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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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?
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).
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.
– 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
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
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.
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)
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
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
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,
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.
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.
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
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
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
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