jones 

Technology – Best Practice & Technology in Horticulture 

  • Improving vine weevil control in Hardy Nursery Stock – Harper Adams University  
  • Integrated Pest Management – Koppert Biological 
  • Engaging the younger generation – Martin Emmett, Chair of the HTA Ornamentals Committee and member of the Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable  

After-dinner talk – Pippa Greenwood, HTA Horticulture Manager, takes a light-hearted look at her garden media career. 

HTA Contact Conference is open to all businesses and costs £299 for HTA members to attend (£499 for non-members). To book or find out more visit  

HTA Media Office 
Tel: 01235 766156 

Notes to Editors 

The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) is the trade association for the UK garden industry. It helps its members to flourish by representing, promoting and developing the garden industry through their key values; collaboration, innovation, influence, and integrity. Its key roles include provision of advice-based services such as business improvement schemes, briefings, and helplines; training, conferences, and events for members; market information and research; promotions such as the National Garden Gift Voucher scheme; and working closely with government and the media to influence policy and projects. 

Gill Ormrod | Communications Manager

M: 07515061988 | T: 01235776156 | E: |
Horticulture House, Chilton, Didcot, OX11 0RN


Double Digging

By Marie Shallcross

Double digging is a method of deep soil preparation in which the soil is loosened to a depth of 60 cm (2 feet) or two times the length of a spade’s blade. The blade length as a measurement is also referred to as a “spit”. This soil is then improved, by adding organic matter, and possibly grit.

Whilst double digging is labour intensive, it is a less exhausting method of soil preparation than triple digging. This is where the soil is excavated to three times the spade depth. The Victorians were great ones for cultivating the soil and used to refer to double digging as ‘bastard trenching’ being an inferior method of introducing organic material to improve the soil when compared to triple digging.

There is of course, the whole dig / no-dig argument. It is often possible to create what is effectively a new border on top of the old soil rather than double digging. No-dig gardening is eminently suited to cultivating flowers, vegetables and fruit in raised beds. It is a subject I’ll re-visit in another article.

But most people when faced with borders in their garden or an allotment, will want to make use of what soil is there already and improve it. Learning about soil preparation and how to dig properly with the correct tools for you and your garden is an early part of the Plews Basic Gardening course.

Where the borders or allotment have been cultivated and organic matter added on a regular basis, even if not for a couple of years, single digging is usually sufficient. The principle of digging out a trench and adding compost is fundamentally the same for both single digging and double digging.

Whilst many ‘old school’ gardeners will be conversant with the whole double digging process, there are many gardeners who have never had the opportunity or need to carry out a gardening task which is centuries old. The following method is for them.

Soil preparation where double digging is required or advisable –

• cultivating soil in new gardens, where the builders may not have left much top soil
• where there is a heavy, unworkable clay soil
• where nutrients need to be added by incorporating organic matter at root level rather than as a mulch
• creating new borders; perhaps in an area that has been lawn
• if planning an orchard or even a few fruit trees planted together in one area a good deep layer of top soil is useful
• where there are invasive, perennial weeds such as bindweed or ground elder; as it’s a more thorough weeding operation than digging them up individually
• on an allotment, where it hasn’t been cultivated for a while
• regenerating a perennial or mixed herbaceous flower border

Advantages of soil preparation using double digging: –

• It increases the amount of space in the soil for air and water, which in turn improves plants growth
• Soil structure is improved, especially when compost or manure are added
• It encourages earthworms and the activities of soil microbes
• It breaks up soil crusts and hard pans, and increases the speed that water that can seep into the soil
• Used with enough organic fertilizer, it helps the soil retain water and nutrients

These advantages are the same for single digging if organic matter / compost is added.

Tools needed

• hoe
• digging fork
• rake
• digging spade
• wheelbarrow/s
• tarpaulin or similar to put soil onto.

Method for Soil Preparation by double digging and adding organic matter

NB: Do not mix the topsoil and subsoil.

The difference should be fairly obvious – top soil is generally darker in colour than sub soil as it has more nutrients.

• Hoe off any annual weeds; if any perennial weeds will lift out easily with the hoe then remove those too.
• Dig a narrow trench, across the width of the bed, about 30 cm (1 foot) wide, and about 1 spit/ 1 spade blade / 10” deep (you may or may not be able to see the subsoil)
• Remove any perennial weeds as you dig. These can be composted separately on site in a sealed container. If allowed to dry out and die, they can be added to the compost bin. Or turned into a liquid feed. Alternatively, hot compost on or off site. Invasive weeds such as Japanese Knotweed have specific requirements for disposal.
• Set aside the topsoil you have dug out, either onto the tarpaulin or in the wheelbarrow; you will need it later.
• Using the digging fork, loosen the soil/subsoil along the bottom of your first trench to a depth of another 10-12”, ie the length of the fork tines/ prongs.
• Now add some compost to cover the base forking/ mixing it in lightly.
• Dig another trench next to the first, in-filling the first trench with this soil; mixing in some more compost as you go.
• Continue this process until you have finished/ reach to the end of your border. You will notice that the level of the topsoil has been raised up from all the organic material being incorporated, as well as through breaking up the subsoil.
• You will have an empty trench at the end of the bed. Add compost as above, then bring the topsoil you set aside and put it into this trench.
• Lightly rake over the border when done, to level the soil.

Weeds seeds will probably germinate within a few days, hoe these off. Repeat as necessary until ready for planting. If any perennial weeds appear, dig out.

Two weeks is the usual time to leave a newly prepared bed before planting. This gives time for the weeds to be dealt with as above, for the worms and micro-organisms to start working their magic and for the soil level to settle.

I have to say, although it is hard work, there is something distinctly satisfying about soil preparation by double digging. There is a visible result in all that turned over soil that can be quite beautiful when caught by the late afternoon sun.

Not that I dig everywhere; I’m also very fond of no-dig gardening in its various forms!

Marie Shallcross
Plews Garden Design


Crop Rotation – Growing Methods for Gardeners

By Marie Shallcross

Crop Rotation: – what is it? Do you need to use it for the crops in your kitchen garden or vegetable patch? Or is it only relevant for farms and large estates?

In order to ascertain whether crop rotation is right for your productive plot, we first need to look at what it is. A whistle-stop tour to its historical background will help with the pros and ocns.

Britain and Europe in the Middle Ages

Crop Rotation is a phrase which you may have first heard during a history lesson at school.
It is a method of cultivation used to improve soil fertility and plant health and therefore crop yields. Crops are grouped and grown according to their family.

The Medieval field system worked on a 3-course system of rotation. By Medieval, I’m referring to the approximate period 900 – 1400. Open fields were farmed as strips rather than whole fields. In other words, each tenant (freeholder or villein) had a certain acreage of land, but it was split up among different parts of the larger fields.

3-course Crop Rotation

Field 1 Field 2 Field 3
Year 1 wheat or oats field beans or peas fallow
Year 2 field beans or peas fallow wheat or oats
Year 3 fallow wheat or oats field beans or peas

When left fallow in the third year for cattle and livestock were grazed on the field. The resultant manure helped improve the soil, as did the inclusion of peas and beans – a leguminous crop which helped fix nitrogen in the soil. Nitrogen is one of the three major plant nutrients.

Britain in the 18th Century

The farming and crop rotation breakthrough came in the early eighteenth century with the development of a 4-course rotation farming system. Viscount Townshend is credited with introducing this new method of crop rotation on his farms.

4-course Crop Rotation

Field 1 Field 2 Field 3 Field 4
Year 1 Wheat Clover Oats or barley Turnips
Year 2 Clover Oats or barley Turnips Wheat
Year 3 Oats or barley Turnips Wheat Clover
Year 4 Turnips Wheat Clover Oats or barley

The benefits were mainly that animals could be grazed two years out of four, thereby increasing the fertility of the land.

Although a 4-course rotation farming system had been pioneered in sixteenth century Belgium, it was the take up of the system by the British combined with other agricultural related inventions and processes that led to the Agrarian Revolution. It is generally accepted that the Agrarian, or Agricultural, Revolution in Britain began a fundamental change which formed the driving force that became the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century.

Agriculture, Walled Kitchen Gardens and the Cottage Garden

One of the aspects of crop rotation which can be overlooked is that it started out as an agricultural system based on a monoculture; ie, one crop was grown per field. With the rise of the large, separate walled kitchen garden, which in Britain was from the sixteenth century, crop rotation became domesticated.

These kitchen gardens could be anything from 1 acre to 9 acres in size. This includes the external gardens that surrounded the walls but were still part of the overall kitchen garden. Dividing the garden into sections made planning, growing and harvesting much easier tasks. The quantities of food produced were large. They had to be sufficient to feed a large household, possibly 25 – 80 people, year-round.

The crops grown began to change as grazing cattle in a walled kitchen garden was most definitely not on the head gardener’s list!

Down a few social notches, the cottage garden food crops changed far more slowly. For example, potatoes weren’t a staple in English cottage gardens until some 200 years after their introduction into the country.

However, whilst the crops growing differed, the method of growing tended to be the same for the majority of hardy crops. By the nineteenth century, crop rotation had become the normal way in which vegetables were organised and grown in the field, walled kitchen garden, cottage garden, allotment and suburban gardens. As part of this system, vegetables and a great deal of fruit were grown in rows. These rows ran north to south across the plot.

How the System of Crop Rotation Works

Major concerns when growing the same family of vegetables year after year in the same patch of soil is that this monoculture system will cause: –

• The build-up of disease specific to that family of vegetables. For example, club root in brassicas.
• A less fertile soil, as even with manuring / fertilising annually, the same nutrients will be taken out, leaving the chemical constituency of the soil unbalanced. This in turn can lead to disease.

It may feel complicated to get the system of crop rotation right. But so long as the following are known, you have the basis to succeed: –
• What type of soil you have
• Your garden or allotment’s micro-climate
• Which vegetables (and to a certain degree fruit) fit into which family groups

A 3 or 4-course rotation is the most usual to have as it is fairly simple. It is of course possible to sub-divide the plant family groups and make a 6 or 8 course rotation plan.

Including an extra, separate, bed for perennial vegetables is part of the vegetable garden plan, but not part of the rotation cycle. It is critical to make a plan of the four or more areas that are being used, and to keep up that record over the years.

It may help to imagine crop rotation providing a mixed diet for your garden or your clients’ garden, just as the fruit and vegetables grown provide a mixed diet for you.

Crop Rotation – Planning

There are two ways of approaching the grouping of your crops. They could be grouped according to their family or according to their cultivation needs. The two things aren’t always the same. Easiest to explain with an example for each.

3-course rotation grouped by family

Bed 1 Bed 2 Bed 3
Year 1 Brassicas Roots Legumes
Year 2 Roots Legumes Brassicas
Year 3 Legumes Brassicas Roots

Example plants for each group: –

• Cabbage
• Brussels sprout
• Broccoli

• Beetroots
• Carrots
• Parsnips
• Potatoes (which are a tuber)

• Peas
• Runner beans
• Broad beans
• But also leeks, onions and tomatoes – which are not actually legumes

A 4-course rotation could have the onion family or potatoes in a separate bed
And we haven’t decided where to put the courgettes…

3-course rotation grouped by cultivation needs

Using the table as above, and using the same title for each of the groups, we get this as an example: –

• Cabbage
• Brussels sprout
• Broccoli
• Turnip
• Chinese cabbage
• Kale
• Kohl rabi

• Beetroots
• Carrots
• Parsnips
• Potatoes
• Swiss chard
• Leeks
• Onion

Legumes and ‘fruit’ vegetables
• Peas
• Beans – Runner, Broad, etc
• Tomatoes
• Aubergines
• Summer Squash, eg Courgette
• Cucumber
• Winter Squash, eg Pumpkin

Using the “similar cultivation” method can be easier to manage in a smaller area. It works on the basis that, for example, whilst potatoes and tomatoes are the same family, tomatoes need less nitrogen and more potassium. Potatoes are also a good crop for breaking up new ground; tomatoes are not.

What else do you need to know?

Hopefully this brief outline has helped clarify crop rotation for you. Getting to grips with it does take planning, and keeping records is a sticking point for many gardeners. If you feel a couple of bespoke gardening lessons from Plews would help with getting your garden planning and vegetable garden organised, do please get in touch.

Crop rotation can be used with any of the following cultivation methods: –

• Growing in rows
• Raised beds
• Square foot gardening
• Deep beds
• Lasagne gardening
• No-dig gardening

Read “Growing Methods for Gardeners” (which you can also find on Allandscapers) for explanation of these. If the thought of crop rotation and planning and record keeping feels far too organised for you, there are other methods of cultivation, Three Sisters, for example.

I leave you with two important thoughts. Which are valid whether you’re growing for your own use or designing a kitchen garden for a client: –
• grow what you would like to eat
• if space or time is tight, then grow interesting fruit and vegetables that are best eaten fresh and/ or those that cost a lot

Marie Shallcross
Plews Garden Design


An Introduction to Woodland Habitats for Gardens

By Marie Shallcross

In the article “Creating Small Wildlife Habitats in Your Garden” (which you can also find on The Landscape Library) Woodland habitats was one of those wildlife gardening possibilities which were mentioned.

In this article, I am focusing on the woodland range of wildlife habitats for the smaller scale of an ‘average’ domestic garden. That is, as compared to a nature reserve or a smallholding. However, much of what I suggest would be also be possible to carry out on part of an allotment or a community garden.

The habitats and planting discussed occur in or are suitable for Great Britain and Ireland as this the climate and country I know best. Many of these comments and suggestions are also relevant for similar habitats in other temperate zones. What you should be aware of is that the flora and fauna may be slightly different when looking for native and naturalised species. Where necessary, refer to a local guide for your area.

Firstly, a recap on ‘wildlife habitats’, ‘your garden’ and ‘woodland habitats’.

Wildlife Habitats

There are four main types of wildlife habitats within the British Isles. They are: –

•   Woodland Habitats
•   Wetland Habitats
•   Grassland Habitats
•   Rockland Habitats

As we saw in “Creating Small Wildlife Habitats in Your Garden” they each have subdivisions.

Your Garden

Private, or domestic, gardens in Britain currently (2019) cover a larger area than all the National Nature Reserves put together.

The size of domestic garden under consideration here is kept small on purpose. It makes it easier to imagine creating a woodland habitat in a garden. For larger gardens, consider a particular area which may be suitable.

An average sized suburban garden varies across the country, but I’m going to suggest a size to aid visualisation. This is less than a quarter of an acre, say about 25-foot wide by 90-foot long. Which is about the same size, although a different shape, to a doubles tennis court.

Urban, or city gardens, have specific issues, but much of this information is still relevant. Having created more than a few wildlife friendly city gardens over the years, do get in touch if you’d like me to help you with an urban woodland garden.

Woodland Habitats

There are four sub-sections to woodland habitats in temperate climates.
•   Natural or unmanaged woodland
•   Managed woodland
•   Woodland edge
•   Hedgerows

Naturally enough, trees feature strongly in a woodland habitat. Trees, including both individual specimens and small woodland are able to provide to a garden: –

•   an ornamental aesthetic – it looks pretty
•   a productive, edible element, for example, fruit trees
•   cooling shade for humans, pets, flora and fauna
•   an environment for wildlife to thrive in
•   a carbon sink, ie absorbing and retaining carbon from the atmosphere
•   a play opportunity for your children, for example, tree house

Woodland Habitats in Your Garden

Natural or Unmanaged Woodland

Natural woodland is also known as unmanaged as these are environments which are left largely untouched. The tree cover will generally be broad-leafed, deciduous in lowland Britain. Native conifers are likely to form a part of the species present in moorland and upland regions.

True natural woodland is a difficult one to reproduce. It’s more likely that you would find this type of woodland when you purchased the land. If you want to create this woodland, you’ll first need to do is check out the local woods. This is to ascertain the native species which are local to your area. Ideally, you would need to do this monthly over the course of a year to gain a full picture

For your own natural woodland habitat, you will need to be prepared for adverse comments. Some visitors will see mess, not nature.

You will need mature trees, a small copse or group. Preferably include an Oak tree, Quercus robur, which supports over 280 insect species, plus birds and other wildlife. Depending on your soil type, other good woodland trees for an unmanaged woodland could be Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) Elder (Sambucus nigra) Holly (Ilex aquifolium).

Lower layers of vegetation need to be included. Shrubs, for example, Brambles (Rubus fruticosus). Also ground cover and native climbers such as Ivy (Hedera helix).

Leaf mould and dead wood (not neatly stacked!) should be left on the woodland floor. This provides a habitat for various insects, beetles and small mammals.

Ideally, you would avoid walking through your woodland too often as it might disturb some of the wildlife. This possibly makes it more a labour of love than an integral part of your garden.

Managed woodland

Managed woodland has been a part of rural life for hundreds of years. It is possible to see traces of previously managed woodland when you’re out walking in the country. Coppiced Beech trees (Fagus sylvatica) are a common sight. You know they were managed in the past, as Beech naturally has a single trunk.

Coppicing is where trees are coppiced, ie pruned, near the base of their main trunk. This encourages new growth of multiple trunks and light to the woodland floor, enabling a wider selection of species to thrive. The coppiced wood is used for fencing, furniture, fuel.

It is a system which would work well as part of a small managed woodland in your garden. Choose trees which can be coppiced such as Hazel (Corylus avellane) Alder (Alnus glutinosa) Pussy Willow (Salix caprea). Also shrubs such as Dogwood (Cornus sibirica) to give you brightly coloured stems in winter.

Of course, you don’t have to coppice your managed woodland. Properly maintained, there are many trees which would be suitable.

You could even have just one tree. Seriously. If that’s all there’s room for, because you have a small garden or would like to include other wildlife habitats, then have a single tree. Plant lower levels of flowers and vegetation to create a small woodland. Try spring flowering bulbs and small perennial flowering woodland plants. For example –

•   Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non scripta)
•   Wood anemones (Anemone nemerosa)
•   Primrose (Primula vulgaris)
•   Violets, Viola oderata (scented sweet violet), Viola riviniana (dog violet).

These flowers are nearly all spring flowering, when the branches of the deciduous trees are bare of leaf. This allows the maximum light to reach the small plants.

Managed Woodland – Forest Gardening

Forest Gardening or agroforestry is a sustainable perennial system to grow food crops in a manner that mimics a deciduous forest.

If you wanted to grow your own fruit as well as having pretty flowers and providing a woodland habitat, it could be an option. An option that does require careful planning to work well but should be fairly low on maintenance requirements once established.

Woodland Edge

This style or type of woodland habitat is possible to accomplish even in tiny gardens. Consider the vertical spaces in your garden. Then think of –

•   Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) scented flowers May – July, red berries in the autumn
•   Dog Rose (Rosa canina) scented pink flowers in June – July
•   Clematis (Clematis vitalba) also known as travellers’ joy, fluffy seeds heads
•   Ivy, evergreen and bears shiny black berries over winter
•   Bramble, edible berries from mid-August

Woodland edge is an excellent choice of woodland habitat if you already have native deciduous trees in your garden. Planting an understorey of shrubs and small perennials will soon transform the space.

If you do not have existing trees, with careful planning you could add some in and make a garden feature with a difference. Have climbers on a wall or fence, a narrow bark path to walk along next to this with small trees on the other side of the path. There’s lots of scope for small and large gardens and spaces within gardens.


The last of our Woodland habitats in your garden. Again, it is a suitable style for nearly all sizes of garden.

An existing hedge may already offer the makings of a native hedgerow. What species is the hedge? Suitable native species include Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) and Yew (Taxus baccata), both common hedging plants.

Turning your current hedge into a habitat may be as simple as adding in a few more plants that are wildlife friendly. For example, Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) and Dog rose.

Hedges can be boundaries around or partitions within your garden. Making a wildlife friendly hedge is easy. Depending on the eventual height, density of growth and whether you need it as a security barrier will affect your choice of plants.

You will need to maintain your hedge in a wildlife friendly manner. Remember: –
•   the nesting season
•   flowers for pollen
•   edible berries
•   seed heads
•   hibernating insects and mammals

A thought to finish on:
The woodland environment is a natural one for Great Britain and Ireland. Left uncultivated, the majority of the land would quickly revert to natural woodland.

Marie Shallcross
Plews Garden Design


Creating Small Wildlife Habitats in Your Garden

By Marie Shallcross

Wildlife gardening and organic gardening go hand in hand and are remarkably easy for “ordinary gardeners” to get to grips with in their own gardens and allotments. However, a lack of knowledge and a lack of time prevents many people from realising the full potential of their garden spaces. I hope that by presenting you with some ideas, you may feel inspired to make a few changes in your gardening habits, and those of your clients.

There are four main types of wildlife habitats within the British Isles. These are: –

• Woodland Habitats
• Wetland Habitats
• Grassland Habitats
• Rockland Habitats

And they each have subdivisions, as we shall see below. The plants which grow in these habitats will, to a certain degree, vary across the country. This is due predominantly to the different soils found, but also to other factors, for example, height above sea level.

Woodland Habitats
• Managed woodland
• Natural / unmanaged woodland
• Woodland edge
• Hedgerows

Wetland Habitats
• Still freshwater – ponds and pools
• Running freshwater – streams and rivers
• Bogs and Marshes
• Coastal habitats

Grassland Habitats
• Wild flower meadow
• Corn meadow
• Heathland
• Sandy dunes

Rockland Habitats
• Cliffs – coastal and inland
• Scree beds (at base of cliffs)
• Shingle beds (shoreline)
• Pavements, for example, limestone pavements

Small Wildlife Habitats in Your Garden – ideas to inspire plans and action

I will re-visit these different habitats on a more individual basis in later articles. And other contributors have covered some habitats, so do have a look around the site. Looking at the different wildlife habitats individually will enable us to peruse their history as well as the potential for your garden. For now, I would like to briefly consider how easy it is to create and maintain these habitats.

The majority of the plant species mentioned are native to or naturalised in the UK. Some imported species will support native wildlife.

Small Wildlife Habitats in Your Garden – Woodland Habitats

Under planting with spring and autumn flowering bulbs and small perennials is essential. For example, daffodils (Narcissus), crocus, cyclamen, bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta, not the larger hybrid!) wood anemones and bugle (Ajuga reptans).

Natural / unmanaged woodland

This would be more relevant for larger gardens. Although if you have an existing large tree in your garden such as an oak (Quercus) or ash, (Fraxinus) planting underneath with small daffodils for spring would give you some extra colour.

Managed woodland

Yes, you could have a small, managed woodland in your garden! There are a few options. Choose trees which can be coppiced such as hazel (Corylus) and shrubs such as dogwood (Cornus). For slightly larger gardens, beech (Fagus sylvatica) can also be used. Coppicing may be carried out annually or on a 3-5 year rotation. Small standard trees could also be used for a more formal garden.

Woodland edge

This is possible to accomplish even in tiny gardens. Think of those vertical spaces in your garden. Then think of honeysuckle (Lonicera), climbing roses and rambling roses, Clematis, ivy. Ivy (Hedera helix) is evergreen and bears berries over winter.


If you need to plant a new hedge, then making it a wildlife friendly one is easy. Depending on the eventual height, density of growth and whether you need it as a security barrier will affect your choice of plants. For example, guelder rose (Viburnum opulus), hazel, dog rose (Rosa canina) privet (Ligustrum) beech and yew (Taxus baccata).

When to prune a new or existing hedge is critical. Not when birds are nesting in it may seem obvious, but also consider if you want the hedge to provide food. In which case remember you’ll need to leave flowers so that there’s pollen and then berries in the autumn.

And of course, for any woodland habitat, leave some leaf litter on the ground for small invertebrates and hedgehogs.

Small Wildlife Habitats in Your Garden – Wetland Habitats

Still freshwater – ponds and pools

This is probably the most obvious wetland wildlife habitat. For preference, ponds should be sunk in the ground rather than raised, although a ramp may be attached to one side to allow access. A sloping edge within the pool is also essential to ensure small animals that fall in aren’t drowned.

Strictly speaking fountains and wildlife aren’t compatible. However, so long as the fountain isn’t running continuously, it should be fine, and will help to aerate the water.

Running freshwater – streams and rivers

It is possible to create an artificial stream within your garden. Done properly, it can look stunning and provides a play opportunity for children as well as a habitat for wildlife.

Bogs and Marshes

Where a pond or pool is not possible, a bog or marsh garden can provide a similar habitat. As with natural ponds, such gardens look best situated in the lower levels of a garden, where water would naturally settle. Bog gardens can also be created next to a pool, adding to the decorative planting effect.

Coastal habitats

It could be a bit tricky recreating an estuary or a beach shoreline within your garden. But, particularly if you live near the coast and have a stream, it is worth checking out the salinity of the water. Freshwater is lighter than saltwater so tends on float on top. Alder (Alnus glutinosa) ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cucili) and great burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis) would be some plants you could grow to give the effect of a coastal wetland.

Small Wildlife Habitats in Your Garden – Grassland Habitats

Wild flower meadow

These can be spring flowering or summer flowering and may contain a mix of annual and perennial plants. Perennial spring flowering species such as the ubiquitous daisy (Bellis perennis) and cowslip (Primula veris). Summer perennials ox eye daisy (Chrysanthemum Leucanthemum) and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) both have white flowers.

Corn meadow

These flowery meads contain specific flowers that grow, or used to grow in cornfields amongst the wheat crops. For example, corn cockle (Agrostemma githago), field poppy (Papaver rhoeas) and the annual cornflower (Centaurea cyanus).
All these wildflower meadows could be quite easily incorporated into a corner of an existing grass lawn. Perhaps as a central feature, a 1-2m circle of meadow, or as a curved meadow border between lawn and fence.


If you have an acid soil then try delicate harebells (Campanula rotundifolia), heathers (Erica species) and the edible bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus).

For a more alkaline soil on chalk, grow ling heather (Calluna vulgaris) betony (Stachys officinalis) and gorse (Ulex europeaus).

This style of gardening is informal and may not suit those with smaller gardens.

Sandy dunes

Another informal wildlife garden, perhaps best suited to those in coastal areas as the plants will thrive in the salt air.

Sea holly (Eryngium maritimum) with its metallic blue foliage and sea campion (Silene vulgaris subsp. maritima) with white flowers are particularly decorative.

Small Wildlife Habitats in Your Garden – Rockland Habitats

Cliffs – coastal and inland

If you don’t have a convenient cliff in your garden, why not use a drystone wall as an alternative? These offer spaces to a range of small, crevice loving plants that are attractive to insects.

