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91
Becoming a Gardens Consultant – A Virtual Seminar
Session Five – Marketing & Networking Your Own Consultancy  Business

(As with the previous Sessions, please start with Session One, as it is a progressive ‘Seminar’)

The journey to becoming a Gardens Consultant is, of necessity, a long one. Simply being very good at one subject may well supply  you with your Unique Selling Point, but that specific skill may not be enough to provide you with a sound business. For example, a specialist in natural stone will greatly increase the chance of gaining a consultancy commission on the strength of their knowledge of the materials, but that will merely provide them with a short visit or consultation. However, combine that talent with an in depth working knowledge of laying techniques, pointing methods, sand selection, uses and limitations, porosity, durability, crushing strengths, density etc, will afford much greater scope for a fully detailed and useful document.
That knowledge becomes CAMPAIGNABLE and will attract customers to your Consultancy business, as well as your ‘main’ job.

It will also open up a far wider field of enquiry, and it is this ability to offer a complete package that will help you to establish yourself as THE consultant when it comes to commissioning a report. Your skills are of no use unless you can produce a fully detailed report, specific to that site. All too often, seekers of such information rely far too heavily on the internet  to provide solutions, only to find that the techniques recommended are too generalised to be of any use to them. There is a lot of good, sound, information available via social media, but even the best is not enough if it is not site specific. This comment goes right across the board, from working practices, material selection and site conditions.

If all you had to do was Google an answer, we would all be redundant! There would be no need to gain experience by spending years learning a trade, if all that is required is the click of a button! But at least once a week, I have a call for help because of confused and mixed messages people have obtained via the media………………..

I learned a very valuable lesson from Peter Hamer (see Session One) who, as a Horticultural Consultant, was extremely knowledgeable, with many years of practical experience under his belt. (This was during the late 60s and early 70s, long before the Internet or any other form of ‘instant’ information). Peter was commissioned by major firms such as ICI, Murphy, May & Baker etc; all of whom were taken over by other companies many years ago. Commissions included Cabbage Root Fly damage (which involved washing and examining 5,000 cabbage roots), Gleosporium damage to stored apples (involving checking and weighing hundreds of individual apples on a daily basis), plus many other in depth analysis methods. Peter taught me that if you did not know the answer to a problem always ask for assistance.

When I worked with him (as a Lab assistant), I saw that he would not be afraid to seek the opinion of others. A major part of being a good consultant is in knowing WHO to ask for advice. That person would contact Peter and ask him for HIS advice should it be needed. This openness in exchanging information has always stayed with me, and I have sought to do the same throughout my career. NOBODY knows it all! By knowing who to consult with, and the right questions to ask, you will gain so much more information and credibility.

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As your career develops, and you find that you are particularly skilled at, or enjoy (often one and the same thing) a particular job, you will find yourself trying to attract more of that type of work. This is such an obvious statement to make, but most of us find that we have to take on a wide range of contracts, just to stay in business. However, by running your favoured type of work in tandem with your other jobs, and gradually split the ‘specialist’ projects from the norm, you should find that after a period of time, you will become well known for the former. You will begin to develop your Unique Selling Point. It is at this stage that you need to really concentrate your energy of gaining as much experience and information as possible about your chosen subject.

I have already covered a range of different types of Consultancy. The task now is to set about selling your skills. It is very important to remember, that as a Consultant, all you have to sell is your time and knowledge. Unlike a normal contract, where you will make money on your labourers, material mark-ups, profit and overheads, early completion on a priced contract etc – as a Consultant, all you are selling is YOURSELF. Therefore you need to charge accordingly. I recommend a Day Rate, with perhaps a Half Day Rate, which should be 60% of the Day Rate. This rate should be in the region of £250.00 per day upwards, PLUS expenses.

Expenses include travel (however you wish to work that out: fuel, mileage, fares etc) and all time spent on the project INCLUDING office time, telephone calls etc. You need to think and act in a thoroughly professional manner, much as a solicitor or mechanic, dentist or repair man. Keep a detailed log of everything you do on the commission, and submit the document as part of your invoice. I appreciate this will be alien to many of you, but it is expected of you, especially when working for professional companies. It is also why, when agreeing your Terms, these matters are all placed in writing.

