Professional Gardeners: Why YOU need one…

When undertaking an outdoor project, utilising the knowledge and skills of a professional gardener are essential in ensuring longevity of your external space. Ongoing maintenance is an often over-looked, and perennially underrated service – and one that could save you money in the long-run. Professional gardener Claire Vokins, owner of Elizabeth Clare Gardening Ltd. talks us through why using a professional gardener is so important.

Claire Vokins

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Claire Vokins has been a professional gardener for five years, after changing careers from a project management role in the public sector. She is a passionate advocate of professional gardeners, and is on a mission to ensure that they are properly recognised by industry associations across the horticulture sector.

Whether you are the client, designer, landscaper or supplier, in order for a garden project to thrive and become the living, breathing reality that was once dreamt about, it will need to be looked after.

The CAR Analogy

When purchasing a car, you probably took a lot of time deciding on specifications. You chose a manufacturer, colours, engine size, weighed up the environmental and financial implications and paid your money.

Over time you add fuel, water and change the oil. You clean it, and at regular intervals determined by the manufacturer and age of parts, you have it serviced by a qualified professional. I expect you spent as much, if not more, on your garden project. After the initial blissful period, which will likely last 6-8 weeks, you’ll begin to realise that your garden requires work to ensure that it keeps its good looks.

Re-imagining the car analogy, but as your garden, when you decided to have your outdoor space redesigned, you probably took a lot of time choosing the designer, the landscaper, the hard landscaping materials and soft landscaping to finish the project. You chose colours, stone or porcelain, wood, trees, shrubs and plants. Hopefully you weighed-up the environmental and financial implications of your choices, and paid your money.

In time you will need to feed your garden and add water; regularly. You will need to clean the hard-landscaping areas and at regular intervals determined by the plants you will need to dead head, cut back, prune as well as many other tasks as-and-when required.

Why do I need a professional gardener?

Unless you have the time, inclination and knowledge, the chances are you may be feeling slightly overwhelmed with the amount of work that needs to be done and you won’t be alone in feeling like this.

Securing a professional gardener can be beneficial in many ways, from taking on all the work, to just specific tasks. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.

At an early stage during the design process, the end client’s realistic involvement in the development and care of the garden should be established. Hopefully this will have informed plant selection, future financial implications and/or recruitment of a professional gardener to assist. No-one wants the garden to become out of control and hard work. It should be an enjoyable, and often rewarding, experience.

How do I find a professional gardener?

There are numerous avenues to secure the services of a gardener (not always ‘professional’) from searching on the internet, to word-of-mouth recommendations.

If you are serious about establishing a working relationship with a professional gardener, the following list are the best places to look:

The PGG (Professional Gardeners Guild)

The PGT (Professional Gardeners Trust)

The PGCA (Professional Gardeners Consultants Association)

The CIoH (Chartered Institute of Horticulture)

If your gardener is a member of any of these associations, it demonstrates that they have provided information to the group that confirms qualifications and experience.

If the above seems a bit daunting, then I’ve compiled a list below that should help you choose who is best to care for your garden.

What should I look for when choosing my professional gardener?

Here’s a good list:

Insurance: You wouldn’t allow other service providers into your home without insurance, so apply the same rule to your garden. A professional gardener should have Public Liability Insurance, Employee Insurance if they employ other people and, in some instances, Professional Indemnity (this rule to the designer and landscaper).

Qualifications & Experience: Horticultural qualifications include City & Guilds, NVQ’s, RHS qualifications, degrees in various plant-based, design-based subjects. The list is long!

With reference to experience; gauge this by speaking to your prospective gardener. They may have previously worked for public area style gardening and not domestic gardens. Ask them what sort of work they have done before, which area and size of garden, to see if they suit your gardens requirements. Enquire about CPD (Continual Professional Development). Things can change quickly in horticulture and keeping on top of those changes is part of the role of the gardener. From plant names, to possible pest and disease issues, through to legislation of chemical control, we should all be up to date.

Tools: Your gardener should provide all the tools they need to do the job. They shouldn’t be using yours. This could be an insurance issue should something go wrong.

Costs: The cost of hiring a gardener varies across the country. Like with most services, cities such as London and areas such as the South East of England, are likely to be more expensive than elsewhere. But do remember, an hourly rate that a gardener charges has to include all of their business costs (PAYE, insurance, vehicles, fuel, tools, business rates, training and CPD). As with most services; if a deal looks too good to be true, it usually is.

Communication: You will hopefully have a long and mutually beneficial relationship with your gardener, so you need to get along together. Your gardener will have an idea of what needs to be done over the course of a year in your garden. You will have an idea of what you require. This needs to be communicated so you both manage expectations. Don’t be afraid to ask for references.

Anything else to note?

Yes. Once you have your gardener, you will want to keep them. If the client-gardener relationship is working, they’ll likely be in demand. We are a hardy bunch, but being paid on time, having access to a toilet, and being offered a hot drink every now-and-then goes a long way to keeping us happy!