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Becoming A Gardens Consultant – A Virtual Seminar

Session Two - Making The Transition From Artisan to Consultant


(As this is a progressive ‘seminar’, please read Session One before continuing…….)


We left Session One with a request that any queries should relate to that section only, to avoid any confusion. One very interesting question arose, that I did not expect – one that I have never been asked before, yet at first glance, is a perfectly obvious one. The question related to my personal qualifications. Did I have any formal qualifications, or was my career based on experience alone?


For the record, my earliest ‘formal’ qualification is a City & Guilds, which was/is a segmented award, with a number of different topics, all under the heading of General Horticulture. I took the first few components in 1968, returning to complete the C & G in 1978. None of this was college based training, but gleaned from my day to day work experience as a general gardener (self employed ‘jobbing’ gardener). Since then I have gained a number of other bits and pieces including three Chain Saw certificates, Managing Safely, Asbestos Awareness, Ladder Training, etc, none of which are of particular use except when interviewing candidates for jobs when of course, it is handy to have first hand knowledge of the requirements and procedures involved.


BEING A GARDENS CONSULTANT is not necessarily about College Degrees or formal qualifications. Certainly, if you are going to undertake Court work or Industrial Tribunal type commissions, then of course, you will be challenged by the Defendants solicitors. Even then, your experience will count for much more than a piece of paper – much more of this later on.


In this Virtual Seminar, I am taking the view that you are all very keen gardeners, designers and specialists, looking to the future and trying to decide if there is another potential business venture to earn an income if and when you become too old to wish to carry on with physical gardening. This was the premise upon which this seminar came about – good artisans looking to secure their livelihood………………………..I have no formal qualification as a Consultant, and these articles are not based on any previous recorded work – as far as I know, this is the first such ‘seminar’ for the Horticultural Industry!


In some ways, I have another ‘qualification’, as many of you who are second careerists will also have, as Architects, Teachers, Soldiers, Accountants etc. I was a Police Cadet and Constable way back in the mid 60s, where I learned the art of dealing with the human race, public speaking and compiling and presenting facts in a manner than could be understood. (The training was not exactly called any of the above, but the end result of nearly four years in uniform meant that I was fairly confident under pressure).


As throughout your career, you will find that Fate has dealt you a number of cards; they may be formal qualifications such as Teaching degree, or a City & Guilds, HND, NDH etc, and you play the cards you hold at the time. As your career progresses, you will find yourself naturally dropping some of those cards, as others come your way. I value my FIHort (Fellow of The Institute of Horticulture above all qualifications. Interestingly, my son James (Arun Landscapes) uses his MIHort above his HND, my youngest son Luke (Goodwood) is MIHort, BA(Hons) – in that order.


Similarly, you may never refer to any formal qualifications at all. If you are known for your skill and talent, no client is ever going to ask you to produce your GCSEs, HNDs or BA(Hons)! Which is why, until that question arose from Session One, I gave it no thought, but it does serve to clarify further statements.




As previously discussed, we are all ‘consultants’ in our everyday work, answering questions from our clients, and guiding them through a successful project. But being a Consultant means more than just helping out. A Consultant is a Problem Solver, employed specifically for that purpose. It is not your remit to design or build a garden, it is to solve problems that may range from cost saving to best use of land, employing staff to products potential, valuations to drainage issues, protecting trees and property to producing method statements and specification for use by others. It may entail boundary disputes and oil tank spillages, insurance claims and garden site condition reports. The list is endless, and you  never know what will crop up next!


If you are currently undertaking a certain amount of ‘consultancy’, not purely related to your everyday work, but are getting enquiries to visit sites and offer opinions, this is the time to consider making a definite ‘split’ in your business. In 1984, having operated under the banner of ‘Alan Sargent – Town & Country Gardens of Distinction’, I was becoming increasingly fed up with people wanting free advice. (They didn’t call it that, but it was unpaid so therefore ‘free’ as far as I was concerned!) I split the company – same address, bank details, telephone etc, but had new headed paper produced – Alan Sargent, Gardens Consultant and Town and Country Gardens – ostensibly two separate firms.


Suddenly, it was as though I was FREE! But free from time wasters and non payers. Indeed, my consultancy rates were 50% higher than those for construction works. From that time onwards, whether by accident or the state of play at the time, I became involved in a wide range of consultancy enquiries. Projects that I would never had been approached to undertake whilst wearing my Landscapers hat!