Rock gardens are another form of cliff habitat. Properly built that can be a decorative as well as a wildlife garden feature.

Scree beds (at base of cliffs)

A planted-up scree bed would look natural at the base of a rock garden. A gentle slope is preferred for a natural effect. Plants such as stonecrop and stone pepper (Sedum species) and the pretty herb robert (Geranium robertianum) would be appropriate and wildlife friendly.

Shingle beds (shoreline)

These could make an attractive, informal front garden in coastal areas. Easy maintenance and wildlife friendly. As with scree beds, using a weed suppressant membrane underneath helps with the maintenance.

Pavements, for example, limestone pavements

Probably only suitable in larger gardens, as a concept it could be extended to include your paths and patio. Growing ground hugging thymes between paving stones is a simple way to increase the diversity of plant life within your garden.

As you can see from the whistle-stop tour above, there is much more to creating wildlife habitats in your garden than scattering a few seeds and hoping for the best.

But this shouldn’t dissuade you from scattering those few wildflower seeds in your flower border!

Wild about Gardens, Garden Design ideas – was an overview of wildlife gardens with some planting design and garden design suggestions.

Written to encourage others to both enjoy and share outdoor spaces with our disappearing garden wildlife it is partly inspired by Wild about Gardens Week.

This is a joint initiative by the RHS and the Wildlife Trusts to encourage people to support wildlife in their gardens.

Marie Shallcross


Types of Cultivation aka Growing Methods for Gardeners

By Marie Shallcross

A whistle-stop tour or brief outline for quick reference.

So when a client asks you “What is the difference between no-dig and straw-bale gardening?” you’ll feel confident to give a sufficient reply if productive gardening isn’t your usual area of expertise.

We can blind them with botany and agricultural science but sometimes simple is best!

The terms ‘types of cultivation’ and ‘growing methods’ are frequently used as interchangeable terms. Its fine to do this, as there are growing systems which are a combination. The differences could be defined as follows: –

The ‘growing method’ refers to the physical boundaries or style. For example, crop rotation.
Growing method is sometimes referred to as ’crop growing method’. This is more applicable to agriculture, allotment gardens and large kitchen gardens than the small domestic garden.

Within these methods one would use ‘types of cultivation’. For example, the ‘three sisters’ system.

For convenience, I’ve used these definitions to break up the growing methods below.

Growing methods

Crop rotation

Crop rotation is a crop growing method which can be used with different types of cultivation, for example, rows, raised beds, square foot.

Briefly, crop rotation is a means of production where the different types of crop are grown in the same area in successive years in order to reduce pests and diseases and to maximise the soil nutrients.

A three course rotation means that crop A will be grown in area D in year 1 and then again in year 4; four and five course rotations are also frequently used. The number of courses is directly affected by the number of different edible plant groupings. For example, brassicas, roots, legumes are the three most common groups used.

The Romans are known to have used crop rotation. A three course rotation was common in medieval England through to the mid eighteenth century when Jethro Tull (inventor of the horse drawn seed drill for sowing large fields) implemented a four course crop rotation. These rotations included a fallow year when no crops were grown; where livestock was pastured on the land instead the dung would be ploughed in the following autumn, improving the soil quality. However, where the fields were left fallow with no livestock there was no replenishing of the nutrients and the land would eventually become less fertile.
Crop rotation is extremely important in monocultures, ie where a single crop is grown; although the area may be a raised bed or a ten-acre field. There are arguments against the necessity of rotation in small areas, but it is still advisable if a monoculture system of cultivation is in place.

Raised beds

Raised bed gardening can be as simple as mounding up the earth in your productive border or as complex as an ornamental potager.

Thomas Hill in his ‘Directions for the Gardiner’ in the sixteenth century described raised beds as the best method of production. He based his advice on the Greek and Roman gardening treatises that had become available during the Renaissance.

These raised beds should be no wider than a gardeners arm or reach; unless they are accessible on two sides, in which case they could be twice as wide. This way the earth in the beds does not become compacted from having been walked upon.

You can plant in rows, blocks, plant monocultures or biodiverse plant communities within the raised beds.

If you build the beds with a brick or wood edge that is wide enough to sit on, it can make cultivation easier. And also provide extra seating if the raised beds surround a patio.

A further advantage of raised bed gardening for small spaces within gardens is that it allows for a more intensive style of cultivation so more crops can be grown.

Vertical gardening

On a simple level, this is using walls and fences as support for productive climbing plants and adding extra trellis and wigwams structures to create extra vertical space in your garden or allotment.

Cut and come again lettuce, strawberries and other small plants can be grown gutters or troughs fixed to sheds and walls; trailing tomatoes with red and yellow cherry fruits are decorative as well as practical grown in hanging baskets.

However vertical gardening also encompasses the newer techniques and technologies, including hydroponics (see below). Most of us will have seen examples of greenery growing on a living wall, part of the ‘greening the city’ movement.

The watering system is automated, so, as long as the crops can be reached when they’re ready to harvest, there’s no problem. It’s even possible to grow plants in this way in your kitchen – herbs and salad leaves easily picked as you prepare dinner.

A variation on this is where the edible plants are grown in towers. Those sold to the domestic market are fairly small, like overgrown strawberry pots; some need watering whilst others work on an aeroponics system.

‘Types of cultivation’

Growing in rows

A cultivation or tillage method used in conjunction with crop rotation. It is frequently asserted to be a late eighteenth century introduction alongside the increased use of agricultural machinery. However, this is usually because people are getting muddled between gardens and farms. Ploughs, whether hand pulled, horse drawn or mechanical, are most efficiently used in a long straight run, which is why rows have been used for hundreds of years.

They were introduced into domestic gardens much later, most commonly in the nineteenth century when there was a substantial increase in new gardens built to accommodate the urban middle classes. The great walled kitchen gardens of the aristocracy and landed gentry had a history of using both rows and block planting depending on the crop and the arrangement of the garden.

Strictly speaking growing vegetables in rows was an invention of the Chinese. There is a document from the third century BC where the efficiency of the crop or amount produced is said to be increased by growing the crops in rows. But they were most likely growing crops in rows as early as the sixth century BC.

Rows are best laid out on a north – south axis so the crops get the most benefit from the sun as it travels across the sky during the day.

Square foot gardening

An intensive cropping system used in conjunction with both raised beds and open ground cultivation.

It’s easier to describe from a raised bed perspective, as you can plan ahead and build your beds four-foot square. The idea is that you sow or transplant one plant per square foot if it’s a larger plant such as a cabbage; four, or even nine, more plants if they’re smaller.

This doesn’t sound like a lot of plants, but it should be remembered that they would take up more room than this in the ground if grown in traditional rows.

‘Three sisters’ cultivation

Both the North and South American Indians grew a lot of squashes; they had a system called ‘three sisters’ where they grew squashes, beans and corn together for the benefits each gave to the others whilst growing. According to Iroquois legend, the three sisters, or plants, were gifted by the Sky Woman’s daughter, and gave agriculture to people.

This interplanting method of agriculture has known benefits. The maize provides support for the beans; the squash acts as a ground cover to reduce weeds and keep moisture in the soil; the beans provide nitrogen for the other two crops.

The companion planting rather than pursuing a monoculture system (ie one species only) also improves the condition of the soil by increasing beneficial mycorrhiza which encourages a symbiotic relationship between the plants roots and the surrounding soil.

‘No-dig’ Systems

The no-dig idea rests on the notion that the roots of your crop plants will only go down around 20cm and so it is only the top level of the soil that needs work. It is also based on the theory that deep digging destroys the soil structure.

Lasagne Gardening

This really is a no-dig option for building raised beds and great soil. It is based on a similar principle to sheet composting, and allows you to build raised beds without stripping grass or weeds off the site.

Basically, you layer cardboard, newspaper, lawn and plant shreddings, alternating ‘green’ and ‘brown’ as you would in a compost heap; top off with a layer of compost rich soil. Then let the worms and soil microbes do their work. What you start with does depend on the ground at the bottom. If it’s infested with perennial weeds you may like to put down membrane first!

Straw bale gardening

To describe Straw Bale Gardening as a soil-less growing method isn’t strictly true. A small amount of soil or compost is used. However, it is a no-dig form of gardening.

The straw bale, or a hay bale (both would be suitable) is used as a raised bed. It has the advantage of being fully compostable when you’ve finished with it. To prepare the bales, first soak for up to ten days before you plant. Use, for example, a high nitrate liquid feed such as poultry manure. You make a hole in the soaked bale, add some soil or potting compost so the plant’s roots have some support initially. Then plant your crops into the bale.

This growing method is not really suitable for root crops and tuberous vegetables like carrots, onions and potatoes.

Forest gardening

Forest gardening or agro forestry is a sustainable perennial system to grow food crops in a manner that mimics a deciduous forest. The plants grown are trees, shrubs and other perennials and crops produced include fruits, nuts, edible leaves for food, honey, medicinal products, baskets and fuel.

It is a system of agriculture that has long been practised in tropical regions but is a more recent introduction in temperate climates. One of the problems is the lower light levels for the ground hugging plants as compared to that experienced near the equator in the tropical forests.

Although not everyone will have room in their garden for the full seven layers, as a concept it can be adapted to provide a low maintenance sustainable method of providing a wide range of perennial crops. It can also provide an ideal location in which to keep a bee hive and hens.


Permaculture is not just about growing plants, it’s about the whole interaction between plants, animals, birds and humans.

The concept is to design spaces for sustainable living that work with nature, and creating a positive rather than a negative impact on the world. The word comes from ‘permanent agriculture’ and ‘permanent culture’.

Unlike forest gardening which has only perennial planting, permaculture includes annual food crops. Strictly speaking, it is going to be a ‘minimum dig’ rather than a ‘no-dig’ system.

Soil-less Cultivation Methods


Hydroponics is where the fruit and vegetables sit on troughs with their roots dangling in a water based solution containing the necessary minerals and nutrients required for growth.
As it is through their roots that plants take up nutrients this is an efficient growing system.

There are both closed and open hydroponic systems. In the closed system, there is a cover over the top of the trough and the water solution is recycled. A high degree of automation is possible with this system, making it popular with mass producers of luxury salads and vegetable plants.

It is also a suitable form of cultivation in areas with low rainfall as due to the recycling of the solution water used is very efficient.


It combines the aquaculture of raising aquatic animals with the hydroponic system of raising plants in a sustainable symbiotic manner, which is why it is sometimes referred to as ‘pisciponics’.

Aquaponics is another water based cultivation system similar to hydroponics. It combines the aquaculture of raising aquatic animals with the hydroponic system of raising plants in a sustainable symbiotic manner, which is why it is sometimes referred to as ‘pisciponics’.

This is not a new method for growing food crops. Historically the paddy fields of south eastern Asia combined the growing of rice with the raising of snails and fish for food.
Water based growing method and soil less growing method are interchangeable terms to describe aquaponics systems.


Aeroponics is a soil less crop growing method where the plants are supported ‘in the air’ and the root systems exposed. The plants are held upright so that the roots can easily be sprayed with a nutrient rich mist.

The whole system can be automated, and it has the advantage of being very economical in its water usage. Approximately half that used for a hydroponic system to feed the same quantity of crops.

Aeroponics is a high yielding method of crop growing and has the potential to seriously increase yield. However, it is not suitable for all plants.

Other Growing Methods and Cultivation Systems

Biodynamic gardening

Also known as planting by the moon. This technique dates back thousands of years. It works on the premise that certain crops do better when planted or harvested during different phases of the moon and constellation positions. For example, sowing seeds two days before a full moon gives a better germination rate than sowing two days after.

Local weather and soil conditions are still factors in optimising sowing and planting conditions.

The purpose behind these next two cultivation methods is to maximise the harvest from a small space. This intensive horticulture is generally easier to manage in raised beds purely because it doesn’t involve walking on the soil. Which would be risking damage to the range of crops which are all at different stages of growth.

Succession planting

The permutations of this technique can be used individually or in combination. Firstly, it is where seeds are sown at 2 week intervals to prolong the harvest and prevent a glut of produce.
The other technique used is the practice of rapidly filling the space vacated by a harvested crop by planting a new crop.

Catch crops and Interplanting

These terms are sometimes used interchangeably.
This system of cultivation is used for where fast maturing and slow growing edible plants are interplanted, for example, sprouts and beetroot. This will increase the size of the harvest produced in a small area.
Those crops which are in the ground for longer such as Brussels sprouts can be interplanted with a faster maturing compatible crop, beetroot for example.

The system is also referred to as catch cropping, because the fast maturing crop is replaced on harvesting by a second. This will still mature before the slower growing crop.

Companion planting

Organic gardeners wanting to reduce the pest and disease damage to both their ornamental and edible crops often use a mix of plants specifically for that purpose.

Common usage over hundreds of years has demonstrated that companion planting works. Scientific study of companion planting has more recently confirmed the benefits.

Companion planting works in different ways depending on the combination of plants and the intention of the pairing. For example, companion plants can attract beneficial insects, including pollinators and predators. Or they may repel pests. For example, plants from the Allium family can reduce the incidence of black spot on roses.

Other plants can lure pests away from more desirable plants; this is often known as ‘sacrificial’ companion planting. On a more basic level, tall plants provide shade for sun-sensitive shorter plants.

There are, as one would expect, variations within these growing methods and cultivation systems. Different climates and soils will affect which ones would be appropriate in a given situation. Personal choice and cultural traditions may also have a bearing. But as an introduction, I trust you’ve found this article helpful.

Marie Shallcross


Spring Care For Roses

By Thomas Stone

Spring time is a very important time in the care of roses. Not only it is the time to carry out the main yearly prune (for most types) but also to an important time to get the plant ready for the growing season and help it fight onset of pests and diseases that will be attacking it during the growing season.

After the plant has been pruned, its ideal time to think about feeding the plant or more importantly the soil it’s growing in, a happy healthy soil will result in a happy non stressed plant allowing it to take both nutrients and water from the surrounding soil.  There’s 2 ways of doing this, first is with a concentrated feed, I prefer an organic type something like vitax Q4 plus, pelleted chicken manure and this is spread over the WHOLE bed and not just around the base of the rose at the recommended rate. This is lightly forked or cultivated in incorporating the organic matter left from the previous year. The organic fertilizer helps to feed the bacteria and Mycorrhizae that occur naturally in the soil as well as providing nutrients for the plant.

The next thing to do is mulch the beds with a good dose or organic matter. The materials you could use, can depend on the type of rose that you are growing in the beds, generally speaking the repeat flowering and ramblers/climbers types need a stronger type of organic matter like a form of well rotten manure, while the single flowering shrub roses will be happy with well-rotted garden compost or green waste compost. In a lot of cases I like to mulch the rotten manure around a 3ft radius of the rose and mulch the rest of the bed with compost. I prefer not to use a bark mulch as this doesn’t tend to add any organic matter to the soil and make it difficult to add any extra feed to the soil during the summer months. The more compost based material helps to add organic matter and nutrients into the soil and basically breathes life into it.

The next step is the treatment of the common foliage problems associated with roses i.e. black spot, rust and Mildew. You would have already done 2 good things to help to prepare your roses by good pruning allowing good airflow though the plant and providing nutrients and a water retentive soil for the plants to live in.  Once the foliage starts to appear its worth spraying it every10-14 days with a chemical spray containing either myclobutanil, triticonazole or   tebuconazole. It is worth using one product every alternate spray so the fungus doesn’t build up any residence to one type of chemical. I prefer not to use one that contains an insecticide as I feel the aphids can be controlled much easier using other methods. To the spray, I also add a foliage feed of liquid seaweed, this helps to feed the leaves and make them stronger and more resilient to the diseases. A mix of liquid seaweed and garlic extract can also be used and this helps to protect the plant against insect and animal attacks as well as providing a lot more nutrients and health to the plant. Another spray that is well worth using for more of an organic approach is Uncle Toms Rose Tonic. This is an old Victorian recipe contains  Potassium Phosphite that again helps to promote healthy growth and is now being used by some of the leading rose growers and exhibitors . Potassium Bicarbonate is another great organic method of treating mildew and powdery mildew, is very effective as a foliage spray and is well worth using also as an in-between spray with non-organic methods to help to reduce the amount of chemicals we use in the garden. This treatment should be carried on until September at the earliest.

The main blip in the healthy foliage time is just after the plant has finished the main flush of flowering in July, it’s not something to worry about then as the plant is just worn out from flowering so much and needs a few weeks to recover, when the new leaves come though, they are generally pretty healthy.

To sum up, for me the key for healthy roses for the year has to be a healthy soil and healthy foliage all very simple but a lot of work to achieve


Tree & Shrub Planting Guidance Notes

By Kevin Jones

When you receive your tree or shrub it is best to plant it as soon as possible. The tree planting season is between autumn and spring while the soil is moist – your order will be sent to you at the right time for planting. Container grown trees or shrubs can be placed somewhere sheltered in the garden until you are ready to plant them; bare-root trees and shrubs should be kept somewhere cool but frost-free until planting.  The plastic packaging will keep bare-root plants alive for a short period (a few weeks) but if planting is heavily delayed it may be best to ‘heel-in’ your plants. This simply means to dig a temporary trench in ordinary garden soil and place the roots inside. Cover the roots with soil, firm in and water well. This will keep your plants alive until you are ready to plant them in their final position. Provided your tree or shrub is hardy they can safely remain heeled-in outside for up to 3 months.
Planting a tree or shrub
It’s important to give your trees or shrubs the best growing conditions possible; this is especially important when planting fruit trees to encourage a good crop. Choose a well-drained site; if you have heavy clay soil add some organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure along with grit to improve drainage. For the first 3 years the area around your tree or shrub will need to be kept weed-free to remove any competition for nutrients and water. Remove any turf or plants to create a 120cm (4ft) diameter circle of bare earth. Dig over the soil with a garden fork and incorporate organic matter such as well-rotted manure, compost or recycled green waste. When planting a tree, hammer in a sturdy stake just off-center inside the planting hole. The top of the stake should be just below the first branches of the tree. However, a new school of thought is to only stake the bottom third of the tree and put the stake in at an angle. Use a stake tie to attach the tree to the stake after planting. Staking after planting may result in damage to the root ball of the tree.
Container grown trees & shrubs
Water the compost thoroughly before removing the container (cut the container away if necessary). Gently tease out the roots to encourage good growth after planting. Trim off any broken roots with secateurs. Dig a planting hole no deeper than the length of the roots and at a comfortable width to accommodate the root ball. Break up the soil in the sides and base of the hole with a garden fork if they are compacted. Place the tree or shrub into the planting hole, aiming to plant at the same depth that the tree or shrub was growing in the nursery. It’s important not to plant your tree or shrub too deeply as this often cause’s death. Laying a bamboo cane or the spade handle across the top of the hole and lining it up next to the stem is a good way to check you have the correct depth. Simply add or remove soil beneath the root ball to adjust the planting depth. Backfill around the roots with the remaining soil and take care not to leave any big air pockets. Gently firm the tree or shrub in and water well. Apply mulch (about 5cm deep/2in) around the planting area to prevent weed growth and retain moisture. Keep a collar of about 10cm (4 inches) free of mulch around the woody stem of your tree or shrub to prevent the bark rotting.
Bare-root trees and shrubs
Planting bare-root trees and shrubs (such as bare root rose plants) should be carried out quickly to prevent dehydration of the roots. The planting instructions are the same as for container-grown trees and shrubs. Make sure the plant is at the same level that it was planted in the nursery if the trees/shrub is planted too deeply the roots may not get enough oxygen and will slow down the growth or even may die, if planted too shallowly it will dry out to quickly and will the with lack of water leaves will fall, this is a sure sign of water shortage. When backfilling, after adding born meal to the backfill soil and firm the soil in stages, taking care not to damage the roots. Water the tree or shrub well and mulch the area around it. Keep a collar of about 10cm (4 inches) free of mulch around the woody stem to prevent the bark rotting.
Kevin Jones MCI Hort


Creating A Wildflower Meadow

By Thomas Stone

Creating a wildflower meadow within your own garden can be a fun and exciting project within your garden, creating a beautiful yet a very low maintenance area that can be full of wildlife and give you pleasure watching and wondering what flower will appear next.

Once you have decided to have either a small area or hopefully a large area to change to a wildflower meadow is how to achieve it within your garden, where to site it, what of the hundreds of plants to grow in your garden and how to manage it. Let’s look at first the different methods you could use to help establish a wildflower meadow in your garden

Method 1, working with your existing lawn

This is certainly one of the cheapest ways to start. All you need to do is cut your existing lawn down very low and either scarify it with a rake or a scarifier to open the surface of the soil up and allow you to over seed it or add wildflower plugs to your lawn. With seed its best to do this in the early autumn months as many of the seeds do require the coldness of winter to help them germinate. With plugs, it can be done at most times as long as it’s not too dry, best in the spring/early summer

Advantages: the initial set up can be quite cheap, you might already have some great wildflower plants already in your lawn indeed including a few orchids that you might not be able to see during existing cut, you can choose what you would like in the meadow.

Disadvantages: although the short term cost is cheap, the area might require a lot of work removing plants that you don’t want in the area, the grass its self might not be ideal, being vigorous and over powering some of the finer plants you may require. It does take a little bit of time to get right up to 5+years before you start getting the final result.

Method 2, reseeding

With this method you are looking at spraying off the existing grass or area with a chemical such as round up, that will indeed kill the plants down to the roots and effetely clear the area, then rotovating it down to a fine tilth compacting the soil slightly before using either a purpose mixed seed mix or green hay. Green hay is basically freshly cut existing meadow that you spread over the area to allow the seeds to fall out onto your site (can be used with method 1 as well) and then provide you with a meadow in the following year. The seed mix can contain different size seeds so sometimes can be easier if mixed up with something else like sand or a good seed compost and spread that way

Advantages: again a fairly low start-up cost, using green hay can bring some exciting plants into your garden, seed mixes can be make up bespoke for your site

Disadvantages: again although the short term cost is quite low, rotovating up the soil might disturb a hidden seed bank that results in other plants surfacing that aren’t required, the same thing applies to wind born seeds, blown on the area, so might require a bit of weeding out and maintenance in the first 1-3yrs, again looking at 5+yrs until the final result. It takes longer to establish on sloped areas and run off can cause problems during this time. Green hay can be very hard to get hold of and may contain weed sp

Method 3, wildflower turf.

The ‘turf’ is a thin layer of compost with grasses and general purpose wildflowers already grown into it, although it called turf its nothing really like the lawn turf you buy. With this method you are looking at spraying off the existing grass or area with a chemical such as round up, that will indeed kill the plants down to the roots and effetely clear the area, then rotovating it although it doesn’t need to be such a fine tilth. The ‘turf’ is then laid out over the area and watered (if required) for a few weeks until it’s established

Advantages: it is quick establishing (within days flowers are flowering), hides any existing seed bank and has few gaps so there’s not much weeding required so long term costs are lower, pretty quick to put down, can be used on slopes as it establishes quickly and reduces any run off damage, can be done any time of year and is fully developed within 2-3yrs.

Disadvantages: the initial cost is the most expensive and range of sp that you have is pretty fixed unless you order in large amounts.

What conditions does a Wildflower meadow require?

Basically you can grow some form of wildflower meadow in any conditions that you would like from thin chalk to fertile water edges. They will take some shade but not dense shade. The thing to watch out for is the more fertile soil, the more vigorous the grasses can become and that would then effect your choice of wildflowers and have to go for more vigorous wildflowers to combat those conditions, that same does apply to the old veg patch you are thinking about using, it will be fine just bear in mind that it will all grow a little more and also require a slightly different management regime (more later on)

What flowers and grasses to go for?

Well that all depends on the above conditions, ideally when you have a wildflower meadow you should be looking at the species per m2 number, for an area to give a good chance to support wildlife would should be looking at having at least 20 species per m2, the ideal figure to get to is 30+spm2 (this is called specie rich) and that allows the meadow to support a very wide range of wildlife as well as looking beautiful. There are a lot of species both of grass and flowers that will grow in most conditions and soil types, others only will grow in certain soil types and conditions. To find out your PH of you soil (that tells you if its acid, alkaline or neutral) a simple ph. testing kit will help up work that out, finding the soil type is pretty easy too, you can either send off a sample to a soil testing laboratory or use an app like Mysoil that will tell you what the soils like in your area. There are also some plants like yellow rattle that can be slightly parasitic and live off certain grass species that helps to reduce the vigour of the grass too. Others that will make quite a show for the first few years (ox eyed daisies and poppies) before the area is too dense for them and others like primroses and cowslips take a number of years to get to a size in which you will notice them. Never worry if a plant takes longer to get going In the meadow or disappears for a while, it’s just the meadow changing and adjusting both with the years (current and previous) and the conditions. With Grasses again those can depend on the soil type and PH. Generally speaking if you with a low maintenance mix without ryegrass is normally suitable ideally containing Fescues and Bents, there are some wonderful native grasses like crested Dogstail will increase the beautifulness as well. More wet or fertile areas will require more vigorous mix containing meadow grasses like timothy grass, meadow grass and coltsfoot.

One other thing to watch out for is the % of any seed mix that you use, the higher the grass % the less flowers that you will be growing, if possible I would go for a mix no greater than 60% grass ideally closer to 50/40% if possible, it will give you a much more flowery mix and gives the wildflowers more of a chance to germinate and establish themselves


Maintaining your meadow can be pretty easy depending on the type it is, if say it’s a more fertile edge near a watercourse or contains a large % of rougher courser grasses like timothy grass, some forms of rye grasses etc. it may require 2 cuts per year one say in early June and another in September/October otherwise a normal meadow requires about 1 cut per year generally done in September/October. This can be carried out either by a traditional scythe, a stimmer, flail mower, Allen scythe. Ideally once cut it should be collected up in a few days to allow some of the flower seeds to drop out before collecting it up and disposing it away from site. It is best taken off the meadow as this will help weaken the grass by not putting any nutrients back into the soil which helps the more vigour’s grasses to survive.

Other bits of maintenance required during the year is weeding out of any weed species growing though the meadow, a ragwort fork can be very useful for this

If the rough grasses are becoming too much of a pain and are coving an area too big to weed out by hand you can use a herbicide designed for killing grasses only like Shogun that will leave the wildflowers unharmed

Really when meadows are established they become a low maintenance area of the garden that can be enjoyed for 8 months a year

Adding bulbs

Adding bulbs to the area can not only increase the flowering season in the meadow by months but also give pollen to the early season insects. The main thing to watch out for when thinking about adding bulbs is to choose varieties with a small leaf such as crocus, small fritillary, specie daffodil and specie tulips. The big leaves of normal daffodils and tulips can cause the grass and plants around them to die off when they smother them leaving bare patches that weeds can grow into and upset the balance of the meadow. In more vigorous meadows, larger bulbs can used like cammassias in small areas and alliums to add a different aspect to the area, smaller sp can still be used early in the season before it all gets going.

