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Starting a Gardening Business - Thoughts/Advice?

(16 Posts)
MyAngels Wed 04-Oct-17 14:21:30

Hi

I'm being made redundant in a few weeks, and have been thinking of setting up a gardening business in the spring and am dithering about suffering a crisis of confidence, so thought I would ask Mumsnet for your thoughts on whether it would be a go-er or if I'm missing something.

5 years ago we bought a 200 year old cottage, from a lady who loved the garden and filled it with a million plants. I have had to learn to look after it PDQ and found I just loved the garden, being in the outdoors, watching things grow. I have taken my RHS Level 2 horticulture course this last year and now the redundancy is looming I would like to take the plunge into something new - but need to make it pay, of course!

I'm aiming the gardening service at people in my town who have a garden or balcony, and they have no idea how to make it look its best. Maybe they know nothing about plants (and don't want to), or would like to but don't know where to start or don't have the time to look after their garden apart from mow the lawn now and then. So their garden looks a bit bare of plants or colour, or has grown like stink with no maintenance and is all over the place. Maybe they would like to grow some fruit and veg, or have a small pond. My town has grown rapidly in the last 10 years, and has a mix of nice new estates for families (built on poor industrial land mostly) and trendy marina apartments favoured by young couples and the (fairly well off) retired.

I was thinking of offering
- Suggesting the most suitable plants for the space, and advice on how to look after
them to ensure they keep looking their best
- prune and reshape existing shrubs so that they are manageable in size and grow well
- create new beds and borders, removing weeds, improving soil to give the plants the
best start in life
- source suitable shrubs, perennial plants, annuals, including fruit and vegetables and
plant them in borders or containers (I may supply my own, grown from cuttings, seed or divisions from my garden).
- suggest the best way to provide attractive storage and extra space for growing
through green roofs or walls, or to make a composting area
- create a small pond, superb for attracting wildlife, either in the ground or in a
container
- Ongoing monthly, or seasonal, visits to keep the outdoor space looking its best by
deadheading, pruning, mulching and clearing.

I don't want to
- just mow people's lawns weekly
- do hard landscaping (patios, fences) at the moment - DH may join me in that capacity in a few years...!

In the past have found I have "inherited" a plain or poorly planted garden when I moved house which I didn't know how to make look nice, or a pristine one which I didn't know how to keep looking nice. I have quite a few friends with gardens who don't know where to start and their plants are not stopping growing in the meantime.

I am thinking about charging about £20 per hour at first (but set a price by the job, as I have heard charging an hourly rate to clients leads to clockwatching!). We donn't get tradesmen in at our house at all if we can help it (DH prefers to do it all himself and is too tight to pay anyone if he can do it himself) so I'm not sure if I'm pricing myself about right.

Any thoughts - particularly on whether anyone would pay for what I'm offering - experiences and advice would be very welcome.

Thanks

Fex Wed 04-Oct-17 16:54:28

I would love a gardener. In fact I've been let down by four different people who agreed to come and do work for me.
However. I want someone to do the hard boring stuff while I do the nice planning and planting.
Sorry that doesn't help you. I live rurally though so city dwellers may be different. You could try posting on the garden topic?

Alittlepotofrosie Wed 04-Oct-17 17:12:56

Depends where you are, but well established gardening business near me (south east) charge £12-£15 per hour and they're prepared to do ongoing maintenance like mowing lawns. When i was looking for a gardener i wanted to see examples of the work they purported to do and for £20 an hour i would expect lots of examples of extremely high quality work. So it might be worth thinking about being able to provide that kind of evidence of work done.

Basically i wouldn't really take a chance on a start up for that price if it was substantially higher or even equivalent to established businesses in the area without outstanding examples of previous work. So i would suggest getting in touch with gardening business in the area to see what they charge.

Kazzyhoward Wed 04-Oct-17 17:25:23

Sounds more like you want to be more of a garden designer rather than a labouring gardener. You'd need to "brand" and market yourself more as a consultant. Similar to those who trade as interior designers, you'd be an exterior designer. If you aim for a more affluent, time poor/money rich type of person, i.e. young professionals, you could charge far more than £20 per hour and would therefore need fewer clients and would be doing the type of work you want, i.e. the more creative side, rather than the "grunt" work of lawns etc. Given that some people make a good living out personal shopping, standing in queues for others, etc., you just need to market yourself properly at the right target group.

Footle Wed 04-Oct-17 18:28:00

If you lived anywhere near me I’d bite your arm off for the privilege of being your guinea pig. I’m exactly the sort of client you want , minus the money to pay you. Sounds a brilliant idea.

MovingOnUpMovingOnOut Wed 04-Oct-17 18:37:45

There is reasonable money is garden tidy up services.

If you offered those as a one off you would then have access to be able to sell your design service.

I think going for a consultant approach will put off the average punter. Garden make overs and garden revamps sound much less expensive intimidating to your average person.

What other similar services are offered locally? You could work with the sort of people who do lawn mowing and refer business.

As an example, if you had a relationship with a local letting agent you could get a fair bit of business doing end of tenancy tidies and make overs for new properties.

