Garden Designers – Extending Your Client Offer

As a Garden Designer, you are privileged in being the first link in what should become a lengthy chain of skilled artisans, all working towards creating a living space that goes well beyond the visual and practical. It is your lot to bring together a menu of elements, much as a scientist or chef, working from a foundation provided by the client, site and budget, all blended together with a selection of materials, both inert and living.

This in essence is the role of a Garden Designer.

First of all, you need to provide a potential customer with an attractive lure, much as a Bird of Paradise does when attracting a mate. Your website information and layout needs to be bright, logical and entrancing enough to invite a client to contact you in the first instance.

Have you ever quizzed a customer as to why they chose to contact you? Was it your reputation, or because you met at a Flower Show, where you were displaying your (Bird of Paradise) skills. Or perhaps your colourful website, or friend of friend recommendation?

Without at least a couple of those lures, you would not have received the call in the first place.

Converting an enquiry into a contract is perhaps the hardest part. How you are perceived as a competent designer, able and willing to provide fresh ideas that enthuse the customer/s, to supply sound information and display a solid knowledge of materials and products, understand the need for scientific aspects including soil conditions and type. Recognise their lifestyle/life stage, their need for privacy, wind shelter, provide for elderly and young children and pets – a host of different ingredients to put into the melting pot, stir and come up with a tasty project.

You need to understand and celebrate the Law, regarding matters such as boundaries, local restrictions and bye-laws, introduce and understand the responsibilities placed on you as Principal Designer under the Construction (Design Management) Regulations 2015, and weave all of these elements into the fabric of your design presentation.

Body language and social skills are extremely important. Very often, simply being genuine, open and honest is the best plan to follow when dealing with customers. Learn the danger signals of dishonest clients and professional non-payers and ensure your Terms and Conditions are written in a style that will dissuade the unscrupulous from engaging you. Much better to lose a problem customer before they cause you heartache and aggravation!

Once your scheme is accepted, if you are invited to get involved in the construction process, be wary of the obligations placed on you under CDM. Be very wary too, of becoming involved in the selection of a landscape contractor, except in the most general terms (by recommending a member of a recognised Trade Association (APL or BALI) unless you do so on very clear terms that do not lock you in to a contract whereby any problems with the build become yours, even partially.

Check carefully your Terms and Conditions (see The Library for Designers Terms) and ensure that you are seen as being totally independent from the contractor. Any input your are asked to make must be under a separate and clear contract. Otherwise you risk becoming linked under the Law of Joint and Several where both designer and contractor may be jointly sued.

I know that many designers already offer to supply and plant gardens once the hard landscaping has been completed. I know too that you are aware of the new Plant Passports Regulations, and are Registered under the Law, keeping all records in accordance with the rules.

How many designers offer aftercare of their completed schemes?  I don’t mean mowing the lawns or weeding the beds (although you may wish to do so!), but maintaining the plants and trees, ensuring that ties are adjusted, soil levels are kept at the correct height, composts and fertilisers applied at the proper rates and watering is carried out diligently.

Do you currently offer an Aftercare Service as part of your design package? Charging a Day Rate to attend site and ensure the well-being of your new baby, perhaps monthly or quarterly may be a great way to increase your turnover and retain the goodwill of the customer, who will be enjoying showing off their new garden to friends, neighbours, and relatives (who could easily become new clients).

You would need a new and separate contract for this type of maintenance work (see Landscape Library – Maintenance Contract Terms & Conditions) to protect yourself. If you are willing and able to offer this additional service, you could increase your turnover and profit quite handsomely over the course of a year. 

Most importantly, you will be increasing the value of your service offer right from the outset, during the initial client/designer interview!


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


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)


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……..


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!


Protecting Your Design Integrity

This is a true story, slightly amended to avoid mentioning the site or client. It is a common tale that affects many designers and landscapers, reflecting as it does on the integrity of our Trade.

Some time ago, a large city council decided to create a high profile living space surrounding a block of flats, with mixed housing including private ownership, some flats co-owned between the Council and the tenant, and some social housing. They re-furbished the building and commissioned a firm of Landscape Architects to design an attractive and unique landscape scheme including hundreds of ‘non-Council’ plants that would perhaps be more readily found in an expensive large private garden.

The effect was quite dramatic, and the whole of the surrounding area was enhanced by this forward looking professionally created project. Indeed, the complex won awards for the value it produced for the general well-being and positive impact it had on the neighbourhood.

Naturally, the whole project was subject to Planning Permission and the whole gamut of officialdom was employed. The plans had to be approved, with full details of the proposed planting and crucially, aftercare instructions produced as a written and comprehensive detailed instruction manual for future maintenance.

The maintenance and aftercare contract was awarded to the local Council authorities, won at Open Tender, and all was well for the first season.

However, as time went by, Councillors resigned or were not re-elected. Council staff left the area, or were promoted to other Departments, and it was not too long before the whole of the original concept of a garden, once full of lush planting, and attractive all year round, became somewhat neglected. The plants were not maintained correctly, and instead of being properly pruned and shaped, were simply attacked with hedge cutters. Ornamental grasses were strimmed to the ground and the beds scoured by leaf blowers, removing much of the soil around the clump-forming root systems.

The ground became compacted, and new ‘desire line’ footpaths appeared across various areas that were once filled with ornamental vegetation. Watering was not carried out, and those plants that succumbed to the heavy machinery style of maintenance were not replaced, and the beds rapidly became overgrown with wild grasses and weeds.

However – proving the value of record keeping and having some  knowledge of Local Government, a new owner occupier appeared, became aware of the rapid decline in the condition of the scheme, and resolved to do something about the situation. What was once an Award winning scheme was in danger of becoming a desert, filled with litter and detritus.

Once a scheme loses its’ integrity…….

This person formed a Residents Association and tackled the Local Authorities regarding the sorry state of the grounds. They were informed that the grounds staff were professional, and were working to the highest of industry standards. Indeed, they were employed as professional gardeners.

However, not satisfied, the Association required the Council to provide them with the original plans and demanded sight of the Planning Permission application that must have been submitted in order for the scheme to go ahead. After much prevarication, the Council conceded that these documents had been ‘lost’ over the years. (The scheme was less than five years old)

The Residents then went to the Architects, who were able to provide them with the necessary documents (after much persuasion) which clearly set out the maintenance regime that had been demanded by the Council before Planning could go ahead. This package included the original planting plans and fully detailed aftercare instructions.

These instructions were quite explicit and each plant and type of plant was given an express set of seasonal requirements that should be followed to ensure the success of the project. Naturally, these instructions did not include neglect, hedge cutters, strimmers and blowers.

When confronted by this documentation, the Council became defensive and claimed that the amount of labour required to carry out the necessary work was too expensive. When the Residents offered to pay an extra premium on their rents, the Council decided that their skilled workforce was not qualified to carry out such horticulturally challenging work.

They finally managed to come to an arrangement – only by many threats of Breach of Contract – to persuade the Council to reduce their rents and allow the Residents to directly employ their own chosen private contractor to carry out the work paid for by the Association.

The lengths the Residents had to go to achieve their goal were complex and extreme, and it was only through the tenacity of one individual that they were successful.

The reason for relating this tale is to prove the value and importance for Designers to produce detailed aftercare instructions that should accompany their sets of drawings and layout plans, and this vital element should be written into any design contract, and duly paid for.

With the advent of CDM Regulations, this type of scenario should, hopefully, become rare. I appreciate that CDM does not yet include ‘planting’ unless the work involves heavy lifting or the use of mechanical equipment, but the fact remains that aftercare instructions are  vital to ensure the integrity of your schemes.

Hopefully, everyone will one day be aware that such records, especially for large scale private and all commercial schemes are essential, to be kept and passed on to new owners or Managers when a property changes hands or new staff are appointed.


Designers Nightmare Of Professional Non-Payers

I have written in the past about Professional Non-Payers, those who seem to seek out the newer and smaller firms, thinking they will not be able or willing to pursue a claim through the Courts.

Sometimes though, there are new levels or depths that some people will employ to avoid paying full value for work. They are so plausible, open and honest, that the unwary will not realise they have been trapped until far too late.

A married couple engaged a garden designer to create a garden at a property on a New Build site. Their request was that the designer produced the scheme and then recommended a Landscape Company to construct the garden, with the designer acting as the Overseer or Project Manager to ensure that the work was carried out to the necessary standards and designers instructions.

Once the scheme had been designed, the owners met with the designer and contractor, and Terms and Finance matters were agreed.

The owners explained that they were most anxious to have a garden designed and built that would impress their friends and family, stating that it was critical to them that the garden would have a ‘Wow!’ factor. They had chosen a design and build team to ensure that the ‘Wow!’ factor was a fundamental part of the contract.

