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Gardening Business - Your thoughts would be welcome

(26 Posts)
MyAngels Wed 04-Oct-17 14:20:36

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

PersianCatLady Wed 04-Oct-17 14:27:21

I think your idea sounds great especially pricing by job rather than hourly.

JoJoSM2 Wed 04-Oct-17 14:40:15

It sounds like it's neither a full maintenance service nor a full design service. Realistically, it would make sense for you to offer lawn mowing as well as all the boarder work and advice. You could do annual garden maintenance packages so that people could set you up on direct debit if you're worried about the hourly thing.

Presumably to offer design and build services you'd need to get more qualifications? I wouldn't worry about hard landscaping- you could use subcontractors or leave clients to sort it out but give them a plan to work too.

MyAngels Thu 05-Oct-17 09:43:11

Hi

Thanks for the input - the fact that it was neither garden maintenance nor a full design/landscaping business is sort of my point. Around here, you only seem to have the choice (from my research into local companies) between those two and a full design/landscaping job costs thousands. Many can't afford that, and have a perfectly fine garden in size and shape, it could look better with a modest amount of effort.

Lots more thinking required - I really appreciate you taking the time to reply, thanks.

JeNeSuisPasVotreMiel Thu 05-Oct-17 09:58:23

I'm thinking of doing this too.
After years of doing full maintenance and full designs, and also working in a completely different career area, I have moved to a town where I see lots of tiny and neglected plots in front of Victorian terraced houses.

I was thinking of putting a leaflet through the doors offering a complete weed and replant service, starting at £30. Maybe this isn't enough but it's not a rich area and I reckon £15 worth of plants as a starter with options to upgrade to more would be a good sliding scale.

JeNeSuisPasVotreMiel Thu 05-Oct-17 09:59:08

And it wouldn't take an hour to weed a tiny plot anyway...

justwhatineeded Thu 05-Oct-17 10:21:21

You are undervaluing your service. By charging £30 for that job. Leaving you with £15 after the plants is too low. How many jobs do you think you can do in a day is one thing but how long do you think it will take to get those jobs. You will probably be going back and forward with the customer and that will take longer than the actual job.

Also you have to factor into the time taken to get the jobs and arrange your diary as this often takes a lot longer than is expected.

There is a demand for this kind of service but you have to price the job properly.

JoJoSM2 Thu 05-Oct-17 10:46:11

Well, if I wanted to have a border redesigned and planted, I'd contact a garden designer. A lot of local ones offer that sort of service- not just redoing the whole garden.

With things like mulching, pruning etc- I'd expect the maintenance gardener to do it. No point having 2 gardeners - one to do the lawn and the other the borders - just too much unnecessary hassle.

It's also useful to have a steady steam of income if you're running a business rather than relying on ad hoc little jobs. Offering full maintenance gives you the opportunity to build client relationships for years. And doing full redesigns is lucrative so a few gardens a year is even for a decent income.

Having said that, there might be a bit of market for some advice and a bit of help
And yes, these things cost a pretty penny so it's something that will be of interest to people with high disposable income.

JeNe, not sure how your calculations work. If you want to plan someone's front garden, you'd need to spend time marketing, having meetings with potential clients, preparing the soil, buying the plants and driving them to site, planting etc How you could do that for less than a few hundred and make a living I don't know. I'm also not convinced about convincing slobs who don't even weed their front garden to actually pay for someone to do it.

MyAngels Thu 05-Oct-17 11:52:58

Great help, thanks!

JeNe I like that idea, but do agree that you might be underselling yourself, but it depends on the amount of work required, I suppose.

What I'm thinking of is a fixed price for a
- walk around the garden, identify plants, talk about what they would like to have in the garden
- make a quick plan (not fancy garden design) just a sketch and plant list, and what would be done
- tidy, prune and plant up
- provide seasonal (or more regular, monthly?) ongoing support for clearing, pruning.

Thanks again for the discussion, its really thought provoking for me. I really want to make this work if I can, hate the idea of continuing in my current miserable role smile.

AmIAWeed Thu 05-Oct-17 11:55:12

Price is a tricky one, I pay my gardener £10 an hour in Lincolnshire - so I'm not so sure it's totally representative.
When I was first looking for a gardener at our old house I found a great guy to work over the winter months and do a lot of clearance, weeding etc and as soon as spring arrived he buggered off to his regular customers - you may find at this time of year you have lots of competition.

I do enjoy gardening but don't always have the time so having someone come in regularly to do the pruning and general maintenance is great, if the grass is getting long he cuts it so I wouldn't rule out grass cutting totally, but perhaps as part of a service?

