Author Topic: Becoming a Gardens Consultant – A Virtual Seminar  (Read 2166 times)

Alan Sargent

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Becoming a Gardens Consultant – A Virtual Seminar
« 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!)