Always offer a fixed price for the job and be very clear about what the job entails - I'm in a different industry but have found that the best way to deal with clients when providing a service.

MyAngels Thu 05-Oct-17 09:35:22

Thanks all for the input.

The £12/hour figure is interesting - I'm surprised that someone could make a business out of that rate after tools, travel and transport, insurance, marketing and advertising costs, I might be better off working at my local garden centre for minimum wage instead. Do they just cut lawns and tidy beds for that, do you know? My initial research on prices round here ranges from £17.50 to £36/hour.
I have heard that some people consider gardening to be "housework outdoors" so maybe the floor price is more akin to a cleaner?

The tips on marketing along the lines as a "consultant" but not using the term are good, I'm aware its all about marketing these days, so will make sure the focus isn't on making me sound too intimidating - and expensive!

I am aware that there will be people who like the planting and deadheading bits themselves, but there are still those people who just buy what is looking nice (and cheap) in Homebase garden department and plant it (badly), don't feed it, its in the wrong place, wrong soil, so it dies or looks poorly (or grows like mad and they can't see out of their windows). But the real challenge is to reach those people I suppose!

Lots more thinking required - many thanks for taking the time to reply.

Ruhrpott Thu 05-Oct-17 09:42:54

I’m also probably one of your target people. I have a huge garden and a bed that is out of control which I would like bringing back into control. I had someone round who would do it but she also wanted £20 an hour and thought it would take at least 20
Hours to get this particular flower bed back under control. I haven’t taken her. If she had said £15 an hour I probably would have done. I do also have a cheaper handyman who mows the massive lawn and cuts down big bushes but he’s not good at weeding and fine pruning.

Ruhrpott Thu 05-Oct-17 09:44:40

Ideally i would like one person who does it all. Mows the lawn weekly, keeps the flower beds weeded. Suggests new plants, prunes the old stuff and who would do one whole day a week for about £15 an hour but I haven’t found one yet.

Fex Thu 05-Oct-17 09:51:22

Ruhrpott So would I!
I have answered four adverts for gardeners. Each one came and looked around, we agreed a price (£15 an hour) and they arranged to come a t a later date. Not one of them turned up.
I've now resorted to a very, very expensive landscape company to do some big jobs.

Flyingflipflop Thu 05-Oct-17 09:52:29

Ruhrpott has a point. It might be worth charging different rates if you've got a whole day job. After all you're not rushing from job to job using up fuel and time.

i do wonder though if you are better looking at pricing per job rather than by the hour. That gives the customer certainty of price. We've all panicked about the final bill for a solicitor/car mechanic/accountant or whatever.

Ruhrpott Thu 05-Oct-17 10:00:10

People do have different definitions of weeded and done though. My existing gardener strims over the weeds and says he’s weeded the bed! We inherited him from the previous house owners and he has also been doing the garden for the last 35 years or so and it’s a bit delicate bringing someone else in now even though he is getting too old for the heavy stuff and as I said doesn’t really do weeding.

MovingOnUpMovingOnOut Thu 05-Oct-17 10:39:18

Telling me prices per hour is off putting unless it's a regular, weekly job - I don't think you're offering garden maintainance which I agree would be akin to housework outdoors so I wouldn't price that way.

If you told me it would cost (for example) £100 to sort out my garden and for that you would do all the cutting back etc etc and put in new plants (provided by customer) I would think that reasonable. If you offered to do the same job for £150 including suggesting and ordering new plants too then I would be happy with that or something along those lines. I wouldn't necessarily expect beautifully drawn plans - more a walk and talk round the garden.

I would also be happy with a design consultation for a fixed amount where you look round, talk to me and then send me back a plan with plant list. You could then offer to do that planting for an additional cost.

Then offer seasonal visits to update and maintain. These would cost you less in time and money because you would already know the garden and client.

MyAngels Thu 05-Oct-17 11:45:21

Ooh this is really helpful, thanks.

Ruhrpot and Fex maybe the difficulty you are having is due to £15/hr which seems fair to you, but the gardener struggles to make a living from it, so ignores you in favour of jobs where they can charge more, or probably charge a fixed amount per day as flipflop suggests.

MovingOn you are thinking along the same lines as me - especially that "walk round and talk" /quick plan/plant up for a fixed price, and seasonal follow up model was just what I was thinking.

Fex Thu 05-Oct-17 12:40:10

I never haggled on price, they asked for £15 an hour for a regular weekly / fortnightly slot of basic grass cutting and edging and I just agreed. Round here that's a lot.
Current guy wants £200 for two men for half a day which includes some heavy duty work and stump grinding. I'm happy to pay for work I can't do myself but I'm still cutting the grass

KnittingOnEmpty Tue 13-Feb-18 19:13:11

Just come across this thread. Have you started up yet Myangels? I've been a sole trader gardener for seven years, doing work similar to what you were describing you wanted to do. You are qualified which straight away sets you apart from the 'hoe and go' brigade. I think the rates you mentioned are about right. You have to set a rate for yourself which takes into account your own costs which will not necessarily be the same as the next person's.
Have a look at the Gardeners Guild website - a network for qualified gardeners, which you are, for loads of advice and info. Good luck!

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