RHS recommend The Gardeners Guild for maintenance gardeners

Member of The Gardeners Guild
Gardeners Guild – Registered Member

RHS recommends The Gardeners Guild

John Bates Gardens is a registered member of The Gardeners Guild

This is a trade body for professional gardeners and the membership is only open to those like me who are horticulturally trained.

Membership of The Gardeners Guild is of great importance to me.  It helps with training and business development, as members network on a online forum as well as face to face meetings.

Membership of The Gardeners Guild most definitely benefits all my customers – as members of the Gardeners Guild support and share knowledge.

The RHS now recognise The Gardeners Guild and the RHS say “The best professional organisation representing garden maintenance gardeners is The Gardeners Guild”

Need a Landscaper or Garden Designer ?

Need a Landscaper or Garden Designer ?

When you need work done in the garden, is it obvious who to call for help ?

Do you need a garden designer, landscaper or gardener ?

It’s not quite as straightforward as it first appears. Part of it may be some confusion of what each one does and the other which increases the problem is that there is often crossover of services each one provides. There are also specialists who do an element of each one too.

Let’s looks at the main garden trades:

  • Garden Designer
  • Landscaper
  • Gardener

What does a garden designer do ?

They create the overall design for the garden, taking account the customer’s brief, budget, site conditions, location, planning constraints and design principles to produce a garden that works for the client and their needs be it for relaxing, social or pets and family.

They usually design both the hard-landscaping (walls, paving, structures) as well as the soft-landscaping (planting including trees, hedging, shrubs, lawns and borders) and any features such as ponds or fountains.

They may design a whole garden or on larger gardens simply create a new area.

The garden designer will generate an outline scheme plan and then produce construction drawings to specify materials and enable the building works. Finally they will produce a planting plan which shows the location and number of the all the different plants to be used.

Beyond the design work, the garden designer will produce a specification, collate estimates and if necessary project manage the delivery by assisting the search for suppliers (plants and materials) and contractors (landscapers) to construct the garden to ensure that the design is realised.

Finally the garden designer should produce a maintenance schedule so that the customer can nurture the garden to its intended potential and pass the information onto a gardener so the plants are looked after.

What does a landscaper do ?

Think of landscapers as the builders who take the current garden and using the design drawings (produced by the garden designer) do all the necessary construction works including demolition, earth moving, excavation, foundations, paving, fences, walls and raised beds, timber structures (pergola, arbour), electrics for lighting and water pumps, drainage and irrigation systems.

The landscapers will do the soft landscaping such as laying turf, move/supply topsoil, create the beds and borders and then supply and install all the plants.

What does a gardener do ?

A professional gardener takes the garden from completion of the build i.e. when the landscaper has finished and help gets the plants established by correct pruning, dealing with pests and diseases and any gaps where plants have failed and removing weeds. It may take several years for a garden to become established and look like the drawings produced by the garden designer. The gardener may need to deal with rogue plants that turn up or plants which have a tendency to self-seed which may be intended in the design or not. Once the garden is established it’s a case of ensuring that garden is kept looking it’s best.

Normal stages and order for producing a new garden

  1. Design – use a garden designer
  2. Build – done by a landscaper
  3. Maintain – get a professional gardener or do it yourself

Each of the trades fits a specific stage of design development, creation and on-going upkeep of a garden.

Cross over of garden services

Segmenting the trades into the three distinct phases is probably easier said than done. Why ? because often each trade also provides a range of services:

  • Garden designer – may also do build works themselves or they supply and install the planting. Some also provide a garden maintenance service.
  • Landscaper – they may offer garden design and garden maintenance.
  • Gardener – may also offer garden design and do hard-landscaping build works too.

So which garden trade to use ?

My personal view is that for a sizeable project, then find someone whose main business is a single trade i.e. find a garden designer first, then appoint a pure landscaper and once the garden is built get a gardener.

This may cost you more but I suggest that you will get a better end product. A new garden is a significant investment that hopefully gives you pleasure for many years and should add value to your property. Buying cheap may reduce the quality of the end product in terms of its design and lessen the benefits.