They did not put this statement in so many words, but allowed both the designer and contractor to make their own claims and statements – as part of their ‘Sales Pitch’ marketing exercise. Both confirmed that the clients would indeed have a garden that met their wishes. No problem!

As you will appreciate reading this, there is no absolute specification to a ‘Wow!’ factor, and at the end of the job, when everything was completed that had been included in the quotation, the owners then refused to pay the final 25% of the bill because they did not feel they had what they had ordered.

All the way through the project, there had been no complaints. Interim payments were made on time, no mention of any dis-satisfaction at all until the job had reached practical completion. Suddenly, everything became a problem. The lighting was too strong and is not controllable. The fountain is too noisy and keeps the neighbours awake at night.

Why is the walling not at seat height? The white paint is too bright and hurts my eyes. The whole thing is too busy, when we wanted a peaceful garden. You said the fencing would be attractive, but it looks cheap. That rose is far too small and will never cover the pergola. The list goes on and on……

The client/designer/contractor relationship came to a sudden halt. The clients refused to talk to either the designer or contractor unless and until they came up with the promised ‘Wow!’ factor. They refused to make any more payments or have any discussions until they were satisfied.

They claimed a Breach of Contract had occurred, and they would not only make no further payment, they reserved the right to have garden cleared and started again with a new team, demanding that the original scheme be removed at the expense of the designer and contractor.

It is very important to note that as the designer and contractor were engaged as a team, they were to be treated as jointly liable for any issues that may have arisen from the scheme.

Both designer and contractor were treated as equals, despite the difference in financial outlay or income. This matter is known as a Joint or Several case, and any action taken would be issued Jointly and Severally, with both designer and contractor sorting out their own percentages at a later date between themselves.

Similarly, if either the designer or landscaper decided to sue the couple, they would have had great difficulty in progressing a case because they were acting together originally, and the owners could have asked for the case to be struck out.

I will not get too involved in Court matters, as each case is different, and if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, then you should take professional legal advice.

I would caution you strongly against making any verbal or written claims, or importantly, allowing your potential customer to make claims which you do not disclaim as unquantifiable or unable to be specified in writing.  If a customer requests anything that could be misconstrued at a later date, do not allow your inner Salesperson to take over and agree to something which you may later regret.

Listen hard to what is being said, and be very firm in the wording of your quotation, allowing no room for misunderstanding.

The relationship between a designer and contractor are thrown into the spotlight in this case. Unless you are prepared to accept joint liability, insist on having your own separate contracts which are not linked in any way.

Any designer who undertakes to supervise or oversee a contract should be aware of their responsibilities to the customer, contractor and the Law, especially under recent CDM Regulations.

Unless a designer is qualified and insured, they should think carefully before undertaking Project Management of a scheme, as this is a complicated legal minefield.

Every contractor should be operating under clear Terms and Conditions. If they have been produced professionally, they will be comprehensive, allowing no room for such ambiguous and nebulous requests as a ‘Wow!’ factor.


Making The Connection Between Design, Build And Maintenance

Joining the gap between Garden Designers, Landscape Contractors and professionally competent gardeners

For decades, there has been a disconnect between the creators and custodians of domestic gardens. Garden designers, Landscape Architects (including design and build firms) and Landscapers create wonderful gardens for their clients, ensuring that every aspect of the project is clearly specified and implemented to the best of their ability.

From initial drainage systems through to foundations, superstructure and fine detailing, they plan, formulate then construct the garden, finally handing over their creation to the tender mercies of the owner.

Despite preparing aftercare instructions, leaving a handover package including all warranties, instruction manuals and manufacturers guarantees – anything to ensure that the garden will be able to develop as planned, unless the project is overseen by a professional gardener, the opportunities for failure are countless, and very often, inevitable.

Meanwhile, working ostensibly in the same industry, there are many hundreds of competent, capable and able professional gardeners who are continually striving to find opportunities to show their skills to owners of gardens. Often competing against less skilled people advertising themselves as ‘qualified gardeners’, (was there ever such an overused and misleading term? What is a ‘Qualification?) they find that money is the prime selection choice of those seeking help in their gardens.

Individuals can leave College with an NVQ, and describe themselves as ‘qualified’ gardeners, even if they have no experience at all of actually working physically  in a garden – a multi-skilled professional that takes many years of understanding seasons, soils and the vagaries of the climate plus the correct use and techniques of working with machinery, equipment and chemicals.

Many thousands of ‘Gardeners’ advertise their wares in newspaper adverts, on-line forums, parish magazines, shop windows, leaflet drops – a host of different ways, all with the same basic message. LOW PRICES!  CHEAP GARDENING!  HALF PRICE FOR PENSIONERS!

Often sending out confusing messages to the public, offering gardening alongside gutter cleaning, pressure washing drives, logs for sale and a host of other ‘services’ thus equating the skills of a gardener to that of a general labourer. Such messages only help to dumb down and belittle the wide ranging skills required of a genuine professional gardener.

To the massive frustration of truly capable professional gardeners, they are obliged to swim in the same sea as thousands of less talented people. There is never a thought given regarding insurance, compliance with regulations or anything legal that might cost a bit more money.

Who is the cheapest?  Let’s give them a try. If they prove useless, there are plenty more to choose from!

Connecting the disconnect

For at least twenty years, industry groups such as The Society of Garden Designers (SGD) and The Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) have sought to work together, designers with contractors, each ‘sector’ ensuring that the ‘other side’ understands the other’s needs and wishes. Many dozens of forums, workshops and joint seminars have served to ensure  an awareness of the problems both parts of the industry face, and to accentuate the need to work together.

In most cases,  projects that both parties are working on involve joint co-operation with the client. Contracts will be drawn up clearly showing how the respective elements are to be approached and handled.

Construction (Design Management) Regulations 2015 ensure that both Designer and Contractor are aware of their responsibilities to their client and themselves.

The one MISSING ELEMENT in the overall scheme of things has been the need to match the needs of the Garden Builders (Designers and Landscapers) with the skills of the Garden Custodians. Those who will be responsible for the future well-being and aftercare of the new garden.

If this could be achieved in a natural, unforced and organic way, the whole Landscape industry could be transformed!

Designers and landscapers, working together with skilled, vetted, independent, professional gardeners, each mutually respecting the other’s role and expertise in their specialisms, would be able to fill the gap that is currently causing a roadblock to the success of many projects, often leading to failures.

How to build a bridge between the three corners of the triangle? Designers in one corner, garden builders in the second, and gardeners in the third.

The natural starting point is the Designer. Many garden designers belong to The Society of Garden Designers at one grade or another. Many are also members of smaller, local groups of designers. They meet on a regular basis, and often converse through social media, sharing information in a localised manner, and are thus able to make recommendations to the rest of the group.

The Association of Professional Landscapers is primarily formed of Domestic Landscapers, all of whom are regularly vetted to ensure that high standards are maintained.

Joint SGD and APL events are a common feature in the diaries of each group, where anything and everything of mutual interest is discussed to the benefit of all.

There have long been calls for another ‘Trade Group’ of vetted, insured, competent and trustworthy professional gardeners, all self-employed and offering their skills to provide aftercare to newly built gardens, requiring a good deal of common sense and a recognition that the needs of a newly laid out site are sometimes different from standard maintenance works, making checks and adjustments as and when needed to plants and equipment.

It is likely that some designers know of one or two such skilled gardeners, as will most landscape companies, even if they have not used their services. Everyone will be aware of talented individuals in their area, but they may not be aware of their wishes and special skills.

They will probably not be aware of how they operate their businesses, because they have never made professional contact with them.

If it were possible to make professional contact with individual gardeners, either through recommendations or Cluster Groups, Designers and Contactors could develop and build a mutually beneficial relationship, thus involving Skilled Gardeners and encouraging them to join in and become the third arm of the triangle.

Working locally, a Design Group, by inviting selected gardeners to tender for high quality maintenance work on a short-term basis (i.e. the duration of a warranty period, six months or a year) on one or more schemes, at a professional rate of pay and working under the guidance of an Aftercare Manual would prove a very attractive option for all concerned.

Similarly, Landscapers who do not have the capacity or wherewithal in their team to provide aftercare and warranty maintenance works, could supplement their workforce with a self-employed artisan on a contract price basis, charging and paying decent rates to look after their interests and ensure the newly landscaped garden develops in a timely manner, making adjustments as required without fuss or concern to the owners.

Professional Gardeners could build a business model around this regular high quality work, where their skills and experience may be recognized and appreciated by all, thus moving away from the low paid/competitive cheapest price market sector. They would be able to look forward and plan work accordingly, investing in training for others within their firm and build their reputation based on mutual respect.

As a mark of that respect, and to create a healthy working relationship it ought to be ensured that those individuals have been endorsed by a designer or landscaper, and well and worthily recommended by all concerned.