I will give just a small flavour of the types of contract, including location and nature;


Gibraltar (Marshalls ref. paving), Jersey (also Marshalls), Bradstone (around the UK – involving product useage, balustrading, colour issues etc), Do It All Ltd (Product useage, public interfacing) Hozelock (Product development, UK), Du Pont (Luxembourg, Product useage), Harpak Ltd (Moscow and St Petersburg, consultancy and setting up The Moscow Academy of Landscape Architecture and Design) plus introducing Bradstone products into the Russian marketplace.    These are just some of the commercial consultancy enquiries…………..


Private commissions including Jersey (Design), France (Design and Project Management), Spain (Javea and Madrid – Design and Specification), Germany and Italy (Plant sourcing) etc.


ALL of these commissions were made by recommendation from other ‘satisfied customers’. EVERY JOB IS PART OF THE CURRENT ONE, AND WILL BE PART OF THE NEXT!


So whether you are currently operating as a Garden Designer, Contractor, Specialist Supplier or Landscape Contractor, consider the following life style procedures………………(All consultancy advice is in regard to individuals, not as ‘firms’)


EXAMINE your previous experience and current status. Highlight all things that you feel may be of value or interest, including all formal qualifications and especially Letters Designate. Note all career highlights, especially unusual commissions (it is not considered good form to mention private clients, as most will value their privacy and therefore not welcome learning details of your past customers). START TO BUILD YOUR C.V. and update it annually.


BUILD UP A LIST OF IMPORTANT PEOPLE AND CONNECTIONS.  A major part of becoming a Consultant is not just what you know, as much as who! I don’t mean that you should know people personally, but know of them. I have well over a hundred contacts including a very wide range of specialists, but also suppliers and specifiers, television and radio producers (more of which later), Government offices including Environment Agencies (local to you), Insurance companies and local regional managers, specialist craftspersons (thatchers etc), as wide a range as you can think of.


BECOMING A GARDENS CONSULTANT is all about problem solving, but this needs to be carried out in a clear, concise, progressive and informative manner. You should always be prepared to disclose the sources of your information (it is polite to advise them beforehand, both out of courtesy, but also to increase your contacts – these things work both ways!). Above all, your report should be articulate, with no errors. It is all too easy to produce a report with a simple word missing that may alter the whole meaning on the document. Just imagine that you wrote nitrate instead of nitrite and did not spot the mistake!


(A great illustration here, is the story of the School teacher, who wrote the following words on the blackboard.    The teacher said the boy was an idiot.   Now add two commas;

The teacher, said the boy, was an idiot.  Complete 360 degree turn in two commas!)


IT IS ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE that you are given a clear and precise instruction or set of instructions by your client. As with all contracts, you need to identify the client and agree payment terms in advance. It is always best to charge a Day Rate plus expenses, as you may not have a clear end of contract in sight……….

It is equally imperative that you do not exceed that mandate. Deal only with the matter in hand, they will not want to pay you for ‘excess’ words. (Assuming a written report is required. After all, you may be asked only for your advice and opinions, but you should still have either a fixed period or Day Rate in place.)


Session Three will continue to develop the style and nature of your chosen path. You should perhaps begin by setting out your strengths and previous history – also what you really enjoy doing. It does not matter what your personal Unique Selling Point is at this stage, as you may have more than one. The reason I mentioned some of my previous commercial work was to show that there is no rhyme nor reason to where enquiries come from, or their particular content. Once you become known as a Consultant, recommended by others, you will learn to deal with each enquiry, including who to turn to for advice on your own behalf if necessary!  Hence the need for a wide range of specialist contacts…………………




Before the end of the Virtual Seminar, we will look at marketing and networking your special skills and USP, and begin to develop your Consultancy business……………….
Allandscaper's Essays / Becoming a Gardens Consultant – A Virtual Seminar
« Last post by Alan Sargent on November 07, 2013, 10:37:20 pm »
Becoming a Gardens Consultant – A Virtual Seminar


Session One

As this is the first time I have ever attempted to run a seminar via the medium of Social Communication, even though it is in a public forum, I will endeavour to proscribe new rules of engagement for myself. I have held quite a few actual seminars over the past twenty years or more, and acted as Guest Speaker at several more.