I’m not saying there aren’t companies out there that can deliver all three (design, build, maintenance) – but in general if you’re getting a free design from a landscaper then I expect the end result may be less than perfect or not what you originally expected.

If you do go for a single supplier: you are reliant on their ability to manage how much they spend on working the design, building: labour and materials including plants. More often than not – the budget could easily get absorbed by the landscaping at the expense of both the design and the planting. I guarantee you will easily see examples of this where the design doesn’t quite work or the balance between hard-landscaping and soft-landscaping is incorrect and it look more like a barren parking-lot than a garden because the paving or decking areas far overshadows the minimal planting.

If you do opt for a single trade then ask to see their portfolio or speak to past customers for feedback on the company and the end result. I suggest if possibly go and see some of the gardens they’ve produced.

My view is design should developed not rushed: which means it should be a process done over time not a five minute sketch on a note pad. It’s also easier and less costly to make changes during the design phase than make them on the fly during the build: so please invest in and value the design !.

A bit about John Bates Gardens ?

I’m a gardener and my main focus is garden maintenance for domestic clients.

I’m not a garden designer but I do have an interest in garden design and have several relevant RHS qualifications which include: practical horticulture, garden planning, construction and planting.

I do offer a planting design service where I select plants for new beds and borders which I then create: I source the plants from local nurseries and do the planting. My customers love this service as they can refresh and update their garden without necessary the large cost of any landscaping works.

I’m not a landscaper – I do not do any building works (hard-landscaping) but do know landscaping companies that I’m happy to recommend.

Need a gardener? So does your garden

Need a gardener?

My recent blog “Find a gardener – things you should consider” got me thinking – that you really need to think about the various factors I listed in terms of either “your needs” or “your garden’s needs”.

To illustrate the point I have taken the factors and split them into two lists: “your needs” and “your garden’s needs”

Need a gardener – “your needs” list

  • Advice
  • Communication
  • Company
  • Cost
  • Image
  • Insurance
  • Licences
  • Membership of trade body
  • Rapport
  • Services

Need a gardener – “your garden’s needs” list

  • Equipment
  • Knowledge
  • Skills

I understand that someone could argue the case that some items in each list could appear in the other list but have gone with my gut feeling as to which list each one sits with better. I do acknowledge that a couple of factors are truly shared and couldn’t be pigeonholed in one list and so a third short list was born:

Need a gardener – factors shared by “your needs” and “your garden’s needs” list

  • Care taken
  • Reliability
  • Work (quality, speed, safety and who)
  • Your needs (scope)

As per my last blog these lists are simply ordered alphabetically

Need a gardener – why think about these perspectives

In short, no two gardens are the same and no two customers are the same. Time doesn’t stand still: gardens and their owners change over time – and even if you don’t move house then your needs could vary over time. So it’s important to review these lists each time you need to look for a new gardener, or if you know someone who’s looking for a gardener then email them a copy of this blog.

Need a gardener – “your needs”

A gardener can only provide advice to you not your garden, and together you must decide the course of action. Likewise a gardener can only communicate with you, yes I may talk to the plants when working in a garden, but you really need to have good regular communication between you and your gardener. Also you and your gardener really need to get on well with each other.

You need to decide what type of company you want working for you and the value of the services they provide for what you pay. Same goes for image, is it important to you that they look smart/professional or are you more concerned about their work than what they look like. Also is it important to you whether they belong to a trade body, like The Gardeners Guild, or not – you may want to look at the website for the trade body and see what information they have for consumers.

You wouldn’t you let someone work on your house if they didn’t carry insurance – the same should apply to anyone working in your garden. Likewise licences, if the gardener isn’t trained or has the correct licence for the work they are doing – then their insurance may well be void. Always check and ask to see copies of their insurance certificates and licences.

You ultimately decide what work there is to do in the garden and how you’ll divide this up between yourself and others. Are you looking for a company that can do a bit of everything or will you use someone different for each different job, e.g. jet washing the patio will you do it, expect your gardener to do it or bring in a property maintenance company?