The third arm of the Triangle

The proposed and long-term solution to the dream outlined above seems likely to have been solved with the creation of a new Trade Body, organised and championed by The Association of Professional Landscapers and administered by The Horticultural Trades Association, launching in 2020, to celebrate the Silver Anniversary of the founding of the APL in 1995.


Formed especially for skilled and accredited professional gardeners, recognising the needs of the industry and our customers and to provide a natural platform for artisans.

I am convinced that the creation of such a body will be industry changing. For designers to be able to recommend someone to maintain and develop a new garden, and for Landscapers to hand over the warranty element of completed projects, relieving them of the worries of leaving their scheme to the mercies of an unknown, possibly unskilled and almost certainly, partisan,  custodian will be very welcome!

I am also convinced that one day very soon, everybody working professionally in private gardens will need to be licensed and approved by Local Government, and those who are not working legally i.e. without insurance or certificates to operate machinery and equipment, will not be permitted to work without potential penalty for both Contractor and homeowner.

Professional Gardeners will gain the recognition they deserve, at rates that celebrate their years of knowledge. They will be able to control the growth of their businesses, knowing that their chosen model may be enlarged or reduced to suit them as a firm or as individuals.

Members of the new APG will also be encouraged to enter their work into the Association of Professional Landscapers Awards scheme, further celebrating the beauty of landscape projects, designed, built and maintained by Professionals!

Far reaching, all-encompassing and logical!


Neglectful Customers

‘I run a small firm, previously providing a garden maintenance business, but have gradually expanded my offer into design and build projects. Whilst I am comfortable in this transition, I am becoming frustrated by seeing my work being neglected by clients. Some seem unable to realise that plants need correct pruning and maintenance to achieve their beauty and shape. I do not want to return to general maintenance, nor do I want to start a separate team as this would prove a distraction to my business growth plans.’

This is an age old problem for landscapers and especially garden designers, who ‘sell’ a garden based on photographs and drawings showing a well – managed project, with plants and edges kept within bounds, only to find that the client has completely ruined the garden by bad practice so that they no longer wish to be associated with a scheme that should have been an example of their handiwork for future references and new customers.

There are several courses to follow, which may be tailored to your company, either as a landscape contractor, designer or design and build firm. These however, should be introduced to the client at initial tender stage, as they will have a major impact on how the client sees your involvement. Without this advance statement, you will remain simply ‘the landscaper’ or ‘the designer’, with your input finishing as soon as the original scheme is complete, and the customer thinking they must either maintain the new garden themselves, or find a general gardening outfit and hope for the best.

Separating the design element of a scheme from the actual construction works, the design contract should include a detailed schedule of all plants and plant material, together with a maintenance routine document, clearly showing advice regarding flowering times, pruning regimes, water and feeding requirements. Ideally, every new design package should contain this advice, and a charge levied as part of the design fee. (This advice should be bespoke to the actual garden and soil type/location, and be seen as such, and not simply a general description cribbed from the Internet, as this will greatly enhance your value in the eyes of the client)

As the contractor, or garden fitter, you should include an element of site description in your tender documents, perhaps explaining the reasons for your advice and choice of materials and techniques taking into consideration the fact that site is dry/wet/clay/sand/stony and prone to wind chill/plant stress. This statement will also serve to educate the customer to the fact that not all gardens are the same, and that you have recognised these variations in your professional proposals and working methods.

Both of these suggestions will enhance your standing with your client, and will help to set you apart from your competitors who may simply provide a quotation without explanation. They are evidence of your commitment to the garden and its’ future wellbeing.

The next step is to consider drafting an Aftercare Leaflet, either in printed form or as a separate document provided in your initial tender documents, with one specifically written for turfing and seeding projects, clearly showing the liabilities that the client will have to undertake once practical completion has been achieved. The second should provide full advice regarding plant watering, staking and pruning as an absolute minimum. If you explain at the outset that your responsibility ends once the contract is complete, the client will have to make arrangements. (I also include a note to the effect that I will leave suitable watering equipment on site at the end of the job to ensure that the client does have the facility to hand).

To avoid the problem you outline, many landscape companies now offer (some even insist they must be employed to ensure the desired early period of a scheme as part of their quotation and warranty obligations to maintain sites constructed by them,) to manage the garden by means of monthly visits for a period of one or two years. This is shown as a monthly routine maintenance schedule based on an annual horticultural prospectus, based solely on their works element.

You could consider offering a similar service, restricted to as much or as little work as you decide is essential to avoid the problem of neglect or unsuitable treatment of your original project. Visits arranged monthly, quarterly or even annually, for an agreed sum for each period, will ensure that the job is progressing as you originally envisaged, making minor alterations and plant replacements as required to establish the garden.

Such visits may be programmed into your works schedule, and should be seen as part of your construction business, and not as general maintenance. Your staff will gain experience and greater knowledge of plant material and how certain materials age compared with working only with new materials, and appreciate the vagaries of time and weather on the success of a landscape project.

If you are not able to provide such a service yourself, not wishing to deviate from your landscape business development plan, consider working together with a suitable garden contractor who does not offer  landscape  works, and by mutual recommendation increase both the perceived value of your designs and handiwork, and also provide a steady income stream to the gardener.  This partnership may take many forms, from agreed referral fees to simply working together to create more and bettered maintained design and build projects.


Getting Paid For Design & Build Projects

With any article, I am only too aware of the constraints placed on any attempt to offer sound and practical advice in a short article. The question raised was that posed by clients who treat invoices as something to be queried and payment thus delayed. In that feature I concentrated on sole traders, and I will now expand into the world of larger companies, whilst recognising that we all have the same difficulties.

When I started out as a self-employed Gardener in 1968, I absolutely hated asking for payment for my work, and I am sure that many of you will agree, the stomach knot when plucking up courage to present your bill is something you will never forget! Only when I became a married man with two step children to support did I determine to be more forceful with myself.

As my projects grew in size, complexity and financial scale did I begin to become very strict with my payment structure. Only when I finally recognised that I was the Contractor and the Client was my customer, did I become properly professional in my outlook and company documentation.

I found that by presenting my Terms and Conditions, not only regarding payment structure, but also a comprehensive set of ‘Rules of Engagement’, clearly setting out in step by step detail how the work was to be carried out, in what order and at what stage did monies become due for payment, did I realise that this strict regime was expected of me as their Contractor. Anything less than complete professionalism was a cause of concern. Even if the client is not fully aware of, or could rationalise their caution, if a Contractor is not able to control their own business, how professional would they be once the job was accepted?

Payment and finance are the solid foundation of running any company, and it is therefore vital to develop your own version of an efficient organisation.

Once the project has been properly priced, written quotations provided and materials agreed, a time scale should be programmed, with dates and durations recorded as a materially important part of the contract. This programme should be agreed in  writing and signed by both parties. The quotation should be time critical, open to acceptance for a limited period only, to prevent any issues if they come back to you in a year’ time and ask you to proceed for the same price!

I strongly recommend that the next step is to raise a Pro Forma invoice. This is not an invoice inasmuch as it needs to be recorded and filed as a work invoice for Tax purposes, and does not require an invoice number (only a date). The amount will vary from firm to firm, although I suggest at least 25% of the project total, more if specific non-standard items are to be included, and not obtainable from the Contractors normal suppliers i.e. payment is required with order for any particular item.

On some projects, I would ask for 25% of the project total, minus any ‘Specials’, PLUS the whole amount of the unusual item, otherwise  if the contract does not proceed for any reason, you will not be ‘lumbered’ with something you do not want, and perhaps cannot sell on.

Once the Pro Forma invoice has been paid in full, with the money actually in your bank, should you issue a normal invoice, with number, date and Tax Point.

How you proceed with the rest of the contract will vary from project to project, but assuming a (say) four week scheme, you may decide to seek interim payments against materials on site and works completed. These may be referred to as Stage Payments (if they coincide with a particular amount of work or area completed) or Interim Payment Claims if they are diary based e.g. weekly/fortnightly.

It is helpful if you maintain a strict record of these trigger points, and ask the customer to sign off each part of the job as and when you present an invoice raised against whichever system you have agreed.

Somewhere in your Terms & Conditions there should be notes stating that a) late payments shall be subject to (say) 2.5% surcharge above base Bank Rate current at the time of invoice, and b) in the event of non-payment for works completed, or for any reason outside the control of the Contractor; if the Contractor is obliged to leave site until payment has been made, a separate charge may be applied to cover the costs of leaving and returning to site. Obviously, this is very much a last resort, but it is an important part of your tender documents.

