Being a self employed landscape gardener as well as providing garden maintenance does have its upsides, such as working in those hot summer days, freedom to work when you want to as well as going as far to pick your customers, but the absolute biggest challenge is when Winter comes! That’s not because it’s cold (as lovely as it is working in the sunshine, I’ve grown a custom to working in all weather) but because work can be so hard to find! I mean, this year, all of our garden maintenance customers came to a stop as once all of the leaves had been cleared, there was quite literally nothing else to do!
Usually I wouldn’t worry, since I work long hours in the Spring and Summer to make up for the colder months, but this year I have been spending that budgeting money on a wedding (I’m due to get married in April 2020!) and with 5 children to support, I was even worried about how I was going to pay for Christmas!
As I came to the end of my last job in the middle of November, I remember thinking that my phone hadn’t rang for at least a month with any new inquiries. This was the slowest Winter in a long time, and the most crucial one at that. It’s crazy how up and down business can be as a landscape gardener, as in the Spring and Summer I would receive 5-10 new calls per day and would be home late just because of the amount of quotes I would be doing. When Winter comes, you’ll be lucky to get a phone call once every 2 weeks. Being a landscape gardener isn’t for the faint hearted, but if your willing to put in the hours in the warmer months then you can earn well and relax in the Winter.
Already having commited myself to monthly payment plans to get new business, I was skeptical about looking around at other ways to bring in extra business. But I came across ‘Bark.com’ which allowed me to view leads, and only purchase the ones you think could have good potential. I purchased £30 worth of credits, and only purchased ones that I thought were genuine, where additional comments had been made, maybe pictures were added etc.. Looking back now, I am so glad I did, because this is what lead me to one of my biggest jobs last year and during my most quietest time. Honestly, I think that if I didn’t offer landscape gardening as well as garden maintenance I don’t know what would have happened this year. Those looking to start a gardening business, please please look into hard landscaping too as these are the only jobs that really pull me through Winter.
I called a customer, who for the sake of this post I will call Richard. He had recently had an extension built onto his property which he had recently purchased. He and his wife had actually been living in a Hotel for several months whilst the work was taking place! He explained that he had already received 3 quotes for the landscape gardening work required but nothing was set in stone and that I am welcome to come and take a look, so I did, the very next day. No one likes quoting knowing that 3 other people have already been to have a look, especially when you don’t know the price given! And as a professional landscape gardener I’m not cheap!
So I arrive on time the next day, and he explains that he wanted an existing shed taken down, the foundation extended with a larger shed built. As well as this, he wanted paving slabs coming from both alley ways to the back of the garden, with artificial turf laid to finish it off and new fence panels to finish the garden off. I feel that it important to show your knowledge when meeting potential new customers, so I asked that we go through the order of events to which I would work, and have an in-depth conversation about how I would do it. For example, I knew that the shed foundation had to be the first on the list as the paving and artificial turf would go up to this, I measured and put pegs in place to where the new shed would come up to and told him that I would lay and wacker plate type 1 MOT before laying the base so that it doesn’t sink, and even went on to tell him that I would use ballast instead of any other sand, the mixture and so on. This was the case for the paving and artificial turf too. Let’s just say that he ended up with pegs all over his garden! I went away with my business partner, feeling that the quote couldn’t have gone any better.
I went home and spent about 1.5 hours writing the quote. I explained hour hourly rate per person for landscape gardening and the estimated time for completion and materials. I said that I was so confident that I could complete all work within 6 weeks that I would put a cap in place. This meant that I could put a maximum labour cost in place, as if it went over the 6 weeks then it would be on our time. If however, it went below the 6 weeks then they would only pay less than the maximum amount quoted. The materials would be purely estimated and could go up or down, but an invoice would be sent each and every Friday confirming materials and labour to date.
He called me the next Morning and said that he didn’t feel confident with the previous 3 landscape gardeners, and that despite myself not being the cheapest (I wasn’t the most expensive either) that he would prefer to pay more and feel that he would get the job done right. We both agreed to start the following week, I hung up the phone and called my fiance letting her know that everything was going to be OK! The weight on my shoulders had suddenly been lifted!