This is just a small brief notes on starting out on the stunning journey of looking after what will become one of the most active parts of you garden


How To Grow Spring Flowering Bulbs

By: Kevin Jones

Spring Bulbs are generally quite simple and easy to grow because most have similar requirements so once you understand the basics you can grow nearly any spring flowering bulb with ease.

• For best results plant spring bulbs in autumn.

• Most bulbs are planted twice as deep as the bulb is high and the same distance apart. In most cases, the pointed end of the bulb should be upwards. (If in doubt, plant the bulb on its side).

• Most spring bulbs require a moisture retentive, well-drained soil. If your soil is soggy you can raise the beds to improve drainage or plant in pots.

• Most bulbs require full sun to light shade. Generally heavier shade produces taller (and softer) stems. In warmer climates, most bulbs tolerate greater levels of shade.

• Spring flowering bulbs in the garden will not usually require watering providing they are planted in moisture retentive soil. Bulbs planted in containers (hanging baskets, tubs, window boxes, etc.) should be kept moist but not wet.

• Top dress all spring flowering bulbs in autumn with a bulb or general fertiliser. Many bulbs perform better if a second dressing is applied straight after flowering. Spread the fertiliser over the top of the soil and water in.

• Remove dead heads and allow foliage to die back naturally.
• During this period the leaves are acting like solar panels, generating food which is stored in the bulb for generating next year’s flower so it is very important that the leaves are not removed prematurely or tied into knots.

• Allow the foliage to die down before lifting (or for at least 6 weeks after flowering). Firstly loosen the soil with a fork and gently pull up the bulbs by their stems.
• Allow the bulbs to dry somewhere cool (but not in full sun). Once dry, clean off excess dirt and remove old flowering stalks.
• Store the bulbs somewhere cool (less than 25°C), dry and airy until replanting in autumn.

• This is one of the most popular questions when it comes to bulb care.
• There are many bulbs which can successfully be left in the ground from year to year without any detrimental impact on their floral performance.
• Some bulbs however, especially tulips and hyacinths, are best lifted each year.

Question #1: Why haven’t my daffodils flowered?
Answer: When bulbs, especially daffodils, produce foliage but no flowers they are often referred to as ‘blind’. There are several possible reasons:-

Planting depth – A general rule of thumb for bulbs is to have twice the height of bulb soil on top. A bulb that stands 2.5cm tall (1 inch) should therefore have 5cm (2 inches) of soil on top. This should ensure that during dry summers the bulb has sufficient moisture to keep the embryo bud growing.

Foliage was removed too early – It is essential that the foliage is left to die down naturally as this will feed the bulb and help ensure a flowering size bulb for next year. Because foliage can look untidy as it dies down it is often removed too early or tied into neat knots. It is important for bulb growth that this is not done.

Life cycle Daffodils in particular have a large flowering bulb, known as a mother bulb, which produce offsets, daughter bulbs. These offsets are not of a flowering size but will produce foliage and flower once they reach maturity. To aid this process it is important that the bulbs are fed with a low nitrogen fertilizer 10-14 days after flowering and twice more at 14 day intervals.

Overcrowding – Part of the life cycle as mentioned will produce lots of offsets and if these have insufficient room and nutrients to reach flowering size the bulbs will produce foliage but no flowers.

Question #2: How deep/far apart should I plant my bulbs?
Answer: Most bulbs benefit from planting so that the depth of the soil over the bulb is twice the height of the bulb i.e.: a bulb that stands 2.5cm tall (1 inch) needs 5cm (2inches) of soil on top, so the hole needs to be at least 7.5cm (3 inches) deep. There are of course exceptions to the rule but these are few and far apart.

Planting distance will depend on use but in the border I would plant so that the space between is equivalent to the circumference of the bulb. If planting in containers I would halve this.

Question #3: Should I feed my bulbs?
Answer: Bulbs are no different to anything else planted in the garden so they need nutrients. However too much nitrogen will encourage lush growth and make them susceptible to disease so a low nitrogen fertilizer with plenty of phosphate and potash is the ideal.

Question #4: What is meant by the term naturalizing?
Answer: This is the term used when bulbs are planted in grass/borders/woodland and left to do their own thing. Planting is usually informal and very often the bulbs will self-seed and spread. If planted in grass/lawn it is essential to leave the foliage on the bulbs for at least 6
weeks after flowering to ensure that the bulbs renew themselves.
Question #5: How late can I plant spring flowering bulbs?
Answer: Bulbs are plants and the best place for them is in the ground but very often they are planted after bedding plants have faded so time of planting will vary from year to year. Try to plant your bulbs while the soil is still warm and not too wet. , I have planted spring bulbs well into December, with excellent results. Later planting will still give a show but you may find that the flowers are a bit shorter than normal.

Question #6: What are the best garden conditions for bulbs?
Answer: Most bulbs like moisture retentive well drained soil and generally like a neutral pH of 6.0-6.5. Bulbs do not like to be water logged but at the same time they do not like to be excessively dry.

Question #7: My container planted bulbs have not flowered well this year. What went wrong?
Answer: Generally speaking we think of bulbs as frost hardy but when planted in containers the frost not only penetrates from the top but also sides and this can affect flowering. During periods of prolonged severe frost it is important to either put the containers in a shed/glasshouse or to wrap the outside of the pot with insulation.

Question #8: Should I dead-head my spring bulbs?
Answer: Commercial growers do not dead-head their daffodils as it is an expensive job with no appreciable return, however for gardeners it is not a long job and certainly makes things look tidy. For tulips it is important to remove the petals once they have started to fall. Old petals falling into the plant and onto the soil will encourage the spores of ‘tulip fire’ which will infect the soil in subsequent years, so they should be removed.

Question #9: Every time I buy daffodils they flower the first year but then I only get leaves the following year. What am I doing wrong?
Answer: Providing you are doing everything correct as regards planting depth etc. there is a strong possibility that the soil pH is too low. Daffodils do not like acidic soil. They will flower alright the first year because the flower has already formed when you buy the bulb but the acidic soil will inhibit root growth and flower development for subsequent years


Domestic Garden Landscaping Disputes

(CPR Part 35 – Establishing Essential Report Foundations)

I have been involved in producing reports for use in Court since the early 90s, either as Statements of Opinion or Civil Procedure Rules Part 35 Reports, primarily in the domestic sector. Enquiries for my services arrive, usually by email, either as a direct result of a Contractor or Home Owner searching the Internet, as a referral from one of the Industry Trade Associations or via a Third Party e.g. a Solicitors office or a Paralegal source.

Any enquiries by telephone are quickly truncated, with a request that all conversations must take place via email to ensure a full and accurate record of the intercourse. This is essential, as it does not allow any one Party in a dispute to attempt to influence me in any way by providing me with a partisan viewpoint.

I do however, as early as possible in the conversation, ascertain how they got hold of me. This is an important element of any commission, as it helps me to understand the chain of events that led to the contact in the first instance. If they were simply looking on line, they may not have any idea how best to approach the subject. However, if they are making contact on the directions of a Court, they will have been informed of the need for formal protocol and provided with some guidance in locating a suitable Expert Witness.

As I am often recommended by Landscape Trade Associations who have their own Dispute and Arbitration Services available to their members and their clients, I will seek to establish if the Contractor is a Member, and whether or not they have been offered their internal services before calling on an Expert Witness.

It is essential to establish, as soon as possible, the nature of a dispute and the desired outcome of any action that may be progressed. A substantial number of people who begin the process of applying to a Court for action in resolving a dispute have no clear idea of what final result they are seeking. Some seek redress and compensation. Some simply to ensure that the contractor is put out of business. As far as they are concerned, they are happy to hand the whole case over to the professionals and let them sort their problems out.

It is therefore essential to ensure that a Plaintiff clearly understands that Expert Witnesses are only there to provide the Court with an independent professional report on matters as they find them at the time of producing their documents. Expert Witnesses are not employed to provide anyone with their opinions regarding the outcome of any case. Judgement and liability are for the Court to decide, not the Expert Witness!


Although few cases are exactly the same, most involve dissatisfaction with either product or installation defects (or a combination of both) with works carried out by a Contractor. These are more likely to be initiated by a property or home owner, and be pursued against a contractor (Landscaper or Builder). Less frequently, the Plaintiff may be a contractor, claiming in respect of monies outstanding against works completed.

Having established the source of the enquiry and request for a report, including the nature (CPR Part 35 or Statement of Opinion) of the required document, the next step is to agree the fee structure and payment of account.

Personally, I insist on payment in full, in advance, of a figure based on time and distance. This is to avoid any question of conditional fee arrangements and potential bias or lack of full independence between myself and any other Party.

If I am working at the request of a Solicitor, this is a simple matter, as their professional working practices and compliances will be in place. A Solicitor may be acting directly for their client, or as a preferred solicitor working for an insurance company. In such cases, I follow their instructions to the letter, including making arrangements for the payment of fees.

I try to establish with the initiating Party and (if possible) the second Party if they are both willing to pay an equal share of my fees, thereby commissioning a Joint Single Expert Report (either under CPR or a Witness Statement of Opinion). Both Parties are offered this opportunity to ensure no conflict of interest can occur.

Once the fee arrangements have been settled and paid in full by one or more Parties, a date is arranged to visit the site. A time is given, and both Parties (if they agree) are invited to attend. Assuming that there is no involvement by a Solicitor (who will provide all Parties with a list of questions that should be answered by the Expert Witness, usually pre-agreed with both Claimant and Defendant) I take control of the meeting and set the agenda and format to be used during the time on site.

This control is essential to prevent a free for all with arguments and conflicting tales. I do not allow any question to be raised unless both Parties agree the wording. These questions are written down and agreed on site. I find that everyone accepts the need for decorum, as I am only doing my job as an independent expert.


I am ever mindful that I am working for the Court, and that my report will form the basis for any decisions that may arise from the information I provide. Therefore, I try to describe the situation in a way that can be understood by a Third Party who has never seen the site. Although I take photographs, and these are included in the report either as an Appendix, or part of the script, it is essential to describe, in detail, the nature of the original project or state of the site prior to any works being carried out.

I formally request that both Parties provide me with every document and record of  events including and especially, the original quotation and contract documents. These are extremely important, as they are often the only evidence available to enable me to establish whether or not the works have been carried out in accordance with those documents.

I have known instances where the owner has engaged another contractor to remove and replace items, including plants, hedging and an ornamental pool pumping system without consulting the original contractor. For this reason, it is essential to provide as detailed and comprehensive chronological record as possible to present to the Court.

It is not possible to produce a meaningful report based solely on conditions found at the time of my visit, especially in respect of a landscaping scheme that may involve earth moving and radical alterations to a site. Hopefully, a professional contractor will have included method statements (a ‘storyboard’ of how the works are to be carried out, step by step), a Bill of Quantities, detailed specification and technical drawings or plans.

These documents enable me to assess and evaluate whether or not the original quotation has been adhered to, in respect of levels, falls, heights, distances and quantities. For example, if a quotation was for six hundred square metres of lawn turf, and once measured on site I find only four hundred square metres, then I record that fact in my report.

Contract documents should include other essential items that are required to comply with the Law, although they may not form part of any complaint. These include a written plan of action under the Construction (Design Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM Regs 2015) to comply with Health & Safety. CDM Regs will show the names of all responsible personnel on site including Principal Designer and Principal Contractor, who are liable for the site.

According to CDM Regs, the owner (on a Domestic project) is responsible under CDM for all Health & Safety matters, and this responsibility is automatically transferred to the Principal Designer. If there is no ‘Designer’ (or Architect) the Principal Contractor becomes liable. Once again, this factor may not be relevant to the case or complaint in hand, but such information is useful to the Court when deciding who was responsible for actions on site.

The CDM Plan should also describe and identify the person responsible under Building Regulations on matters such as (for example) step treads and heights/uniformity of flight, safety railings and balustrades against drops by patios and decks, fence heights and boundary issues, trips hazards and the production of Risk Assessments and ensuring due compliance in matters such as Safety signage etc.

It should be stated that any landscaping project, no matter the size or scale, falls under CDM Regs and even a simple, basic plan should form part of the Contract documentation. (CDM Plans are readily available on line, using a drop box tool)

Building Regulations apply to all construction works, whether or not carried out by Builders or Landscapers. I have often been called to sites where someone – the owner, designer or landscaper/builder has violated Building Regulations regarding damp proof membrane courses or air bricks to enable a patio or paved area to flow through between an internal floor without a threshold ‘step’ for purposes of visual design factors, ignoring the problems associated with rain water penetration and splash against patio doors and house walls.

Any such breaches must be included in the Expert Witnesses Report, irrespective of whoever gave instructions to the contractor. It is not the Expert’s job to establish who designed features that may violate the Regulations, only to note them in the report.

Frequently, during the construction of a landscape project, alterations and additions are required, either to recognize a change in the specification called for by the client or designer, or the contractor if a particular element or product is not available. Any such alterations should be recorded under an Order Variation (VO) system. Often this may only be a chain of emails between the client and contractor, but they should show how and why these alterations were made. Any variations, additions or reductions in quality, quantity and costs should also be recorded in the VO or email trail.

The importance of establishing the paper trail or documentation on any project cannot be understated. Once a garden site has been landscaped, unless the works are only minor e.g. a new patio or pergola, the Expert must decide the extent of works completed weighed against the schedule of works outlined in the contract documents. Without these papers, the Expert should produce their own schedule of works as seen on site and described as having been carried out by the Contractor.

Working practices and techniques should be assessed against Industry Standards, and any significant variations between the two standards must be highlighted. With so many new products being introduced into the Garden marketplace and used on landscaping projects, new problems arise that were not foreseen by the suppliers. An example of which is the use of porcelain and other thin paving slabs and tiles, previously used exclusively on interior floors and as wall cladding are now in regular use in garden designs, championed by Professional Garden Designers who have little experience or knowledge of their properties. New fixing materials to both lay and joint these thin tiles are often untested outside of controlled conditions, with the result that tiles, once laid – even in accordance with manufacturers recommendations – become loose from their laying compounds, with loose jointing material causing the slabs to become unstable and unsafe.

It should also be recognized that on occasion, there is little documentary evidence or paper trail for the project at all. No quotation – or a few scribble notes on a packet – no price or payment terms, no specification or written matter whatsoever. In such cases, it is not the role of an Expert Witness to do other that note these facts in their report.

Several recent cases I have handled have concerned contractors that have no premises, no addresses or public presence except Face Book or other social media. These cases involved many thousands of pounds, some in excess of £10,000.00. The customers, having seen their projects literally falling apart, have applied to a Court for compensation, and I have been commissioned to provide a CPR Part 35 report (by the customer) All I can do, is to report as I find, and if there are no contractor details, this fact is noted. It is not my role to become a detective and try to establish the location or name of the contractor.

It is helpful, if required, to include in the report (or Appendix) any manuals, books or other references which have been used and referred to in your assessment, including the titles, authors and page numbers for each reference.

Assuming that the Expert Witness is not be guided by a list of questions supplied by a Solicitor, and the report is based on questions posed by the Expert to enable a meaningful report to be compiled, it is important to clearly state that fact in the introduction to each section of the report.

It is also important to remember that all comments and opinions that may be expressed that you are not able to prove with factual evidence e.g. the growth rate of Japanese Knot Weed, should be qualified with the words ‘balance of probability when making an assessment.

This will become an essential matter when producing the final section of the Experts Part 35 which calls for a Statement of Truth. Part of the legal wording includes an oath that you are referring to facts and matters that are within your own knowledge and which are not. If you are unsure of any element of the case, any question of doubt should be excluded and highlighted separately if there is anything that you feel needs to be drawn to the attention of the Court, yet does not fall within your own knowledge.

The Expert Witness assessor should be able to comment on the quality of workmanship, even if the results of a project have failed. If the contractor has carried out Best Practice using materials and techniques that were deemed to be acceptable at the time of such works, the Expert should record this fact.

You may be asked for valuations on certain aspects of a project, either to establish the costs involved in replacing parts of the work, or as an assessment of the value of the works completed to date, or to provide the Court with an idea of the scale of compensation that may be required to rectify any part or parts of a project. I would suggest that you undertake such a task as a separate commission, unless providing a general comment with qualification.

I am not a qualified Quantity Surveyor or Estimator, and am not able to provide any such information except in general terms as a long established Landscape Contractor.

Many of these questions should have been raised either by the Solicitor representing either Party, or instigated if deemed necessary by the Expert Witness during assessment in order to supply the Court with a detailed and comprehensive report.

All such reports should be Extant in nature, only describing conditions found on site at the time of the visit, including weather conditions.


It is often the case that a project has failed due to a lack or loss of communication between the owner and Contractor. Frequently, the problems have occurred due to misunderstanding in terminology. The client has asked for a ‘Wow’ Factor in the design and construction, and at the end of the works, does not feel that have got what they asked for. They may have asked for a ‘Low maintenance’ garden, or a ‘Cottage Garden’, and as none of these terms can be used in a Contract, as they are open to interpretation, they are best avoided.

These matters should not be assessed or mentioned by the Expert Witness as they are subjective, and cannot therefore be evaluated and should be left for the Court to decide.

I always avoid any comments and statements regarding payments or lack of payments or lateness of payment, as these matters cannot be commented on. Similarly, payments in cash, with or without an invoice are not to be included, as they too, are not my concern.

I can only be concerned with facts. My duty is to the Court, regardless of who is paying me for my time. I make this statement to all concerned as often as it is required.


Be very wary when taking the initial call for an Expert’s Report unless dealing with a Solicitor or other professional person to avoid questions of impartiality at a future date. You work on behalf of the Court, and not any individual.

Clearly establish the ‘Rules of Engagement’ before taking on a commission, and establish the amount of work involved, working on a Day Rate system unless provided with a fixed time contract.

Clearly establish the names and addresses of all persons involved, and be open an honest if you have any connection with any Party. By connection I mean personal knowledge to even being a member of the same Trade Organisation. If you have met one Party or more, state where and on what occasion (Trade Fair etc). If one Party is famous or well known, you should state if you have heard of them, otherwise clearly state that you have NOT met or heard of these Parties before the case. These precautions will ensure that nobody can dismiss your report as biased.

Subject to following instructions from a Solicitor, set out to describe the works under dispute in plain English, in a way that a third Party can visualise the site, and gain a full insight into the problems that are the cause of the dispute, providing the reader with detailed descriptions of all aspects, answering questions that naturally arise during such descriptions, thereby producing a fully detailed, comprehensive verbal picture of the situation.

The role of Expert Witness is an essential part of the legal process of helping people to seek redress in Court, which means ensuring that due protocol and compliances are adhered to all times.

Alan Sargent FCIHort MPGCA

Autumn 2019.


Head Gardeners – Legal Responsibilities

I am frequently asked about the difference between a Gardens Manager and a Head Gardener, and what responsibilities are required for the positions. In order to do this, we need to recognise that there are different types of employer. It would be confusing to attempt to describe the ramifications of working for these various types – Privately owned, owner use only,  Privately owned, with business i.e. tax benefits if the property is used for entertaining or management training events, Corporate gardens, attached to (say) a Hotel or Club, and  a host of other permutations on the theme. They must all have one thing in common; a Responsible Person.

Essentially, in all cases, there is one person In Charge of both the property and the staff, with every element coming under their wing. In the case of a private garden i.e. non-commercial property, existing solely as a residence for the owner/s, the person identified in all contracts regarding the garden as being ‘the Employer’ will be deemed to be the person responsible. Let us place him or her ‘Top of the Responsibility Tree’. That named person or persons will be deemed legally responsible  for any shortcomings in respect of  Management matters including the welfare of the staff, insurances, liabilities and any other aspect of governance that may come before a Court of Law.

In the case of a private/commercial property or estate, there is likely to be a number of Directors or Managers perhaps with a Board of Trustees. In this event, The Company Secretary is normally held to be the person responsible (Top of the Responsibility Tree) as the position of Company Secretary is usually associated with that charge. Depending on the nature of the Estate – some will be ‘historical’, others sporting or specialists in weddings or displays – other employees may be charged with handling specific legal matters.

When I talk about Courts of Law and Legal Matters, I do not wish to imply that everyone concerned is going to have any dealings with such serious business, but to explain the hierarchal nature of being responsible for the aforementioned welfare of the property and employees. There must be one or more person in charge, and various grades of subordinates may be appointed under them. That person should be named in your Contract of Employment, without exception. (It may be that more than one name is included, for example Mr and Mrs, or Mr and Mr etc)

In this context, if we examine the role of Gardens Manager/Head Gardener – usually one and the same, although in rare cases, the Gardens Manager may be separate/superior to, and work with, a Head Gardener. The degree of responsibility and limit of liabilities should be clearly set out in the Contract of Employment. This is the primary reason I warn against agreeing to undertake ‘other duties as you may be called upon to perform’ without specifically stating that those duties shall be limited to matters that may be associated with the position of ‘Gardener’.

In this instance, it is not unreasonable to expect the most senior employee with direct responsibility for the wellbeing of the garden/estate grounds, whether titled Gardens Manager (usually a more administrative position) or Head Gardener (often more practical) to ‘know their job’ as the most experienced person employed specifically to that position. Similarly, the Managers of Human Resources, Events or Security for example, are held   responsible for their departments, as the ostensible stewards of those offices.

The depth or level of that responsibility will be directly held to be that which may be reasonably assumed both by the actual position within the ‘company’ and the amount or grade level of salary. In other words, if your title is Head Gardener, and you are in charge of the garden and all matters relating to your department, you would be held responsible for your own actions and decisions together with those of every subordinate member of your departmental staff and contractors/sub-contractors working under your guidance. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the Head Gardener is capable of organising and running their business area, if they are appointed and paid a professional wage to do the job.

Such is the nature of ‘Legal Responsibility’ of the Gardens Manager/Head Gardener. The position enables the holder to decide both short and long term policy. For example, Training Programmes, imported materials onto site, and all decisions regarding practical aspects of the site including its uses and limitations and a host of other related subjects are all ‘Policy.’

All matters relating to the grounds are in your hands, and you should expect to be consulted by others before any decisions are made in relation to the site. This statement should be borne in mind during much of the next two Stages, as it cannot be repeated often enough!

There is a very important point I am trying to establish here, hence the convoluted nature of my statements. It is the point of principle that states that a person should not be given – or accept – a title indicating responsibility i.e. ‘Head Gardener’ if they have no actual  authority over the garden, budgets, work force (if any) or any decisions that are made in the running of the property. A title without any meaningful foundation, one which is bestowed to perhaps compensate for a low salary, is  not deemed worthy of the name, and the individual concerned should not be expected to be responsible simply by holding a title.

Hence the need to fully establish the comprehensive wording of your Terms and Conditions of Employment, including the correct title that goes with the job description and level of responsibility, liability and authority.

Taking charge of the garden

Your first day at work – you have walked the site and tried to memorise as much as possible, and made many mental notes regarding the location of various buildings and their contents. Let us assume that you are starting work in a large private garden, with three other members of staff whom you have met briefly during your interview stage walk round. You arrive twenty minutes early to create a good impression and introduce yourself once again to the others as they arrive. This first impression is the one they will carry henceforth!

Too much ‘matiness’ and you will have lost the initial opportunity to command hierarchal respect. Too formal and stiff and they will immediately be wary and defensive. Bear in mind that they will have heard/gleaned information about you and your previous history, but they will not know what you have been told about them. If you limit the amount of conversation to introductions, and ask them to show you the mess room or their changing rooms and facilities, then sit – with permission, in the chair they proffer, it is their domain after all – and tell them that you will be getting to know them all better as soon as possible.

 In the meantime, ask if they have duties to be getting on with until you have had an opportunity to produce work schedules, but if possible, would one of them mind showing you around the immediate work area/sheds/office/workshop. Thank them for their welcome, and send them off to work.

Just as at your interview, the first three seconds of meeting you will influence their attitude towards you for a long time. Hopefully, you will have been briefed by your employer regarding the various attributes of the other staff members, and it is particularly important that you are informed if any of them had applied, or mentioned applying for, your job. If you have a resentful staff member, you may not be immediately aware that you have ‘taken their job’, and instead wonder at their treatment of you. This is something you may have the opportunity to ask at the time of your interview – but only after the job offer has been made!

Before you can ‘take charge’ of the grounds, it is important that you establish as far as possible how the previous Head Gardener organised matters. This information should be teased out of your self – appointed ‘guide’ – do not be afraid of making obvious notes, as this open display will ensure they impart more detail than you would otherwise have gathered. It will make them feel more knowledgeable, important  and helpful, knowing that they are being listened to. This initial walk round with a staff member (as opposed to the employer or Director) should provide you with a much deeper understanding, not only of how the garden has been run, but more importantly, how the staff think that things should be organised – and why.

Ask to see any available plans or drawings of the site. Although these may have been tabled at the interview, they now take on a new and more important relevance. Notice in particular, any names or other titles that have been given to certain areas of the garden. Some gardens have many such labels – everything from ‘Library Lawn’ to ‘Duchesses’ Pond’ or ‘Main Drive’ to ‘Eleven Acre Wood’. These notations will play a critical part in your plans and programme, and if there are none, the production of a site plan should be one of your priorities. Without a plan, you will have to rely on descriptions to indicate the whereabouts of a particular area when it comes to issuing future instructions.

Even the most basic site plan, drawn to scale as best as possible, perhaps with the assistance of a staff member, and pinned up in the staff room, will enable you to begin to demonstrate the efficiency of your work methods without making an issue out of the subject. This plan will provide you with a major building block introducing not only elements of training, but also of giving ownership of the garden to the staff in a very subtle manner.

The plan should show all lawns, driveways, entrances and exits, woodlands, orchards, nurseries, beds and borders, buildings, ponds and pools, tennis court and swimming pool – all of the major parts of the grounds. Each of these areas should be given a name. Unless obvious i.e. tennis court, consider letting the staff to nominate a title for (say) a lawn or border. That name will be added to the plan and henceforth be the title of that area.