Some people may best be described as ‘Professional Non-Payers’, and by having a strict and clearly understandable set of Terms & Conditions you should avoid these customers. If you are seen as a bona fide contractor, with fixed terms and conditions and professional standards of business, you should avoid the worst of these difficulties.

We all know that some people are natural bullies, and like to be thought of as Tough Businessmen and Women, and I find it preferable to maintain a strict barrier between Contractor and Client. ‘I will carry out agreed works to a high standard, and you will pay me for those works in a timely manner’


Show House Gardens – The Science of Designing and Building Gardens for Show Home

(The Science of Designing and Building Gardens for Show Homes)

Over the years, I developed a system of working with Property Developers and major building companies that enabled me to create a business that was almost a ‘stand alone’ specialist firm – a Design and Build Landscape Company that became part of the Construction Scene in the South of England, back in the 1980s.
I have lived through – survived – at least four recessions since 1968. The first was in the early 70s, which appeared quite serious at the time, but I now realise was almost purely political; the rich would not spend money all the time a particular colour of Government was in power. They would wait – even cancelling accepted projects – until ‘things changed’.

During the early 80s, I started to build gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show, for a variety of different firms, always as Project Manager and Contractor, arranging every single aspect, (sometimes even finding a Sponsor), except the actual design. Designs were provided by others. My first client designer was Peter Rogers, a Chelsea veteran, who taught me the ropes of working at Chelsea. He was a great source of knowledge, which enabled me to undertake other clients, including ECC Quarries (now Bradstone), Sunday Express, London Association For The Blind and the NSPCC among others at Chelsea.

During that time, I started to develop a relationship with a couple of major house builders, including and especially Alfred MacAlpine Homes Ltd (Southern), then Alfred MacAlpine Homes (East), Alfred MacAlpine Construction Ltd – gradually undertaking so many of their Show House gardens that they sponsored me at Chelsea – this first time any developer had taken space at the Show. The combination proved to be very successful. With Peter Rogers as designer, in 1985 we won Gold, in 1986 Gold and Best In Show, and in 1987, Silver Gilt.

The ‘failure’ to win a third Gold did not go down too well with the client, who had no real idea of how medals are awarded, and somehow expected to keep on winning Best In Show!
In 1988, they missed the Show, and suddenly realised how much publicity they had received for such a modest outlay (compared with (say) newspaper advertising), and in 1989, they returned, this time with me as the designer. As I said, at all times, with all RHS gardens, I was project manager, organising every item and necessity.
Result? Silver Gilt, but this time they were very pleased. Delighted in fact, as for the first time ever at the Show, the BBC (in the shape of Alan Titchmarsh) actually mentioned Alfred MacAlpine Homes – a commercial name! – live on camera.

At or about this time though, things were getting tough in the construction industry, and MacAlpines decided they could no longer be seen to be spending shareholders money on RHS Chelsea Show gardens, so they withdrew from the ‘circuit’, and never returned.

Fitted Gardens

Why do I mention all this background information? To show how close and strong a relationship may be formed between a design and build landscape company and a major house builder. In the years between the Show gardens, I was producing every single show house garden for MacAlpines, but also for Galliford Sears, Southern Homes Ltd, Fairbriars Ltd, McHawk Ltd, Cussins Green Ltd, Lovells Ltd, Site Improvements Ltd, CALA Homes Ltd, Taylor Woodrow (some) and several other developers. I developed a very healthy landscape design and build company mainly servicing the Building industry.
Not only did I carry out all the Show house schemes, I was also invited to Sales Directors meetings and sat in on many Board meetings, as their resident expert on what they called ‘kerb appeal’ – the ability to attract the right quality people to their sites.

This association grew stronger, when on several very prestigious developments, they arranged a new deal, whereby purchasers could have their garden designed and built by myself, to their specification, with the builder paying a certain amount (based on the size of the plot) towards the cost, which was built into the purchase price and therefore became part of the mortgage! If the owner wanted to spend more than the ‘allowance’, they paid me direct for that work. The owner was always the ‘client’ for the purposes of warranty etc.

All in all, I probably designed and built around one hundred and fifty  gardens for developers and new buyers in a five year period – until the early 90s, when another recession came, only this time biting deeper and, I feel, lasting longer.

I feel that the time has come, and the present climate is such that there will soon be another period when an efficient, competent and enterprising design and build landscape company (several across the country in fact!) can forge a similar relationship with their local developers.

Making contact with your chosen developer – targeting the client – is all important. As every company has its’ own strengths and experiences, and differing regions produce their own set of problems/opportunities, I will leave that part up to you! What you will need however, is to clearly understand the nature of the business of selling houses, and be willing to undertake a lot of research.

This is where the Science begins.

Researching and compiling your dossiers on your local building industry is the key ingredient to a successful presentation. Check through local papers, both for House Developers adverts, but also for Planning applications. Learn to understand the time scales between a new application to develop and the actual breaking of the soil. You need to be as far ahead of the game as you can. How many units, where they are located, their likely price range, the target purchasers – low cost/starter homes are of no use to you, whilst prestigious sites are.
Once you have the names and addresses of the individual developers, get onto their websites, visit other developments of theirs in the area, check out the quality of the build, the cleanliness of the site, record every detail that you feel may be relevant. You need to know all you possibly can about that chosen target company. Your aim is to have a face to face meeting with The Sales and Marketing Director. You need to be on the ball!

Note especially, your personal thoughts on how their Show developments are presented. All too often, the Sales Staff are sent out with the Company Visa card to buy some ‘colour’ to brighten up the Sales complex. This usually means a few boxes of pansies!
Note too, if the Show gardens are in your opinion worthy of the site or type of house/unit they are part of. Has the designer really given thought to that particular site, or is the scheme ‘off the peg’. How could YOU improve on the garden?

Ascertain the name/s of the senior sales staff. Often, one person will be the Manager of several sites, with subordinate sales staff beneath them. Take any leaflets with you, including about other sites on their books.

Now is the time to start to work your magic! THINK very carefully, not as a garden designer in the first instance, but rather as a user of the site. Remember, the garden serves different purposes in a Sales situation. Understanding the needs of the garden in the context of a sales area can be very different from normal use. The garden must be one dimensional inasmuch as it is something to be viewed from the inside out. It must complement the style of the house and internal décor. It is a part of the living room when viewed in the first instance. What impression does the garden give in the first three seconds of walking into the room? If it clashes – it upsets the whole initial ambience.

The garden itself must be based on both spatial awareness, but also following ‘desire lines’ – where do you feel that people will be drawn to look back at the property to have a good look at the outside of the house. This is the area to design a ‘halt’ spot – perhaps a patio or seating area. Maybe a junction in the layout where one may pause and reflect on their surroundings.
Once you have decided that ‘halt’ area, consider building in a seat or place a few chairs where a family (according to the type of development) may sit and discuss their views away from the Sales Staff. This privacy area is very important.
The need to feel part of the new house experience, making believe that this could be their garden and their  house, yet still try to be subjective when discussing if they want/could afford to live there. A fair bit of psychology required here!

If the site has some problem areas, eyesores perhaps that may need shielding from view, or noise attenuation, where perhaps some vertical slats may be used. Once you have designed your perfect show garden and you are very clear why you have chosen this design, you will be able to make your presentation to the Sales Director. He/she will have never given a second thought regarding the correct use of the space, thinking of it only as a ‘garden’, not as a major Sales aid.
Use your imagination. Avoid running water features, a) because of young children and b) to avoid causing bladder distress to visitors. Avoid sharp/pointed leaves e.g. Yuccas and Pyracantha.
Include as many soft pastel colours as you wish, and be sure to use as much green as possible, as the colour is well known to help relax the senses. Avoid rockeries (twee) and the use of any natural rocks, as these can upset some ‘green’ people.

If the scheme is multi-complex – more than one house type, all surrounded with one fence – this site will eventually have to be divided into individual plots. This is another skill to develop. How to make two or more gardens appear as one, yet be able to split at some later date.
Be sure to work with the builders plans, especially reference drainage runs, as these will only be weeks old and liable to subsequent subsidence. Avoid putting any feature over these runs (a solid path perhaps) which may crack and move as the ground levels change.

Be sure to have more than one scheme to offer, and have costings available for discussion. If necessary, try to arrange on going maintenance  as this is a very important part of the scheme.
If you are successful and manage to win the contract to design or design and build a Show House garden, get an invitation to the Press opening evening, where many other potential clients will be waiting for you to tell them all


Million Dollar Gardens

I use the term ‘Million Dollar Gardens’ as I feel it evokes the Golden days when a million dollars was worth something really special. When a Hollywood actress could insure her legs or teeth for this massive sum. It always sounds more romantic than a million shekels, or roubles – even Pounds. By Million Dollar Gardens I mean those in  excess of  say, £500,000 sterling.