Session One   -   Introduction to Subject and Speaker


Session Two   -  Making the Transition From Artisan to Consultant


Session Three  -  Identifying and Targeting Potential Markets


Session Four   -  Garden Evaluation – Staff Selection – Garden Valuations –        Assessments – Expert Witness – Special Expertise and Unique Skills.


Session Five  -    Selling and  Marketing Your Skills, Networking


(These headings will form the basis of the seminar, subject to your responses.)


As part of the registration documentation, I send out a mini-questionnaire requesting certain details from the delegates, including their experience to date, and their ambitions, all in just a few words, to give me a clear idea of the make up of the delegates at that session.


This weighting is particularly important – even though one may reasonably expect that only a certain ‘type’ of person is going to be willing to spend £200.00 plus on a five or six hour seminar on a given subject, the past experience of the audience is paramount. When the room is full of very experienced people, they have come expecting a heavyweight programme! (I have always invited the Horticultural Press – if applicable – to attend, as it really concentrates the mind, knowing that my words are going out to wider world! The fact that this virtual seminar is literally going to be read the world over, will certainly make me even more aware that I must choose my words carefully!)


The delegates themselves will usually be mixed, some contractors, some designers, some employed, some self employed. Second careerists and newcomers, those seeking new avenues of work – all will be expecting to gain from their time and financial outlay.

Each seminar is limited to between 15 and 30 delegates, dependant on location. The most challenging one was Managing As A Head Gardener, where all of the delegates were Head Gardeners from some of the most famous and prestigious gardens in the UK. I was very aware of their presence……………



Previous seminars, 1991 – 2012 include;


Traditional Paving Techniques (UWE Bristol)

Waterscapes Roadshow (Various)

Identifying and Creating Sources of Work (Various)

Hard Landscaping Techniques (Various)

English Gardening (Moscow), Guest Speaker, James Steele-Sargent

Garden Design – Future Trends (Moscow), Guest Speaker, Robin Templar-Williams

Million Dollar Gardens (Chichester) Guest Speaker, James Steele-Sargent

Gardeners Site Skills & Etiquette (Oxford)

Traditional English Gardening Techniques (Moscow), Guest Speaker, Mark Gregory

Managing As A Head Gardener (Chichester)


As Guest Speaker;


Landscape Professional (Earls Court)

Professionals In The Built Environment (Sevenoaks)

Gardeners World Live (NEC)

Traditional Small Element Paving (Westminster)

Great Gardening Show (Guildford)

Down To Earth (BBC Essex)

Managing & Marketing Your Business (Oxford)

BBC Gardeners World Roadshow (Various)

Grow Show (Esher)

Quality Streetscapes (Kensington)




The following resume was produced by The Institute of Horticulture, on being elected as Fellow at the 2011 Annual General Meeting. It is always very useful if you are able to have your own curriculum vitae or ‘resume’, produced by a third party – you can never describe yourself in the same way that someone else can!


‘Alan joined the Institute of Horticulture at the very beginning in 1984 and has a long, varied and successful career. He started working in horticulture in 1967 at Cheals of Pulborough as contract pruner, budder and grafter and assistant technician at Hamer, Gayner and Constanduros. There followed a series of managerial positions at various garden companies until he set up his own business Town and Country Gardens in 1984. In 2001, he became Head Gardener at the Goodwood Estate, Chichester, responsible for all aspects of horticulture on the estate, including historic, private and public gardens, whilst continuing freelance design, show gardens and consultancy. Since 2007 he has been self employed, and has a small company offering specialist services including consultancy and technical works (topiary, historic gardening etc).


Alan was a regular contributor to various gardening magazines, especially The Water Gardener as The Pond Doctor, is author of Garden Features Made Easy and was consultant to Focus Do It All, Hozelock Ltd, Bradstone Garden Products and Harpak Ltd, Moscow.


He is the original founder and Honorary Life Member of The Association of Professional Landscapers and a Member of The Professional Gardeners Guild. He has also been a member of The Garden Writers Guild, The Institute of Groundsmanship, The Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management, The Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Show Gardens Panel and was a Gardens Judge and Show Garden Assessor for The Royal Horticultural Society.


He was consultant to the Traditional Paving Development Group based at the University of The West of England (UWE), Bristol Frenchay Campus) teaching hard landscaping techniques and producing written specifications for use by others and between 1985 and 2005, designed, constructed and project managed over sixty show gardens, mainly at Chelsea and Hampton Court, but also Tatton Park, The South of England Show, Royal Southampton Show and Loseley Great Garden Show.