You may well have to commission experts of your own, obviously by prior written agreement, and their fees will need to be included with your detailed invoice.
Outside experts may include specialists in Site Surveying, Drainage, Soil Mechanics, Irrigation, Lighting, Environmental matters and a host of other professionals.
Should you find yourself working for a Company (more often than not), they will be doing the same thing, further on down the line, by employing you!

WHAT HAS ALL THIS TO DO WITH MARKETING AND NETWORKING?

Selling yourself as a Consultant requires a different style of advertising. Many people call themselves ‘Consultants’ when in fact they are offering an adjunct to their normal business, as in Garden Design & Consultancy, Landscapers and Consultants etc. This is fine, and will perhaps attract domestic customers, with the accent being on the main business – design or landscape – and the consultancy element adding kudos to the company. Some companies of course do actually specialise in Landscape Consultancy – Landform Consultants Ltd springs to mind, and such firms do indeed, offer professional consultancy (and charge for their Consultants time as a stand alone commission). This Virtual Seminar is not aimed at those established companies, but at all who wish to develop their talents and begin to earn a living by their brains as well as their hands!

In this instance, marketing and networking are one and the same – or at least, they are so closely related that one becomes an integral part of the other. Making your mark, setting out to establish yourself as a Consultant requires a great deal of research. If we take it as a given that you feel sufficiently competent to charge a relatively high rate for your time, confident that you have the ability to produce (even with help from others – we are not all able to use high tech typing machines!) well written reports, to the standard demanded by the client – you will need information.

Information that should be kept as a record, with an index and catalogued in such a way that you hold detailed accounts for a very wide range of other specialists that you MAY need, even on rare occasions, to get information and advice from. As I have mentioned, I have in depth notes on well over a hundred different individuals and companies, kept up to date and close to hand. Anybody whom I think I may need to know, or have knowledge of. Despite the fact that you are operating as a Specialist Consultant, with your own Unique Selling Point/s, you will need to have as wide a range of ‘outside experts’ as you can think of. The information you require is that of individuals, not simply company names. You will need the name of the Marketing Director, or The Senior Biologist, and talk to them as themselves, even though they represent the company. One to one dialogue discussing an issue in depth creates a great rapport.

The list may include; Drainage or Irrigation experts, Lighting and Gardens Electricians, Pool Engineers, Local Environmental Agencies, Local Authorities (especially Engineers, Planners, Open Spaces etc), Soil Mechanics, Agronomists, Garden Historians, Rose/Shrub/Tree experts/growers, Paving manufacturers and Suppliers, Radio and Television Producers (who LOVE good stories), Historic House Associations, National Trust, English Heritage, Land Agents, Estate Agents (larger properties), Garden Antique specialists, Timber suppliers, Turf Companies (especially their science/technical directors), Bioculture specialists, Arborists, Insurance Company Directors, the list goes on and on……………..

THIS NETWORK OF  PEOPLE ARE YOUR MARKET PLACE.

As much as you need to know about them, they also need to know about you. Once you feel ready, and have a clear idea of what it is you are selling as a Consultant – something THEY DO NOT HAVE – but well may have need of (remember, in Session Three – Countryside Consultancy, the tale of the clay lined dew pond), then you become part of THEIR network! Simply introduce yourself by means of a letter, with a request that they hold your details on file should they ever need your particular skill. Perhaps enclose a couple of examples of your ‘work’, at the same time ask permission to recommend them in a reciprocal manner. If they agree, keep in regular contact with them (perhaps every few months?) and ‘follow’ them via their websites.
If anything of keen interest comes up, congratulate them on their success. Similarly, new product ranges offer you the chance to comment favourably to Paving manufacturers, or a new design in irrigation could result in a request for technical information from their boffins, each time will be a reminder of your existence…………this contact may well result in you being invited to become involved in the production and marketing of a particular product. I had SO MUCH work from companies such as Do It All and Bradstone for example, as I was the first person that sprang to mind when they were asked for an industry opinion. It is no good simply writing to introduce yourself as a Consultant. You need to build up that relationship, nurture and develop those people and projects that excite you.