The truth is that we, as designers or contractors, simply never know if and when we may be asked to deliver a large scale garden. I have personally been responsible for half a dozen or so schemes between £500K – £1,500K, and apart from one of those (Eton College), they all came ‘out of the blue’.
I had no warning, no inkling, that a telephone call could herald such a project.
I know that three of those gardens involved designers who had no previous experience of large scale projects. They too, had the telephone call that changed their lives.

One designer, who had designed a garden at Hampton Court, not a Gold medal garden, but well received, was contacted by a very wealthy lady and invited to design a relatively modest couple of borders at her house.
Obviously, the pair got along well together, and the designer was delighted, and not a little bit daunted, when asked to design and arrange the construction of a large (four acres) scheme within the existing (very much larger) estate grounds. Although mainly soft landscaping, there was to be an element of paving and other features.

Sensibly, the designer contacted a reputable contractor, who, not surprisingly, agreed to assist with the pricing elements of the scheme. The planting plans and specification went out to tender to half a dozen contractors, deemed large enough to cope with the work. ( Even if the designer was previously using a ‘pet’ contractor on other works, one has to recognise that a major project cannot be built by a small band, no matter how skilled.)

The works went ahead, and in the event, proved more complicated on the ground than had been planned, simply because the site was so wet after seemingly constant rainfall. The scheme demanded a logic that meant the works had to be completed section by section, gradually working the way out of the site, as each section precluded access to the previous one.
The end result was a wonderful garden, the product of careful co-ordination and co-operation between the designer and the contractor.

I could describe all of these projects, but the message remains the same. You simply never know what is around the corner. I have mentioned on a couple of occasions the need for military planning logic. Perhaps it is better described as the logic of the laboratory, where each stage of an experiment is examined, and if proved to be competent, one moves on to the next stage.
Everything I have described, from carrying out site surveys, method statements, terms and conditions, site etiquette, really comes into its own when you are presented with such a challenging brief.

To secure such work, not only must one have the ability to comprehend a large scale project, only by having all of the other skills and talents of presentation and confidence will the scheme be successful. Before signing contracts, the client will demand a high degree of professionalism on the part of the designer. The design is the easy bit! Producing the garden in a timely manner is quite another. It should be a strict part of the contract that the designer is employed to oversee the work from start to finish, and work with the contractor at all times.

Imagine a £50,000 garden project, with a time limit of perhaps six months from start to finish. Multiply that by ten, with a time limit of nine or ten months – few clients are willing to wait for more than one season before wanting to enjoy their garden – and you begin to see the scale of responsibility.
Whether you are a designer or contractor who offers design, the need to perform remains the same.

An unfortunate problem of tackling major projects is knowing how to juggle your other clients. You cannot simply say, sorry, see you in nine months time.
You cannot afford to take yourself out of the market for a year, and expect to pick up where you left off. So many owners of Million Dollar gardens will not permit any mention of the site to be made. Certainly, few allow photographs for your portfolio and future campaigning.

Some clients will require full details of all personnel who will be employed on site, including sub-contractors (even delivery drivers in some cases), when they will carry out CRB and other checks, before allowing that person on site.
It is often more professional if you offer that information before it is requested, almost as though it was routine!

However, leaving that issue aside, you will need to concentrate very seriously indeed of planning the logistics of the operations. Contracts have been signed (you, or your clients solicitors, may wish to use a JCLI form of contract. This is advantageous to you, as it clearly sets out payment terms, which must be adhered to by the client or their agent. Payment is authorised for works completed/materials on site, against a schedule agreed in advance. It is a formalised professional contract and should be considered for any project of this size).

Quite apart from planning your strategy, using enhanced method statements, you will have to plan very carefully your materials and machinery requirements in order of ‘draw down’. You certainly do not want too many machines on site, both from a cost point of view, but also cluttering up the site. Security may be an issue – we have all heard of cases where machines are stolen from sites, with even the largest of padlocks on the gates. Tracking devices are the only solution, as the insurance companies are more likely to pay out if they have been fitted. Unfortunately, all such operations attract unwelcome attention of certain individuals who see easy pickings.

You will almost certainly need to control the environment as far as possible. This will require a shelter of some type, probably a rigid style unit for (say) stone cutting or dry storage, but also a canvas frame tent to cover works in progress. All of these items will be included in your Prelims and monies allowed to cover both set up and break down costs.

Muck away and skip lorries will probably be much in evidence during the early stages, and you may need to arrange for a road sweeping vehicle to attend site at least once a day to clean the highway. Don’t forget, all such operations and the responsibility to ensure they run smoothly, are those of the contractor. You may decide to have one person from your team dedicated to cleaning the road, and acting as Banksman to any delivery lorries. Don’t forget the Day-glo jacket and hard hat.

You will need to appoint a Site Checker – someone to oversee deliveries and ensure the next consignment of materials etc are due to arrive on time. Smooth operating is the key to success. As always, the client will be very impressed if he sees a professional team at work.

A qualified person – someone willing to do the job thoroughly – should be in charge of plant deliveries. These may have to held at your yard if there is not enough room on site. Their brief is to check off the plants against schedules and water/protect them from frost or damage.

Plants should be batched, in areas or beds, with all plant material for that part of the scheme held together in bays, or roped off so they may be drawn down by the landscape teams as required, without having to search through thousands of plants for the right ones.

Dependent on the site, temporary protection against theft – highly likely, plants will be stolen to order – or animal damage. Rabbits – who will eat just about anything, even if only to decide those they prefer best – badgers, who will destroy roots and plant material, deer, including Roe and Red deer in the main, although Muntjac are prevalent in some parts of the country, charging through chicken wire fencing with impunity. You are not permitted, under severe penalty, to interfere with badgers in any way, but you can discourage them at the same time as deer, by installing a low level (20cm from the ground) low voltage electrical battery operated fence around the perimeter of the plant holding area.

Foxes are just a menace, messing on the plant pots or digging around after the bone meal etc used in the composts, but at least they don’t eat the plants. (They won’t like the battery fence either!)
If you notice that your irrigation pipes or electrical cables are being chewed into small pieces or bitten into, fox cubs will often be the culprits. They seem unable to resist the urge to nibble at some plastics – they can also smell the water in the pipework.

Careful control of site operations is paramount. Money can easily slip through your fingers if you have too much labour on site, simply to show to the client that you are performing by having a small army, running around with tools in their hands. Plan your machinery requirements. You do want to export machines that you then need to rehire, but neither do you want to spend hundreds, even thousands of pounds on unnecessary plant hire. (It is normal for plant hire companies to agree to a ‘deal’ whereby you obtain a very much lower rate than those advertised. Get this agreement in writing in case of any change in personnel at the hire company.)

If possible, arrange all plants through one company. This offers some attractive possibilities. Not only will you have one company to chase for deliveries, and one firm to hold liable for any plant failures subject to agreed terms, you will certainly manage to arrive at a much lower figure or a ‘lump sum’ arrangement when ordering the plants.

Every operation that takes place when constructing Million Dollar gardens is, or should be, the same as your normal work practice. It is the sheer intensity of it all that makes or breaks a successful project. It is the sort of experience that one acquires when working on a Show Garden at Chelsea or other RHS show. (Probably Chelsea is the best example, due to the very tight time scale allowed for Build Up). The whole team, both on site and at the office, where matters such as finance, hours worked, wages and overtime to be evaluated and checked against work schedules, need to act as a well oiled machine.

Do not be wary of talking large schemes through with friends and associates within the industry. Ask questions, get opinions and advice. Landscapers and designers are more than willing to have a chat through the logistics of a scheme.
This openness is second nature to many contractors. Certainly, everyone I know is delighted to help me out. We all want to see a successful outcome, and congratulate a job well done. Such is the nature of the gardener!

Professional help is also available, with specialist firms offering a quantity survey and pricing service, with long experience in dealing with landscape projects. I would strongly advise you to investigate such a service for any job over £100,000, less if you feel unsure and want a second opinion, A small percentage error in a £10K job might mean no Christmas bonus. In a £500K scheme it might mean the end of the business!
(Notes for this article were made from the Million Dollar Gardens seminars held in 2012 by Alan Sargent and James Steele-Sargent, and appear in the Landscapers Survival Manual)


Engaging a Garden Designer, Landscaper or Garden Contractor

Are you thinking of engaging a Garden Designer, Landscaper or Garden Contractor, and wonder where to start?

You have reached a decision; you are definitely going to start looking for some Professional help to build your new garden. Whilst not expecting a Chelsea Gold Medal entry, you would like an easily maintained area in which to relax and enjoy the fruits of your hard working career. But – where to begin? Searching on-line for a Designer? Do I need to employ a Garden Designer? How do I find a qualified Landscaper? How do I know they will in fact be fully  Professional?