Industry Representative to LANTRA 2007 – 2010.


Alan started out to raise the standards of craftsmanship and public awareness of the industry and has undoubtedly achieved this over the years. He continues this work via seminars and through The Association of Professional Landscapers workshops, which also involves growers and designers’


End of resume.




NB. Since 2011, I have been accepted into the Garden Media Guild (ex Garden Writers Guild), the Association of Senior Garden Advisers, and act as consultant to The Gardeners Guild. I have since published The Head Gardeners Survival Manual (2012) and The Landscapers Survival Manual (2013). (The Landscapers Survival Manual has been shortlisted at the GMG Awards, November 2013, in The Most Inspirational Book of The Year category – winner or not, I’m delighted to be there!)


THIS INTRODUCTION OF ONESELF IS VERY IMPORTANT  What at first sight may appear a narcissistic essay is actually outlining my ‘right’ to be able to present this seminar, and something similar – a resume of your life’s work to date should be produced (by a third person?) and constantly updated to reflect your progress in your career.


Only you can decide which parts should feature, and it is an interesting and important discipline, perhaps at the end of each year, to look back and pick out and record the highlights.







Whilst it is undoubtedly true that we are obliged, almost as a matter of course, to offer some kind of consultancy whenever we discuss a client’s garden – how else can we prove our worth and differentiate ourselves from whomsoever may have been invited to give comment and advice in the past. How can a Garden Designer begin to work on a site without first having proven their abilities to produce the required result for the customer? How can I not be a ‘consultant’ when selecting the right stone for a job? Surely this is all part and parcel of contracting?

The answer is of course in the affirmative. We simply could not operate unless we were willing to help our clients with their projects.


BUT – when does the professional advice become more than just that? Why should the client place any credence on your proposals and not pick and choose between the many that may have been offered?


I honestly believe that there comes a time when you have to make a decision; either continue providing free advice or find a way to start to earn a well deserved income from your skills and knowledge. I will be covering a range of different ‘types’ of business person, from Garden Designers, Contractors and Specialist Suppliers, as each will have a different approach and personal needs to fulfil. Not currently necessarily as individuals, as I am aware that some people consider their expertise as being exclusive to their own company or products and therefore of no use beyond their time running that company (e.g. Stone Specialists, Irrigation Company technicians, Turf Producers etc). I will endeavour to prove that there is a market for knowledge and expertise beyond a life of promoting one product or service……………..


The next tranche will set out the various types of Consultancy, all based around ‘Landscaping’, and will aimed at garden designers, contractors of all hues and specialist suppliers. It will cover making the transition from artisan to consultant, learning how to split your time from everyday work to making money from your knowledge.


As I stated at the outset, I need to know the make up of the audience, but will try to visualise a cross section of virtual delegates. I will be looking at a room full of faces, all happy and smiling, pens poised, taking notes and looking forward to the coffee break!


I leave you with one little (true) story;


Some time ago, I was asked to visit a site some two hundred miles away from home (Sussex) to inspect and advise on a major sett laying project – very high profile/EU funded etc – which had gone badly wrong, due to the fact that the clients had chosen a block paving company to lay a fairly simple scheme using reclaimed granite setts of various sizes, colours and condition, but one that was going to take a punishing amount of large traffic (mainly double decker buses, turning in a tight space.) The paving company, having exhausted their experiences, were desperate for a solution.


I duly visited the project, having flown to the nearest airport, taxis to and from the site/home and spent four hours on site, producing an appropriate specification and demonstrating that technique to the layers.

I charged £1,200.00 plus expenses, plus VAT for my day on site. They (the Architects) listened VERY CAREFULLY and wrote down every word (I swear, every word!) I said. Now you and I know, that if I had simply turned up and offered that advice for free, as a favour, they would have ignored all that I said, as it would be seen to have had no value………………


(At the end of this seminar, which is not costing you anything,  you will surely ask yourself  ‘If that’s the case, why should I  bother with such Free Advice? Surely it too, must be worthless!’ ‘What will Alan get for spending hours writing this stuff?’  I will answer that question later on – remind me!)


Hints and Tips / Mazes – Hedge Cutting with a difference!
« Last post by Alan Sargent on October 20, 2013, 02:01:10 pm »
Mazes – Hedge Cutting with a difference!


One of the joys of being a contractor is that one never knows what the next enquiry may bring!

