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Choosing the right landscape gardener
Last updated 25th Apr 2017
When choosing the right landscape gardener, there are some key issues you need to think about. In this article, we’ll take you through them step by step.
- Arm yourself with some basic knowledge before meeting tradesmen
- Write a clear brief
- Choose someone with lots of specific experience
- Get a detailed quote from each tradesman you’re considering
- Ask about professional membership
Let’s look at each of these in a bit more depth.
Arm yourself with some basic knowledge before meeting tradesmen
Do your own research right at the beginning of the process, so you understand the basics about the job you want done.
Landscaping specialist Jeff MacFarlane has been a member of MyBuilder since 2008, and has a spotless, 100% positive feedback score with well over 100 good reviews. He explains why arming yourself with knowledge is crucial:
Do a bit of homework yourself and you’ll find it much easier to spot someone who is blagging! For example, Pavingexpert.com is a really good website to look at if it’s hard landscaping you want done. You can find out everything you need to know on there, about paving and other hard landscaping techniques.
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Write a clear brief
Many different skills and trades fall under the umbrella term of ‘landscape gardening’ - everything from erecting fencing and laying patios to planting trees and integrating irrigation systems. In order to choose the right tradesman for your project, you need to explain what you’d like done as clearly as possible, and how you visualise the end result.
MyBuilder member Ben Haberfield, of Cercis, offers a complete landscape gardening service from design and construction to maintenance. He explains how difficult it can be if a homeowner hasn’t fully thought things through:
One of the main issues is people not knowing what they want. I’ll go and visit them and see their garden and they’ll say - right, we want our garden to be built. And that’s it. So I’ll reply right, OK, so what do you want me to do?
You wouldn’t bring in a builder and ask them to build you an extension without having plans drawn up and knowing exactly what you want it to look like. That’s a problem we run into a lot. They just want me to give them ideas. But actually it’s very difficult to give people ideas unless they’re giving me an indication of what it is they want!
So, once you’ve done your research, write a brief and give it to each of the tradesmen you’re considering hiring. This means they will all be basing their quotes on exactly the same information, and will make it much easier for you to work out who best interprets your instructions.
Make sure you mention how you and your family intend to use your outside space. For example, is your priority to have a secure place for your dog, a playground for your kids, a good quality patch of earth for a vegetable patch or a wildlife-spotting haven for you?
Also include details of any physical factors specific to your property. For example, if your garden sits on a slope, tradesmen will need to factor that into their calculations.
Choose someone with lots of specific experience
Because so many individual specialisms fall into the ‘landscape gardening’ category, it’s particularly important you choose someone who has specific experience of your type of job. Many larger landscaping companies have teams of specialists who all get involved with different aspects of projects. However, according to Jeff, you should be wary of a single tradesman who says he can turns his hand to anything.
It’s really about being honest; a good tradesman will explain right from the beginning what they can and can’t do. However, there are loads of tradesman who will take on jobs they really don’t have much experience of doing.
Me - I don’t touch plants! I specialise exclusively in hard landscaping - using hard construction materials like fences, walls and patios. But if someone wants a plant specialist, I can certainly point them in the direction of someone like that.
Once a tradesman has shown examples of relevant work in their portfolio, ask to see some of that work in person, and if possible chat to one or two of their previous customers. A good landscaping specialist should be happy to put you in touch with previous clients.
Finally, it’s worth making sure the person you meet, with the relevant experience, will actually be the person doing the work.
Get a detailed quote from each tradesman you’re considering
Get written quotes - from at least three landscaping specialists - which break down all possible costs in detail. That could be anything from labour and materials to extra expenses, like the disposal of waste.
We itemise everything in our quotes. So we say exactly what jobs we’re going to do, how much we charge for them, what materials we’re going to use, and how much we’re going to charge for those materials.
I’ve seen lots of quotes done by other landscapers where they basically just give one figure at the bottom with maybe five or six lines about what they’re going to do. But they don’t actually explain how they’re going to do it - what the stages and the processes are. So how is the client supposed to know which part of the total cost relates to what?
Because so much of the work will be outdoors, it’s worth checking what contingency plans a tradesman has to cover a long spell of bad weather.
And make sure they’ve taken into account any specific circumstances mentioned in your brief, like uneven terrain or particularly boggy ground.
Finally, if the tradesman offers to provide materials, ask to see samples from all those you’re considering, so you can compare like with like. This also applies to organic materials like shrubs and bedding plants - the quality and condition of plants can vary hugely depending on where and how they’ve been sourced.
Some landscape specialists will ask for a deposit to be paid before work begins - particularly if it’s a big project. However, don’t pay more than 25% at this stage, and never pay the full amount until the work is completed and you’ve fully inspected it.
Ask about professional membership
As with any trade, experience counts for an awful lot. But it’s also worth asking whether a landscaping specialist is a member of a professional association - and if so, what that actually involves.
For example, tradesmen registered with the Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) must have been trading as a landscape business for a minimum of two years, and have to offer their customers an insurance-backed warranty on any deposit they put down.
They also go through an annual inspection of their business. APL inspectors will look at both the way they manage their business and their capabilities on site, visiting them while they develop a real customer’s garden and checking that they adhere to industry best practise guidelines.
Someone who is a chartered member of the Landscape Institute will have successfully passed an examination testing their knowledge, understanding and experience of landscaping theory and methods.
And someone who is a member of the Society of Garden Designers (SGD) should have been in business for at least three years and passed an assessment of their knowledge and expertise by a panel of landscaping experts.
If a tradesman says they’re a member of a particular professional organisation, don’t be afraid to ask to see a copy of their membership documentation. And remember that experience counts for just as much as formal qualifications or accreditations. Ben emphasises:
We’re a member of the Guild of Master Craftsmen - which is a good indication that we operate to a high standard. But honestly, the best thing to do is to see people’s past work. Every tradesman is only as good as the last job they’ve done!
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