Once the areas have been named, add the dimensions against each item e.g. Library Lawn 20x x 80m = 1600m2. This information, clearly shown on the plan, not only indicates the location of the site, but the size/area. This in turn, will prove invaluable when working out the areas for (say) lawn treatment or mulch. Once measured, there will be no need to revisit the area each time when placing orders for materials.

The plan should also indicate the location of water points, including taps and stop cocks. Dependent on the nature of the garden, you may wish to use irrigation pipes or sprinklers, and the opportunity to test each tap for water pressure is invaluable. Too much pressure, and the sprinklers will discharge mist – too little and they will not operate efficiently.  As often happens, especially in old properties, each tap will vary in capacity and volume, and it is useful to note the individual pressures at the point of delivery.

This is calculated either with a bar pressure gauge, or preferably (in this instance, as you are demonstrating your knowledge and training others at the same time, without stating your intentions to do so) by a slightly more primitive method.

A simple technique is to calibrate a small tank or plastic container, and fill with an amount of water decanted using a known capacity container e.g. two gallon watering can. Place a total of five gallons into the tank/container and clearly mark that water level inside the tank walls. Turn on the tap to be assessed and count the number of seconds it takes to reach that five gallon mark. Multiply by sixty to work out the number of gallons per hour. Convert to litres if you wish!

You may wish to add other information to your site plan. This could include access points to gain entrance to certain areas, and the condition of those points. Narrow gates or deep mud may be noted, overhanging branches preventing high sided vehicles, steep gradients or sloping tracks – all may be added at some stage, not necessarily during the initial survey.

Lakes and ponds, swimming pools and other substantial bodies of water should also be added, including their dimensions and water volume. Lakes and ponds may be valuable as water sources during periods of drought, and subject to permission from The Environment Agency, utilised by means of pumps. (E.A. permission may vary from region to region).

Swimming pools need cleaning/emptying/filling and treatment, and the capacity/volume is important when assessing chemical stocks and storage requirements.

There are various methods of calculating the volume of water in a pool.  One of the simplest is to measure – in feet and inches (I always use Imperial measurement for water volumes, as they are the most accurate – at least as far as I am concerned!) the length by the depth by the width and multiply by 6.25 to give you the volume in gallons. For example, a pool 12ft x 8ft x 3ft multiplied by 6.25 gives a figure of 1,800 gallons. Convert to litres if you wish, but the method is accurate. All measurements should be average, i.e. average depth (estimated) X average width (estimated) X average length (estimated) in the case of ponds, or perhaps you may be more precise when dimensioning swimming pools or formal ponds.

All of these points are made to provide you with a positive, practical, informative and fun way of introducing your skills and techniques to the staff, whist at the same time, giving them ownership of the garden by allowing them to partake in the detailed examination of the site and producing a valuable document upon which to build the future programmes and working practices.

You will have taken charge of the site and started a meaningful relationship with the staff without them realising that they have been inducted into your style of management!  Much more of this later on  when we discuss Establishing Your Working Rules in greater   detail.

You are now able to begin to work out your vision for the future, steadily gleaning information, and gently guiding both the staff and the employer towards the possibilities of the garden. Remember to continue to hold your counsel. Privately formulate a Personal Mission Statement, one that encompasses all of the merits of the site, together with all the deficiencies whatever they may be. Look at all the missed opportunities that you may have identified, and seek out any reasons for their omission to date. The reasons may be oversight, lack of design ability/imagination or budgetary constraints in previous years.

This Mission Statement is not a management tool, it has no real tangible meaning or value, at least until it is processed, but it is the first step towards other goals. Any future presentations may be made after full consideration and understanding of the site and its’ potential for improvement or greater efficiency.

Making an inventory of Staff, Site and Equipment

As you will appreciate, the greatest asset you will have is your staff. Without their willingness and ability to assist you in the well running of the garden, you will find life very difficult. Therefore it is vital that you discover as soon as possible the value of that asset. Whether you have a large team or one part time worker, you need to get to know them, as individuals, with all of their gifts, skills, talents and hang ups. Many of these skills and talents may not be of immediate use to you in the garden, but other attributes e.g. languages, history, art or fish keeping may well prove useful to the department at some stage.

They may be many, and you but one individual, and so it will prove helpful if you can arrange an initial meeting, together with your employer making the introductions (then leaving!) as by dint of this formal introduction, you will hear at first hand the way you have been introduced to the staff. It is a wise precaution to prime your employer (or the person making the introduction) regarding anything you may find embarrassing – ‘This is Bill Sykes, who was Head Gardener at Buckingham Palace and has won ten gold medals at Chelsea’ may not be the most helpful of initial statements.

You may then introduce yourself, and include any personal information you deem fit, including your love of Rock Music, motorcycles and writing poetry and you breed Rough Collies for a hobby. Thank them for their time, and request an informal chat at a time to suit their work schedule. (You should always place their work value at a high level of importance). You may then programme your meetings at a time mutually agreed, in a place where you will not be disturbed. Don’t use the Mess room, as this is a communal area, to which all members of staff should have unrestricted access during working hours. Ensure there are no interruptions, telephone calls, and that mobile phones are switched off.

These informal chats will give an opportunity to talk TO the individual, not AT them. Tell them that they know the garden far better than you, and that you would appreciate all the help they can give you. All comments and opinions will be noted – let them know that you will be proactive, not reactive. You believe in sorting out problems before they occur, and as they know the way the garden ‘works’, you will be relying on them.

I suggest that you do not invite them in order of seniority, indeed, ensure that you do not start with the Foreperson, but a genuine mix of experience and time served will not allow any preconceived ideas or thoughts of you seeking an opportunity to hear tales about other staff members. (It may a good idea to have a quiet word with the most senior person to explain your motives and avoid any misunderstandings and ‘ruffled feathers!’)

Keep the desk clear of notes or personal files and details. This is YOUR chat, not a formal HR review. Avoid talking about other staff members, and if any such mention is made, gently steer the conversation away from personalities. Never allow anyone to criticise the employers or any other individual. This is not the opportunity for complaints!

Make as many notes as you wish, especially regarding their next of kin etc. The HR department may well have their files, but relationships end, and the official records may not be up to date.

If your staff are drivers, even if they do not drive ‘company’ vehicles, you must have a copy of their drivers licence, which you will photocopy for your personal records. All vehicles driven into and onto the property must be taxed and insured, even private cars. Any accidents with visitors or staff, including tradespeople and postal workers will be fraught if they are not fully compliant, and this matter will be under your immediate jurisdiction as they work in your business area.

You may wish to ask personal questions regarding the way they see their role in the garden. Do they have any training they would like to undertake? How do they see their work load? What parts of the job do they like or dislike? Avoid questions regarding their future plans, as they may feel intimidated should they have any  ideas of eventually applying for another job or immigrating, and their answer potentially taint any opportunities for advancement within their current employment.

Equipment Evaluation and Inventory

Even the most modest garden will have tools and equipment, and a professionally organised site will have records and inventories. As a part of your initial survey and staff discussions, you may be presented with an inventory of such equipment, perhaps including a schedule of materials in stock (weedkillers, fertilisers etc). These records should be dated and will hopefully indicate that they are completed on a regular (annual) basis. IT IS IMPORTANT that you do not use this inventory when making your own assessments, merely note its’ existence and file it away, unread.

Working with a member of staff if possible (or perhaps the owner may like to be involved during this procedure), gather together all items of equipment, including hand tools, no matter what their condition. It may be necessary to have several different locations for this exercise, dependent of the size of the property. It may be advisable to undertake this operation at the weekend, when everything is gathered in to the yard, and not in use around the garden.

Produce a list of everything, including all hand tools (as these should have been recorded in previous lists) and include manufacturers name, type and variety or capacity (in case of chain saws, strimmers etc) and identification numbers. Note too, the condition of the items, and clearly indicate those which should be destroyed and replaced. In the case of equipment that has a legal ‘shelf life’ e.g. hard hats and work helmets, note the date of expiry of legal use (usually five years from date of manufacture – not date of purchase).

I find it useful to mark each item with a waterproof permanent marker, once it has been recorded, to avoid confusing one with another, especially if you have dozens of spades, forks, etc. Include all fuel cans, their condition and capacity.

In case of larger equipment, it is essential to glean as much information as possible during the process of making your inventory. For example, in the case of a tractor, all attachments fixed onto the machine, as well as those that are additional or special purpose e.g, grass tyres, spade lugs, additional wheels, back hoe, spare hoses and linkages – anything and everything connected to that item of machinery needs to be recorded under one heading.

Electric tools need to be listed separately, as these require annual inspection and awarded a valid certificate issued by a qualified electrician. These are only valid for one year, and must be renewed. Incidentally, ALL electrical equipment used on site, including those owned by staff members e.g. kettles, microwaves, radios etc MUST also be checked and certified if they are to be used on the property. A ‘sticker’ will be affixed to the item, and a full record made by the electrician, with a copy for your records as Head Gardener, to be kept in your office, with perhaps a copy for the mess room notice board.

All ladders must be listed and their condition checked for damage. Note the heights, type and method of storage. Any defects at all must result in the ladder being condemned and a notice affixed stating that this item MUST not be used – it is to be destroyed. If you allow a ladder to be used that is known to be defective, you will have no answer to allegations of neglect of duty.

Plant material including container grown stock,  trees and shrubs held in a nursery area, house plants, orchids, compost and plant containers, tree stakes and ties, greenhouse or conservatory plants – all of these have a value, or cost money at some time, and should be noted, including their current condition.

Personal Protective Equipment – whilst this will be covered under Health and Safety, a full inventory of equipment should be recorded under the banner of Inventories, if only for valuation and condition purposes. Bearing in mind that any alterations to PPE may well render such items as unserviceable, it is perhaps politic to address this matter sooner rather than later i.e. during the inventory process. For example, safety helmets decorated with stickers or painted with personalised ‘names’ may well render them not fit for purpose as certain adhesives may cause the material to be chemically altered. There should be a notice to that effect inside the lining of the lid, and therefore no dispute should arise. All such potentially contaminated helmets must be destroyed and replaced immediately.


It is important to note that under no circumstances is it permissible to give away any item deemed unfit for use through damage or time limitation to another person. If it could be held that an item (say, an electric drill) that had failed the annual examination, and was presented to a third party with or without your knowledge, and an accident occurred that injured someone even off site, you could be held liable. ALWAYS destroy – put beyond reach or repair – all defective items.

Chemical stocks should also  come under the heading of Inventories – we will discuss storage and security later – and once again, everything should be listed (including road salt, swimming pool sundries etc), including name of manufacturer, volume or amount, type of container, type e.g. fertiliser, insecticide, pesticide etc, together with any date shown on the packaging or other means of identifying a likely/probable date of purchase/manufacture.

Once you have all of this information – and it will no doubt be a long list indeed, hence the suggestion that you invite another member of staff to join you in the operation – it should be presented in a book form together with file copies (one for your records (book), one for the owner and one for the staff room).

Schedule as clearly and concisely as possible, beginning with a detailed statement of equipment and machinery, showing not only all attachments etc, but also the date of purchase, replacement value and identification marks (including a note if trackers are fitted)

followed by electrical equipment (with a separate list of staff owned items, just for the record). Both of these lists will be of major value in case of fire or theft, thus the more informative they are, the better. (One such list to be held elsewhere in case of fire or theft).

The list of small and hand tools will be long, and it is helpful to keep the items in order i.e. spades, forks, rakes, fuel cans, hose pipes, ladders etc to avoid it becoming meaningless and confusing. These may be numbered individually for ease of identification.

EACH OF THESE LISTS should include those items that have been condemned to be destroyed, either by marking them in a different colour ink or with an unmistakeable notation against each one. A separate list of condemned items may be produced, and this repetition will help to reinforce the importance of removing the items out of use.

It may well be that a number of chemicals have also passed their useful life or legal expiry dates. These will require specialist attention, which will vary from estate to estate. Some gardens are attached to farms, and the Farm Manager may be called in to arrange for their removal and destruction. Dependent on the type and amount of unwanted/expired chemicals it may be possible to arrange for collection by a professional company. Needless to say, they should not be destroyed by the Gardens Staff!

As I mentioned, it is wise not to rely on any inventory you may be presented with, and if you accept it at face value, you will have taken ownership of it, and any shortfalls will become your responsibility and liability. Having produced your own inventory, it will be illuminating to check your factual lists against those of the previous one. Even accepting that some of the tools may have been damaged since last year, and some of the time limited expiry dates have passed, you may find that your list bears little resemblance to the original. Tools will have been broken and not replaced, lost or stolen and not missed, purchased and not recorded, materials used and not replaced – there will be a distinct difference between the two documents, hence it is expedient to not accept any existing inventory as being valid.


Over and above aforementioned aspects of making inventories of the garden, and establishing the whereabouts of different features and potential uses of the grounds, it is advisable to make your own assessments of the site – or at least, those areas that may come under your control. Such evaluations may include those areas that surround the property under your immediate personal supervision, such is the wide and varied nature of ‘gardens’.

For example, many gardens employing a team of gardeners are sited within gated grounds, with many dozens – even hundreds of houses with gardens ranging in size from one to four or more acres, each self – contained yet within a global world of private property. An example of this would be St Georges’ Hill, Weybridge, or perhaps the Wentworth Estate, both in the South East of England. All houses and gardens within these gated regions will have many restrictions placed on them. Many factors, including times of access to the grounds by any vehicle (including the Head Gardener’s car!) being restricted to between (say) 08.00 and 18.00 Monday to Friday, or at no time during Public or Bank Holidays.  Such restrictions will have a major impact on the running of the garden, especially reference glasshouse controls, watering, turf welfare etc that must be taken into consideration when organising work schedules.

Other restrictions may include noise levels and times when the use of all motorised equipment is forbidden, the lighting of fires, storage and composting, plus the use of certain types of equipment, including access platform lorries may be prohibited (privacy issues). So many rules and regulations – Bye Laws in effect – that will heavily influence the way the garden is run. If the employer considers that you should know about these things, they may not be mentioned at any time during the job interview!

Many gardens departments are run out of buildings adapted over the years from (perhaps) stables or piggeries, barns or milking parlours and pressed into use for the gardens team. Very often, they were never designed for such purpose, and are far from suitable. Even dedicated garden buildings such as a potting shed or conservatory are inadequate for modern use, including security, storage or practicality. As with all matters discussed in these pages, due to the extreme diversity of the locations and sites we are presented with, please make your own schedules, to suit both your specific site and personal requirements. All of these words can only ever serve as a general guide!

Create a schedule of all relevant buildings, noting size, accessibility, access road surfaces and their existing condition including potential load bearing, having due regard to power steering. If you consider that a shed may be accessed only with a small van or lorry, include that fact in your schedule. If a driveway shows signs of weakness, make the necessary notes.

Note too, height, condition of doors – both from the point of safety and security, roof condition and roofing materials (asbestos? crawling boards required? Safety notices? Anti-climb paint/signs? Floor material – sound, clean, dry, evidence of vermin? Overhead cables?

Ambient light. Is the room too dark to work in safely without additional facilities? Are all lights working effectively, with appropriate wattage for the area and site use?

Signage.  Although the legal requirements of signage will vary from site to site, No Smoking, Deep Water, Use Crawling Boards, Fire Point, Do Not Enter, and a whole plethora of signs may be seen. Make a schedule of those you notice, and perhaps check on others you may need. Don’t forget the requisite Health & Safety at Work signs (See Health and Safety).

Electrical points, lights, capacity and type, fixtures and fitting, shelving and potential load bearing, fire extinguishers (more on these later under Health & Safety), noting age, condition, types and useage, signage, locations, accessibility in case of fire, history of inspection notices.

Mess/Staff Room – is there a suitable room set aside for staff to take meals? There are a number of Laws covering the requirements for the provision of Staff rooms especially in relation to eating. These include a flat, clean, dry adequate area to place food, food heating facilities that must be clean and in good order, a seat with a back, hand washing facilities etc, together with clean towels. (Note; Televisions are not permitted unless they are covered by a specific Television licence for that building.) But as many of these Laws do not relate to private property or domestic sites, so many gardeners are not covered. More on this subject later, but the provision of a staff dining area should not be ignored because of a grey area in Law. Staff welfare must be a primary concern of every employer and Head Gardener.

My comments on the use of the Mess room concern those observations that may not appear in any legal document. I have mentioned before that the Staff room/mess room should be a private area in which your team can relax in comfort. Very often this will manifest in each person bringing their own personal chair into the room, and certainly, they will select ‘their’ place around the table. The Mess room should not be the repository of their personal protective clothing (PPE) or muddy boots – these should be stored elsewhere.

Each team member should have their own private locker to store personal items, and I strongly recommend that you do not permit any valuables, including IPads, watches, wallets, mobile ‘phones etc to be left unattended. What may at first sight appear to be a compliment to other staff members – ‘I trust you with my gear’ – becomes a major problem if something is missing or mislaid. EVERYBODY becomes a suspect, and that is simply unfair.

A simple cabinet style locker should be provided for each staff member, comprised of 50mm x 50mm timber, with a weld mesh style cage on all sides, perhaps with shelving for personal tools e.g. secateurs, complete with a padlockable door, large enough to hold personal clothing, perhaps a crash helmet, hand bag, rucksack etc, together with PPE that is either ‘dry’ e.g. safety helmet or chain saw boots, or other protective clothing that is not requiring to be dried. (It is not advisable to have the staff clothes drying area within the same room/area as the Staff/mess room. The drying area is usually situated in the vicinity of the boiler room or other suitable place.)

Each person should be  issued with a key for their own locker, and  be held responsible for all items contained therein, and to ensure that the door is kept locked when it is not in use.

The Mess room may also be used to display a Staff Notice board, showing  various items of interest, both personal and instructive memos from your office, but should not include any contentious articles or photographs that may be deemed offensive by anyone who has reasonable grounds to enter the room. These items will include ‘pin up’ photographs or racial comments, and it is your responsibility to ensure they are not displayed.

This is also the place for a wall chart displaying Holidays, on a week by week basis (copies available from all good stationers or on-line), showing dates and lengths of holidays (perhaps also showing number of holiday days left for each individual?) to show the staff how much/little time there is left on the working calendar.

As previously mentioned, very few gardens have purpose built facilities, and various modern legal requirements will need to be addressed as best as possible. For example, apart from ‘No Smoking’ signs, current legislative material such as Health & Safety at Work posters, Safety at Work signs and posters displayed for potential work place hazards as may apply to your site, including Electric Shock and other life saving techniques must be displayed.

Somewhere, in the Mess/Staff room there should be a cold drinking water tap and a hot water tap/sink with draining board, together with a full First Aid kit suited to the number of staff in the department (or are likely to be on site), and importantly – an eye washing station, together with eye cleansing fluids and clean dry towels.

The Mess/staff room should be kept in clean and tidy order at all times to discourage vermin. The waste bin – especially if left over food is placed therein, must be emptied daily. It is often good policy to start a staff rota, with one person per week appointed to be responsible for the tidiness and cleanliness of the room/s.  You may wish to include yourself as a matter of course if you are a user of the facilities, and add checking the First Aid kit contents as a part of that routine.

Finally on mess rooms – although I feel sure you can add your own ‘rules’ – I once visited a garden in which the staff room ‘fridge’ was filled with bottles of alcohol, each brought back from an exotic holiday by different staff members. Although perfectly innocent in a way, if there was ever an accident, and the HSE arrived, you can imagine how embarrassing such a discovery would be to the Head Gardener!  In such a case, give the team one hour to empty the ‘fridge and take home whatever they want. No questions asked.  Just get them off site!

The Head Gardeners Office

Whilst I fully appreciate that every site is different, and that many Head Gardeners will be fortunate enough to have a small area within a mixed use building, it should be the primary objective, when taking over a site, to try to establish a custom built room – even a portioned area within a larger building – where you may organise your personal work station.

The first priority will be a clean, dry, warm dust free environment, where a computer/word processor and photo copier may be left without damage through cold, damp or dust. It is also advisable to have some form of ‘dirt barrier’ to avoid muddy boots and dusty clothing from entering the room.

The room should be large enough to seat two people at a comfortable distance apart, so that one person does not invade the personal space of another. This is particularly important when conducting interviews of any kind. The Office is your private area where Two Way Reviews, planning of work schedules, discussions with company representatives and disciplinary matters may be held  privately and without fear of interruption. (With a suitable ‘Do Not Disturb – Meeting In Progress’ sign for the door.)

It should contain a lockable  filing cabinet, containing copies of staff reviews and personal details (in case of emergency), staff driving licence documents, together with weekly site meeting records, Management meeting minutes, spraying records and fire extinguisher/electricians reports etc, are held on file for future reference.

You will also require a land line telephone, with perhaps the base station for any site radio systems you may have in the Gardens Department with a list of other site telephones and useful addresses/numbers. It is advisable, in case of emergency, to have the National Grid reference details of the site immediately obvious in case of a medical alert when the Air Ambulance may be required. (This information is available on – line, or in collusion with the Emergency Services if your site is particularly remote or difficult to locate, or is a Sporting venue e.g. Shooting or Fishing Estate)

It is also helpful to the well running of the garden if a library of suitable books is held for use by the Head Gardener and loaned to staff if requested. Furthermore, a colour photo-copier is useful for showing  the colours of (say) plants and flowers without carrying a selection of books under your arm.

First and foremost, The Head Gardeners Office is the hub of the garden. It is the working heart of the site, from which all things evolve. It is the place where the owners, staff and all visitors will know as the constant source of knowledge, either from the Head Gardener personally, or the secrets contained in the library and on the computer!

Budgets, and Budgetary Understanding

Unless you have a very wealthy employer, who will provide you with whatever you want, just by asking for it, there is every likelihood that you will have to make formal requests for expenditure. On many occasions, this will simply be a case of spending on an ‘as needs’ basis, but many employers cannot understand that machinery purchased only a few years ago is no longer fit for purpose. Even when presented with factual evidence showing that the cost of repairs is going to be prohibitive, some will prefer to spend a few hundred pounds on mending a worn out mower than investing in new equipment. This is one reason why budgets and controlled/ managed finances should be discussed and a forward looking programme instigated at the time of interview or pre-acceptance of the job.

Working for a private owner, having inherited a selection of tools and equipment, the powerful tool of the inventory may be used to good effect. If you can show documentary evidence that the amount of equipment you have now, together with a schedule of new items you require including notes showing your logic and the costs per annum of running the more expensive machinery as opposed to continually repairing old tools, you will have a strong case for your requests.

Such matters should not arise in more ‘commercial’ gardens, as the costs will be off set against tax for accountancy purposes, with a structured system probably already in place. In the case of machinery, you would be well advised to take into consideration more than one option when it comes to high price items. Depending on the nature of the property, and the requirement for the Gardens Department to be a Cost Centre when set against income and expenditure for taxation and accounting purposes, it may require a more structured analysis.

If the site derives income through public engagements e.g. Weddings and Conferences, the grounds and their visual beauty will become part of the genuine cost and expenditure necessary to provide that venue, and your role as a cost centre will probably form part of a much larger picture. It may be that the owners and their financial advisers prefer to operate a system of structured expenditure that will suit a finance package of lease hire or lease purchase (lease hire being a series of regular payments over a given period of time, with the item never becoming the property of the lessee.  Lease purchase is similar except that the final payment plus an agreed lump sum will see the item become the property of the lessee, and the payment terms are staged accordingly).

Put simply, the employer may wish to operate a system that will suit both your requirements and those of the garden and property at large. Strict budgeting is therefore required, and your understanding of the needs of the ‘business’ will be very important to your position as Head Gardener. Obviously, not every penny spent of the Gardens Department will be set against the Income Stream (from events), although perhaps in the case of Hotel grounds, that may well be the case, but only if agreed by the Tax Authorities.

Strict budgeting will be required, and if you have been presented with budgets set in previous years as a template from which to work, you would be wise to look carefully through the figures, and not take them at face value. On too many occasions, these budgets were worked out years ago, and updated annually to take into consideration inflation or some other arbitrary figure as the basis for adjustments, without taking on board other factors. If you suspect such practices, place your reservations on record with your employer/line manager, and begin to produce your own figures, allowing for your preferred method of purchasing and periods of repayments. I will be looking more closely at purchasing equipment in the next couple of pages, but the relevance of setting out your own figures will provide you with an opportunity to obtain the new equipment you wish.

You need not get involved in the running costs of the garden, certainly not in a global manner. That is for the owners and their financial advisers to deal with. It will be necessary though, to ask for guidance regarding Capital Expenditure on larger items. ‘Cap Ex’ is the system whereby expensive purchases have their cost spread over a period of years, to suit the bigger tax picture of the business. For example, the cost of a vehicle  at £20,000 may be spread over four years if such an arrangement suits the owner and is cost effective in terms of tax. All you need to know, for your figures, is the amount per annum you need to build into your budget. Don’t forget to add running costs including maintenance and consumables such as tyres.

There are other options to consider when acquiring capital expenditure equipment, including fixed term mileage/hours operated contracts whereby a third party ‘Agent’ or provider of expensive machinery. These may be more tax effective, and suitable only to the more ‘commercial’ types of garden, but once again, everything depend on the employer and their situation.

Other items may be short term, or limited period expenditure. For example, you may decide to spread 75mm of compost/mulch over all beds in the first two years, and split the costs of materials over that period. As this will be a reasonably finite project that will not require repeating for a few years, it should be noted as such. It will not therefore appear on your budget after that time, and affect future figures. There are so many permutations of the theme of budgeting, but the ‘rules’ remain the same. Always cost as accurately as possible, include everything you need, perhaps in order of priority, always recognising that you may have to cut your requests accordingly should the cost be too high.

One cost that will increase annually is that of labour. Although you may have little to do with setting wages and rates of pay, you may need to recover some of the costs against taxation, as a cost centre. Therefore you need to be aware of the cost per hour for the purposes of setting Labour Charge Rates. In order to do so in a meaningful manner, you will have to take into consideration the total cost per annum of each employee (although you may set an average rate per hour per worker for ease of accountancy) and divide that cost by the number of ‘paid’ hours in the year.