Need a gardener – “your garden’s needs”

Whilst no two gardens are the same – most gardens contain elements and plants that a good gardener should be familiar with, recognise and know how to look after and maintain. They should also be able to recognise pest, diseases and the difference between a plant and a weed. Knowledge is no good in itself – the gardener needs to be able to apply this knowledge by having the skills to look after your garden. Both go hand in glove – they need the knowledge to understand what they are dealing with, in terms of the garden, depending on when they visit, the weather and season, and then demonstrate their skills in the work that they do: for example when is it the right time to prune a honeysuckle?

Having the right tools for the job is not only important for being able to do the job but also ensures the work is done swiftly whilst having the correct and maintained tools will minimise any damage to the plant or your garden.

Need a gardener – shared by “your needs” and “your garden’s needs”

Gardens don’t stand still, especially true in the main growing season when to keep you garden looking good: it needs regular attention of a gardener turning up at least weekly or fortnightly. You also need to plan your diary and you shouldn’t be let down by a gardener who doesn’t turn up when you expect them, even worse if they haven’t called to say they need to change their visit which sometimes is inevitable, given the British weather.

Often a gardener is really only providing additional help in your garden – as there may be gardening work that you either enjoy doing or that need doing between visits e.g. watering. The scope of work should be based on the garden you have, it’s size, planting etc, the work that you’ll do between visits, any work excluded (as may be done by someone else) leaving that which you want the gardener to pick up.

Neither you nor your garden want a bull in a china shop – so the gardener must take care in the way that they work, so any risk of damage is minimised.

The gardeners work should speak for itself – does your garden look much better after each visit? It should, if you don’t see any difference after several visits then I’d be concerned. Whilst I’m not advocating that you watch you’re gardener working all the time, by the way I’m happy to have a quick chat with my customers whilst I work in their garden, you should generally see if the gardener looks like they understand their trade, and how they approach the work, how they organise it and their tools. You should be worried if you see any unsafe practices taking place – often indicative of incorrect training or having the right tools for the job.

Believe me, it takes more than one visit to become familiar with a garden, its layout, the plants and how to organise the work done each visit. I personally work for a limited number of customers and only I personally look after their garden, every visit. However, are you concerned if a larger company sends someone different each visit or is the work relatively straightforward and as long as it’s done to an acceptable standard then you’re more than happy?

Need a gardener – balancing needs

Ultimately you’ll have to decide if both “your needs” and “your garden’s needs” match and if they don’t then you need to make a decision (where there are differences) whether you’ll look for a gardener based on one need more than the other, but by thinking through these lists in terms of “your needs” and “your garden’s needs” then at least your decision should be well thought out, and by doing so you should be in a better position to you find a suitable gardener.

Again, happy to hear your thoughts. Please share this blog and contact me if you have any comments or questions.

Find a gardener – things you should consider

As a gardener, often the first question that I get asked by a potential customer is “what is your hourly rate?” Whilst I understand that cost is a factor, there are more items to think about when looking for a gardener

Things you should consider when looking for a gardener

  • Advice
  • Care taken
  • Communication
  • Company
  • Cost
  • Equipment
  • Image
  • Insurance
  • Knowledge
  • Licences
  • Membership of trade body
  • Rapport
  • Reliability
  • Services
  • Skills
  • Work (quality, speed, safety and who)
  • Your needs

The list is purely in alphabetic order. You alone must decide which of these apply to you and their relative ranking in terms of importance.

I’ve purposely left out recommendations, reviews or testimonials from the list, as I believe unless these are from someone you personally know and trust they could well be unreliable.

Whilst most of these you can and should check before selecting the gardener there are a couple which you will only find out once they start:

Things you will only find out once the gardener starts work

  • Care taken
  • Reliability
  • Work (quality, speed, safety and who)

To give you some help I’ll expand on each item in the list. You can print and use this to probe and ask questions when you first meet the gardener prior to hiring them: Yes you must meet them before agreeing to any start!


Does the gardener offer advice on an ongoing basis. Will they make recommendations for what work needs doing or will they take the lead from you. Consider this in terms of your own gardening and plant knowledge, if you know little about gardening or don’t have the time to take the lead, then think carefully before engaging someone with little gardening or plant knowledge.