Much of my work – even perhaps the largest part of my consultancy commissions come via other Consultants, or Managers/Directors of specialist firms. This week I have already had two enquiries, one from a major firm of Agents in West London in need of a site assessment, feasibility study and audit, the second from a London Council seeking advice on planning a new routine for improving productivity (something they are not able to handle ‘in-house’ for reasons of policy)

Even if you want to develop your consultancy business to exclude working with professional companies, and wish to remain in the private sector, you will still need to have the information available via your chosen network. Once you become involved in dealing with matters such as waste sludge from a pond, water run off from a lake, Japanese knotweed, soil problems, drainage, etc, - anything that may involve environmental issues,  you may need your ‘team’ of outside experts for comment and advice. Once a question raises it’s head, you need to have an answer, and it will need to be the right one, no matter where you find it!

Bear in mind too, that many of these people – Insurance Company Managers and Directors for example, will be some of your main customers. If you always expect the unexpected when answering the telephone, you will be able to deal with anything – or at least know who to call for advice!

There is currently no National Register of Gardens Consultants (as far as I am aware).
Certainly, there are lists of Experts, including those held by The Garden Media Guild, whose members register their specialisms; The Association of Senior Garden Advisors (who offer their services as a team of consultants, mainly ex Head Gardeners, not Landscapers or Designers), and no doubt, a call to the RHS will result in an enquiry to someone, somewhere. But there is no National Register that anyone, private or professional, can call for details of their local Specialist Consultant. No one body that would immediately come to mind when seeking help with some quite profound matters.

Becoming a Gardens Consultant is a natural development to a career in Gardening. I differentiate between ‘Gardening’ and Horticulture, as the latter is such a massive field, with too many disciplines to begin to list in this article. I hope that at least some of you will feel sufficiently empowered and interested enough to follow the path set out in these Five Sessions.

You may have noticed that, even after 10,000 words, I have made no mention of HOW to produce a report, or WHAT to look for as a Consultant. Even if this Virtual Seminar was a real seminar in a College classroom, I would still not have divulged my methods and consultancy techniques………….I have to earn my living using my own Unique Selling Points, and not give EVERYTHING away for free!

(Seriously folks, if anyone is interested, I may well be up for running a Virtual Workshop at some stage, on a very specific topic to avoid going off at tangents. There will be no charge!)

















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Becoming a Gardens Consultant – A Virtual Seminar
Session Four – Packaging Your Consultancy Business Offer

As mentioned in Session Three, I can think of around twenty different Business Models for a Consultancy business, all of which act as your Unique Selling Point. I also explained that there is no reason why you should not have more than one USP, especially if, like myself, I found it sensible and practical to separate certain skills for reasons of marketing.

(Whilst my main business interest is in Historic Houses/18th & 19th Century gardens, I also have a profitable ‘sideline’ in topiary and the management of fine hedges. This speciality has grown out of the historic gardens business to become a stand alone source of income.) It could be argued too, that I make money by selling my knowledge of marketing and consultancy by means of writing for magazines and publishing gardens management books, but that too, could be called another USP.

We  looked at four different career opportunities during Session Three, and I now want to move on to some of the Services you may like to offer. These will be valid across the board – any one of the various aspects of consultancy will require the same planning logic, irrespective of their actual field.  As one thinking of developing a horticultural/garden design background you need to adopt a new approach to your current work.

You will be selling your talents on a consultancy basis to people who need your skills. You will never be able to imagine the huge range of problems you will be presented with, and it is your immediate response, when asked to provide a consultancy service and given the task in hand, that will decide your success or otherwise. The professional approach is to ask as many questions of your client at the initial meeting. The most important question of all is that of their expectations. What do you want me to do for you? That may sound like the most obvious thing of all, but it is surprising the number of times that misunderstandings occur. The Consultant has not clearly understood the brief, and either produced a report that was of no use to the client, or had far too much information, and time spent well beyond the brief, costing far more than anticipated , equates to an unhappy customer.


Write down all relevant details of that initial meeting and immediately produce a resume of that conversation and present it to the client before you start work. State clearly your understanding of their requirements, and get them to agree in writing (email will suffice) or add, alter or delete any item. At this stage, if not already agreed, you should state your Terms and Conditions, and an idea of the likely final invoice. You should also agree interim payments if required………..

Services May Include………………………….