Alan Sargent started his landscaping career in 1968 and has won numerous awards including Design and Build of more than sixty RHS gardens at the various Shows, and has been involved in working within the Gardens industry in a number of roles over the years, including RHS Chelsea Show Gardens Judge and as the Founder of The Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) and The School of Garden Management, ( set up with the sole purpose of training management skills to contractors, including site etiquette and working together with the home owner.

In this first article, Alan will examine the ways in which you can direct and decide both the manner in which you would like to see the project proceed, and who to instruct to carry out the works in a sensible progressive programme to suit your timing, budget and any other factors that may be important to you.

For instance, you may wish to have the works completed in stages, according to your life style and life stage. Perhaps you have a very important family event, with strict deadlines to be taken into consideration. You may decide to do the planning yourself – or at least, have an input in the style and content of the garden. Perhaps you require only the construction works completed, leaving the planting aspect for your own green fingers.

Let us assume that you wish to explore the whole package – Design and Build, leaving the maintenance issues until the garden is complete. You will need to look at the scheme in three separate stages. The first task is to decide whether or not you wish to engage a Garden Designer. Designers mainly operate as individuals, but sometimes work as part of a Design Practice or team. Many Landscape businesses also offer Design, either design only or as a Design and Build package. Both of these options bring their own benefits. The Designer, being independent, will not have any preconceived ideas of working within the limitations – if any – of a contractor’s work force. He or she will design according to your wishes, and you then have to seek a firm to carry out the build. A Design & Build company may wish to nominate those skills and materials they are happiest to work with, but as long as both you and the company are satisfied with the plans and specification, there is not a problem.

It is therefore very important that you present the potential contractor (let us refer to the Designer and/or Landscaper as ‘the contractor’) with as much information as possible. If you imagine that everybody has their own ideas of the best or easiest way to do something, but you really want to see things completed in a programme to suit you and your personal circumstances, you should produce a Method Statement.

Method Statement – How to ensure that everybody is quoting ‘like for like’.

It is extremely helpful to the Contractor to have a clear set of instructions from you regarding the manner in  which you would like the works to proceed. If you produce a series of instructions entitled ‘Method Statement’, first of all consider the access to site. Remember, these are your ‘rules’, and they should be the same for all contractors to follow when quoting to ensure they are all tendering like for like. If you have to share a driveway with the contractor, this fact should be noted, but with a proviso that (for example) access to the garage must be kept clear at all times. The width of the access gates is XYZ inches, with overhead power cables that may affect crane offload deliveries. The driveway is in good condition, with however many man hole covers also in good condition, and all skips or material deliveries must be placed on protective sheeting.

Access to the side of the house is only XX inches, with an oil/gas pipe fixed to the wall which must be protected at all times.

The patio windows have been recently installed and are in clean, undamaged condition. All windows must be covered in suitable protective sheeting when carrying out works that may involve stone chippings damaging the glass.

Water and electricity will be provided without charge for the duration of the works. All taps must be turned off at the end of the day. Machinery and equipment must not be washed down in the vicinity of any drains to prevent silting.

The length of the list may be as long as you wish. You should also consider including  ‘site etiquette’ items such as the banning of radios, including personal headphones (as these affect the safety of operatives and others nearby, if they cannot hear properly), car or van parking outside the property (if room is restricted either on the site or blocking the street).

Toilet facilities may be an issue. On larger projects, a site toilet should be costed into the scheme, or perhaps a dedicated loo nominated for the duration, either in the house, or perhaps swimming pool or tennis court changing rooms may be available. Whatever the options, the Method Statement should include an item regarding muddy boots and general cleanliness!

It is helpful to produce a number of time/dated photographs of the garden, as a set of ‘before and after’ shots, paying special attention to windows and doors, fences and gates, paved areas if they are to remain, trees and shrubs, ponds and pools – anything that may be damaged should be recorded, and a copy of those pictures given to the chosen contractor at the time of signing the contract agreement to avoid any disputes at the end of the job.

Cover all options and thoughts.

If you produce your Method Statement as a schedule of everyday operations – how you would like to see the job carried out, and have this document available when you first meet a prospective contractor, it is also advisable to have another paper ready to present to him or her. This should be in the form of a mini-questionnaire, with headings and blank spaces left for the requisite information.

Name and address – telephone including landline – email address – insurance details – bankers details – web site – Accountants details.

All bona fide contractors will have this information available, perhaps not at the initial meeting, but the fact that you require this basic statement will ensure you only engage a professional firm.

There is no suggestion that you will be acting a part of the ‘Contractor Team’ by requiring this level of information. All you are doing is ensuring that you employ a bona fide designer and landscape contractor who will quote using the same working template. Having chosen your garden builders and agreed financial terms, a review of the practical aspects of undertaking the works may well be beneficial by mutual agreement.

Engaging a Landscape Designer or Contractor – Where do I begin?

You have reached a decision to employ a Garden Designer or Landscaper who offers Design & Build, and prepared yourself to engage with them in producing a quotation for the scheme. How do I find such a Professional?

In this, the second of a series of three articles, Alan Sargent, who has been building high quality gardens since 1968, Founder of The Association of Professional Landscapers (APL), The School of Garden Management ( and a retired RHS Chelsea Show Gardens Judge will guide you through the various ways of locating a suitable Designer and/or Landscaper.

Garden Designer

Choosing a Garden Designer is perhaps the most difficult part of the whole process. Whilst it may be a simple matter of checking via the Internet, typing in ‘Garden Designer’, with perhaps a codicil ‘In the Chichester area’ just to reduce the number of likely candidates, you may be presented with a considerable choice of designers. If you like the look of a particular style of presentation, try to ignore pretty pictures of flowers and set dressed planters, and look at the quality of the actual plans. Very often, they may be accompanied by a lovely perspective drawing, and the whole package is appealing. Do not be lured into thinking that a set of pretty pictures is good garden design!

Although there are many hundreds of qualified and semi qualified designers who are members of either The Society of Garden Designers (SGD) or The British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI), and if they show either of those logos, you may be confident that they are competent designers, as both organisations are scrupulous in maintaining their membership credentials.

Landscapers, both Build and Design & Build

Similarly, Landscapers who are members of either The Association of Professional Landscapers (APL)(who are also likely to be members of Trustmark) and The British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI) will have been thoroughly vetted and approved. They will carry full insurance, employ qualified staff and maintain the highest standards of workmanship and professionalism. This does not imply that those who are not members of either are not competent, simply that both APL and BALI members have been thoroughly screened before admission to the Associations.

For smaller contractors, especially those offering landscape works and maintenance many belong to The Gardeners Guild, which also has strict rules of entry. Everyone joining must have at least one formal Horticultural qualification, and are subject to a complaints procedure and pay formal subscriptions on an annual basis.

Be aware that others may claim to be ‘members’ of other professional associations, some of which are nothing more than Forums, with membership simply being a matter of joining without any meritorious selection whatsoever.

Many other firms will be perfectly sound, competent and confident, and not Association members, but as long as you have seen all relevant documentation including insurance and bankers details, and ensured that they are following your Method Statement (see first instalment), there is no reason why they should not be included in your Tender List.

Products Library

Whether or not you engage a separate Garden Designer or opt for a Design and Build package, you will need to physically see samples of all materials proposed for use in the project. These may include bricks, paving, timber, top soil, plant materials, turf etc – every item that is scheduled or promoted for use in the scheme must be agreed in writing beforehand. All products, especially ‘hard’ landscaping materials such as paving should be seen, examined both for quality and colour (ensure you agree the product both wet and dry, as the colour variation may be extreme) should be placed into a ‘product library’ and kept on site. This is to avoid any misunderstanding regarding materials at a later stage.

Top soil is also very important. Samples should be inspected and a detailed analysis obtained from the supplier (they offer this service as a matter of course, without charge or comment) to prevent contaminated soil from being used on site. Poor quality imported soil could result in a considerable drop in the value of your property, so don’t be shy about requiring this information.

Turf should be nominated by the designer as being the correct seed mix for the site. Most turf will meet a minimum British Standards quality, but it is advisable to match the existing site soil with imported turf soil to ensure a compatible marriage between the two materials.

You should note all specification, especially regarding matters such a depth of concrete under paving, thickness of wall etc, to ensure ‘like for like’ quotations.

Taking up References

You should require at least three references from previous clients, especially from Landscapers. These should be fairly recent, and to the approximate value of your project. They should include name and address, and you would be well advised to write if possible, as you are more likely to receive a fuller answer, including any contentious matters that may not be comfortable to recall over the telephone.