Take a normal working week as 40 hours, multiply by 52 weeks, which is the total amount of time you must pay the employee. Taking into consideration Bank Holidays, Annual Leave, average sick pay and down time, the total figure of 2,080 hours (52 x 40) reduces to only 1,800 working hours or 45 weeks @ 40 hours. Therefore you need to divide the labour cost of (say) £15,000 p.a. PLUS 20% Employers Related Costs (ERC), which gives a figure of

£18,000 p.a.  Therefore, the cost of £18,000, divided into 1,800 hours, becomes £10.00 p.h

The recharge cost of £10.00 per hour must to added to all other Departmental costs, which may include rent, rates, water, electricity, tools and equipment (not Cap Ex), heating oil, insurance, training costs, staff costs inc. PPE – the total projected cost of running the department (excluding labour). Supposing this amounted to another £18,000 p.a. adding another £10.00 per hour on the same rechargeable basis as the labour rate was determined, you now have a total of £20.00 per hour. Don’t forget to add in the Cap Ex charges, which may be another £5.00 per hour, and you see how quickly that modest wage payment of only a few pounds per hour becomes a recharge rate of £25.00 per hour. This rate will be your departmental charge rate for all Weddings, Conferences etc, to be added to the client’s bill in whichever form the employer decides.

(Only if you actually work as a rechargeable employee should you add your time into the mix. If you are not an ‘earning’ member of the Team, your costs need to be included in the overall figures)

Obviously, the division of Departmental costs will decrease with the number of employees. If all costs are to be borne by three employees, the cost per person will be higher than if they were divided between ten workers, and the resultant rechargeable rate will be lower.

There is no accurate formula for this equation, as the more staff you have, the more equipment and overheads you may incur. As always, please use these notes as a general guide and reminder of the myriad items that need to be taken into account.

It may be prudent, according to your circumstances, to consider the cost of employing external labour as a cheaper option. Certainly, if you are working in a ‘professional’ garden, with accountants looking at all financial implications, you may find that the In – House labour becomes unaffordable, at least, on paper and at first sight. For example, if you charge rate is indeed, £25.00 per hour, good quality, bona fide contractors may be used on an ad hoc basis, charging perhaps £20.00 per hour, and paid only for the actual hours worked. I fully appreciate that outside labour will not be as efficient or knowledgeable of the site as the Gardens Team, but at certain times, and at certain events, they may prove a useful addition to the workforce.

Certain projects – or types of work e.g. hedge cutting or rough mowing – may be out sourced to specialist contractors on an annual basis, for an agreed rate per hedge/hectare or project. These fixed costs may prove invaluable if you are operating on a strict budget.

Planning for the future

As we have seen, the requirement to establish and record the current situation is a critical part of taking charge of any garden. Obviously, not every site will demand such a complex chain of documentation and in depth analysis. However, even the more modest gardens with one or more staff – even casual or part time – require an attention to a number of legal requirements, and it as well to be aware of your responsibilities.

Having taken a long and detailed look at the ‘Establishment’ – the buildings, tools and equipment, and those things that construct the working area, it is important to make an depth inventory or Working Practice Survey of how the garden is ‘worked’ by the employer and more especially, the staff.

It is time to take a critical look at the efficiency of operations, and if there is not already a system of time sheets in operation, it is advisable to introduce them as early as possible. Time sheets, with space for name and date (usually ‘week commencing XX XX XXXX) and columns for individual days, sub divided into hours or half days, allowing sufficient room for comments such as ‘hedge cutting’ or ‘strimming’ including details of the location of works. This information should be cross referenced using names and sites previously noted during your period of Taking Charge of the Site, and may include even more information if necessary using codes.

Codes may also be given to activities e.g. 001 = weeding, 002 = hedge cutting in order that this information may be collated, and any particularly onerous or time consuming jobs considered for out sourcing at certain time of the season. Time sheets will prove to the employer and staff exactly where time and money are being expended. This information will also be useful should you wish to request a particular piece of equipment under Capital Expenditure during your meetings with the owners.

Site eyesores; those areas that somehow get neglected, usually at the expense of other places that the gardeners have decided to spend extra time, either because the work is favoured by them – or the eyesore is a particularly unpleasant and difficult site to access. Eyesores may include tree stumps that have been reduced to stumps and allowed to regenerate into ‘shrubs’ right in the middle of a shrub bed, when they should have been either root ground or stump killer applied. Perhaps native specie trees have colonised cultivated borders and staff afraid to remove them without specific instructions.

Communications;  Even if you hold regular morning meetings to discuss and decide the days’ activities, there will always be occasions – usually daily – when staff need to talk with each other, if only to ask questions of a practical nature. Perhaps it is part of your Working Practice Survey to suggest that a number of radios are purchased (Capital Expenditure for tax reasons), with a base control unit. (This is also a very important part of the survey, if you have areas where lone workers may be employed, or in difficult/potentially dangerous sites)

Machinery;  Having produced the inventory, the next step is to ensure that the equipment is maintained in good condition. This means that staff should take personal responsibility for its’ use and well-being,  including handling, transporting, storing and on-site security, especially powered/expensive items.

Each mechanical item (including non-powered e.g. lawn spreaders) should be given a number, firmly and clearly affixed to the unit, to enable accurate identification to be made. Members of staff should initial a hard back book attached by a rope next to the unit, when they collect the tool to use, thereby accepting responsibility for it.  By definition, this process will clearly identify the last user – the person who is responsible for the same return, in good condition, of the tool.

Similarly, a system of tags or cards with a string attached should be fixed to any tool that is in any way faulty, with a note of any defect/s, and the unit taken out of use and placed securely elsewhere to await repair.

It may be, that in the process of compiling a working practice survey, that you include other items such as Health & Safety signs, Fire extinguishers and their condition, H & S posters e.g. Electric Shock at Work etc may become subjects that you could delegate to a suitable member of staff, giving them responsibility for these areas of Management, ensuring they maintain accurate records as part of their duties.

Working Practice Surveys may be as long as you wish, or the site demands. I suggest that they may be widened to include those matters that are difficult to pigeon-hole into your management scheme. For example, I do not wish to see staff working with personal radios plugged into their ears, as this is not only hazardous to other staff members but passersby should they be using certain powered tools. They are not able to hear any change in the note of an engine, perhaps heralding a problem that may be expensive to repair.

Personal mobile telephones are also on my list of banned items, and I do not permit staff to carry or use them during working hours. If they must bring them to work – leave them in their lockers. I do not feel that employers should pay staff to spend ‘firms’money on texting friends and arranging their home life in work time! There is no other trade or job that can think of – factory/office worker, soldier, builder, printer – that permits staff to spend any time on non-emergency communications. Such emergencies are dealt with by providing next of kin with your office number (and management can call the person on their work radio)

By including these things into your W.P.S you are presenting the document as a whole, and any dissatisfaction with your style of management is quickly smoothed over!

Establishing Your Working Rules for the Staff and Employers

It will have become very apparent to everybody – staff and employers alike, that you have taken a firm grip on the site. You have recorded inventories, established the current site conditions, plus points and defects. You have registered and compiled a number of combined yet separate sets of documentation. You have shown that you completely understand the garden, you have the measure of the staff, their strengths and weaknesses, and now need to ensure that your programme for the well-being for the garden and the staff is applied.

Before you begin to present your findings and recommendations to the staff, you will need to gain explicit permission to implement them from your employers. You have identified many problems, and highlighted the importance of making any such alterations as may be required to comply with the Law, and ensure that efficiency and good practice are maintained. (In my experience, employers realise that there were ‘many things wrong’ when you took over, but did not know how to solve problems.)

Certainly, some of the courses you wish to take will prove very unpopular. Taking away radios and mobile ‘phones will cause much complaint! Similarly, removing someone from doing a certain type of work that allows them to become lethargic or less than useful ( I am thinking of such practices as unnecessary hand watering or weeding, chasing a single leaf around the lawns with a blower, two people to lift a lightweight bag of dry leaves  – jobs that may give an impression of ‘busy’ but are not 100% productive.

On the whole though, I find that the staff are more than pleased to be given solid, practical guidance, especially when they know that things have been allowed to drift, and once they see the results of working efficiently and effectively, start to become much more alive and proactive in their working day. I believe that no team really wants to just plod along, and if led by an effective and enthusiastic manager, the difference in happiness and team spirit is quite remarkable!

Alan Sargent FCIHort MPGCA


Applying For A Job As A Head Gardener

There is no standard approach, or formula that may be applied to the decision to apply for a position as Head Gardener. Many of you will already be Head Gardeners, and seek to move on to another property for a wide variety of reasons. As a professional, you may consider that you are not being sufficiently challenged in your existing employment, or you and your family may relish a change of location.

Your interests may change, and you become keen on (say) organic vegetable growing, alpines, top fruit, glasshouses and orangeries – so many different aspects and opportunities for advancement come into play. Sometimes money is a factor, or perhaps a better education/school for your children. Some people do not want to feel  ‘institutionalised’ by working at one place for more than a certain period of time. And so the decision is made to attempt to find another similar or better job.

Certainly, money matters and changes in the life style/life stage of both you and your employer can influence decisions. Sometimes too little opportunity to experiment with or explore new horticultural techniques and ideas can cause boredom to set in, and a creeping realisation that it is somehow’ time to move on!

There can be no doubt that your previous experience will influence your choice of potential jobs, as it will count heavily in your favour at the interview. Progressive experience that will be useful to your new employer, especially skills that you have learned by your own merit – perhaps by extra curriculum activities outside your normal work schedule e.g. plant pathology courses or Health and Safety Legislation will help to set you apart from other applicants.

Your previous and/or current situation may influence the manner in which you learn of new job opportunities. For example, if you currently working for The National Trust, you may learn of a possible opening at (say) a private garden or English Heritage site by word of mouth or perhaps an internal grapevine. You may read of vacancies in The Horticulture Week, LinkedIn, Professional Gardeners Guild announcement or even the local newspaper.

You may choose to apply through an Agency, or other commercial organisation specialising in Horticultural employment. The source of that information will play an important part in how to commence your job application process. As I mentioned, there can be no standard approach, as the overall scenario is so diverse.

Selecting your target job opportunity

Having made a clear decision regarding the type of job you wish to apply for, the location and your basic personal requirements concerning pay scale and employment conditions, you may begin to research opportunities. (This essential personal thresh hold is important. If you need to earn a particular wage in order to provide for your family, this may be your first and only priority.)

Irrespective of how you came to learn of a particular job vacancy, your next step should be to research the new property and employers as thoroughly as possible. Today we have a wide range of research methods, with the internet providing information including the site history, previous and current owners, the value and size of the property, including aerial maps, plans and photographs of the site. It will also state when it last changed hands, and if new owners are living there, the potential for site improvements may be on their agenda.

From these photos, you may note the amount of grass areas, size and number of glasshouses, areas of woodland, wild flower meadows, lakes and ponds, swimming pool, tennis court – just about every physical aspect of the grounds. Access roads and neighbouring properties will also be shown, and you should write all of this visual evidence down as part of your campaign documents.

Let us assume that you heard of the job via an advertisement in The Horticulture Week. The job description should relate to the site you have researched, and any variations should be noted for future reference. For example, the site as described may be larger or smaller than that shown on the internet. Perhaps some of the land has been sold, and if so, the sale may indicate financial problems with the owners. If the photographs indicate glasshouses – don’t forget to check the dates of the aerial pictures – and the advert does not mention glass, you should make notes of these prima facie discrepancies for your records.

The job advertisement description should provide you with many clues – quite apart from obvious statements made in the advert, you should learn to read between the lines! I have included six genuine job vacancy adverts as a separate document in the Stage Two file. I have also added notes to each, highlighting the potential clauses and variations of meaning that may be implied by the words. Several phrases that may appear quite incongruous can have a major impact on your employment conditions, and an awareness on your part is essential. These are by no means comprehensive, but are just examples of ‘standard’ style job vacancy descriptions.

I will discuss some of these phrases as they arise throughout the course, as they could be used to your disadvantage – unless you are aware of them! Be aware too, that often the simplest of job adverts – those with few descriptive words and little information – may hide complications and disguise difficult employers. Sometimes the lack of information may be an indication that there is much to hide!

Researching the Employers

Your campaign file should include as much as you know about the employer at an early stage. Your notes must clearly show YOUR understanding, as far as you can gather, of the actual person or persons you will be working for. If, during subsequent meetings and interviews you are disavowed of that researched information, and you are informed of another person or company that will in fact be your employer, that is not a problem – as long as you know. (Occasionally, a managing agent or third party acts as the ‘employer’ for reasons of security, for example, a film star or famous recluse who does not wish to court publicity)

It will be helpful too, to research the area to establish various family requirements before applying for the vacancy. Accommodation (if any) must be acceptable to you and your family. So it is with the local area. Check out schools and their reputation, distance to the nearest town or railway station if your partner needs to use public transport, and a host of other factors that may be important to you as a family.

Check out too, the type of property if you are not happy to work for certain people. It is no use applying for a position as Head Gardener to a Hunting Estate if you are anti-hunting, shooting or fishing! Driving into the interview car park with ‘Ban Hunting’ stickers displayed on your car will not endear the owners to you!

It will certainly prove useful to establish the precise location of the property, to ensure that you know where it is and how long it will take you to travel for interview. Make sure that you have contact details of the new employer, including telephone and email before you set out in case of any problems. Ensure that you have plenty of battery power/credit on your telephone.

It may also prove valuable to stay overnight at the nearest public house offering Bed and Breakfast. Whilst staying, casually mention to the barman/lady/landlord/locals that you are thinking about applying for the job at XXXX House. You will often find that you will learn a great deal more about the place, and its’ reputation as an employer (or why the last Head Gardener left!) from the locals than you ever will from a job advert!


There are two main Agencies who specialise in the supply of Senior and Head Gardeners. These are Greycoat Placements and English Country Gardeners. Other Agencies will supply gardeners, but not specifically at senior level. If you wish to use an Agency, you do not have to make any payment to them, as all fees are paid by the employer.

You should register with the Agency, and they will request a lot of information, both personal and professional, and hold this on file. Face to face interviews may be required for certain positions. Once a suitable vacancy arises, you will be notified and arrangements for interview put in place. Whilst they are keen to ensure that you find a job – after all, they are a commercial operation – they will not be able to carry out such finite and detailed research as you can yourself.

The Agency will hold your full details, as you have supplied to them, including any previous CRB/DBS security checks quoting reference numbers and dates of issue (although these will/may need renewing before a formal job offer is given to you, along with a medical report) and will pass that information on to a prospective employer. It is in Agencies interest to find the right person for the right job, and they will do everything they can to facilitate a mutually satisfactory end result.

It is helpful to have sight of a copy of their description of you as sent to the potential employer, although any corrections should have been made beforehand. Very often though, there is little time before your registration and the first suitable vacancy announcement and interview.

The Job Interview

Interview One – The Application Form

Yours Curriculum vitae should supply you with the primary requirement of your application. You have submitted your entry, having ensured that it arrived within any deadlines given by the advert/Agency. It is advisable to take a copy of your application in person beforehand – although this advice will depend on the type of job you are applying for. If it is a ‘professional’ organisation, say National Trust or ‘commercial’ say a large country Estate with offices, it is advisable to arrive with your entry and ensure that you obtain a written receipt from Reception before handing it in.

Submitting your application and c.v. documents (in triplicate) in one clean white A4 envelope to ensure that the papers are not folded, with your name and the job position clearly marked in the top right hand corner, within the deadline, complete with a signature is the only sure way to know that your file arrived safely and on time. This will be noted by the interview panel,  as a sensible precaution, especially in a large organisation.

Some organisations, rarely private, usually ‘professional’ will require applications to be made on line. Whilst there is no way around this process, as their HR department will not be geared up to handling anything other than computer generated forms, these do not give you an opportunity to stand out from other applicants. They may have many dozens – hundred even – of applications, the reader will only have a minute or two at the most to scan your entry before either accepting it as a possible, or putting it in the waste bin.

First contact really is that arbitrary.  Unfortunately, there is no way around that situation, but if you have certain letters designate after your name, you should use them against your name, and not bury them in the small print. I appreciate that this may be a contentious statement, but facts are facts! Lucy Smith MCI Hort or Phillip Jones BA (Hons) FCI Hort will have an immediate impact on the reader and get through!

If, for any reason at all, you are not able to make the interview, or you are going to be late, do not get flustered. As long as you give as much warning as possible – icy roads, thick fog, heavy traffic are all unavoidable (unless you take overnight lodgings nearby) – you will not be penalised by the panel. If you are unable to make the appointment at all that day, they may suggest an alternative date, but this is not helpful, especially if they have plenty of choice in their list of candidates!

Arrive in plenty of time, perhaps quietly informing the receptionist that you are on the premises (you may be asked in early, if someone else has withdrawn or is going to be late), and relax! Your shoes are clean, you look very smart – often smart casual/country clothing is the most appropriate, and don’t forget to put some clean wellington boots in the car just in case you are invited for a walk round (unlikely at First Interview, but be prepared).

Avoid all scents, including perfume, aftershave, mints, etc that may be associated with disguising aromas. Avoid eating aromatic food, including curry and garlic, do not drink the evening beforehand, certainly not wine or spirits – anything at all that may impinge on the meeting. These smells can be seriously distracting to the meeting – try to be aroma neutral!

It is widely held that the first three seconds of seeing someone will influence the way the interview is conducted, and I would not disagree with that comment. Walk in confidently, not too cockily! Smile and make eye contact with everyone, including any secretary or staff member. Don’t expect to shake hands with everybody unless it is obviously the right thing to do. Attempting to do so without being invited can often appear clumsy. Do not sit until invited to do so. Do not sit with your arms defensively across your chest, or similarly cross your legs. Do not clutch a portfolio against your chest, and place any documents you have bought with you against your chair leg – don’t just dump them on the table!

Try all of these movements at home – you will learn how to avoid clumsiness and see how you appear to the panel. Try to visualize the whole meeting, each and every question that may come your way. Practice might not make perfect, but it will certainly help with your confidence.

Talk clearly and not too fast. Personally, I find this very difficult, and have to force myself to slow down! Try to identify everyone in the room, asking if necessary, both who they are and what their role is in the interview. If you keep a small note book handy, don’t be frightened to be seen making notes. This particular point may prove  invaluable at a later stage.   (See page 12) Listen carefully to what is being said at all times. Don’t be afraid to ask for any clarifications.

If you are presented with business cards, look at them carefully. Don’t simply glance at them and put them in your pocket. Treat all cards with respect, and show an interest in the person presenting them. If they have a high profile position, a slight nod of the head out of respect is always polite and appreciated.

Do not stare at peoples’ chests – especially the opposite sex (!) as it unsettles the meeting. Try to hold your gaze at nose level and above. Staring at an attractive pair of lips or a film star like finely chiselled chin may be considered flirting, and should be avoided.

Make a mental note of any papers on the desk. If you see only your application, with various notes and comments visible (e.g. slips of paper marking various pages), this is a positive thing. If there are a pile of other applicant packages, how many others have similar slips showing? Is the interview being conducted by rote; are the panel following a set of written ‘rules’ or are they making independent notes?

Try to invite ‘open’ questions – those that give you an opportunity to expand from a personal viewpoint, and try to avoid ‘Yes/No’ questions as they give you no opportunity to shine. If you find that the panel are being too formulaic, or if they ask you for any questions, then seize the chance to ask them open questions. Don’t be afraid to ask what happened to the previous Head Gardener if the opportunity arises. It may be their answer is at variance with the information you gleaned from the pub landlord! Don’t comment, just make a mental note for the future. You will be asked – at any time – if you have any questions. If you cannot think of anything ‘intelligent’, say “not at this time”, not simply “No”.


Case File – Actual Questions from a genuine interview.

(As a consultant, I am increasingly commissioned to either take part in, or organise job interviews and recruit new senior and Head Gardeners. The following document was produced by myself for use at a recent interview. I have changed some of the details to maintain confidentiality, but otherwise, they are accurate.)

(Whilst I am sitting in on the interview, I have asked another member of the panel to ask these questions, so that I may make notes. The questioner will not have full knowledge of the answers I am seeking, and has been asked not to respond to any queries, but refer them to myself.)

“XXXX is widely held to be one of the finest XXX in the world. The XXX buildings and grounds at XXX are also some of the most famous and historic in the world, and the nuber of high quality applications we have received for the post of Head Gardener reflects that status”

(Here, I am setting the scene for the candidates by stating that this is a very important post and that the calibre has been very high. Statements such as these help to cement the seriousness of the process that is about to take place)

“You are to be congratulated on reaching the short list from such a reservoir of talent. It necessarily follows that the interview today will include many challenging questions. Are you happy to proceed with the interview?”

(Of course, nobody would decline such an offer, but again, the candidate is being readied for a serious conversation. This is not small talk!)

Q.  “Your curriculum vitae is very impressive – what do you consider to be your most outstanding attribute? What can you offer that other candidates cannot?”

This is a loaded Open Question. First part of the statement is complementary, although obvious. How do you answer this question? How do you know what attributes the others may have when you do not know?

The answer should be positive – as you do now know what they have to offer, you cannot make comparisons, but you feel that your strongest point/s are XXXXX, and that with XXX years practical experience you feel quite confident in your ability to manage change and build the department to be a credit to the place.

Q  “Do you consider yourself to be a Head Gardener or a Gardens Manager? How do you see your present role in your current job?”

Another loaded Open question. As you will see as the questions unfold, there is every opportunity to contradict yourself if you do not answer accurately and fully. Be very clear in your answers, and make sure that each important part is noted by the panel.

It may be best to reverse the answer, but stating how you see your position in your current role. Just be honest, and note the fact that the question of being a Manager has arisen may indicate that the panel are looking for someone who can MANAGE rather that a highly skilled gardener. Obviously, your answers will reflect your own position, and of course, that of the type of property you are being interviewed for. It is to your advantage to have some experience of managing affairs as well as horticultural knowledge.

Q  “Would you say you were a proactive or reactive person in your professional life.”

Yet again – a loaded Open question. An honest answer to the effect that everything depends on the circumstances, as sometimes one may be presented with a positive situation that may greatly benefit the garden and gardens team, and that you recognise the nature of the opportunity and warmly embrace it. Other times, a measured response is the correct position to take when confronted with problems, but generally like to think that you are proactive, always striving to work in an efficient manner, driving things forward in a timely sequence.

Q  “How do you like to run your team? Do you prefer to carry out all aspects of day to day management or allow the staff to think and act for themselves thereby giving them responsibility for their time and actions?”

You will have gathered by now that all questions are loaded and presented in such a way that you are obliged to answer – hence ‘Open’ questions as opposed to ‘Closed’ questions that require only a simple Yes or No.

The answer I would like to hear would be along the lines that you are firm in your staff management rules, yet expect everyone to use common sense when applying them. For example, the staff will be trained to undertake certain tasks under given conditions and in a timely manner. If unforeseen circumstances arise, I will not expect them to stand around idly waiting for instructions, but to use common sense and move on to another allotted task within their capabilities and in the proscribed manner, and explaining their actions and reasons when called upon if required.

Q  “Do you prefer to conduct Personal Assessment Evaluation Meetings with staff, or Two Way Reviews?”

Many Head Gardeners may not have used a formal method of continually assessing or appraising staff. Personal Assessment Evaluation (or Appraisal) Meetings are held between the Manager/Head Gardener and the staff member.  These normally occur once or twice a year, and provide an opportunity for the Head Gardener to advise the employee of their progress at work. It is also the time to discuss formal matters such as poor performance, staff training and other important matters in a formal manner. These meeting are recorded in files for future reference.

Two Way Reviews are more open and involve both the staff member and the Head Gardener interviewing each other in a formal manner. Normally written down in a format, with a number of heading including conduct, training requests and so forth. (More of these reviews at a later Stage). Two Way Reviews are invaluable as they act as a record, agreed and signed by both parties, confirming the results of the meeting as the yard stick to measure progress including commitments by the Head Gardener to assist the subordinate with their career development.

Q  “What would you consider to be the single most important item of everyday use to you as a Manager?”

You may not be surprised to learn that most people answer ‘mobile ‘phone or computer’. This is not the answer I want to hear! What if there was a power cut? How would you manage without power for your computer? If there was no ‘phone signal, what would you do then?

The answer I want to hear is your personal daily diary or logbook. Everything of import that happens on a day by day basis – from the weather to how many staff turned in/were late/ill, which greenhouse requires the heater checking out? What VIP turned up today – or a visit by the mole catcher – anything and everything that you may need to refer to at some later date. Even if these matters are recorded elsewhere or in another format, your diary is the most important item by far. In much the same way that a Policeman’s pocketbook is a hugely important document primarily as it is a contemporaneous record, the Head Gardeners Logbook should be maintained and stored under lock and key.

Q  “What would you have achieved by the end of the first week of duty? Please describe the likely programme of your first five days, and what benefits of your actions would have on the well running of your department?”

Q  “Similar question – what stage in understanding your department would you hope to have achieved by the end of the first month?”

As both of these questions are closely related, and I will deal with them at length in the Course, and as each garden will vary in size and complexity, the answer will be bespoke in each case.

In general however, a statement to the effect that you will have interviewed all members of staff, collated as much information as possible reference other departments (or people whom you will have professional contact with in the course of your working week) including names and telephone/email addresses. You will have introduced yourself to those who need to work with you. You will have instigated a site survey and begun conducting an audit and inventory of all tools and equipment…… As much as your particular site requires.

Q  “Describe your methods of dealing with difficult staff, perhaps outlining a couple of examples from past experience. Please give the reasons for the problems, how you dealt with them, and the outcome”

As you can see, the questions are getting more difficult to answer. If you have had no such issues, do you tell the truth – that you have never experienced any problems? Or do you launch into a tirade about the complete and utter **%^$£% you had to deal with in the past.

Think long and hard about the question, and answer as candidly as you can, perhaps drawing in other people e.g. your employers or other professional staff who were obliged to handle the case with you.

What is important is the process which you went through. All that is being asked is ‘Did you have a problem – and how did you resolve it?’

Q  “How soon would you conduct personal interviews with your staff? In what order would you decide each persons’ position in the interview programme? Senior first? Newest employee first? And why in this particular manner?

Don’t be fooled by the pecking order. Whilst it may seem sensible to call the most senior first, it is sensible to have a quiet word with him/her to explain your logic, and let them know what you are doing and why.

The answer is ‘according to their work duties’. It is polite and proper to treat each staff member with respect, and in order to do that, you should invite them to have a personal chat, just to get to know each other, and when would be a convenient time for them to come along to your office. It really does not matter in which order – youngest, most recent or most (self?) important.

Q  “How do you keep up to date with new legislation, products, materials and techniques? What ‘Out of hours’ activities do you undertake in understanding that latest developments in the world of horticulture?”

Simple question – what do you do?  The answer should be along the lines of ‘reading Horticulture Week, visiting Futurescape or The Landscape Show. Perhaps GLEE or other Trade shows. Chelsea and other RHS Shows. Visiting other Stately Homes and gardens.