Garden Evaluation or Valuation

This service in invaluable to anyone contemplating purchasing a property with an existing garden, especially a large and established site. The Evaluation, in its basic form, would typically consist of a written survey highlighting items of value and interest including hard landscaping features and their condition, but also specimen plants, their value in the garden and future life expectancy, plus any problems identified. However, the report could be produced in more detail and may include an in-depth schedule of the garden plant stock, trees, ponds and pools, garden equipment, boundary fences etc – a fully detailed and itemised document describing the garden with all its pros and cons.

There may be other matters that you should include if relevant. For example, if you discover a well in the grounds, which may be useful for irrigation, you should examine this in more detail. Establish the depth by plumbing the well, the amount of water in the bottom. The dimensions (depth x diameter) will give you an accurate idea of the amount of water available. You may like to propose that you visit the site again, this time with a submersible pump. Empty the well completely, then return (say) 48 hours later of check the water depth – this is known as the recovery rate - and will provide you with a good idea of the amount of water available for any such irrigation suggestions.

Valuations may be extended to other matters. For example, an oil tank leakage, where hundreds of litres of heating oil may have contaminated an area, which will require excavating and removing offsite, with a (often large) amount of new topsoil to be imported. Your role would be to assess the damage from a horticultural viewpoint, including potential damage to root systems. This type of consultancy is difficult to assess when estimating your costs and should be charged at your  Day Rate. In all likelihood, an insurance company will be paying for your costs in any event.

Other matters of valuation may include damage caused by cattle (a herd can destroy a garden and lawn in just a few minutes of rampaging) or a road traffic accident, storm damage, wilful damage/vandalism, or simply to provide an indication of the value of the garden as part of a property sale.

Site Assessments

Site assessments differ in nature from Evaluations or Valuations. Whether a new garden or existing site, a report setting out the potential of that garden can greatly enhance both the monetary value of the property, but also give maximum pleasure and useage. Following an interview to establish the client’s needs, present and future, you should assess the site – which will require a budget at an early stage – to provide a detailed plan or schedule of works. A properly formulated plan, step by step, stage by stage, with a works schedule showing the correct sequence of events to avoid double handling and unnecessary expenditure may be produced.

This report will (probably) call for a written and detailed Method Statement, providing the client with a ‘story board’ of how the job should be approached, including access points, ground conditions and possible use of ground boards to prevent compaction by machinery and equipment, overhead power cables, drainage runs, man hole positions – everything that a contractor will need to price for a project on an equal basis/like for like with other contractors. You may be retained to oversee any works that arise from your consultancy report. REMEMBER, at this stage, you are acting as a Consultant, not a contractor or designer. This is of course, not to say that you will not be asked to provide a quotation………..

When assessing a site, you should be aware of the life style/life stage of the client. Perhaps they may have elderly parents who come to visit, grandchildren or a disabled family member. All of these things are part of your consultancy service.

Site assessments may also include taking soil samples and tests, carrying out Ph testing of existing pools and ponds, surveying woodlands for damage and disease, protecting important specimen trees and shrubs, identifying sites that may be used for wild flowers and perhaps bee keeping. Generally, an assessment brief will give you a much freer hand to come up with your own ideas and suggestions, as you have the experience the clients may lack…………………again, ensure that your brief is carefully established before commencing work.

Staff Selection

With your expertise, skills and knowledge, in the field of ‘Consultancy’ you may be asked to assist with assessing potential staff, especially at Senior level. How to choose the right applicant when interviewing several potential candidates for a position as Head Gardener, Gardener In Charge or full time single handed gardener in a smaller garden is not an easy task. The owners may not have much experience in interviewing, and knowledge of the right questions to ask.

They may be easily swayed by ‘bits of paper’ or claims of past experience, and when you arrive to interview the candidate and walk him/her around the garden, you quickly realise that they do not have a clue! This service is becoming more and more in demand, and able consultants are very difficult to find……………

Having an independent Consultant, with many years of experience in dealing with staff and managing gardens sitting in on the interview process reduces the risk of making a wrong decision. Owners appreciate the input of an outside and independent person of experience, and by placing greater emphasis on the management skills of the applicant, and their ability to work with employers and (perhaps) subordinates is every bit as important as practical gardening knowledge.
Assistance may also be given to drawing up contracts of employment to ensure that both parties are protected in a fair and equitable manner. (You would be amazed at the hopelessly out of date ideas that some employers have!)