Care taken

This is a tricky one to find out before they start work. But you want someone who respects your garden and property and isn’t going to do more damage than good.


How can you contact the gardener and how will they contact you. Will this by phone or email. Will they confirm when they are turning up, rather than just showing up and will they contact you should their schedule change. Also what is like when meet them face to face for the first time.


What sort of company are you dealing with? are they registered as self-employed (sole trader) or limited company, or are they simply moon-lighting on the side of their other job or benefits. How big is the company in terms of how many people are employed. How many customers do they have. How long have they been trading. Many gardeners are self-employed and this may be perfect for you, as you get that personal attention from the business owner, others may prefer dealing with a larger company who may provide more assurance on someone turning up, although it may be someone different each time.


I won’t say too much on this at the moment as I intend to cover this in a future blog. But how do they charge – is it based on time (hourly rate) or fixed price (either per visit or say monthly contract). What I would say is always think more about the value of the service provided (of all these factors listed in this article) rather than just the cost.


Ask about the tools they use, particularly the power tools. Ask what make they use: if they mention Honda and Stihl or similar brands then they are using professional machinery. Ask how often the tools are maintained and serviced, as this not only means it works well but also it is safe.


Do they have a smart and tidy image. What is their personal appearance like. Do they wear a uniform perhaps with company name & logo on a polo shirt. What vehicle do they use, is it clean and tidy and does it give a professional image. Do they have a van which is sign-written or do they operate out the back of an estate and have cheap magnetic signs. Do they have a website or social media presence – look at them and does it portray a professional gardener.


What insurances do they have. Do they have public liability insurance and what is the value of the cover. Likewise do they have pollution liability insurance – particularly if they are going to be using chemicals such as weed killer. Ask to see a copy of the insurance certificate.


Whilst your own gardening knowledge may vary (some of my customers have little gardening knowledge whereas others are extremely good amateur gardeners themselves) you can still get a feel for how knowledgeable the gardener is. I recommend that you walk round your garden with the gardener and you’ll see and hear what they know and possibly what they don’t know or worse still, if they try to bluff through gaps in their knowledge. Ask them about the plants, do they know the names of the plants, if you have some plants with problems then ask the gardener what caused it and can it be treated


Do they have any licences. If so what are they for and ask to see them. Typically this may include licences for green waste (waste carrier licence), weed killer (pesticide licence PA1 & PA6a) and perhaps a chainsaw licence (0020/01, 0020/02).

Membership of trade body

Do they belong to a professional trade body such as The Gardeners Guild. This may point to the gardeners commitment to their business and personal development.


Quite simply – how do you both get on. There’s no point taking on a gardener if you don’t get along with each other. You’ll need to judge this quickly at either the first meeting or soon after they start. Hiring a gardener can be a long term relationship so it’s important to get this right.


Do they turn up when they say they will. Do they do the work they say they will. Can only be checked once they start and monitored over time.


What services does the gardener offer and how does this relate to your needs. You may not need all of them initially but it’s useful to know what else the gardener can do.


This ties into what services they offer, the knowledge and licences they have. Some of this can be checked by asking what qualifications or certificates they have. Typical certificates may cover horticultural training, health and safety or first aid training, which show a commitment to their profession. Ask to see copies if in doubt.

Work (quality, speed, safety and who)

This can’t be fully checked until they start, and whilst I don’t advocate that you watch the gardeners every move in your garden. Soon after they start you should get an appreciation for how they work. What is the quality of their work: how good is it and how tidy do they leave the garden once finished. Do they work in a safe manner or look like an accident waiting to happen. Does the gardener do all the work or would they send someone else in their place.

Your needs

What gardening jobs are you expecting the gardener to do and how often you want them to visit. Do you want the gardener to look after all jobs in the garden or do you only want the gardener to do a few specific jobs around the garden.

As you can see cost is only one factor when looking for a new gardener. I hope this article helps you find a suitable gardener and if you already have a gardener did you take some of these into account ?