How I went from this…to this…
Step 1 – To remove all bushes and tree roots
The work started in the first week of December, which would finish mid January. If you look above at the previous state of the garden, we had our work cut out! The first step of the landscape gardening work was to gut all bushes, including large tree roots that I hadn’t even seen when providing the quote. Apparently there were trees which had been cut down by the builders when extending the home, why they cut trees down that far away from the property I’ve no idea. Luckily we managed to get these out using a mattock and didn’t need to use a stump grinder. This work took 2 of us, just one day to complete although we did leave with a van full of green waste, which meant an earlier start to the Morning since it meant going to the dump. Richard and his wife were shocked at the amount of work carried out in the first day and couldn’t praise us enough. I must say that they are lovely people.
Step 2 – To extend the original shed base and build the new shed
It’s funny how every landscape gardener have different views on how to best go about working on a garden. For example, when first meeting Richard, he asked if it was possible to add to the existing shed base, instead of removing the old one before laying a complete new one. The reason he asked was because 2 of the previous landscape gardeners actually said that the old one would need to come out but I insisted that this wasn’t the case. Here is a picture of us adding to the existing shed base.
After allowing a couple of days for the concrete to set, we were ready to start building the new shed. I think that one of the reasons that he went ahead with ourselves instead of an alternative landscape gardening company was because Richard originally wanted a 8×16 ft shed, but once the pegs were in place, he decided that it would be too wide and to go for a 6 ft wide shed. The most amazing thing about this particular shed ordered was that it was flat packed, it was as easy as putting up wardrobes, if not easier. The shed doors were already installed included the windows. So easy in fact, that I recently ordered another shed from the same company (a much larger 8×24 ft shed) knowing that it would come flat packed. I will write a post on this shed soon as it looks amazing! The hole shed took just 1 day to build, which included the felted roof being installed too. The only downside was working in the mud since we had to jetwash the floor afterwards. Before we knew it, the shed was built and we were off to the next stage in our landscaping project.
Step 3 – To dig out the entire back garden ready for paving and artificial turf
Richard had warned us of a potential gas pipe in the ground, so we chose to dig the ground out by hand. This meant using a good old fashioned spade and wheel barrow, and walking from the garden, down the alley way and to the front of the house where the skip was. Bearing in mind this took 1 week and 3 skips to complete, I can’t remember the last time I slept so much. What made it worse is that it absolutely poured down with rain that entire week. It’s a strange feeling keeping dry in the rain whilst wearing waterproofs, and sweating like it’s summer. All you want to to is take your coat off, but you can’t! Richard asked why we were digging the hole garden out since we were doing the paving first, but a) I really wanted to get the digging out of the way and b) there was no way I was going to walk wheel barrows of dirt over newly laid paving!
Looking back, this was by far the worst part of the job. Me and my business partner didn’t stop for 9 hours straight, not even taking lunch breaks, because we were so fed up and just wanted to complete the work. It’s when you do soul draining work that you really question what you are doing as a landscape gardener. But it’s easy to think of the bad things in life, when in reality the vast majority of landscaping work I love! I wouldn’t trade it for any other job.
Once the ground was dug out, along came 10 ton bags of type 1 MOT to fill the garden. Since it wouldn’t stop raining and it was so water logged, we actually kept buying more type 1 since it was mixing with sloshy mud and wasn’t making a very hard base. You can see in the picture below how water logged it was when using the wacker plate on one of the days! Although bringing the type 1 MOT into the back garden still meant using a spade and wheel barrow, it was a breath of fresh air just not be digging out mud! But Richard and his wife were lovely and kept us going. If they weren’t so nice, I’m sure we would have struggled more.
Step 4 – Laying the paving slabs
As a landscape gardener, I love laying paving slabs. Not only this, but by business partner isn’t as keen on laying slabs as I am and prefers to act as my laborer mixing the sharp sand and cement which suits me perfectly. My only issue with laying slabs is the weather, since I can do practically anything except lay paving slabs when it rains. Luckily however, the rain held back for the majority of the paving work which is just as well as it hadn’t stopped up until that point and I couldn’t afford to be rained off.