Six years ago, I took on the maintenance and responsibility for a private garden comprising approximately eight acres of formal garden, with another twenty plus acres of meadow and woodland.

One of the features of the garden – designed by a good friend of mine, Robin Williams, who is one of, if not THE best garden designer and teacher of landscaping – (Robin is now retired, but for over twenty years, taught design at Merrist Wood and in his own practice. He is a very skilled artisan, who started life as a contractor, and knows his way around construction as well as design) – is this impressive Yew maze.

With hedges standing two metres high, when I took it on it had been neglected for several years, with a lot of moss cover and weeds/lichen on the floor. The paths are timber edged Breedon gravel, laid over clay soil. The ground was water logged, and over the years, I have managed to aerate the soil and given it regular feeds of nitrogen. The leaves have changed from a yellow/red/brown to a reasonable colour green.

Cutting the hedge/s is not as complicated as it seems – once you know your way through the maze. Using two step ladders, each with three steps, affording a total useable height of 75cm, with two scaffold boards cut to lengths of around 2 metres, and ‘toothed’ to fit into the step ladders, I made a step ‘ramp’ up to the boards, with a step down at the other end. By moving the steps and boards as the work progresses, and by cutting both sides i.e. two hedge tops at one pass, using a long reach (no extension) Stihl hedge cutter, the tops are quickly finished. Up the steps, walk and cut, down the other side. Move the steps and repeat.

A second person, using a 60cm double sided hedge cutter, handles the sides, where there is relatively little growth, so both move at the same speed. The arisings are pushed through the hedge trunks, towards the entrance, which mitigates the amount of effort required to clear the site. Once the majority of material is cleared, a quick blast with a blower, towards the exit or sides means that one is not obliged to go all around/through the maze configuration.

Hints and Tips / Topiary with Shears
« Last post by Alan Sargent on October 20, 2013, 01:58:44 pm »
Topiary with Shears
I thoroughly enjoy working on a wide range to topiary hedges and features, mainly Taxus and Buxus, but all in large private gardens of at least eight acres, where they may be viewed from different angles – either as focal points or main features, or stand - alone pieces of living sculpture within an area specially designed to set them off.

The only tool I use to maintain these features is my Bahco Professional set of shears. They are INCREDIBLY sharp, strong and very lightweight. They are not cheap at around £70.00 per pair, but the speed and dexterity one can apply makes them very worthwhile.

For hedges, including the intricate network of the parterre shown below, I always cut the top first, ensuring a good clean edge beyond the actual width of the hedge, then turning the shears over, with the bottom facing away from me, or  the upper side facing towards my legs, I cut the furthest side only, using the point of the shears to trim a clean and sharp side to the hedge, working my way down the full height (up to around 60cm). I find this method offers a straight and neat finish.

Once I have completed one side, I then complete the other – pretty obvious really (!), but once you get used to the system, it is really very fast and accurate.

The parterre shown, and the series of pyramids/small hedges both take me one full day to cut and clear, working on my own. It is hard work, but the client (who is rarely at home) used to pay at least twice my fixed price of £400.00 for each job. Hard work but worth it! (especially as the shears make a much better job of the finish and maintaining square, level and upright/correctly shaped features and hedges.

Hints and Tips / Garden Shed Makeover (2)
« Last post by Alan Sargent on October 20, 2013, 01:55:52 pm »
Garden Shed Makeover (2)

Whilst the photographs show a wooden bothy or folly, one of several in a large garden in the South of England, the method of laying a wooden log floor is the same for any garden shed or indoor/outdoor area. Only the choice of timber will decide the longevity of the feature.

The floor shown is made up of a number of log roundels, in this case, pine, which is suitable for an indoor room/shed or sheltered open fronted gazebo. Each log is carefully sawn to a suitable length, usually 125mm or five inches. Each log should be ‘straight’ to enable neighbour against neighbour laying, with the minimum of space  between each unit.

The logs are laid over a compacted base, which should be free draining. Sharp sand/block laying sand is used to a depth of approximately 50mm, to ‘bed’ the logs firmly into position.

Once the area is complete, a mixture of sharp sand or a course grained sand (the definition of which will depend on  your locality) is simply brushed into the gaps, and the whole area vibrated using a piece of 25mm plywood, 45cm x 45cm, and a rubber or nylon maul to ensure that the intercises are filled – much as a whacker plate over block paving, without the heavy pressure implied by a machine. Simply repeat the tamping until the gaps are filled. The sizes of the timber logs can vary in diameter, as long as they are touching each other, and of the same length.