Whatever your answer, be prepared to be quizzed on the unexpected!

Q  “Finally – in this part of the interview – where would you like to see yourself in ten years’ time?”

Killer question!  Up to you to answer!  Ambition is not frowned upon, and no-one is expected to remain in post forever. Perhaps the most politic answer is to reply along the lines of ‘that will all depend on what challenges there remain at this place!’

(These questions are bespoke to XXXX site. They are designed to be presented by XXXXX during the interview. They are intended to draw out any shortcomings in a candidate, and do not allow for ‘waffle’ or ‘bluffing’. They will provide the right candidate with an opportunity to really prove their merit)

(These are genuine questions I set for an actual interview for an important client. You should never assume that you will be asked simple questions, or that they will be in any way related to horticulture!)

                                          ************ END**********

If you have such material, take along a number of photographs – not too many – showing you in various positions undertaking a number of different tasks. It is always helpful to see visual evidence of skilled activities, especially those using tools and equipment. Be careful not be appear ‘posed’, but as though you were unware that you were being filmed. These visual aids are very powerful. It is not advisable to bring photos of completed sites, with the comment ‘Here’s one I worked on last year’ – the panel want to see YOU in action! Similarly, photos of you at College or helping at The Chelsea Flower Show are/may not be considered as YOUR work. Being pictured spraying, cleaning out a fishpond or standing on a tall platform cutting a fine taxus hedge are an advantage during the First Interview.

Listen very carefully to what is being said. Make as many notes as you wish, especially those that involve more information. If you have not listened or misunderstood anything, and you are invited to the Second Interview, you will disadvantage yourself.

Internal Promotions

It is widely held that any business which operates an internal hierarchal system that permits staff to ascend a career ladder within the company structure is likely to be a well – run organisation, ready to train and improve the capabilities of the staff. Incentivising workers may be a major plank in the company policy, especially regarding such matters as Personal Career Development, with staff members being sent on external management, Health & Safety, IT refresher courses etc.– all have their place in promoting a healthy workforce.

Such training courses are vital to the success of the company, and funding should be included when drawing up the Departmental Annual Budget. The provision of such programmes also gives the Company Directors a sound record of progress made by an individual during the period of their employment. Even the most basic of HR Departments will hold details of any company funded training in the files for future reference.

Skilled and trained staff, having attained a certain level of achievement within a company, whether as Foreperson, Lead or Senior Gardener or Deputy Head Gardener will, at some stage in their career, be presented with an opportunity to apply for the position of Head Gardener, due to retirement or an unexpected vacancy. I will make a differentiation here, between a planned retirement due to age or a long expected plan on the part of the existing Head Gardener – when the whole company will be aware of impending changes – and a relatively short notice vacancy, when the incumbent decides to resign (for example) to move away from the area, giving a couple of months’ notice.

A long planned change may be dealt with almost seamlessly, with the current Deputy Head Gardener being gradually trained into the position, learning the inner workings of the Estate Management and being made aware of secrets reference finances and other ‘private’ issues, that only Directors and Management are privy to. The matter of internal promotion does not arise at the highest level i.e. Deputy to Head Gardener, and therefore any more junior adjustments to staffing are the responsibility of the new Head Gardener in the course of their chosen methods of managing the team. There is no external campaign to find and install a new Head Gardener and therefore no ‘vacancy’.

However, some Estates will wish to operate a more open exercise and actively advertise for a new Head Gardener to the wider world. This may be as part of a wide ranging commitment to (say) ISO 9000 or another ‘Investors in People’ style company programme, when the proscribed methods are clearly laid down, or perhaps to try to introduce new blood into the Gardens Department.

For this article, I will presume that you are a Senior Member of an existing workforce – let’s say that you are currently Deputy Head Gardener.

The vacancy for a new Head Gardener has been announced, both internally by means of a Staff email or notice to all personnel, and the job adverts have been placed in the local papers and the Trade Press. The full job description has been clearly provided as part of that advertisement. ENSURE THAT YOU KEEP A COPY OF THAT JOB DESCRIPTION FOR FUTURE REFERENCE.

Do not presume to know everything about the existing site, Estate, Company or your employers. Do not be complacent about any aspect of the job. Everybody who is serious about getting the position will have done their homework, and you can imagine how demeaning it would be if, during the interview, you were seen to know less about your site than a newcomer/outsider! Research and record everything and anything of interest.  Make sure that you can answer any question that may be asked. Number of visitors? How many acres? When was the House built? Who designed the original gardens? When were they laid out?

Even if these or similar questions are not asked, if you have the information at your fingertips, it will help to influence your confidence during the interview. This process of learning all about your Estate will provide you with a psychological advantage, or at least make you aware that you are COMPETING for the job, alongside many other applicants. Just because you feel you have an advantage inasmuch as you are a known quantity is a false security.

You must ensure that you are kept abreast of any changes to the job description or any other matter regarding the advertising. Very often, the net may be cast wider, and more applicants sought from new horizons (e.g. LinkedIn), and you need to be aware of these, as your competitors will surely be. Perhaps an Agency has been asked to provide candidates, and their recommendations may carry of lot of weight with the Estate Management. You need to know all of these things…………….

Never assume that you will be interviewed by people that you know. You may be informed by Management beforehand, but always expect the unexpected! Very often, the interview board will consist of the owner or his/her representative, a Director or Solicitor representing the Estate in a formal manner, an outside Gardens Consultant (such as myself) who will have a wide range of knowledge, including your reputation within the industry, and a member of the company HR Department.

The role of Head Gardener is a very important one. As Departmental Manager, the Head Gardener has a wide range of legal responsibilities, and the make – up of the interview board will reflect that importance to the Estate. (These will covered in more detail in Stage Three)

It is unfortunate, but often internal applicants are at risk of being disadvantaged, albeit in a well meant manner. It is not to your advantage to be invited into the interview during your normal working hours, and the company is not doing you any favours by paying you for a normal day. Allowing you time to change and prepare for interview is not helpful. You should either take a day as holiday or in lieu, and give yourself the same advantage as other candidates, to take time to dress appropriately  and to feel clean, fresh and tidy, ready for all comers! Simply knocking off mowing or pruning half an hour earlier, getting changed in the mess room and going along feeling hot and bothered is not fair!

Your c.v. has been presented and is looking good! (See Stage One for c.v. production) You have done all your homework, and feel you know the place as well as anyone. You are confident in yourself. You look good, feel fresh, are on time – clean shoes! – when you enter the interview room. You are happy that you are well prepared, and feel calm and confident.

Beware!  Because the interview panel know you, and know that you are fully conversant with the site and how it all works, they know that you know the existing staff, what goes on and when, how and why. Because they know that you know, the panel will not be asking the same questions of you, or giving you answers in the same way they will to a stranger.  And that’s a lot of ‘knows’! This is a perfectly natural fact, and it is up to you to guide the conversation along lines that suit you.

Never criticise anything regarding the Estate or the way it is run, or has been organised. Never criticise any staff member ESPECIALLY the previous Head Gardener. Because the panel may appear somewhat bereft of questions – they already have the answers in front of them – if they need to be guided back on track, ask them about their future plans for the Estate. How do they see the site being developed, what plans do they have to increase visitor numbers, how do they see the Estate in fifty years’ time. These and similar questions will keep the panel on the back foot, whilst at the same time, giving a clear indication of your interest in developments.

If you are asked to specify any improvements in the way the gardens are run, or the department is organised, don’t attempt to provide answers to what may be complicated issues. “Supposing you become Head Gardener. What improvements would you make?” and similar questions are easy to ask, but not easy to answer. Certainly not in the one hour or so you have for the interview. But you do have to give AN answer, and the most impressive reply is to state that if you were successful in your application, you would set out a timetable, reporting to the owner/board within thirty days, with your initial analysis of the status quo. You would further propose that (obviously, this all depends on the complexity of your garden!) a full audit is made as a matter of priority, clearly showing the state of the department, covering tools, equipment, supplies (chemicals etc) and the general condition of the outbuildings, watering systems, glasshouse etc. This audit is extremely important, as it will provide the grounds for all future discussions and responsibilities – without this document, there is no bench mark or foundation upon which to build.

If you are asked “What next?” reply that you would wish to conduct interviews with each staff member as the basis for your own Two Way Reviews. Previous two way reviews will reflect their relationship with the previous Head Gardener, and you need to establish your own rapport with the staff, initially to ensure they have no problems with your advancement. (Old friendships in the tea room may be difficult to forget once you are in charge, and you may be asked how you would deal with these personal aspects of your promotion. By stating your intention to hold these interviews will show that you are aware of, and are dealing with the matter.)

Reading these notes, you may feel that seeking internal advancement is not something I would recommend. That is not the case, but all too often I see good candidates fail at the interview stage because of some or all of the matters I have outlined. Especially important – do not assume that you have an advantage over other candidates because you know your job. The short listed candidates will also have very impressive track records, and they will be keen to promote themselves in a positive light.

They too, will have fresh ideas to bring to the Estate, and it is important that you recognise that your skills and talents now need to be stretched to begin to make your personal mark on the future of the Garden.

The Second Interview

Whilst I fully appreciate that many people do not have to sit through a second interview, either being offered the job there and then, there are nonetheless plenty of occasions when a second interview is called for. This interview will probably not involve all of the original panel, and may take place elsewhere, often taking the form of a ‘walk round’ with one or more panel members.

During this walk round, try not to contradict or comment on anything in a negative manner. After all, you may be contradicting the very same person who is walking you around the site! Hold your counsel – keep your thoughts to yourself and only make positive notes in public.

If you recognise a rare or unusual plant during your perambulations, by all means comment on it. There are often anomalies in some of the larger grounds, with acid loving plants sharing the same garden as lime lovers. This may be because of a change of soil type in a natural way (in my home village, we have deep chalk and acidic sand pits all within a few hundred yards) or due to localised pits of suitable soil, especially imported in some Victorian gardens.

Try to be both interested and interesting. Ask as many relevant questions as you wish, whilst avoiding potentially contentious issues or commenting (for example) on the owners new Rolls Royce or the damage done by the owners dogs or their children’s skateboards.

Do ask as many questions as you can think of, especially regarding the likely use of the grounds, potential for high water tables, access difficulties and how they are usually overcome, regularity of weddings/events, periods when machinery may not be used due to noise issues – a host of pertinent queries that a potential new Head Gardener may reasonably ask.

The Third Interview

Now is the time to take control of the meeting. You have successfully managed to get to the final stage and therefore must be in with a very good chance of success. You are now able to make your pitch!

Thank the panel (or however many are left at this stage – usually only two people) for inviting you back, and request that you would like to begin proceedings. This may surprise them, but why not? Say ‘I am a very proactive person, not reactive. I have seen and heard a lot about the job, and am very keen to be accepted. I believe I have the qualities you are looking for, and I am perfectly happy to take on the responsibilities that go with the position. However, in order to be proactive, I believe in delegating to the staff, thereby giving them ownership of their duties and responsibilities.’

Go on to describe what you have seen and heard during the previous interviews, and the notes you have made. This is now a two way conversation. You should talk as though you were in the post of Head Gardener – even asking their permission to do so. If you want permission to speak freely, this is invariably granted. Just don’t criticise  any individuals!

You will be asked why you want the job. What is wrong with your previous/current job? Whilst only you can answer those questions, everybody is entitled to better themselves, and your present Head Gardener (assuming that you are currently Deputy Head Gardener) is not due to retire for many years, and you want to progress your career. There are plenty of good reasons to want such a position, just have the answers ready!

As before, write down all relevant notes. IF IT ISN’T WRITTEN DOWN – IT DIDN’T HAPPEN!


The subject of the issuing – especially the timing of Contracts of Employment, is wide and varied. For example, for those of you working for The National Trust or English Heritage – or other ‘commercial’ property where a system of Management documentation is well entrenched, and those who are employed in the private sector, where perhaps the owner/employer has never previously used any form of written contract, are worlds apart. You should insist on a contract of employment before you start work, signed by both parties, with a copy to each. Legally, it may be acceptable to provide such a contract within your Probationary Period, and given once the position is ratified, but such caveats will be included in any event, and I recommend that you should have the contract in your hand before commencement of employment.

Similarly, the time to request sight of a copy of your Terms & Conditions/Contract of Employment is not one that can be proscribed. In many cases, there will only ever be one interview. One meeting and the job is offered to you. Simple, quick and easy! Except of course, nothing is that simple. Some private employers will state that they have never needed a contract before. “If I can’t trust you, I wouldn’t offer you the job” is a common statement unfortunately. I appreciate it is very difficult to answer such a statement, ostensibly given as a compliment, but you should reply along the lines that it is my livelihood and the welfare of my family that I am concerned about – thank you for your trust in me, but I must have a proper contract before I commit to working for you please.

Directly you are offered the job, or seem very likely to be asked for a start date, you should ask for a copy of the contract. (I have already dealt with accommodation licences under Stage One, as these are necessarily separate from Contracts of Employment) Never forget that a job offer is simply that – a job offer. You are not obliged to accept the offer, even if it accords with the description set out in the job description. Neither is the employer obliged to honour a verbal job offer. Only once contracts are agreed and signed is the contract complete.

Essentially, a Contract is in ‘sections’. Section One is the job offer to you. Section Two is the negotiation part of the job offer i.e. Salary, Terms & Conditions, Benefits Package etc, which will vary from person to person, and should be bespoke to your job status, title and agreed responsibilities and can only be given BEFORE you agree to commence work on a stated date. Because  there are various legal guidelines, relating to different types of contract and their binding nature, if in any doubt, consult a solicitor. Far better to spend a modest amount of money engaging legal advice before making a far reaching commitment.

Section Three will likely be protection for the Employer, and will consist of Disclosure Checks for criminal records and possibly a Medical Health Check, both of these to be carried out before a formal, written job offer is made.

The actual wording of the Terms & Conditions will vary from site to site and job to job. ALWAYS ensure that you are offered a new Contract of Employment if you are subject to Internal Promotion. This fresh contract should include a) recognition of your past history and employment record (this to ensure that your period of employment remains uninterrupted for legal future requirements such as pension rights and redundancy matters) and b) your new job title, full work description and responsibilities and c) increase in salary and benefits package if applicable.

Always be aware (or beware of!) those contracts that appear too simple. A few lines on a sheet of headed paper entitled Contract of Employment must be treated with caution. Simple friendly phrases such as ‘Works as agreed and discussed’ may well turn out to become nightmarish if the employer wishes to add other duties, (“Other duties as may be required from time to time” is another phrase to cause alarm bells to ring!) such as running the children to school, cleaning out the drains or unblocking toilets. These are not part of ‘the job’ and may be treated as unreasonable.

An acceptable phrase may be along the lines of “Other duties as may reasonably be described as those related to the professional working practices of Head Gardener” and may include responsibility for (e.g.) site and equipment security or perhaps looking after the welfare of visiting contractors – those tasks that were not originally included or envisaged when the contract was drawn up, but nevertheless fall reasonably within your domain. It could be argued that any sensible person would accept and agree to help out as and when called upon without recourse to checking your Contract of Employment, but sometimes common sense falls by the wayside, or indeed, the temperament and nature of your employer may change with the years, and it is better to have such things included in your written contract of employment.


If you are not offered the job, yet have made it through to Third Interview, you may be certain that you were a very sound candidate. This is why it is so important to have details of your original interview panel. Write personally to each, thanking them for considering you for the position, and having made it to the final hurdle, you are really appreciative of their time and trouble. You would be surprised at how often the final candidate is offered the position, only to turn it down at the last minute due to a) a pay rise at their existing employment, b) partner change of mind or c) changed their mind personally . There is no appetite to go through the whole process again, and the second choice candidate is offered the job. This does not mean that you were second best; and you will greatly increase your chances of being offered the job if you are remembered for your polite letter.

Terms and Conditions

You will have noticed that I have not mentioned pay or conditions thus far. (I dealt with accommodation in Stage One) This is primarily because the job advert will have indicated the renumeration package, probably including holidays and hours of duty. As Head Gardener, you will probably be required to work some weekends, and perhaps on call at other times of the year. Every property is different, and duties will vary accordingly. You will see from the various notes I have made on the genuine job advertisement  descriptions that you must avoid ‘Catch All’ terms such as ‘Other duties as may be required’. If there is anything that may be misinterpreted, make sure it is corrected in any contract you sign.

The financial package on offer is only that – an offer. It is perhaps unwise to argue for a pay increase unless you feel that the job as advertised is substantially different from the actual job – perhaps the security aspects are more onerous than you were led to expect, or you are willing to take on the maintenance of the swimming pool – and you feel the package could be enhanced. If working to a budget, there may still be room for enhancements such as dental care, Council Tax, telephone, Health Care/BUPA. Unless you ask, you will not know!

Developing Relationships with your Employer

If you are very lucky, you will take over a garden that has been maintained and cherished by the previous Head Gardener, yet will still require certain elements that need the attention of a fresh and enthusiastic new leader. The owner/s will have given due respect to your predecessor and you will fit in perfectly! However, this is rarely the case, as on too many occasions, the previous incumbent had left things to drift, herbaceous beds become clogged

with just a few rampant varieties, shrubs are now misshapen and suffering from basal rotting – yet to the average person still look ‘OK’.

I will be looking more closely at Taking Charge of the Garden in Stage Three, as this is quite a complex subject, but the rapport between the new Head Gardener and the owner/s is a very important chemistry. Trust and confidentiality need to be earned as soon as possible, and this may begin with a private meeting, away from any management structure or Land Agent, and a general ‘getting to know you’ session produce a mutual understanding between garden lovers. For example, everybody has their favourite plants, planting schemes, colours, shapes and forms. Your duty is to provide that wish list, or at least, attempt to garden within that framework, and not plant vivid oranges if the owner dislikes such colours.

I often suggest that the Head Gardener should treat the owner as though they were in a ‘Contractor’ relationship, and the owner is the ‘Client’. Whilst constrained by finances (often) and site conditions (occasionally) there should be no bar to you providing your client with his or her wishes. If the call is for organic vegetables; ‘something I have always dreamt of, but we could not manage it previously’ or perhaps ‘fresh lemons’ for the House. If at all possible, try to manage wishes as well as expectations.

One of the first projects to undertake, if possible within the first week in office, is to make a full and detailed time dated photographic record of the site as it is when you take charge. No matter what, people very quickly forget the condition of the garden – there will always be areas that are unattractive – and no matter how many improvements you make, they will not be remembered. Time dated photographs, presented as an album entitled ‘Handover Day’ or something similar, will form the foundation of your new working life.  So-called ‘Photo-Books’ containing two dozen or more photographs may be purchased from local High Street print firms for just a few pounds, and make great records for the future.

Regular meetings should be set up, diarised and adhered to if at all possible. A direct private email address and text messaging system should be devised, and a record made of all incoming and outgoing messages in the manner of a Day Book. This will enable you to quote with confidence during any subsequent conversations, referring back to whatever date and time you received the call/instruction. This assiduity will stand you in good stead, as people will quickly learn that you are both efficient and conscientious – and that your diary is an accurate record of events.

Probationary Period

It is standard practice to offer a six month probationary period to new employees, at any level. During this period, a fixed and structured number of formal meetings between the employer/Agent must be recorded, even though they may only be an hour or so in length. These meetings must be held in an appropriate place – not a general chat around the compost area – and follow an agreed format.

At these meetings, all matters deemed important to either party must be included, and should revolve around the well – being of the garden, especially in respect of the performance of the Head Gardener. There should ideally be at least three such meetings within the six month period and written records of each produced and maintained on file; one copy or more to the employer, and one to the Head Gardener.

The subject matter will be different for each site, but must include information regarding the general management of the Estate as a whole in relation to the Head Gardeners duties and responsibilities. (If the Employer is making demands of the Gardens Department that cannot be met due to other factors e.g. lack of finance or labour resources, these must be formally recorded). Any shortcomings in the performance of the Head Gardener must be noted and explained in full detail. At the end of the Probationary Period, the employer cannot simply dismiss  you if this procedure has not been followed. Not even then, as standard legal procedure including verbal, written and final warnings must be adhered to.

An employer cannot simply dismiss you at the end of your Probationary Period without following due procedure.

Rationalising the Garden

In the very early stages of employment, you will have many ideas and thoughts of improvements, recognising that all things take time, and therefore patience. It is a worthwhile exercise to produce a visionary document, or personal wish list. This may of course, be undertaken in association with the employer, but you may like to put as much of your personality into your vision  as you are able to. Let’s call this your Personal Mission Statement.

To enable you to do this, you need to undertake an initial site survey. Much more of this in Stages Three and Four, culminating in the section entitled Maximising the Site Potential, which will only be possible after learning how the Estate in general, and the garden in particular, functions over a period of (perhaps) a full year.

Your mission statement may include a very wide range of subjects, but unless you have these written down at an early stage, you will not have a clear vision or know if such visions are possible to create. This early inventory of the site potential will lead on to other site matters, including Site Evaluation, Three Year Plans, Structured Future Planning and Working Practices, as these will form the blue print of your schemes.

It really doesn’t matter how scattered or nebulous your ideas are at this early stage, they are the initial building blocks for the future. Working together, explaining your ideas to the employer and gaining their respect and trust – working with them to help finance your dreams – will ensure a long and fruitful association.

All of the above matters in these first two course stages – yet you have heard nothing about the actual garden so far! Taking charge of a garden – becoming Head Gardener, responsible for the well – being of an important garden, being the custodian of a heritage site, is a serious job. If you can manage to establish a solid relationship with your partners – employers, Agents, family members and staff – as soon as possible, earning their respect and learning their requirements, tempered with the reality of the site and budgets, you will substantially increase the likelihood of creating a well – managed site and efficient and effective workforce.

Alan Sargent FCIHort MPGCA


Finance Matters Really Matter! (Surviving As A Self Employed Gardener)

At the risk of becoming seen as fixated on the word ‘Survival’ – having written both The Head Gardeners Survival Manual and The Landscapers Survival Manual, I still find that I cannot find a more suitable word to convey the very essence of Self Employment! The thrill of starting out working for yourself, making decisions that concern the very vitals of your life and that of your dependents is quite intoxicating (as well as terrifying!).

I know the constant battles that rage every day during the first few years of self -employment. Balancing the essential requirement to earn a living with your hands whilst at the same time trying to secure more clients, more enquiries, more contacts, more suppliers – ever more and more, becomes very daunting. Too often we are tempted to take on work that we do not want, just to keep the money coming in.

Marketing and Networking are very large subjects, which I will not have room to cover in this feature, that form the super-structure  of your business and will become easier as time goes on. To raise the super-structure you must have solid foundations, as without a sound base you will not survive beyond the first few months. The strength of those foundations will depend on your ability to understand the essential principles of finance.

The basic exercise is to establish, understand and agree the realistic income figure you need to provide for you and your family, especially if there is only one breadwinner. I know that it is a very emotive and difficult task, but the first requirement is a complete, open and honest financial survey of your outgoings. Leave aside any other income stream e.g. Family Allowance, which should not be included in your figures as they are really additional monies and not ‘earned income’. Include everything you can think of, including rent or mortgage, electricity, heating oil, school fees, food, pet food and vets bills, transport costs, hire purchase repayments, insurance, television licence, tools and equipment, accountants fees, water rates, council tax, postage, holidays etc; the list may run on and on. It must be comprehensive, and if you find that you have missed something of significance, you should add it on and revise your figures accordingly.

You will end up with a Grand Total of your family and business expenditure, which should be divided into fifty two equal amounts, as your outgoings will not stop because of inclement weather or sickness. For the sake of regularity, let’s assume an annual expenditure of £30,000.00. (It is a fact of life that an employed person earning, say, £20,000 p.a. may be fairly comfortable living on that amount. However, once self- employed, costs rise dramatically primarily due to the additional costs of transport and insurances (as well as tools and equipment) and the two figures should never be compared.

The nominal expenditure figure of (say) £30,000.00, when divided by 52 (weeks) equals £578.00 approx. per week. However, you will probably only work for 45 weeks per annum due to holidays, Bank Holidays, sickness and inclement weather, averaging 40 hours per week. 45 x 40 equals 1,800 hours, and therefore your weekly base expenditure figure rises to  £666.00 approx. , or £16.65  per hour. This is the lowest amount that you can charge to continue in business. (Obviously, your figures may differ from this example)

Bear in mind that this formula does not include any improvements to your equipment, transport or ability to weather a slow period or unexpected costs to your family or business.

It does not include the most important element of running your own business – the profit factor! If you do not aim to make a decent profit, self- employment loses its’ main attraction! I appreciate that many people enjoy working for themselves, making decisions without the requirement to gain permission first – but this pleasure needs to be tempered with realism. If you cannot make enough profit to withstand bad debts or a miscalculated quotation, things will become very difficult.

One of the most frequent questions I am asked as a Consultant, is how and when to increase my rates. Should it be annually, and if so, by how much? There are so many factors to consider, and once again, every firm will be different. I suggest that you adopt a piece meal solution to avoid risking losing an important customer.

We are currently enjoying a very stable economy, with neutral inflation and steady general prices, therefore it should be unnecessary to raise your rates at the time of writing, based purely on an idea that all rates should rise automatically each year. This is not to say that you should not increase your income in other ways. It should never be forgotten that we are all learning more and more skills as we progress, and by definition, become more extensively serviceable to our existing and future customers.

Even the most cursory inventory of your abilities, tools and equipment will show that you have become more valuable to your clients, perhaps gaining more skills certificates, or becoming a Member of The Chartered Institute of Horticulture – anything that proves the natural progression you have made in the world of horticulture. As the years go by, you are not the same person who started out self-employed! These skills should be recognised by yourself and treated as additional value when costing your rates.

Always remember – all you have to sell is yourself!

Never concern yourself with your competitor’s rates. It seriously does not matter if another firm is charging a lower rate than you. Do you really want to be the cheapest gardener out there? Of course not! You should not try to beat anyone on price, no matter what type of gardening business you are in. I assure you that I receive many comments from the public all desperate to find a contractor that will ‘slow down, stop rushing, and just do a good, clean job’.

You can have no idea if your competitors are making a profit or living on a credit card. Maybe they have secondary income, or no mortgage. They may have independent means, and only work as a gardener for a hobby. Never try to beat any price! I have been working as a professional gardener for nearly fifty years, and have never attempted to be competitive on price.