Richard had chosen a Camel Dust Indian Sandstone for his patio which is all I seem to lay recently (Indian Sandstone) which was easy enough to lay, but I told him that he will need to seal it and jet wash it at least every year or 2 to stop the nightmare black spots from appearing (lichen). Starting from one alley way, coming to the back garden, and back up the other alley way, there were 40 squared meters of paving slabs to lay in total which took around a week and a half including the pointing. It’s worth noting at this point that I don’t use that quick pointing product that is getting more and more popular. I used this once and it all blew out on the first jet wash and I had to come back and redo it!
The reason landscape gardeners love using it is because you can have 40 squared meters of patio pointed in less than an hour, as you simply brush it in and wet it. Using a resin instead of cement, there is no staining risk of the paving slabs saving you a huge amount of time. But in my experience, for something that I rely on to keep my paving slabs sturdy, I would much prefer to use sand and cement. As long as it’s not too wet, then you can still point fairly quickly without staining that slabs, but just keep a damp sponge ready just in case. Here are some pictures of the paving slabs laid.
Step 5 – To install new fence panels
I was questioning whether or not to include this step since it’s not my best work (through no fault of my own). The thing is, Richard already had fence panels (obviously) but were 1 foot higher than what he wanted, which blocked his view from huge landscapes which was one of the reasons he initially purchased the property. From his decking, you could just about see over the fence. I explained that since he had concrete posts, it would be best to replace the posts when installing new panels, but he insisted on cutting the concrete posts lower to save on money. To be fair to Richard, he was right. The cost to replace the panels and posts would be a lot more labour intensive compared to simply cutting the posts, and if he wasn’t fussed then why should I be.
There were actually 2 posts that were very wonky, I’ve no idea how some landscape gardeners get away with such work. So even with these, 2 fence panels had to be cut at such an angle to be able to slide in between the concrete posts. Once these were all done, I marked the posts 2 inches above the fence panel and cut with a 9″ grinder. To be honest, it looked better than before, just a little weird to see straight edged concrete posts when others were rounded at the top (like all concrete posts, as far as I’ve seen anyway). But…He was happy with the results which is all that mattered). Here is a picture of the new fence panels, you can probably see the wonky posts!
Step 6 – To install the artificial turf
As a landscape gardener, the most important thing when installing artificial turf is having something to turf up to. On one side we had the shed base, on another we had the patio, but on the 2 other sides we had flower beds. The only solution was to raise the flower beds using edging boards (yes we could have used sleepers which would have been more costly) which would mean separating the earth from the turf and having something to install a boarder for the turf to nail into.
Using roofing baton, we created a boarder along the parameter of the garden where artificial turf was to be laid, and filled the area with sharp sand. This was then wacker plated to give a hard surface, meaning that it would be less likely for the turf to sink over time. In case your wondering, that’s all artificial turf is laid on to, sharp sand! Oh and membrane to stop any weeds from shooting through the drainage holes.
We find it easier to lay the turf straight onto the sand to make sure everything is level, and top up where necessary. Once this is done, we roll it back, lay down the membrane and roll it out again. We then use seaming tape and adhesive to join the seem together (there were 2 rolls joined together) as well as U pins to give extra strength. As a hole, the artificial turf was nailed into the boarder all around the edges, held together by adhesive and nails along the seam and had 6 inch nails 1 meter apart across the diameter of the artificial turf for extra stability. The idea is that when nailing the nails in place (6 inch nails) that it goes through the sand, and into the wacker plated type 1 MOT which works very well.
How long did this landscape gardening project last?
The hole job lasted 6 weeks and 1 day (1 day over the capped price) but luckily, the extra day was easy enough. Just clearing up and jet washing everything down, bringing everything back to new again. For a job that started in December, it ran into January and I will be going back soon to pave the front drive. I will be writing a post about paving the drive as there are lots of mixed reviews about this, since lots of landscape gardeners and block paving specialists will insist this can’t be done. But providing that the foundation is done correctly with the right amount of wacker plated type 1 MOT and that a wet mortar mix is used when laying the paving then it’ll be fine. Always try to use thicker slabs however, at least 35mm thick if using natural stone.
This job literally paid for my children’s Christmas and more. I mean, what are the chances of getting such a job at that time of year? Since this job, I am already fully booked for the next couple of months which is a reminder of how up and down it can be when running your own business. This time a couple of months ago I was worried, and here I am thinking wow, business couldn’t be better, this is going to be a big year!
Please subscribe to my blog to get the latest information, help and advice on everything gardening!