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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!

Advice

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.

Communication

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.

Company

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.

Cost

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.

Equipment

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.

Image

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.

Insurance

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.

Knowledge

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

Licences

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.

Rapport

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.

Reliability

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.

Services

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.

Skills

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