If you treat each customer as a separate entity, consider each one carefully. How much potential is there in their garden for additional works? Could you offer to increase the variety of skills you currently offer. Produce a library of all of your clients, marking them in order of importance to you and your business. Try to be dispassionate and remain subjective. Record when you started working for them, and the rate you charged then, and now. How much difference is there? When did you last raise their charges? Analyse and compare, and produce a chart covering your whole business.

Make a decision to increase your charges by around ten percent for any new enquiries. If you already have a busy order book, you have nothing to lose if they reject your price. (You may be amazed to find all newcomers accept your new higher rate). Selecting those existing sites that you feel are not enjoyable or you would not mind losing, write to announce that your rates will increase (do not give a reason or percentage, just the new amount. You do not need to justify yourself. You are making an offer which they can accept or refuse) on a certain date. It is better to give a couple of months’ notice, and don’t worry about the time of year – you are not obliged to work from season to season.

Nearing the end of my working life – physically at least! – and having worked for over forty years as a self-employed gardener, both as a general horticulturist and landscaper, (and six years as Head Gardener to Goodwood Estate) I have seen many decent people lose their businesses and homes because they did not recognise – or chose to ignore – the absolute necessity to earn a living and make a profit.

I spend most of my time now either carrying out certain specialised tasks which I thoroughly enjoy (flint work,  fine detailed restoration paving, topiary etc) and as a Gardens Consultant, writing books and articles including  a regular column for The Horticulture Week. I know I am extraordinary privileged, and welcome this opportunity to hopefully pass on a few words of hard earned wisdom!

Alan Sargent FCIHort MPGCA

(Originally published in The Professional Gardener Magazine in July 2015)


Becoming a Gardens Consultant – A Virtual Seminar

Session One

As this is the first time I have ever attempted to run a seminar via the medium of Social Communication, even though it is in a public forum, I will endeavour to proscribe new rules of engagement for myself. I have held quite a few actual seminars over the past twenty years or more, and acted as Guest Speaker at several more.


Session One   –   Introduction to Subject and Speaker
Session Two   –  Making the Transition From Artisan to Consultant
Session Three  –  Identifying and Targeting Potential Markets
Session Four   –  Garden Evaluation – Staff Selection – Garden Valuations –        Assessments – Expert Witness – Special Expertise and Unique Skills.
Session Five  –    Selling and  Marketing Your Skills, Networking

As part of the registration documentation, I send out a mini-questionnaire requesting certain details from the delegates, including their experience to date, and their ambitions, all in just a few words, to give me a clear idea of the make up of the delegates at that session.

This weighting is particularly important – even though one may reasonably expect that only a certain ‘type’ of person is going to be willing to spend £200.00 plus on a five or six hour seminar on a given subject, the past experience of the audience is paramount. When the room is full of very experienced people, they have come expecting a heavyweight programme! (I have always invited the Horticultural Press – if applicable – to attend, as it really concentrates the mind, knowing that my words are going out to wider world! The fact that this virtual seminar is literally going to be read the world over, will certainly make me even more aware that I must choose my words carefully!)

The delegates themselves will usually be mixed, some contractors, some designers, some employed, some self employed. Second careerists and newcomers, those seeking new avenues of work – all will be expecting to gain from their time and financial outlay.

Each seminar is limited to between 15 and 30 delegates, dependant on location. The most challenging one was Managing As A Head Gardener, where all of the delegates were Head Gardeners from some of the most famous and prestigious gardens in the UK. I was very aware of their presence……………

Previous seminars, 1991 – 2012 include;
Traditional Paving Techniques (UWE Bristol)
Waterscapes Roadshow (Various)
Identifying and Creating Sources of Work (Various)
Hard Landscaping Techniques (Various)
English Gardening (Moscow), Guest Speaker, James Steele-Sargent
Garden Design – Future Trends (Moscow), Guest Speaker, Robin Templar-Williams
Million Dollar Gardens (Chichester) Guest Speaker, James Steele-Sargent
Gardeners Site Skills & Etiquette (Oxford)
Traditional English Gardening Techniques (Moscow), Guest Speaker, Mark Gregory
Managing As A Head Gardener (Chichester)

As Guest Speaker;
Landscape Professional (Earls Court)
Professionals In The Built Environment (Sevenoaks)
Gardeners World Live (NEC)
Traditional Small Element Paving (Westminster)
Great Gardening Show (Guildford)
Down To Earth (BBC Essex)
Managing & Marketing Your Business (Oxford)
BBC Gardeners World Roadshow (Various)
Grow Show (Esher)
Quality Streetscapes (Kensington)


The following resume was produced by The Institute of Horticulture, on being elected as Fellow at the 2011 Annual General Meeting. It is always very useful if you are able to have your own curriculum vitae or ‘resume’, produced by a third party – you can never describe yourself in the same way that someone else can!

‘Alan joined the Institute of Horticulture at the very beginning in 1984 and has a long, varied and successful career. He started working in horticulture in 1967 at Cheals of Pulborough as contract pruner, budder and grafter and assistant technician at Hamer, Gayner and Constanduros. There followed a series of managerial positions at various garden companies until he set up his own business Town and Country Gardens in 1984. In 2001, he became Head Gardener at the Goodwood Estate, Chichester, responsible for all aspects of horticulture on the estate, including historic, private and public gardens, whilst continuing freelance design, show gardens and consultancy. Since 2007 he has been self employed, and has a small company offering specialist services including consultancy and technical works (topiary, historic gardening etc).

Alan was a regular contributor to various gardening magazines, especially The Water Gardener as The Pond Doctor, is author of Garden Features Made Easy and was consultant to Focus Do It All, Hozelock Ltd, Bradstone Garden Products and Harpak Ltd, Moscow.

He is the original founder and Honorary Life Member of The Association of Professional Landscapers and a Member of The Professional Gardeners Guild. He has also been a member of The Garden Writers Guild, The Institute of Groundsmanship, The Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management, The Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Show Gardens Panel and was a Gardens Judge and Show Garden Assessor for The Royal Horticultural Society.

He was consultant to the Traditional Paving Development Group based at the University of The West of England (UWE), Bristol Frenchay Campus) teaching hard landscaping techniques and producing written specifications for use by others and between 1985 and 2005, designed, constructed and project managed over sixty show gardens, mainly at Chelsea and Hampton Court, but also Tatton Park, The South of England Show, Royal Southampton Show and Loseley Great Garden Show.

Industry Representative to LANTRA 2007 – 2010.

Alan started out to raise the standards of craftsmanship and public awareness of the industry and has undoubtedly achieved this over the years. He continues this work via seminars and through The Association of Professional Landscapers workshops, which also involves growers and designers’

End of resume.

NB. Since 2011, I have been accepted into the Garden Media Guild (ex Garden Writers Guild), the Association of Senior Garden Advisers, and act as consultant to The Gardeners Guild. I have since published The Head Gardeners Survival Manual (2012) and The Landscapers Survival Manual (2013). (The Landscapers Survival Manual has been shortlisted at the GMG Awards, November 2013, in The Most Inspirational Book of The Year category – winner or not, I’m delighted to be there!)

THIS INTRODUCTION OF ONESELF IS VERY IMPORTANT  What at first sight may appear a narcissistic essay is actually outlining my ‘right’ to be able to present this seminar, and something similar – a resume of your life’s work to date should be produced (by a third person?) and constantly updated to reflect your progress in your career.

Only you can decide which parts should feature, and it is an interesting and important discipline, perhaps at the end of each year, to look back and pick out and record the highlights.




Whilst it is undoubtedly true that we are obliged, almost as a matter of course, to offer some kind of consultancy whenever we discuss a client’s garden – how else can we prove our worth and differentiate ourselves from whomsoever may have been invited to give comment and advice in the past. How can a Garden Designer begin to work on a site without first having proven their abilities to produce the required result for the customer? How can I not be a ‘consultant’ when selecting the right stone for a job? Surely this is all part and parcel of contracting?

The answer is of course in the affirmative. We simply could not operate unless we were willing to help our clients with their projects.

BUT – when does the professional advice become more than just that? Why should the client place any credence on your proposals and not pick and choose between the many that may have been offered?

I honestly believe that there comes a time when you have to make a decision; either continue providing free advice or find a way to start to earn a well deserved income from your skills and knowledge. I will be covering a range of different ‘types’ of business person, from Garden Designers, Contractors and Specialist Suppliers, as each will have a different approach and personal needs to fulfil. Not currently necessarily as individuals, as I am aware that some people consider their expertise as being exclusive to their own company or products and therefore of no use beyond their time running that company (e.g. Stone Specialists, Irrigation Company technicians, Turf Producers etc). I will endeavour to prove that there is a market for knowledge and expertise beyond a life of promoting one product or service…

The next tranche will set out the various types of Consultancy, all based around ‘Landscaping’, and will aimed at garden designers, contractors of all hues and specialist suppliers. It will cover making the transition from artisan to consultant, learning how to split your time from everyday work to making money from your knowledge.

As I stated at the outset, I need to know the make up of the audience, but will try to visualise a cross section of virtual delegates. I will be looking at a room full of faces, all happy and smiling, pens poised, taking notes and looking forward to the coffee break!

I leave you with one little (true) story:

Some time ago, I was asked to visit a site some two hundred miles away from home (Sussex) to inspect and advise on a major sett laying project – very high profile/EU funded etc – which had gone badly wrong, due to the fact that the clients had chosen a block paving company to lay a fairly simple scheme using reclaimed granite setts of various sizes, colours and condition, but one that was going to take a punishing amount of large traffic (mainly double decker buses, turning in a tight space.) The paving company, having exhausted their experiences, were desperate for a solution.

I duly visited the project, having flown to the nearest airport, taxis to and from the site/home and spent four hours on site, producing an appropriate specification and demonstrating that technique to the layers.

I charged £1,200.00 plus expenses, plus VAT for my day on site. They (the Architects) listened VERY CAREFULLY and wrote down every word (I swear, every word!) I said. Now you and I know, that if I had simply turned up and offered that advice for free, as a favour, they would have ignored all that I said, as it would be seen to have had no value…

(At the end of this seminar, which is not costing you anything,  you will surely ask yourself  ‘If that’s the case, why should I  bother with such Free Advice? Surely it too, must be worthless!’ ‘What will Alan get for spending hours writing this stuff?’  I will answer that question later on – remind me!)



Becoming A Gardens Consultant – A Virtual Seminar: Session Two

Becoming A Gardens Consultant – A Virtual Seminar

Session Two – Making The Transition From Artisan to Consultant
(As this is a progressive ‘seminar’, please read Session One before continuing…….)

We left Session One with a request that any queries should relate to that section only, to avoid any confusion. One very interesting question arose, that I did not expect – one that I have never been asked before, yet at first glance, is a perfectly obvious one. The question related to my personal qualifications. Did I have any formal qualifications, or was my career based on experience alone?

For the record, my earliest ‘formal’ qualification is a City & Guilds, which was/is a segmented award, with a number of different topics, all under the heading of General Horticulture. I took the first few components in 1968, returning to complete the C & G in 1978. None of this was college based training, but gleaned from my day to day work experience as a general gardener (self employed ‘jobbing’ gardener). Since then I have gained a number of other bits and pieces including three Chain Saw certificates, Managing Safely, Asbestos Awareness, Ladder Training, etc, none of which are of particular use except when interviewing candidates for jobs when of course, it is handy to have first hand knowledge of the requirements and procedures involved.

BEING A GARDENS CONSULTANT is not necessarily about College Degrees or formal qualifications. Certainly, if you are going to undertake Court work or Industrial Tribunal type commissions, then of course, you will be challenged by the Defendants solicitors. Even then, your experience will count for much more than a piece of paper – much more of this later on.

In this Virtual Seminar, I am taking the view that you are all very keen gardeners, designers and specialists, looking to the future and trying to decide if there is another potential business venture to earn an income if and when you become too old to wish to carry on with physical gardening. This was the premise upon which this seminar came about – good artisans looking to secure their livelihoood… I have no formal qualification as a Consultant, and these articles are not based on any previous recorded work – as far as I know, this is the first such ‘seminar’ for the Horticultural Industry!

In some ways, I have another ‘qualification’, as many of you who are second careerists will also have, as Architects, Teachers, Soldiers, Accountants etc. I was a Police Cadet and Constable way back in the mid 60s, where I learned the art of dealing with the human race, public speaking and compiling and presenting facts in a manner than could be understood. (The training was not exactly called any of the above, but the end result of nearly four years in uniform meant that I was fairly confident under pressure).

As throughout your career, you will find that Fate has dealt you a number of cards; they may be formal qualifications such as Teaching degree, or a City & Guilds, HND, NDH etc, and you play the cards you hold at the time. As your career progresses, you will find yourself naturally dropping some of those cards, as others come your way. I value my FIHort (Fellow of The Institute of Horticulture above all qualifications. Interestingly, my son James (Arun Landscapes) uses his MIHort above his HND, my youngest son Luke (Goodwood) is MIHort, BA(Hons) – in that order.

Similarly, you may never refer to any formal qualifications at all. If you are known for your skill and talent, no client is ever going to ask you to produce your GCSEs, HNDs or BA(Hons)! Which is why, until that question arose from Session One, I gave it no thought, but it does serve to clarify further statements.


As previously discussed, we are all ‘consultants’ in our everyday work, answering questions from our clients, and guiding them through a successful project. But being a Consultant means more than just helping out. A Consultant is a Problem Solver, employed specifically for that purpose. It is not your remit to design or build a garden, it is to solve problems that may range from cost saving to best use of land, employing staff to products potential, valuations to drainage issues, protecting trees and property to producing method statements and specification for use by others. It may entail boundary disputes and oil tank spillages, insurance claims and garden site condition reports. The list is endless, and you  never know what will crop up next!

If you are currently undertaking a certain amount of ‘consultancy’, not purely related to your everyday work, but are getting enquiries to visit sites and offer opinions, this is the time to consider making a definite ‘split’ in your business. In 1984, having operated under the banner of ‘Alan Sargent – Town & Country Gardens of Distinction’, I was becoming increasingly fed up with people wanting free advice. (They didn’t call it that, but it was unpaid so therefore ‘free’ as far as I was concerned!) I split the company – same address, bank details, telephone etc, but had new headed paper produced – Alan Sargent, Gardens Consultant and Town and Country Gardens – ostensibly two separate firms.

Suddenly, it was as though I was FREE! But free from time wasters and non payers. Indeed, my consultancy rates were 50% higher than those for construction works. From that time onwards, whether by accident or the state of play at the time, I became involved in a wide range of consultancy enquiries. Projects that I would never had been approached to undertake whilst wearing my Landscapers hat!

I will give just a small flavour of the types of contract, including location and nature:

Gibraltar (Marshalls ref. paving), Jersey (also Marshalls), Bradstone (around the UK – involving product useage, balustrading, colour issues etc), Do It All Ltd (Product useage, public interfacing) Hozelock (Product development, UK), Du Pont (Luxembourg, Product useage), Harpak Ltd (Moscow and St Petersburg, consultancy and setting up The Moscow Academy of Landscape Architecture and Design) plus introducing Bradstone products into the Russian marketplace.    These are just some of the commercial consultancy enquiries…………..

Private commissions including Jersey (Design), France (Design and Project Management), Spain (Javea and Madrid – Design and Specification), Germany and Italy (Plant sourcing) etc.

ALL of these commissions were made by recommendation from other ‘satisfied customers’. EVERY JOB IS PART OF THE CURRENT ONE, AND WILL BE PART OF THE NEXT!

So whether you are currently operating as a Garden Designer, Contractor, Specialist Supplier or Landscape Contractor, consider the following life style procedures………………(All consultancy advice is in regard to individuals, not as ‘firms’)

EXAMINE your previous experience and current status. Highlight all things that you feel may be of value or interest, including all formal qualifications and especially Letters Designate. Note all career highlights, especially unusual commissions (it is not considered good form to mention private clients, as most will value their privacy and therefore not welcome learning details of your past customers). START TO BUILD YOUR C.V. and update it annually.

BUILD UP A LIST OF IMPORTANT PEOPLE AND CONNECTIONS.  A major part of becoming a Consultant is not just what you know, as much as who! I don’t mean that you should know people personally, but know of them. I have well over a hundred contacts including a very wide range of specialists, but also suppliers and specifiers, television and radio producers (more of which later), Government offices including Environment Agencies (local to you), Insurance companies and local regional managers, specialist craftspersons (thatchers etc), as wide a range as you can think of.

BECOMING A GARDENS CONSULTANT is all about problem solving, but this needs to be carried out in a clear, concise, progressive and informative manner. You should always be prepared to disclose the sources of your information (it is polite to advise them beforehand, both out of courtesy, but also to increase your contacts – these things work both ways!). Above all, your report should be articulate, with no errors. It is all too easy to produce a report with a simple word missing that may alter the whole meaning on the document. Just imagine that you wrote nitrate instead of nitrite and did not spot the mistake!

(A great illustration here, is the story of the School teacher, who wrote the following words on the blackboard.    The teacher said the boy was an idiot.   Now add two commas;

The teacher, said the boy, was an idiot.  Complete 360 degree turn in two commas!)

IT IS ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE that you are given a clear and precise instruction or set of instructions by your client. As with all contracts, you need to identify the client and agree payment terms in advance. It is always best to charge a Day Rate plus expenses, as you may not have a clear end of contract in sight…   It is equally imperative that you do not exceed that mandate. Deal only with the matter in hand, they will not want to pay you for ‘excess’ words. (Assuming a written report is required. After all, you may be asked only for your advice and opinions, but you should still have either a fixed period or Day Rate in place.)

Session Three will continue to develop the style and nature of your chosen path. You should perhaps begin by setting out your strengths and previous history – also what you really enjoy doing. It does not matter what your personal Unique Selling Point is at this stage, as you may have more than one. The reason I mentioned some of my previous commercial work was to show that there is no rhyme nor reason to where enquiries come from, or their particular content. Once you become known as a Consultant, recommended by others, you will learn to deal with each enquiry, including who to turn to for advice on your own behalf if necessary!  Hence the need for a wide range of specialist contacts…


Before the end of the Virtual Seminar, we will look at marketing and networking your special skills and USP, and begin to develop your Consultancy business……………….


Becoming A Gardens Consultant – A Virtual Seminar: Session Three

Session Three – Developing Your Career Opportunities

Session Three has been retitled from the original ‘programme’ to reflect the comments and interest shown in the first two tranches. To reiterate – the idea of the Virtual Seminar is to enable me to visualise a room full of people who have paid good money to attend! This is the only practical manner in which I can conduct a progressive essay, taking each step along the road to becoming a Gardens Consultant. If you have not already done so, and are ‘late on parade’, may I suggest that you read the first two sessions before continuing with Session Three.

A question arose from the last essay regarding the ability of an ‘ordinary maintenance gardener’  to become a Consultant. The answer is an emphatic YES! You cannot possibly become a gardens expert in your chosen field without first having had a solid background in horticulture and  that of working outdoors in all conditions involves. Experience is everything! Once you branch out into consultancy, each project will help you to build your confidence and knowledge. It is a one way road, as every site, every scheme, every client and brief will help to cement your place in your field.

Examples of Business Plans/Career Opportunities 

I want to take three different hypothetical fields that may interest you and fit in with your experience and skills. This is where the virtual seminar idea fails slightly, as I have to assume certain things about the roomful of delegates (you, the readers!) which I would have ascertained under a real life seminar preambles session, quizzing each person beforehand in respect of their past experiences and wishes for the future, by means of a mini-questionnaire. Offhand, I can think of around twenty different models for Consultancy fields, but I think you will learn enough of the processes involved to enable you to decide your own path.

Historic Houses, Large Properties, Country Estates 

This is a rich area for Consultancy, where your previous knowledge  as a maintenance contractor, garden designer, hard landscaper, gardener – as wide a field of experience as possible, to enable you to be able to talk the language of horticulture and management. Think of yourself as being a Head Gardener, in charge of a large country estate, with an important house being the centre of the site.

The range of subjects that a Consultant may be called upon to assist with is huge and varied. The enquiry will always involve a PROBLEM. Often it is something that for political reasons (financial matters, matrimonial issues, staff problems that are difficult to resolve in-house and a host of other ‘private’ matters – you have to learn to be very diplomatic) the owners or managers cannot deal with themselves, and prefer to call on outside help.

If I list just a few of the issues I have been called upon to deal with. Please bear in mind that I operate as a Senior Garden Adviser specialising in 18th & 19th Century Gardens (in my capacity as a Consultant). Properties range from 30 acres to 500 acres, plus some London Gardens (walled or gated properties managed by an Agent, usually communal areas in  famous London Squares).

Staffing problems, including rationalising the existing workforce, carrying out a detailed analysis of existing work practices and logistics, formulating (if necessary) a new format and cutting (or increasing) staff numbers, relocating people, producing medium and long term plans for the future well being and running of the gardens.

Maximising the  uses of existing buildings and greenhouses, vegetable areas, herbaceous borders, including the possibility of selling produce grown on site. Increasing the attractiveness of the garden, whether or not open to the Public. Producing a schedule of ideas for increased footfall and visitor numbers. Highlighting the plus points and negatives of a site.

Producing a schedule of potential attractions, including all logistics and costings based on a five year programme, ensuring that the works are carried out in such a way as to be accessible and useable during the summer/ tourist season without disrupting the logical programme and keeping costs under control (i.e. avoiding double handling of work schedules)

Basically, taking an over view of the garden as a knowledgeable outsider, bringing fresh ideas into the business.

There is SO MUCH potential for work as a Consultant – all you have to do is to gain the ability to ‘talk the language’. In order to do that, you should consider visiting as many gardens Open to the Public as you can, including National Trust and English Heritage sites. As you walk around, look very carefully at what you are experiencing…………..listen to other visitors, even straight after entering the car park. What are they saying? Are dogs allowed on a short lead? How many are turning away because dogs are not allowed?

Walk the grounds. Note anything that you would change for the better. Are the steps slippery? Could you improve the path materials or edging? Are the greenhouses in good order? Can the public access the work areas? (normally signed Keep Out or Private) Would they want to – are they/could they be of interest to the visitors?

So many questions that you need to ask of yourself. Imagine that you are being paid to walk the grounds and come up with some sound ideas to improve the gardens and the visitor experience.

I’m afraid that, even when on holiday, I go around a lot of ‘Stately Homes’  gardens and invariably end up chatting with the Head Gardener, often invited in to the potting shed for a cup of coffee. You can learn SO MUCH about your subject, by playing ‘Let’s Pretend’ that you are being paid as a consultant, so that when you are, you will have a clear idea of how to proceed.

Town and City Houses – A Specialist Service 

You will need a Unique Selling Point or USP when you start out as a Consultant. It is the one way of marketing yourself (much more about marketing in Session Five) and setting yourself and your ‘offer’ apart from others. As Landscapers and Designers, you will have a wide and varied skills base, able to cope with the logistics of working under difficult conditions, well versed in the problems of site access, parking etc. Working in City gardens with all that entails.

Consider……………what can YOU offer that is different? What will gain YOU the attention your skills deserve? Your own Very Special Unique Selling Point!

Now, some of you reading this are going to say ‘Wow!  What a great idea!  Others will think I have been out in the sun too long.

I am going to suggest that a business, run by a well skilled landscaping company, could make a very good living acting as a Gardens Consultant dealing with unwanted visitors to City gardens. By that I mean animals – cats, rats, foxes and anything else that desecrates a garden, either by using it as a rat run, a toilet, a games room or apartment.

I am not suggesting – country boy though I am – that you booby trap the garden and place snares everywhere, but that a well designed and carefully thought out garden, planned with cleanliness in mind, would prove to be a very attractive proposition to many thousands of city garden owners. Certainly, those I work for in South West London are desperate for a solution to fouled beds and lawns, chewed electrical cables, destroyed irrigation systems and a general foul stench about the place.

Call it the Butterflies, Birds and Bees approach. If you want birds in your garden, then you do not want cats.

The art of the Clean Garden Consultant is in how produce a well designed garden, with all the usual requirements to relax and enjoy, but designed in such a way as to deter vermin. There are a host of different ways – everything from setting pipes and cables into steel conduits, fixing galvanised rollers to the top of fences and walls to prevent creatures from walking along or jumping over/using the top of the fence as a launch pad, placing very smooth materials (including mirrors, which foxes hate as they see interlopers/themselves in the mirror) which prevent climbing up or down walls and fences.

Place weld mesh under lawns and beds to prevent digging into the garden. Install a one way ‘cat flap’ style door somewhere to get rid of anything able to gain access, and prevent easy ingress. There are just so many ways to deter creatures, whilst at the same time attracting those you welcome. Plan borders and plant them (without bone meal which foxes cannot resist) to attract butterflies and bees. Create a wildlife garden without the vermin!

Keep all water points and hoses under cover, as the smell of water, even through pipes, will attract unwanted visitors. There are some very good sites on Google. One in particular, by Bromley Council is well worth reading.

I believe that, handled correctly and avoiding any adverse comments from those people who adore the smell of fox pooh, by emphasising your green credentials by creating wildlife town gardens without quadrupeds, you will find a very willing marketplace.

Countryside Consultants 

Obviously, living in the country, which I have done all my life, I have had a wide range of experiences both personally and by watching others involved in what could be called Country Skills. Whilst it is not necessary for you, as a Consultant, to master all such trades, you will need a working knowledge of them, the fact that they exist and most importantly – where to contact the various craftspeople.

A business model, a Consultancy set up to advise on Country matters based on a firm horticultural footing, is something that is currently lacking – or in very short supply – in the UK.  I learnt a long time ago, that the shortage of a multi-skilled firm able to deal with what may be called ‘Old Fashioned’ skills, has prevented many land owners and Local Authorities from placing commissions for works. Most simply have no idea where to go, or who to approach to gain advice on a range of country talents.

Some years ago, I was working on a Dan Pearson project somewhere in Hampshire, for a very well known celebrity. The property was an ancient farm house – many centuries old in its original form – which had a dew pond as part of the site. This dew pond had been made so many years ago, it had become disrupted with trees growing through the base material. Nobody was able to help with restoring it, and a lot of research later, I discovered the source of the clay lining, what specification and techniques to use, but all via different sources. Having successfully restored the dew pond, I had several enquiries from Local Authorities, all desperate for information and advice!

There are so many examples of Country Skills. Hedge Laying, Dry stone walling, Ditching using faggots, dry sett laying etc; all ancient skills.