Expert Witness

Being an expert witness is no longer the nerve wracking and confrontational business it was twenty odd years ago. Then, in cases of dispute, both parties would employ their own expert witnesses to attend Court, and more often than not – being experts in their fields, and being bound to tell the truth etc, they agreed with each other! I had several such experiences in the early 90s, when called upon to be an expert witness is cases, only to find that my opposite number was one of a number of old friends!

Lord Wolfe changed the law so that only one expert witness is now appointed – or agreed by the Court to be the expert witness, even if paid for by either the Plaintiff or Defendant – as the Courts Expert Witness. Both sides have to agree, but I have never known the Judge’s decision to be called into question!

This type of consultancy will not be for everybody, but do not be put off by the nature of the work. You need a reasonable understanding of how the Court system works, and it is only on very rare occasions that you will need to go into Court. Usually, disputes are discussed in a private room, with  the Judge sitting without regalia, a clerk, the Plaintiff and Defendant plus the expert witness. I am delighted to say that a) I have never ‘lost’ a case, but on every occasion, have found such discrepancies in the contract documentation – usually involving variations in quantity, which negated all further dispute, and b) always been paid even if my client has not received compensation.

I have previously published a list of Legal Terms useful to Landscape Contractors on both the Landscape Hub, but also on Allandscapers.org should you wish to refer to them. They will give you a clear insight into the thought processes of The Law, and may avoid all sorts of problems for you both as Contractors but also Consultants.

All you have to do, is visit the site (perhaps), check all documents and contracts, and tell the whole truth about the work or site in your professional opinion. Simple as that! Answer all questions openly and honestly, and just be helpful to the Court.

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You will appreciate that these 10,000 or so words which  make up this Virtual Seminar are simply scratching the surface of a very wide ranging subject. I hope that will have a fair understanding of what it takes to become a consultant. You can start as early and young as you like – but if you have the ambition and are willing to spend time analysing situations and projects in as thorough a manner as possible, thinking about how YOU would deal with a problem, even if it is nothing to do with you – you are simply passing the site – then you will be able to handle any situation.

In Session Five, I will be going into more detail of the Marketing and Networking aspects of Consultancy. As you will find, they vary quite considerably from ‘ordinary’ advertising or marketing of your current skills, although they will certainly be handy for the former…………..
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Becoming a Gardens Consultant – A Virtual Seminar

Session Three – Developing Your Career Opportunities

 

Session Three has been retitled from the original ‘programme’ to reflect the comments and interest shown in the first two tranches. To reiterate – the idea of the Virtual Seminar is to enable me to visualise a room full of people who have paid good money to attend! This is the only practical manner in which I can conduct a progressive essay, taking each step along the road to becoming a Gardens Consultant. If you have not already done so, and are ‘late on parade’, may I suggest that you read the first two sessions before continuing with Session Three.

 

A question arose from the last essay regarding the ability of an ‘ordinary maintenance gardener’  to become a Consultant. The answer is an emphatic YES! You cannot possibly become a gardens expert in your chosen field without first having had a solid background in horticulture and  that of working outdoors in all conditions involves. Experience is everything! Once you branch out into consultancy, each project will help you to build your confidence and knowledge. It is a one way road, as every site, every scheme, every client and brief will help to cement your place in your field.

 

Examples of Business Plans/Career Opportunities

 

I want to take three different hypothetical fields that may interest you and fit in with your experience and skills. This is where the virtual seminar idea fails slightly, as I have to assume certain things about the roomful of delegates (you, the readers!) which I would have ascertained under a real life seminar preambles session, quizzing each person beforehand in respect of their past experiences and wishes for the future, by means of a mini-questionnaire. Offhand, I can think of around twenty different models for Consultancy fields, but I think you will learn enough of the processes involved to enable you to decide your own path.

 

Historic Houses, Large Properties, Country Estates

 

This is a rich area for Consultancy, where your previous knowledge  as a maintenance contractor, garden designer, hard landscaper, gardener – as wide a field of experience as possible, to enable you to be able to talk the language of horticulture and management. Think of yourself as being a Head Gardener, in charge of a large country estate, with an important house being the centre of the site.