I have used a variety of different timbers, ranging from beech, oak and acacia for open air ‘patios’ to pine, cedar and sycamore for dry, indoor areas. The photographs show an open fronted gazebo, the floor of which was laid approximately ten years ago (but it is little used). You can, of course, apply a suitable preservative or seal to add years to the life of the project.

This method is quick and easy to lay, but allow time to produce sufficient numbers of logs, as this can be the costliest part of the job. Material costs will obviously vary from timber to timber, but may of course, be free, if they are to be found on site, or available during other works. Ensure that each log is kept upright during operations, and not allowed to lean in any direction, otherwise the work will become loosened by use.

(This particular floor is due to be replaced during the winter - when we get a few wet days!)

Hints and Tips / Hedge Cutting Contracting – Science & Methodology
« Last post by Alan Sargent on October 20, 2013, 01:54:05 pm »
Hedge Cutting Contracting – Science & Methodology

One of commonest jobs we are called upon to quote for is that of hedge cutting. Recognising that hedges come in many different shapes, sizes and species, there is no easy answer to the logic of producing a meaningful and precise quotation.

To explain that which may at first appear a paradox, I have been a landscape garden contractor since 1968, but have the added experience of six years as Head Gardener to a major private Estate (Goodwood House) so if I write in the first person or address my comments in the Royal ‘we’, it is because some of the information is based on solo working, and also as Team Leader working with others.

Because of my time at Goodwood (2001 – 2007) I hold a number of ‘tickets’ including Safe Ladder Working, Working at Height, Access Platform Lorry (26m lorry mounted cherry picker) plus three of the Chain saw certificates (safe handling, cross cutting etc), and I put these to good use in my business. Part of my work today is that of ‘Head Gardener’ to a small number of very large gardens/Stately Home properties, where I visit on a regular basis and organise their own staff and carry out some training.

My approach to quoting for the cutting of hedges depends on many factors, and these are all noted in a form of Method Statement, presented as part of the tender documentation. Very few hedges are the same, and I go through a process, first of all noting the nature and condition of the site.

If the ground upon which I have to work is sloping (towards the hedge/away from the hedge/angled to one side or another/close proximity to problems (overhead cables, roadway, public footpath etc), any rabbit or mole holes in which a ladder leg may disappear, - so many factors before I even examine the actual hedge. These factors need to be noted in your tender documents.

The dimensions are also noted, together with the amount of material to be removed – one side, both sides, half the top or all the top.

The most important tool at this stage – and beyond – is the extendable pole, either a lock and click version of the Wolf range of handles, or (my favourite), a triple extender Bahco pole saw pole. These are used to examine the width of the hedge, by passing the pole through from one side to the other and measuring the distance. It is often very surprising to note the actual width, and the pole acts as a very visual aid if shown to the client. That which appears narrow from their garden can be really quite wide.

The same pole is used to measure the height, with both height and width being calculated in two measurements – the dimensions of the hedge bed, and the average size of the hedge before cutting.

Taking the square metreage of the actual area to be cut – one side, both sides etc, then calculate the cubic capacity of the material to be disposed of – allow for bulking factors for different species, holly, beech, field maple and hornbeam  being particularly difficult to crush into smaller piles (big - bags, wheelbarrows etc). This information is important when quoting, especially of you have to remove the arisings from site.

I use this pole as a height gauge, standing it against the hedge to monitor the required height during cutting works. It is also useful for levelling the top (if required). Simply attach a metre long spirit level to the pole with cable ties, and use it as a normal level – but with a much longer length.


All of these ‘tricks’ are good visual aspects of our trade, as the client can see that care is being taken to achieve the right results. It gives them the opportunity, before tendering, to agree the amount of material to be removed, so if they change their minds, the additional work is a genuine ‘extra’ subject to another quotation.

The hedge cutting machinery is a matter of personal choice, and I always recommend that each operative selects their own ‘machine of choice’, one which they are comfortable with, as this avoids any problems with complaints from workers who ‘cannot get along’ with a particular tool.

I use a Stihl electric 60cm bar machine for difficult areas, including cutting internal curves and high places, where my arms begin to ache quite quickly, and personally get along happily with a Stihl combi long reach double sided hedge cutter – even with a metre long extension bar - changing the blades (I have them professionally ground) on a regular basis. (It takes two people 15 minutes to change the blades, working on the back of a pick-up tailgate, but you do need practice!)