But there are also many more modern skills that are in danger of disappearing. The art of planting a properly functioning orchard for example, complete with bee hives, planting centres, pollination grouping, pruning regimes, spraying (or biological controls) and drainage. (Drainage is another hugely underestimated skill, for all manner of Landscape projects) The list goes on, and as diverse as they are, if a Consultant were to pull them all together, with sources of materials, specification, specialist artisans etc, they would  find a sound and profitable business is there for the taking.

As I mentioned, I can suggest around twenty or so different models, but in the present format of Virtual Seminar, will leave others to your imagination.

I will however, highlight the various formats and methods of approach (pre marketing) of a number of different scenarios in Session Four.


Becoming A Gardens Consultant – A Virtual Seminar: Session Four

Becoming a Gardens Consultant – A Virtual Seminar
Session Four – Packaging Your Consultancy Business Offer

As mentioned in Session Three, I can think of around twenty different Business Models for a Consultancy business, all of which act as your Unique Selling Point. I also explained that there is no reason why you should not have more than one USP, especially if, like myself, I found it sensible and practical to separate certain skills for reasons of marketing.

(Whilst my main business interest is in Historic Houses/18th & 19th Century gardens, I also have a profitable ‘sideline’ in topiary and the management of fine hedges. This speciality has grown out of the historic gardens business to become a stand alone source of income.) It could be argued too, that I make money by selling my knowledge of marketing and consultancy by means of writing for magazines and publishing gardens management books, but that too, could be called another USP.

We  looked at four different career opportunities during Session Three, and I now want to move on to some of the Services you may like to offer. These will be valid across the board – any one of the various aspects of consultancy will require the same planning logic, irrespective of their actual field.  As one thinking of developing a horticultural/garden design background you need to adopt a new approach to your current work.

You will be selling your talents on a consultancy basis to people who need your skills. You will never be able to imagine the huge range of problems you will be presented with, and it is your immediate response, when asked to provide a consultancy service and given the task in hand, that will decide your success or otherwise. The professional approach is to ask as many questions of your client at the initial meeting. The most important question of all is that of their expectations. What do you want me to do for you? That may sound like the most obvious thing of all, but it is surprising the number of times that misunderstandings occur. The Consultant has not clearly understood the brief, and either produced a report that was of no use to the client, or had far too much information, and time spent well beyond the brief, costing far more than anticipated , equates to an unhappy customer.

Write down all relevant details of that initial meeting and immediately produce a resume of that conversation and present it to the client before you start work. State clearly your understanding of their requirements, and get them to agree in writing (email will suffice) or add, alter or delete any item. At this stage, if not already agreed, you should state your Terms and Conditions, and an idea of the likely final invoice. You should also agree interim payments if required………..

Services May Include………………………….

Garden Evaluation or Valuation

This service in invaluable to anyone contemplating purchasing a property with an existing garden, especially a large and established site. The Evaluation, in its basic form, would typically consist of a written survey highlighting items of value and interest including hard landscaping features and their condition, but also specimen plants, their value in the garden and future life expectancy, plus any problems identified. However, the report could be produced in more detail and may include an in-depth schedule of the garden plant stock, trees, ponds and pools, garden equipment, boundary fences etc – a fully detailed and itemised document describing the garden with all its pros and cons.

There may be other matters that you should include if relevant. For example, if you discover a well in the grounds, which may be useful for irrigation, you should examine this in more detail. Establish the depth by plumbing the well, the amount of water in the bottom. The dimensions (depth x diameter) will give you an accurate idea of the amount of water available. You may like to propose that you visit the site again, this time with a submersible pump. Empty the well completely, then return (say) 48 hours later of check the water depth – this is known as the recovery rate – and will provide you with a good idea of the amount of water available for any such irrigation suggestions.

Valuations may be extended to other matters. For example, an oil tank leakage, where hundreds of litres of heating oil may have contaminated an area, which will require excavating and removing offsite, with a (often large) amount of new topsoil to be imported. Your role would be to assess the damage from a horticultural viewpoint, including potential damage to root systems. This type of consultancy is difficult to assess when estimating your costs and should be charged at your  Day Rate. In all likelihood, an insurance company will be paying for your costs in any event.

Other matters of valuation may include damage caused by cattle (a herd can destroy a garden and lawn in just a few minutes of rampaging) or a road traffic accident, storm damage, wilful damage/vandalism, or simply to provide an indication of the value of the garden as part of a property sale.

Site Assessments

Site assessments differ in nature from Evaluations or Valuations. Whether a new garden or existing site, a report setting out the potential of that garden can greatly enhance both the monetary value of the property, but also give maximum pleasure and useage. Following an interview to establish the client’s needs, present and future, you should assess the site – which will require a budget at an early stage – to provide a detailed plan or schedule of works. A properly formulated plan, step by step, stage by stage, with a works schedule showing the correct sequence of events to avoid double handling and unnecessary expenditure may be produced.

This report will (probably) call for a written and detailed Method Statement, providing the client with a ‘story board’ of how the job should be approached, including access points, ground conditions and possible use of ground boards to prevent compaction by machinery and equipment, overhead power cables, drainage runs, man hole positions – everything that a contractor will need to price for a project on an equal basis/like for like with other contractors. You may be retained to oversee any works that arise from your consultancy report. REMEMBER, at this stage, you are acting as a Consultant, not a contractor or designer. This is of course, not to say that you will not be asked to provide a quotation………..

When assessing a site, you should be aware of the life style/life stage of the client. Perhaps they may have elderly parents who come to visit, grandchildren or a disabled family member. All of these things are part of your consultancy service.

Site assessments may also include taking soil samples and tests, carrying out Ph testing of existing pools and ponds, surveying woodlands for damage and disease, protecting important specimen trees and shrubs, identifying sites that may be used for wild flowers and perhaps bee keeping. Generally, an assessment brief will give you a much freer hand to come up with your own ideas and suggestions, as you have the experience the clients may lack…………………again, ensure that your brief is carefully established before commencing work.

Staff Selection

With your expertise, skills and knowledge, in the field of ‘Consultancy’ you may be asked to assist with assessing potential staff, especially at Senior level. How to choose the right applicant when interviewing several potential candidates for a position as Head Gardener, Gardener In Charge or full time single handed gardener in a smaller garden is not an easy task. The owners may not have much experience in interviewing, and knowledge of the right questions to ask.

They may be easily swayed by ‘bits of paper’ or claims of past experience, and when you arrive to interview the candidate and walk him/her around the garden, you quickly realise that they do not have a clue! This service is becoming more and more in demand, and able consultants are very difficult to find……………

Having an independent Consultant, with many years of experience in dealing with staff and managing gardens sitting in on the interview process reduces the risk of making a wrong decision. Owners appreciate the input of an outside and independent person of experience, and by placing greater emphasis on the management skills of the applicant, and their ability to work with employers and (perhaps) subordinates is every bit as important as practical gardening knowledge.
Assistance may also be given to drawing up contracts of employment to ensure that both parties are protected in a fair and equitable manner. (You would be amazed at the hopelessly out of date ideas that some employers have!)

Expert Witness

Being an expert witness is no longer the nerve wracking and confrontational business it was twenty odd years ago. Then, in cases of dispute, both parties would employ their own expert witnesses to attend Court, and more often than not – being experts in their fields, and being bound to tell the truth etc, they agreed with each other! I had several such experiences in the early 90s, when called upon to be an expert witness is cases, only to find that my opposite number was one of a number of old friends!

Lord Wolfe changed the law so that only one expert witness is now appointed – or agreed by the Court to be the expert witness, even if paid for by either the Plaintiff or Defendant – as the Courts Expert Witness. Both sides have to agree, but I have never known the Judge’s decision to be called into question!

This type of consultancy will not be for everybody, but do not be put off by the nature of the work. You need a reasonable understanding of how the Court system works, and it is only on very rare occasions that you will need to go into Court. Usually, disputes are discussed in a private room, with  the Judge sitting without regalia, a clerk, the Plaintiff and Defendant plus the expert witness. I am delighted to say that a) I have never ‘lost’ a case, but on every occasion, have found such discrepancies in the contract documentation – usually involving variations in quantity, which negated all further dispute, and b) always been paid even if my client has not received compensation.

All you have to do, is visit the site (perhaps), check all documents and contracts, and tell the whole truth about the work or site in your professional opinion. Simple as that! Answer all questions openly and honestly, and just be helpful to the Court.


You will appreciate that these 10,000 or so words which  make up this Virtual Seminar are simply scratching the surface of a very wide ranging subject. I hope that will have a fair understanding of what it takes to become a consultant. You can start as early and young as you like – but if you have the ambition and are willing to spend time analysing situations and projects in as thorough a manner as possible, thinking about how YOU would deal with a problem, even if it is nothing to do with you – you are simply passing the site – then you will be able to handle any situation.

In Session Five, I will be going into more detail of the Marketing and Networking aspects of Consultancy. As you will find, they vary quite considerably from ‘ordinary’ advertising or marketing of your current skills, although they will certainly be handy for the former…………..


Becoming A Gardens Consultant – A Virtual Seminar: Session Five

Becoming a Gardens Consultant – A Virtual Seminar
Session Five – Marketing & Networking Your Own Consultancy  Business

(As with the previous Sessions, please start with Session One, as it is a progressive ‘Seminar’)

The journey to becoming a Gardens Consultant is, of necessity, a long one. Simply being very good at one subject may well supply  you with your Unique Selling Point, but that specific skill may not be enough to provide you with a sound business. For example, a specialist in natural stone will greatly increase the chance of gaining a consultancy commission on the strength of their knowledge of the materials, but that will merely provide them with a short visit or consultation. However, combine that talent with an in depth working knowledge of laying techniques, pointing methods, sand selection, uses and limitations, porosity, durability, crushing strengths, density etc, will afford much greater scope for a fully detailed and useful document.
That knowledge becomes CAMPAIGNABLE and will attract customers to your Consultancy business, as well as your ‘main’ job.

It will also open up a far wider field of enquiry, and it is this ability to offer a complete package that will help you to establish yourself as THE consultant when it comes to commissioning a report. Your skills are of no use unless you can produce a fully detailed report, specific to that site. All too often, seekers of such information rely far too heavily on the internet  to provide solutions, only to find that the techniques recommended are too generalised to be of any use to them. There is a lot of good, sound, information available via social media, but even the best is not enough if it is not site specific. This comment goes right across the board, from working practices, material selection and site conditions.

If all you had to do was Google an answer, we would all be redundant! There would be no need to gain experience by spending years learning a trade, if all that is required is the click of a button! But at least once a week, I have a call for help because of confused and mixed messages people have obtained via the media………………..

I learned a very valuable lesson from Peter Hamer (see Session One) who, as a Horticultural Consultant, was extremely knowledgeable, with many years of practical experience under his belt. (This was during the late 60s and early 70s, long before the Internet or any other form of ‘instant’ information). Peter was commissioned by major firms such as ICI, Murphy, May & Baker etc; all of whom were taken over by other companies many years ago. Commissions included Cabbage Root Fly damage (which involved washing and examining 5,000 cabbage roots), Gleosporium damage to stored apples (involving checking and weighing hundreds of individual apples on a daily basis), plus many other in depth analysis methods. Peter taught me that if you did not know the answer to a problem always ask for assistance.

When I worked with him (as a Lab assistant), I saw that he would not be afraid to seek the opinion of others. A major part of being a good consultant is in knowing WHO to ask for advice. That person would contact Peter and ask him for HIS advice should it be needed. This openness in exchanging information has always stayed with me, and I have sought to do the same throughout my career. NOBODY knows it all! By knowing who to consult with, and the right questions to ask, you will gain so much more information and credibility.


As your career develops, and you find that you are particularly skilled at, or enjoy (often one and the same thing) a particular job, you will find yourself trying to attract more of that type of work. This is such an obvious statement to make, but most of us find that we have to take on a wide range of contracts, just to stay in business. However, by running your favoured type of work in tandem with your other jobs, and gradually split the ‘specialist’ projects from the norm, you should find that after a period of time, you will become well known for the former. You will begin to develop your Unique Selling Point. It is at this stage that you need to really concentrate your energy of gaining as much experience and information as possible about your chosen subject.

I have already covered a range of different types of Consultancy. The task now is to set about selling your skills. It is very important to remember, that as a Consultant, all you have to sell is your time and knowledge. Unlike a normal contract, where you will make money on your labourers, material mark-ups, profit and overheads, early completion on a priced contract etc – as a Consultant, all you are selling is YOURSELF. Therefore you need to charge accordingly. I recommend a Day Rate, with perhaps a Half Day Rate, which should be 60% of the Day Rate. This rate should be in the region of £250.00 per day upwards, PLUS expenses.

Expenses include travel (however you wish to work that out: fuel, mileage, fares etc) and all time spent on the project INCLUDING office time, telephone calls etc. You need to think and act in a thoroughly professional manner, much as a solicitor or mechanic, dentist or repair man. Keep a detailed log of everything you do on the commission, and submit the document as part of your invoice. I appreciate this will be alien to many of you, but it is expected of you, especially when working for professional companies. It is also why, when agreeing your Terms, these matters are all placed in writing.

You may well have to commission experts of your own, obviously by prior written agreement, and their fees will need to be included with your detailed invoice.
Outside experts may include specialists in Site Surveying, Drainage, Soil Mechanics, Irrigation, Lighting, Environmental matters and a host of other professionals.
Should you find yourself working for a Company (more often than not), they will be doing the same thing, further on down the line, by employing you!


Selling yourself as a Consultant requires a different style of advertising. Many people call themselves ‘Consultants’ when in fact they are offering an adjunct to their normal business, as in Garden Design & Consultancy, Landscapers and Consultants etc. This is fine, and will perhaps attract domestic customers, with the accent being on the main business – design or landscape – and the consultancy element adding kudos to the company. Some companies of course do actually specialise in Landscape Consultancy – Landform Consultants Ltd springs to mind, and such firms do indeed, offer professional consultancy (and charge for their Consultants time as a stand alone commission). This Virtual Seminar is not aimed at those established companies, but at all who wish to develop their talents and begin to earn a living by their brains as well as their hands!

In this instance, marketing and networking are one and the same – or at least, they are so closely related that one becomes an integral part of the other. Making your mark, setting out to establish yourself as a Consultant requires a great deal of research. If we take it as a given that you feel sufficiently competent to charge a relatively high rate for your time, confident that you have the ability to produce (even with help from others – we are not all able to use high tech typing machines!) well written reports, to the standard demanded by the client – you will need information.

Information that should be kept as a record, with an index and catalogued in such a way that you hold detailed accounts for a very wide range of other specialists that you MAY need, even on rare occasions, to get information and advice from. As I have mentioned, I have in depth notes on well over a hundred different individuals and companies, kept up to date and close to hand. Anybody whom I think I may need to know, or have knowledge of. Despite the fact that you are operating as a Specialist Consultant, with your own Unique Selling Point/s, you will need to have as wide a range of ‘outside experts’ as you can think of. The information you require is that of individuals, not simply company names. You will need the name of the Marketing Director, or The Senior Biologist, and talk to them as themselves, even though they represent the company. One to one dialogue discussing an issue in depth creates a great rapport.

The list may include; Drainage or Irrigation experts, Lighting and Gardens Electricians, Pool Engineers, Local Environmental Agencies, Local Authorities (especially Engineers, Planners, Open Spaces etc), Soil Mechanics, Agronomists, Garden Historians, Rose/Shrub/Tree experts/growers, Paving manufacturers and Suppliers, Radio and Television Producers (who LOVE good stories), Historic House Associations, National Trust, English Heritage, Land Agents, Estate Agents (larger properties), Garden Antique specialists, Timber suppliers, Turf Companies (especially their science/technical directors), Bioculture specialists, Arborists, Insurance Company Directors, the list goes on and on……………..


As much as you need to know about them, they also need to know about you. Once you feel ready, and have a clear idea of what it is you are selling as a Consultant – something THEY DO NOT HAVE – but well may have need of (remember, in Session Three – Countryside Consultancy, the tale of the clay lined dew pond), then you become part of THEIR network! Simply introduce yourself by means of a letter, with a request that they hold your details on file should they ever need your particular skill. Perhaps enclose a couple of examples of your ‘work’, at the same time ask permission to recommend them in a reciprocal manner. If they agree, keep in regular contact with them (perhaps every few months?) and ‘follow’ them via their websites.
If anything of keen interest comes up, congratulate them on their success. Similarly, new product ranges offer you the chance to comment favourably to Paving manufacturers, or a new design in irrigation could result in a request for technical information from their boffins, each time will be a reminder of your existence…………this contact may well result in you being invited to become involved in the production and marketing of a particular product. I had SO MUCH work from companies such as Do It All and Bradstone for example, as I was the first person that sprang to mind when they were asked for an industry opinion. It is no good simply writing to introduce yourself as a Consultant. You need to build up that relationship, nurture and develop those people and projects that excite you.

Much of my work – even perhaps the largest part of my consultancy commissions come via other Consultants, or Managers/Directors of specialist firms. This week I have already had two enquiries, one from a major firm of Agents in West London in need of a site assessment, feasibility study and audit, the second from a London Council seeking advice on planning a new routine for improving productivity (something they are not able to handle ‘in-house’ for reasons of policy)

Even if you want to develop your consultancy business to exclude working with professional companies, and wish to remain in the private sector, you will still need to have the information available via your chosen network. Once you become involved in dealing with matters such as waste sludge from a pond, water run off from a lake, Japanese knotweed, soil problems, drainage, etc, – anything that may involve environmental issues,  you may need your ‘team’ of outside experts for comment and advice. Once a question raises it’s head, you need to have an answer, and it will need to be the right one, no matter where you find it!

Bear in mind too, that many of these people – Insurance Company Managers and Directors for example, will be some of your main customers. If you always expect the unexpected when answering the telephone, you will be able to deal with anything – or at least know who to call for advice!

There is currently no National Register of Gardens Consultants (as far as I am aware).
Certainly, there are lists of Experts, including those held by The Garden Media Guild, whose members register their specialisms; The Association of Senior Garden Advisors (who offer their services as a team of consultants, mainly ex Head Gardeners, not Landscapers or Designers), and no doubt, a call to the RHS will result in an enquiry to someone, somewhere. But there is no National Register that anyone, private or professional, can call for details of their local Specialist Consultant. No one body that would immediately come to mind when seeking help with some quite profound matters.

Becoming a Gardens Consultant is a natural development to a career in Gardening. I differentiate between ‘Gardening’ and Horticulture, as the latter is such a massive field, with too many disciplines to begin to list in this article. I hope that at least some of you will feel sufficiently empowered and interested enough to follow the path set out in these Five Sessions.

You may have noticed that, even after 10,000 words, I have made no mention of HOW to produce a report, or WHAT to look for as a Consultant. Even if this Virtual Seminar was a real seminar in a College classroom, I would still not have divulged my methods and consultancy techniques………….I have to earn my living using my own Unique Selling Points, and not give EVERYTHING away for free!

(Seriously folks, if anyone is interested, I may well be up for running a Virtual Workshop at some stage, on a very specific topic to avoid going off at tangents. There will be no charge!)


Losing A Key Staff Member

When a key member of staff retires or announces they are leaving for pastures anew, the immediate reaction of the employer is to begin the process of replacing them as soon as possible. The more senior the position, the greater the urgency to fill the post.

I suggest that this  scenario that takes place every time someone important to the Team is about to go, leaving a gap that must be filled as soon as possible to ensure the continued well-being of the department.

Although I am not an Employment Agent, as a consultant I do undertake bespoke commissions to locate and appoint senior staff members, and it is surprising how little some employers know about the actual needs of the position.

I always interview the employer in the first instance, reviewing the site and evaluating the type of person they really need to replace their old employee. Because they have always had a Head Gardener (for example), they seek to engage someone with the same job title and background – even though that job description and skills set may not what they really need.

Times change, gardens may become less family orientated and more valuable as venues or sources of income. The emphasis may alter from active users to disabled families, older family members may hand over the management to a younger team of directors. Very few garden sites remain static over the years, and perhaps the previous incumbent was ideal for the original garden  but now a new breed of employee is needed.

No matter what series of events are relevant at the time of change, look well beyond the obvious, and examine how to turn the loss of such a valued individual into a positive situation by examining the true needs of the site.

Evaluate your remaining team

Look first of all at the rest of the Team. How many staff members are still doing the same jobs, holding the same job titles and team positions they were years ago. Since they started working for you, they must have gained many skills, and will certainly be more talented than they were when they began their employment.

Find out how many have taken formal training, or what avenues of continual personal development (CPD) they have been following. Do they now hold formal qualifications that you may not be aware of?  Are they not due for promotion within the Team? Take the opportunity to see if there is any way you could restructure your staff without replacing the person who is leaving – no matter how senior.

I am certainly not advocating reducing the skills level of the Gardens Team by not replacing that Senior or Head Gardener, but there is now every opportunity to reassess and reorganise your labour in such a way that you create a new and exciting environment which rewards each person with more responsibility, charging everyone to become more involved in their job.

It is also a chance to make any changes that may be required to the existing personnel. Some may have job titles that are obsolete or that will no longer apply if you decide to make any alterations to the structure of the department.

Look well beyond the need to employ a replacement and carry out a Working Practice Survey, examining each and every part of the existing department, including machinery and equipment, staffing levels, working standards and methods, current practices right across the board, and create a fresh set of Working Standards and Policy, to be in place before the appointment on a new person, whatever their title.

By undertaking such a  survey you may be very surprised at how much talent you have within the existing team, how much time is wasted on unnecessary practices, how many matters that will be uncovered that will need to be addressed legally e.g. compliances, signage, fire safety, Health & Safety, lack of certificates, licences including Waste Handling etc.

There are bound to be negatives as well as positives, but if you address everything in one operation, you should find at the end of the exercise, you have a more professional, engaged and enthused group of workers, with a meritorious system in place, reducing wastage of time, energy, money and reducing low staff morale by recognising individual achievements. The need will still be there to have one person in charge and taking overall control of the department – perhaps a Director of the Owner will have to expand their portfolio.

Instead of lamenting the fact that you are losing a valued member of staff, and spending a lot of time and money on finding a replacement that may prove to be unsuited to your requirements by trying to maintain the status quo, with a little more enterprise, you could make far-reaching changes to the structure of the department that will save a great deal of money, and produce a more enthusiastic gardens team by thinking beyond the immediate need to find a replica of the leaver.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to find good staff, because so many have left to take up self-employment, because the immediate financial rewards are seen to be more attractive than working for one property, the shortage is certainly becoming more obvious.

Perhaps it is time to change the emphasis on staff structuring, with more shared responsibilities and recognition for those willing to put the time in learning the trade in a progressive manner.


Taking Time To Ascertain A Client’s Wishes

As a Designer or Contractor, the temptation to begin work on a project by looking at the design possibilities or quantities, costs and practicalities of marrying the Client’s wishes with the site or budget is sometimes too urgent and all consuming.

As a Designer, you will be checking out levels and falls, shade, light, soil type, wind problems, focal points and views from various parts of the house, both inside and out. How many people will be using the garden. Are they all fit, without any special problems, aged relatives, life style/stage and of paramount importance – the budget.

The Contractor will be pricing up several times the number of projects that they are able to construct, hoping to secure at least a few of those passing through the Estimator’s hands. They will be looking first and foremost at the practicalities of the design, choice of materials, personality of the client and designer (can I work for/with these people!) and of course – the budget!

Without exception, these primary elements will flavour and influence every single potential project.

Because the pressures are on to produce a meaningful quotation, or at least, an estimate in the first instance that will (hopefully) both cover the cost of the works, but also ensure a healthy profit at the end of the job – whilst at the same time, being set at a level that is acceptable to the customer, time will be limited.

A great percentage of that finite time that will be expended on pricing the job and  weighing up the possibilities of negotiating a deal that will convert the enquiry into a contract. Once the papers have been signed, the Contractor will start to think about seriously about the project, locating and sourcing materials and allocating labour within a given time framework.

Much importance will be given to the formula of raising invoices and arranging finances, all according to the duration of the scheme and likely outgoings as the works progress.

The designer will be either looking for other clients, or making arrangements to supervise or become involved in some way with the successful scheme – perhaps taking on the planting aspects of the project subject to a separate contract.

Looking beyond the site

Yet so often, one of the most important – indeed, vital elements of a project are either ignored or overlooked in the haste of completing the tasks described above. As a Consultant, I see so many projects become acrimonious and financially destructive through the neglect of one of the most essential and fundamental elements of any Contract.

Both Designer and Contractor should work separately, even if they are both from the same firm or working as a Team. Two pairs of eyes are better than one!

Before you arrive on site, take a good look around you. Begin your site assessment and evaluation outside the gates of the property, and start the planning process with essential matters such as access, height restrictions/overhead cables, off-site parking, turning circles for articulated lorries (The Association of Professional Landscapers have a Site Evaluation template) and a host of other extremely important factors that will affect the viability and costs of any scheme.

Look carefully at the condition of the immediate location. Are the fences/walls/gates etc in good order? Is the building sound and in good repair? Are there any depressions or soft spots in the driveway that may become problematic?

Take a thorough time dated photographic record of the site, and present the file with your quotation or design proposals, explaining your reasons and logic behind your thoughts.

If you provide a separate ‘Extant’ Site Report – a survey of the site at the time of assessment, clearly showing any matters of concern, you will not only have covered yourself against any future claims providing you have taken steps to overcome any potential problems,  you will have shown your professionalism. (Indeed, you should consider charging for an Extant Site Survey as a separate contract as a Consultant)

Some recent examples of failures to evaluate site conditions outside of the Contract area, unrecognised or ignored by all concerned, that ended up in Court, where the only winners are the Lawyers, include;

A shared ownership  driveway, that had recently been constructed and appeared reasonably sound at first sight proved to have been very poorly laid by semi-skilled labour was the only access into site. Only once works began, with heavy lorries importing and exporting materials, when the drive surface began to disintegrate, did the poor quality of the drive construction become obvious.

A little research by the Contractor would have discovered the likely quality of the work and alarm bells would have rung. If suitable ground boards had been recommended and priced into the job, the contractor would have been seen as professional and forward thinking – even if the clients had complained about the additional cost – they would have no choice but to accept the price. Instead, the contractor had to pay a large sum of money for repairs to the base and surface of the driveway.

Other cases include high water tables, lack of provision for water disposal, surface tree roots, shared boundary fences and hedges, height restrictions against boundaries, land level alterations in a National Park, made up ground/settlement, an air raid shelter situated under a boundary fence, time/noise restrictions – the list goes on.

Start planning before you start drawing the plans!