If there are any factors that you think I’m may have missed then please send me an email

Weed killer: 5 Things to ask a gardener before they use it

5 Things to ask a gardener before they use weed killer in your garden

Pesticide Spraying I’m guessing that most of you have weeds in various parts of your garden – be it the lawn, driveway, paths or in the flower beds. Whilst it may be therapeutic to do weeding by hand, in many instances it is not practical or cost effective to do so, for example large areas of weeds on a driveway or fine weeds in lawns. This is when you turn to using a weed killer to do the job for you.

If you decide to apply the weed killer yourself then this article is not for you. However if you decide to get someone in to do the job then use this list as a guide together your own gut instinct about the person you are hiring. If you have any doubt then look for another gardener.

Whilst the term “weed killer” is used in this article – you can substitute it for any other chemical that you may on occasion use in your garden: which come under the term “pesticide”: this would include herbicide (the technical name for weedkiller), fungicide or insecticide. Likewise lawn treatments such as “feed and weed” would also be classed as a pesticide.

The 5 things to ask your gardener before they use weed killer:

  1. Are they licenced
  2. Are they insured
  3. What product will they use
  4. Can they provide you any safety information
  5. What precautions are needed

To help you further I shall breakdown these a bit more:

Are they licenced to use weed killer

Regardless of whether the weed killer is a professional product or one which is available to homeowners, say at garden centres, the gardener must hold a valid pesticide licence. If they don’t then they are breaking the law. If they mention “grandfather rights” then these end on the 26th November 2015 – after which they need to be licenced.

For domestic situations you will be looking for a pesticide licence which includes as a minimum both units PA1 & PA6. PA1 by itself is not enough and must be accompanied by PA6 which means they can use a pedestrian broadcast spreader and knapsack (back mounted) sprayer.

Below are photos of the front and back of a pesticide licence photo ID card

Pesticide Licence FrontPesticide Licence back

Individuals are licenced, not the company. So only the person named on the licence can spray the weed killer: no one else can without being licenced themselves.

Are they insured to use weed killer

Ask if they have public liability insurance and whether they have pollution liability cover too. Bottom line, does their insurance cover them for using weed killer? If they are unsure then ask that they check and confirm back to you.

What weed killer will they use

So by now the gardener has confirmed to you that they are licenced and insured to use weed killer in your garden, but you want to know more about the weed killer itself. If they are recommending a particular product then they should be able to answer these questions straight away or after checking the product label.


Example questions to ask your gardener about weed killer before using it:

  • Name of the product they intend to use
  • What type of product is it and how does it work
  • Product form – is it a applied as a powder or liquid
  • How is it applied
  • How much will they use
  • Recommended timing for applying the chemical – which could either be a range of months or a particular growth stage in the weed
  • Is it suitable for the type of surface it is being used on
  • Time for it to work – usually in weeks
  • How long do you need to wait before you can replant the area
  • Will retreatment is needed, if so when
  • Where will it be used in your garden

Can they provide you the safety information for using the weed killer

People are naturally concerned about the using of chemicals in their home and the same applies to its use in the garden.

Manufacturers of weed killer provide information in the form of a “product label” and “material safety data sheet” for every product to help with its correct and safe use. The gardener should reference these documents in order to protect you, your family, neighbours, pets, wildlife and the environment. If concerned then ask to see a copy of the product label, which should be readily available.

What precautions will be put in place

Ask what precautions the gardener will take in order to ensure the work is done safely: both before, during and following the application of the weed killer.

pesticide spraying hazard sign

Typical questions to ask your gardener about precautions when using weed killer:

  • What safety equipment will they wear
  • Does the weather affect the application – generally it needs to be dry for 24 hours following application, so if rain is forecast then weed killer needs to be delayed
  • How will they prevent others accessing the area whilst its being treated – for example will they use barriers, barrier tape and put up warning signs
  • How soon after applying the weed killer can people and pets return
  • How will they protect any water (ponds, streams or rivers)
  • How will they protect other plants
  • What would they do in the event of a spillage
  • Where will they dispose of any tank washings

Hope this guide has proved useful and should you have any questions then please ask and I will try to respond.

Create Refresh Maintain