My quotation will include all dimensions, including the existing height and width, square metreage areas to be cut, dimensions of bed of the finished job, together with an assessment of the amount of rubbish to be disposed of. (Be careful of weight in some cases, with green or wet conifer waste being particularly heavy, and therefore problematic if your vehicle/trailer is subject to low weight carrying restrictions)

I have a variety of different methods of reaching the job, including a couple of sizes of the new generation lightweight tripod ladders with extendable legs (BRILLIANT!), a twelve foot fibreglass stepladder, a triple extender lightweight aluminium ladder, a 2m x 2m x 6m aluminium tower with full boards and safety rail. I also use a man cage on the front of a Manitou/Merlot All Terrain vehicle for a couple of very high Leylandii hedges in a field on one of my sites (use ground boards if necessary, and charge for them in your quote), plus the aforementioned cherry pickers for those jobs that permit (don’t forget the space for the outriggers, or to load some extra ground boards for the feet). I am also of the opinion that each individual should have their own safety harness, as PPE, and ensure that they use them at all times when working at height.

Ensure that your quote is time limited; if you quote in May, and the client accepts in September, the hedge has grown another six feet! If you take all of the above recommendations and include them, in one form or another, in your quotation, you should feel comfortable with your price. Do not be surprised at the final estimate – hedge cutting is one of the easiest projects to under price.

If you keep a record of the amount of waste produced on a few projects, you will quickly learn the formula for assessing the costs involved in clearing the site, in relation to the type of specie and areas involved.

The project shown here is a regular job I undertake on a price, and we now have the working practice on this particular project down to a fine art! Two people, one day’s work, with the client clearing up. Cost? Almost £1,000.00, using only step ladders and tower.

Hints and Tips / Creating an Island in a Butyl Lined Pond
« Last post by Alan Sargent on October 12, 2013, 11:05:33 am »
Creating an Island in a Butyl Lined Pond

Creating an island in any lined pond is not difficult in most cases. Simply by excavating the shape and building the various levels and shelves the line may be cut to shape, leaving a hole to the area designated as the island. The liner may then be installed in the usual manner – I will not go into detail here to avoid confusion; in any event, Tricks of the Trade involved in working with ponds, pools and liners are subjects for more in depth articles at a later date!

The site shown in these photographs presented a different sort of problem. The land was almost pure sand, and the design called for a decent sized island to be constructed and planted.

There was no possibility of any automatic top up system, and the scale of the project rendered the use of hose pipes impractical (except for the initial fill up). Therefore the sides of the scheme were designed to slope gently into the water, allowing a water level rise and fall of around 90cm, between the lowest side shelf base and top of the liner, with sandy soil placed over the liner to provide a natural effect sloping side to the pool.


The difficulty came in constructing the island. The water could rise and fall – fed naturally by rainfall draining across the sloping field site into the pond, with any overflow simply draining into the area beyond the feature. However, as there was no opportunity for such an ebb and flow to the island, another solution was required.

The pond was sculpted, with laser level precision across the whole scheme, and an area of land was left as a mound, graded to shape, not re-graded afterwards, to give maximum stability to the island. The top was taken off the mound, almost resembling a hard boiled egg with the crown removed, and the resultant plateau left as a circular (could be any shape) area, the top of which was level with the lowest part of the internal side shelves.

The island was created using sand bags filled with soil concrete (see Tricks of The Trade / Hints and Tips) secured together as a necklace around the outer edged of the island, using strong galvanised wire threaded through the sacks. A second and third  layer of sandbags was added to give greater depth.  The hessian sacks would rot after a while, and the soil concrete remain to secure the soil/planting. The resultant ‘doughnut’ of the island was infilled with good quality topsoil, with an amount of light clay content but substantially stone free. (The quality of the soil was such that an additional membrane was not deemed necessary, but beware of sharp stones which may penetrate the liner). This soil level was slightly higher than the highest part of the main pond sides, so that the island would always be visible, even when the pond was at maximum water level.

The main reasoning behind the decision to create the island in this manner was the thought that the sandy island may ‘implode’, or collapse once it was the only dry area within the precints of the pond works, causing the whole project to lose water through the island. I realise that the likelihood was probably zero, but I did not want to take the risk!