Labour to be used on site

Given the wide range of skills required to build a modern garden, there is no reason why a contractor should not employ specialised sub-contract labour. A fully trained bricklayer, employed on an ad hoc basis will be faster, cleaner and cheaper than a capable but slow landscape operative. Certainly, expect specialists such as fibre glass installers, electricians and plumbers to be brought on to site. There should be no issue with this (normal) practice, but you will expect to see their insurance documents (Public Liability) and a note in the wording of the contract to the effect that named specialist sub-contractors will be used on the scheme should be made for the sake of regularity.

Care should be taken to avoid employing a company who relies on casual labour for general works. Even using an Employment Agency, the fact that the workers will not be part of a long term team, or have any kind of known background upon which their skills may be established by other team members, there is a risk of low productivity at the very least.

If you follow the simple rules as suggested in articles one and two, you should have a Designer, willing and able to interpret your requirements, and a competent, qualified and insured contractor signed up to build the garden of your dreams. All parties will be using the same set of rules of the game, and everybody content that each knows what is expected of the other in a timely manner.

Payment terms – likely scenarios

Obviously, the larger the project, the more likely a number of payments or instalments will be required. Most contractors require a Mobilisation payment in advance of starting work on site. The normal amount is based on a percentage rate of 10%, although others may charge 20 0r even 25%, dependent on the amount of materials to be ordered and delivered early into the project programme.

Any special feature or item that is bespoke to your project will normally need to be paid for in advance, especially if the contractor does not have an account with the supplier, or the product is of such a nature as to be of no use to them should you change your mind and cancel the item.

Stage payments may be requested at regular intervals based on time spent on site or the amount of work completed. A final payment request will be made on Practical Substantial Completion of the works (i.e. end of the practical part of the contract. Some contracts will be extended to take warranties and aftercare into consideration before releasing the final payment known as ‘Retention’ – usually 2.5% of the contract sum).

Having made the decision to employ a Garden Designer and appoint a Landscape Contractor, how do I ensure they interpret my wishes once they start work?

In this, the third of a series of three articles, Alan Sargent, who has been building high quality gardens since 1968, Founder of The Association of Professional Landscapers (APL), The School of Garden Management ( and a retired RHS Chelsea Show Gardens Judge will guide you through the various ways of ensuring you get the best out of your decision to trust the professionals.

Garden Designer or Design and Build Contractor?

Let us look at the practical aspects of engaging and instructing a Garden Designer, and their role in producing your garden. As the client, you will have to decide whether or not to employ the designer purely as the artist responsible for drawing up plans, in outline form only or more detailed planting plans and specification, and perhaps construction technical drawings from which the Landscape Contractor will take instructions and information. Having produced all ‘paperwork’, the designer’s work is complete, and should not return to site for any reason, unless agreed beforehand. This cut off point is very important, as the Contractor cannot be held responsible for any alterations that you may request during the building of the garden if such works are at variance to the designers original specification.

Once the designer has left the scene, they should not be invited back to inspect the finished work (unless agreed beforehand with the Contractor) and expect to criticise any aspect – including ‘official’ variations agreed between yourself as the client and the contractor. If the Designer is to give final approval to the project, they should be engaged in a formal manner as the Project Manager. This additional work is usually based on a percentage of the total contract price (10%), and is recommended for larger schemes, especially more complex projects that require artistic direction on a regular basis.

This statement may sound very officious, but it is important to realise that contractually, the Landscaper can only have one person in charge. That person will be nominated in the contract documents as being ‘The Client’ or ‘The Client’s Agent acting for and on behalf of The Client’, and as you can imagine, anyone arriving after completion and making adverse comments on any part of the  works can cause problems!

Obviously, not every project will require this level of management, but even the smaller, sub  £5,000 schemes should be treated in a professional manner to avoid expensive complications and legal problems in the future.

Landscape Contractor – Design & Build

Landscapers who offer Design and Build packages are responsible for all aspects of the scheme, including technical drawings and specification. Just because the firm is building the garden, they must produce working drawings to instruct their craftspeople in exactly the same way as a Garden designer. The firm is completely liable for all works, and often there is a legal requirement for specialists to be employed, including Structural Engineers to produce plans and drawing for those parts of the scheme that may prove dangerous e.g. retaining walls and load bearing structures. Some matters cannot be designed by ‘ordinary’ Designers, and require the input of qualified professional experts. New regulations entitled Contract Design Management (CDM) Regs came into force in Spring 2015 currently only covering ‘hard’ landscape elements.  These are legally enforceable, and your Contractor and Designer should be fully conversant with them.

A Design and Build firm should be able to produce solutions to problems as they arise, with everything carried out ‘In House’ on a day by day basis, but it is advisable to have one named person in charge of the site, usually a Foreperson, and you should expect to engage with him or her at a personal level, exchanging contact telephone numbers etc to ensure a close rapport during the works. You should expect to be kept up to date with progress as often as you desire, and keep a note of all important conversations as they occur.

The person in charge of the site should maintain a Day Book in any event. This ‘diary’ will record all matters such as the weather, delivery dates and times, materials delivered to site and their provenance, staff numbers on site etc.

Materials and their significance in the future

We have already discussed ensuring that a Products Library is established with samples of all important materials to be used in the scheme. This library will ensure that only approved products are brought on site, but another element for the future well-being of the garden is the requirement for a list of suppliers and the provenance of such items as building sand – you will need to record the name/type of sand and the quarry from which it was purchased, together with information regarding the ratio of sand to cement (mortar mix) in case you ever need to extend or repair a project. This record will include a wide range of products, including bricks, paving, timber etc – anything that you may need to purchase in the future to ensure as close a match as possible.

Equally important is the name of plant suppliers. Even if you have been given a warranty against failure of plant stock, once that time has elapsed, you may wish to replace or add  a tree or shrub and use the same supplier. (Be aware that even using the same supplier is no guarantee that plant material will match. This is especially true of evergreens such as Taxus and Buxus. Batches of plants from the same grower/supplier will vary from season to season although technically exactly the same specification)

Warranties and Aftercare

Having completed the project, the Contractor should provide you with aftercare leaflets or written instructions describing the various methods of pruning and watering your new garden. This will either take the form of a site specific schedule of all plants used in the garden, including fertilising and maintenance guides, or a generic document explaining the requirements of trees, shrubs and herbaceous in general. The watering guide should offer advice on amounts and times for applying water, and may even nominate the type or style of irrigation equipment.

Importantly, all written guarantees and warranties should be packaged and presented to you as part of the final Handover documentation and may include instructions for use etc, and again, the name and address of the supplier should be provided.

Whilst these articles may appear too complex for a simple garden makeover – too much fuss and unnecessary bother – consider the ramifications of simply going ahead and engaging a Garden Designer and getting someone in to build the scheme without due regard to the potential cost of making the wrong choice. Not only could you end up with something that was not to your liking, built in a manner that is not going to last very long, with unsuitable materials introduced to your property  (including weed infested topsoil and container grown plants full of vine weevil!) and you may well find yourself involved in costly Court action trying to resolve an expensive and complex problem.

The legal phrase ‘Caveat Emptor’ – Buyer Beware – could have been written to describe the world of Landscape Gardening. Using sound logic and business sense should ensure  you will have the garden of your dreams, designed and built by skilled passionate professionals.


Protective Checklist

I could not think of a more appropriate title for this post – perhaps Designers Survival Guide might fit the bill! Just for the record, although I am ‘known’ as a Contractor and Consultant, nowadays concentrating on the latter (it’s an age thing!), I have designed some 250 gardens, including 37 RHS Show gardens, and worked with many of the finest designers of the time (and today) in the country in producing private gardens large and small.

As I have explained, I grew tired of people wanting free advice, and resolved that problem by splitting my designer persona from the contractor side of my business. However, I decided to use my experience as a contractor when dealing with my ‘design’ clients, adapting some of the practices previously so invaluable when creating the documentation for a tender/quotation reference construction projects.

Amongst these forms was a Client Instruction Form (my title, call it what you wish) which began by identifying the client and the site address. The form starts with these important notes, together with date, time and weather conditions at the time of interview.

The initial form did not include details of site survey, concentrating on the Client’s Brief To Designer, as these instructions will be needed to establish the basis of the clients requirements. It is extremely important at some stage – and why not from the outset? – to register/record the actual Brief.

I have mentioned Dangerous Words on another post, but on this initial interview, they can be very useful if the client asks for Wildlife Friendly, Noisy and exciting water feature, Safe water feature, organic vegetable garden, or any number of elements to be included in your proposed scheme. The list may be as long as you wish, perhaps even as a separate menu as a reminder, and can be adapted to your style of designing.

The main purpose of this Check List is to ensure that you have a written record of your instructions, to prevent the client from denying they asked for this or that when it comes to paying the bill! Included in the list will be a note of your fees and payment structure. By including these as a part of the Check List, they will be seen to be a part of the job, inasmuch as you are selling your time and expertise.