 

The range of subjects that a Consultant may be called upon to assist with is huge and varied. The enquiry will always involve a PROBLEM. Often it is something that for political reasons (financial matters, matrimonial issues, staff problems that are difficult to resolve in-house and a host of other ‘private’ matters – you have to learn to be very diplomatic) the owners or managers cannot deal with themselves, and prefer to call on outside help.

 

If I list just a few of the issues I have been called upon to deal with. Please bear in mind that I operate as a Senior Garden Adviser specialising in 18th & 19th Century Gardens (in my capacity as a Consultant). Properties range from 30 acres to 500 acres, plus some London Gardens (walled or gated properties managed by an Agent, usually communal areas in  famous London Squares).

 

Staffing problems, including rationalising the existing workforce, carrying out a detailed analysis of existing work practices and logistics, formulating (if necessary) a new format and cutting (or increasing) staff numbers, relocating people, producing medium and long term plans for the future well being and running of the gardens.

 

Maximising the  uses of existing buildings and greenhouses, vegetable areas, herbaceous borders, including the possibility of selling produce grown on site. Increasing the attractiveness of the garden, whether or not open to the Public. Producing a schedule of ideas for increased footfall and visitor numbers. Highlighting the plus points and negatives of a site.

 

Producing a schedule of potential attractions, including all logistics and costings based on a five year programme, ensuring that the works are carried out in such a way as to be accessible and useable during the summer/ tourist season without disrupting the logical programme and keeping costs under control (i.e. avoiding double handling of work schedules)

 

Basically, taking an over view of the garden as a knowledgeable outsider, bringing fresh ideas into the business.

 

There is SO MUCH potential for work as a Consultant – all you have to do is to gain the ability to ‘talk the language’. In order to do that, you should consider visiting as many gardens Open to the Public as you can, including National Trust and English Heritage sites. As you walk around, look very carefully at what you are experiencing…………..listen to other visitors, even straight after entering the car park. What are they saying? Are dogs allowed on a short lead? How many are turning away because dogs are not allowed?

 

Walk the grounds. Note anything that you would change for the better. Are the steps slippery? Could you improve the path materials or edging? Are the greenhouses in good order? Can the public access the work areas? (normally signed Keep Out or Private) Would they want to – are they/could they be of interest to the visitors?

 

So many questions that you need to ask of yourself. Imagine that you are being paid to walk the grounds and come up with some sound ideas to improve the gardens and the visitor experience.

 

I’m afraid that, even when on holiday, I go around a lot of ‘Stately Homes’  gardens and invariably end up chatting with the Head Gardener, often invited in to the potting shed for a cup of coffee. You can learn SO MUCH about your subject, by playing ‘Let’s Pretend’ that you are being paid as a consultant, so that when you are, you will have a clear idea of how to proceed.

 

 

 

Town and City Houses – A Specialist Service

 

You will need a Unique Selling Point or USP when you start out as a Consultant. It is the one way of marketing yourself (much more about marketing in Session Five) and setting yourself and your ‘offer’ apart from others. As Landscapers and Designers, you will have a wide and varied skills base, able to cope with the logistics of working under difficult conditions, well versed in the problems of site access, parking etc. Working in City gardens with all that entails.

 

Consider……………what can YOU offer that is different? What will gain YOU the attention your skills deserve? Your own Very Special Unique Selling Point!

 

Now, some of you reading this are going to say ‘Wow!  What a great idea!  Others will think I have been out in the sun too long.

 

I am going to suggest that a business, run by a well skilled landscaping company, could make a very good living acting as a Gardens Consultant dealing with unwanted visitors to City gardens. By that I mean animals – cats, rats, foxes and anything else that desecrates a garden, either by using it as a rat run, a toilet, a games room or apartment.

 

I am not suggesting – country boy though I am – that you booby trap the garden and place snares everywhere, but that a well designed and carefully thought out garden, planned with cleanliness in mind, would prove to be a very attractive proposition to many thousands of city garden owners. Certainly, those I work for in South West London are desperate for a solution to fouled beds and lawns, chewed electrical cables, destroyed irrigation systems and a general foul stench about the place.

 

Call it the Butterflies, Birds and Bees approach. If you want birds in your garden, then you do not want cats.