The result was very successful, with the island being planted with a variety of native species. When the project was completed, part of the hand over package was a strict instruction NOT to use forks and spades when working the island soil!

Hints and Tips / Stone Chips to Windows
« Last post by Alan Sargent on October 12, 2013, 11:03:11 am »
Stone Chips to Windows

Preventing stone chips to patio and other windows is one of the greatest problems for Contractors. Strimmers, mowers and concrete breakers all causing stones and other hard detritus large and small, spinning off in the general direction of a sheet of glass are a major headache – and a drain on one’s wallet!

Having been on the receiving end of a complaint from a client who insisted that a stone chip to a patio window MUST have been damaged during landscaping works several months before as we were the only ones who had been working in the garden - ‘It only shows up now the sun shines on the glass’ – I decided to find a high profile solution. One that not only ensured that we were trying to  prevent any possible damage, but were seen to be doing so.


Using a large, heavy duty cloth dust sheet, with two corners knotted to form  pockets, and two extending poles (triple length Barco pole saw poles, affording twelve feet of fully adjustable length) the sheet is either tucked into the corners of the brickwork to the patio doors, or covering both upstairs and downstairs (ground and first floor on most houses) windows. This operation takes only a few minutes at most, and avoids any question of liability for damage.

Rather like the chimney sweep who takes great care about cleanliness, the fact that you are seen to take preventative action during your operations, whether it be a ten minute strimming exercise or full blown sledge hammers and Kangos, your client will not only appreciate your efforts, but also comment on your duty of care to their friends.
Hints and Tips / Foundations – Forward Planning (2)
« Last post by Alan Sargent on September 24, 2013, 10:22:45 pm »
Foundations – Forward Planning (2)

Conduits to carry potential future works, including lighting and irrigation are an essential part of any Landscape project, yet are very often overlooked by the Designer, Contractor and Client, usually because they have not been considered due to costs or lack of fore thought by anyone.

It is somewhat too late to try to either take up the footpath, tunnel under the walling foundations or mole drain under the driveway without costing a lot of money and aggravation.

By installing sections of 75mm plastic pipe – downpipe is ideal – under the foundations or base material (never set the conduit into the concrete, as this will compromise the strength), from one side to the other, in as many places as you consider necessary, you will save a great deal of grief in the future!

Each pipe to be fitted with colour coded (either different colour or type of string – always use something very strong and durable, such as builder line) set of lines, usually three, with the ends secured with pieces of bamboo cane, terminating just beyond the foundation.

These draw lines may be utilised at any time to pull through pipeworks or electrical cables. 75mm is the minimum dimension to allow three such cables without snagging mid pipe.

A very simple tip, costing very little, but saving a lot of time and money.
Hints and Tips / Foundations - Forward Planning (1)
« Last post by Alan Sargent on September 24, 2013, 10:21:52 pm »
Foundations – Forward Planning (1)

Often, due to budgetary restrictions, it is necessary to construct only a part or section of a scheme, with the full plan being implemented  at a later date as funds permit. These truncated works usually involve paving or walling. As the concrete foundations for either are being constructed, it is useful to consider a method of permitting additional works to be added, whilst retaining the same strength of foundation as the initial works.

Taking paving as the first example, if the first stage of development is finished against (say) planting or turfing, simply extend the reinforcing bars (or adding new ones for this particular purpose if none were set into the original concrete) by at least 75cm into/under the bed/lawn. If, and when the works are completed, you will have a strong, semi-monolithic ‘complete’ foundation of equal strength under all the paving.

If the works do not go ahead, you have still acted in a thoughtful manner on behalf of your client.

Walling foundations will obviously vary in width and depth according to the wall under construction. However, the technique is the same no matter how large the dimensions.

At the point where the foundation for stage one is to terminate, set into place a piece of timber (preferably old scaffold board rather than plywood, as it is easier to break off at a later stage) to act as the end of the concrete footings.

Drill appropriate sized holes through the wood and insert reinforcing bars – I tend to use 18mm – into the wet concrete mix, extruding at least 90cm beyond the works, and 120cm minimum into the foundations. Once the concrete is set, the board should be removed, leaving the bars at approximately 15cm centres protruding from the foundations, preferably in a double row, top and bottom.

All of this work is below ground and has no visual effect on the scheme, but this forward planning means that the next phase can be added, with, once again, semi-monolithic foundations.
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