By highlighting the various ‘types’ of design input you offer, you will include office time, travelling time/expenses, research time – when you are investigating something special that the client has requested, perhaps a type of pumping system, lighting variations etc, that will require you to spend time on – site visits and the anticipated number, again including payment structure and dates. Certainly, when a client asks to have something they have bought/been given e.g. a statue, specimen plant, fountain etc, you may have to take advice or alter your original ideas to accommodate the item.

At the end of the initial interview, both you and the client should sign the document, copy for each, as this Check List will ensure that you have established the grounds for your engagement, avoiding any disputes regarding the clients instructions at a later date. (I know that most designers already operate a similar system, but I know of others who do not!)


Copyright – Some Photographic Issues

Between 1990 and 2005, I was the ‘Public Face’ of Bradstone, undertaking every Marketing and Point of Sale image for them, including a dozen or so Chelsea Show Gardens, two Hints and Tips style videos and DVDs, annual brochures showing their whole range of products and representing ‘Brand Bradstone’ in all manner of public arenas. I produced the sets for a range of stills and television adverts, anything and everything they asked me for.

On the strength of my Bradstone relationship, and because they were the biggest supplier of goods into Do It All Ltd/Focus Do It All Ltd, when they too, were looking for a Public Face, I  worked for that firm as well, and between 1997 and around 2002, handled all of their catalogues/brochures/point of sale material, together with four RHS Show gardens at Chelsea, Hampton Court and Gardener’s World Live.

Between these two companies, I designed and built literally hundreds of ‘real’ gardens and studio mock ups that were duly photographed and used thousands of times, so it was no real surprise to find that some of them were occasionally ‘abused’ by others.

To clarify – I not only was responsible for the builds, but also, in the vast majority of cases, the designs as well. The design element comprised of the literal design of the garden, or the section of a garden, or the style in which the products were used. I was expected to be innovative (as far as a product would allow) and to produce visuals that would sell their products commercially.

Three Cautionary Tales then, beginning with a Bradstone product. When the Bradstone Sun Circle paving product was launched (the pattern being a depiction of the sun, comprised of multiple slabs all shaped to a pattern that when placed together formed a 2.7m circular patio or, when ‘squared’ with corner pieces, could be incorporated into a larger paved area), the sole supplier was Do It All Ltd. As I recall, they had the unique sales market for the first year, thereafter, they had the ‘Do It All’ colour shade (Cotswold).

I was charged with designing the original stage layout for the new product and constructed the set piece in a film studio in Pershore (Big Shot Studios). I designed both the set and the garden styled background, and accessorised the photo-shoot for their various point of sale requirements.

Whilst idly looking through a newly issued Yellow Pages for our region a couple of years later, I came across an advert for a paving company, who used the exact same exclusive Do It All Sun Circle photograph that we had produced. I visited the site address to find a series of old sheds and polytunnels, from which a ‘Paving’ firm were plying their trade. They had a range of cheap and nasty slabs, all created from old style (i.e. redundant) latex moulds, priced as ‘From 99p’. I immediately reported the firm to Trading Standards and notified both Bradstone and Do It All.

The paving firm were dealt with by TS, and with the combined strength of Bradstone (copyright), Do It All (copyright), myself as the designer (copyright) and the photographer (also copyright), they did not have a leg to stand on! (They had copied one of the circles and made their own latex moulds). Case closed…

The next Tale also concerns Yellow Pages (not blaming YP here at all – they acted in good faith), this time regarding a photograph I came across in a Hampshire YP book, this time under the heading of Landscapers. A company I had not heard of was advertising their services using a unique photograph of a Chelsea garden, constructed by (my son’s firm) Arun Landscapes Ltd, designed by David Domoney and sponsored by Gardman Garden Products.

Once again, straight on to Trading Standards, who ensured that the photograph was not used again by firm, who claimed it was only a generic photograph taken from a Photo Library. This is an interesting point as far as Designers are concerned. I am positive that the primary reason that the photograph was withdrawn was because the firm faced the legal teams of both David Domoney (copyright) and Gardman (also copyright as some of their products were on display, but not as the sponsor of the garden). Arun Landscapes copyright was not breached as they had no design input.

The third and final Tale (there are many others from over the years, but these three cover the main scenarios) concerns a different angle on copyright. I was commissioned by Bradstone (or more correctly, Countryside Paving Products, another CAMAS company of the time) to construct a Chelsea Show Garden (that won Best in Show/Wilkinson Sword Trophy) designed by Peter Rogers FRSA, FSGD. It was a particularly striking garden, with strong imagery and totally unique in appearance. The sponsor was Alfred McAlpine Homes Ltd, and was the second such garden they had commissioned at Chelsea. McAlpine were probably my best and biggest client for over ten years, when I carried out virtually all of the many and varied site show gardens and site landscaping for them in the South. I featured as the named Landscape Contractor for their developments on all of their Sales brochures, including my logo and contact details.

One day, another building company approached me (Fairbriars Ltd) to undertake the landscaping works for a new, upmarket, gated development they were planning in Surrey. They wanted to use my name as the Landscaper for the site on all of their brochures, in much the same way. As part of my introduction to the Board of the Company, I was asked to show examples of my work, and I submitted a portfolio showing named sites and gardens, with every photograph being credited with both Designer and address. One of those many pictures was The Alfred McAlpine Chelsea Show Garden, and much to my complete chagrin, and without my knowledge or agreement, used that particular photograph for their brochure!

There was no credit to either McAlpine or Peter Rogers, indeed, there were no credits at all, simply a large, full colour photo of the garden on the back of their leaflet. Naturally, the Board of McAlpine were not at all pleased, and duly complained (firstly to me!) and, accepting that it was not of my doing, they pressed the Board at Fairbriars to change their brochures. Fairbriars refused on the grounds that they were not wasting money having new copies printed, but would make changes once they need to re-print.

McAlpine went to their solicitors, only to discover that there was nothing they could do to prevent another company from using ‘their’ photographs. The Designer could complain, but to no avail unless they could prove that they had lost money (or reputation etc), but not McAlpine as the sponsor of the garden, as they had already received benefit from the publication, and were not being slighted in any way, as they were not mentioned by name.

In essence, the Law could do nothing UNLESS; A person was persuaded by the inclusion of that photograph to purchase a property on the strength of that image AND that they had suffered a financial loss by so doing. In other words, False Pretences. Put simply, Fairbriars could quite happily use a competitor’s image without fear of reprisal, especially as they said they would change their advertising once they had used up all the old stock.

Looking at the three examples, if you have a product and a unique copyright for something tangible, you can at least go to Trading Standards and seek their assistance with hope of settlement. If you find that your design work is being copied or otherwise compromised, unless you are a purchaser who has lost money by false pretences, you can do nothing to remedy the situation. Obviously, you can complain about skulduggery or copyright infringement, but without proving financial loss or damage to your reputation, there is little you can do under the Law.

Now, as every case is different, and you may have had success in other circumstances, these three Tales are honest stories of actual events. There will always be other angles that I have not described, and you may have your own examples where the outcome was different. What can you do to protect yourself in future, to prevent people from either using your designs or copying them so closely as to be one and the same? There is no simple answer, as each case is different, but if you find yourself in a similar situation, start your complaint with assessing any possible financial losses you may have incurred by any violation or infringement.


Protecting Your Work from Vehicle Damage

Whether it is a newly laid area of turf you have placed along  the verge of a driveway, or a freshly planted bed next to a vehicular traffic way, the very last thing you want to see is the client (or his plumber, postman or milk float) driving merrily along, one wheel on the drive, the other squashing your petunias!

The best method I have found to deter miscreants and careless drivers is to install white posts. In certain circumstances, on larger premises, these lawns may be hundreds of yards in length, and post and string defences look very untidy, especially in a wet and windy position.

Using lengths of 18mm Ree-bar or reinforcing metal available from a builders merchants, cut into lengths of approximately 75cm long (or to suit an equal division of the whole length to avoid waste). These pegs are then driven into the ground leaving around 45cm above the median levels, and tapped into an upright position.

For a builder merchant or electrical supplier, obtain 25mm square or round electrical conduit, a white plastic box or tube, which is cut into equal lengths of (say) 90cm. These tubes are then placed over the pegs or pins, leaving a clean, neat and tidy row of white pegs, all the same height. If these are spaced equidistantly, the result is an attractive visual barrier and will deter drivers from straying.

One note of caution – do not cut the metal pins too short, especially near to a public highway, as vehicles that do run over them may suffer punctures. Keep the height to around 60cm above the ground, or double check with your insurance company reference liability.

These white posts may be used many times over, with just a quick wash to restore the colour. They are easily stored and can be used in any case where a message of  ‘ground under repair’ or ‘keep off’ is required.