 

The art of the Clean Garden Consultant is in how produce a well designed garden, with all the usual requirements to relax and enjoy, but designed in such a way as to deter vermin. There are a host of different ways – everything from setting pipes and cables into steel conduits, fixing galvanised rollers to the top of fences and walls to prevent creatures from walking along or jumping over/using the top of the fence as a launch pad, placing very smooth materials (including mirrors, which foxes hate as they see interlopers/themselves in the mirror) which prevent climbing up or down walls and fences.

 

Place weld mesh under lawns and beds to prevent digging into the garden. Install a one way ‘cat flap’ style door somewhere to get rid of anything able to gain access, and prevent easy ingress. There are just so many ways to deter creatures, whilst at the same time attracting those you welcome. Plan borders and plant them (without bone meal which foxes cannot resist) to attract butterflies and bees. Create a wildlife garden without the vermin!

 

Keep all water points and hoses under cover, as the smell of water, even through pipes, will attract unwanted visitors. There are some very good sites on Google. One in particular, by Bromley Council is well worth reading.

 

I believe that, handled correctly and avoiding any adverse comments from those people who adore the smell of fox pooh, by emphasising your green credentials by creating wildlife town gardens without quadrupeds, you will find a very willing marketplace.

 

Countryside Consultants

 

Obviously, living in the country, which I have done all my life, I have had a wide range of experiences both personally and by watching others involved in what could be called Country Skills. Whilst it is not necessary for you, as a Consultant, to master all such trades, you will need a working knowledge of them, the fact that they exist and most importantly – where to contact the various craftspeople.

 

A business model, a Consultancy set up to advise on Country matters based on a firm horticultural footing, is something that is currently lacking – or in very short supply – in the UK.  I learnt a long time ago, that the shortage of a multi-skilled firm able to deal with what may be called ‘Old Fashioned’ skills, has prevented many land owners and Local Authorities from placing commissions for works. Most simply have no idea where to go, or who to approach to gain advice on a range of country talents.

 

Some years ago, I was working on a Dan Pearson project somewhere in Hampshire, for a very well known celebrity. The property was an ancient farm house – many centuries old in its original form – which had a dew pond as part of the site. This dew pond had been made so many years ago, it had become disrupted with trees growing through the base material. Nobody was able to help with restoring it, and a lot of research later, I discovered the source of the clay lining, what specification and techniques to use, but all via different sources. Having successfully restored the dew pond, I had several enquiries from Local Authorities, all desperate for information and advice!

 

There are so many examples of Country Skills. Hedge Laying, Dry stone walling, Ditching using faggots, dry sett laying etc; all ancient skills.

But there are also many more modern skills that are in danger of disappearing. The art of planting a properly functioning orchard for example, complete with bee hives, planting centres, pollination grouping, pruning regimes, spraying (or biological controls) and drainage. (Drainage is another hugely underestimated skill, for all manner of Landscape projects) The list goes on, and as diverse as they are, if a Consultant were to pull them all together, with sources of materials, specification, specialist artisans etc, they would  find a sound and profitable business is there for the taking.

 

As I mentioned, I can suggest around twenty or so different models, but in the present format of Virtual Seminar, will leave others to your imagination.

 

I will however, highlight the various formats and methods of approach (pre marketing) of a number of different scenarios in Session Four.
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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.

 

HOW TO BEGIN THE TRANSITION FROM ARTISAN TO CONSULTANT?

 

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…………………

 

THE ANSWER’S YES!   WHAT’S THE QUESTION?

 

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……………….
95
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.

 

Programme

 

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.

YOUR RESUME WILL FORM THE FOUNDATION OF YOUR PROFESSIONAL SERVICES OFFER TO YOUR CLIENTS, AND ITS VALUE SHOULD NOT BE UNDERESTIMATED.

 

                                          ****************************

 

WHAT IS A GARDENS CONSULTANT?  SURELY I ALREADY OFFER CONSULTANCY, WHEN I VISIT MY CUSTOMERS?

 

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!)

 

PLEASE COMMENT AS YOU WISH, BUT ONLY ON EACH TRANCHE OR SESSION TO AVOID CONFUSION. IF YOU ARE BEGINNING THE VIRTUAL SEMINAR  AS A LATE COMER, PLEASE START FROM SESSION ONE, AS THE WHOLE SUBJECT MATTER IS PROGRESSIVE.
96
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.

97
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.





98
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!)





99
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.




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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!







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