Why February is the perfect time to hire a gardener

At this time of year, most of us are more concerned with bunkering down in our warm living rooms than getting out in the garden, but actually, there’s no better time to start thinking about your outdoor space.

With snowbells and daffodils starting to push their way through the cold winter soil, a hint of spring is finally in the air, and even though it’s still February, lots of people are coming up with landscaping plans for the year ahead.

This is one of the busiest times of year for landscapers like Matt Alexander (above, left) of Brighton and Hove Gardens. While hardworking garden designers and builders like Matt keep grafting all year round, whatever the weather, forward-thinking homeowners who have grand designs for their summer space are already booking him in for big projects ahead.

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“Landscapers will work all year round,” Matt told us. “There’s nothing that really stops us, though heavy rain can delay us a bit when we’re on the ground. At this time of year lots of people are thinking about how they want to use their gardens in summer, so they’re booking us in to work on larger projects. Some people will leave it to the last minute and try and do things when summer is already in full swing. But even out of season there’s plenty to do - we’ve been doing a lot of fences in the past couple of weeks, as you might expect. You can go a bit mad only doing fences though - luckily there are a lot of landscapers to go round.”

Being given carte blanche over a garden is Matt’s idea of a dream job. “It comes round maybe two or three times a year,” he said. “A client says, look, here’s my garden, I don’t know what I want, go ahead and come up with something. That’s what I really love, it’s the real jewel in the crown. We start with the design, I get my CAD programme out and come up with something special.”

Garden design wasn’t always Matt’s passion though. He used to work in IT, before a life-changing event 10 years ago helped him to reprioritise. “My wife was feeling a bit ill and had been to the doctor’s for a blood test. I remember her calling me from a nearby pub because she was suddenly too tired to walk up the hill to our house, and we realised something must be wrong. Not long after the hospital contacted us and told us to come in, and it turned out she had leukemia.”

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The diagnosis meant a six-month spell in hospital for Matt’s wife, Mitch, receiving intensive chemotherapy. Matt quit his job to help raise their children and focus on her treatment - and against the odds, she fully recovered. “It was all thanks to the amazing work of the oncology department at Brighton hospital,” Matt said, “as well as Mitch’s amazing attitude.”

It was during her recovery that Matt began his career change - though it all came about by chance. “We had a neighbour who was a builder, and he saw I was at a loose end and offered me some work which I started doing. His neighbour was a landscaper, so I started working with him, and everything snowballed from there.”

Matt now has more than a decade of landscaping experience, working with some of best known firms in the area. While working for a previous company, he met Henry Canning, who now works with Matt at Brighton and Hove Gardening. “We liked working together and have a good partnership,” Matt said. “We divide and conquer. We can work quicker and get more done. It’s a really good set-up for us.”

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When it comes to your garden, Matt has a few key pieces of advice:

  • Plan ahead: “There are a lot of good landscapers out there, but you don’t want to be jumping on the bandwagon when the good weather has already started trying to find one for your garden,” Matt said. If you want to make big changes to your garden, it’s better to start early, even if the actual work won’t begin right away.
  • Get involved: “I think a lot of people are afraid of getting too involved with their landscaper - they think, well, I’m paying them the money and they’re the expert, so I’ll leave them to it. But really we appreciate the client getting involved. If the grouting is too dark, tell us so we can take it out and do it how it should be. You’re going to live with the garden for 10 or 20 years, so we want you to be happy with it, so you should be as involved as possible.”
  • Think outside the box: “There are a few design things that have become very commonplace nowadays, things like Indian sandstone patios and low, rendered white walls. People like them because they look good, which is fine, but I wish more people would be willing to think a bit differently - the possibilities are endless and it’s a really great chance to experiment and do something out of the ordinary.”

A decade after switching career, Matt is still happy with his choice: “Being in front a computer all day is bad for you, now I get to be outdoors, working with my hands.” It’s enough to make anyone want to get out in the garden - so start your planning now.

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