The other thing to think about is how much time someone may need you, we moved to our home in February. To start with he was here 2 days a week, now we're down to about 6 hours a week and I hope next year will be 3 hours a week - we've removed lots of beds/shrubs and made the garden far more manageable. If my husband had any idea how much money I've spent he'd have a fit - so case studies around turning the space around to make it low maintenance could be good, otherwise if you scrimp to begin with you are always fighting with a growing garden as opposed to taking control.

Final thought, if its people with balconies, small front gardens etc could you focus on creating planters and then maintaining them, deadheading and watering (the bit I always forget!!) that way you can grow plants from seeds, add to planters and charge a premium not just for the pretty planter but the maintenance as well and it means any reluctant gardener can have something nice and seasonal all year without thinking about it. - target a street at a time and keep the houses/flats all as close to possible that way. If its anything like where we are, as soon as one neighbour has it the others do too - Green Thumb have made a small fortune since they started my lawn and it began to get noticed!!

Ttbb Thu 05-Oct-17 12:08:55

I think that it would mostly depend on how much cash people in your town have-would they really pay? If so you should market yourself as a garden design and landscaping (you can contract out the hard landscaping-no point in doing it without as most people like to do it all in one go). You should offer design and maintence packages with a one year guarantee-you come in, design, plant and maintain for a full year for a fixed price and guarantee to replace any plants that don't take.

HopefulHamster Thu 05-Oct-17 12:46:15

Personally I would love a maintenance gardener who would ALSO offer advice on making the garden better. Previously I have only been able to find people who will cut the grass and that's it (better than nothing) or full on landscapers I can't afford. I would pay for four-six hours a month.

yamadori Thu 05-Oct-17 16:53:59

I think you are on to a good idea - there really is a need for proper knowledgeable gardeners who actually know how to prune properly and renovate an overgrown jungle garden.

My elderly MIL has a big mature garden but had always got someone in to do hedge cutting and pruning large shrubs etc.

For about 25 years, her gardener (and I use the term loosely) has been turning up about twice a year and 'pruning' the shrubs. It has been driving me crackers because he was doing it at completely the wrong season for the species, took no account of natural shapes or flowering time, and would trim everything into ever-larger lollipop mounds. A while ago and after a decade of persuasion I finally managed to get MIL to see sense, sack the gardener and let me prune the shrubs properly, and at the right time of year. At long last, and after a heck of a lot of renovation pruning, she has shrubs that actually flower, all the deadwood has gone, and the whole garden is completely different. It's taken us three years.

How I wish she'd had a proper knowledgeable gardener all along - it would have saved me from having to do it all!!!

MyAngels Thu 05-Oct-17 19:35:01

Loving the ideas, thanks all.

AmIAWeed - I had been thinking of the pots on balconies idea, as they look so much nicer when cared for properly. A friend of mine told me her mum had positioned the pots on her balcony "so the rain fell on them to water them" - they were in the wrong place and the plants look awful as the rainwater is, of course, never enough.

yamadori - I can't believe he had been pruning at the wrong time for all those years. Glad you got it sorted in the end.

Its interesting that you are finding that there isn't a "bit more than maintenance, but not an expensive landscaper" option, but a few of you would like one, so maybe I am onto an idea after all.

JeNeSuisPasVotreMiel Thu 05-Oct-17 20:29:16

*JeNe, not sure how your calculations work. If you want to plan someone's front garden, you'd need to spend time marketing, having meetings with potential clients, preparing the soil, buying the plants and driving them to site, planting etc*

Marketing is minimal. Flyer through the door with a before and after pic and a contact number on. FB page possibly as well. All of this is about 3 hrs initial work plus the actual flyering.

We're talking about plots approx 1m x 2m here. Very little soil preparation needed. Chuck in a bag of compost (an add-on cost) if necessary.
Certainly no 'meetings with clients' in the traditional sense. It's a quick makeover job, the onus is on getting your plot looking fresh for the coming season. I've spent 15 years designing gardens and this is a different approach - no hours in the clients' kitchen looking at mood boards or managing the clashes with their partner.

Buying the plants and driving them to site - it's one wholesale run, everything is bought in bulk. I keep and grow a lot of stock at home anyway. Clients have a choice over my basic templates (for example, 3 x heuchera, 9 x pansies, 1 x euonymus. Or 3 x lavender, 2 x aubretia, 20 x narcissi). Any requests above this start to send the overall cost up. Clients may like to add in a small tree or shrub, which would be delivered and planted on the next convenient run.

* How you could do that for less than a few hundred and make a living I don't know.*
See above. There is a sliding scale of fees starting at £30 for a basic clear and planting of bulbs and annuals, going up in increments as the client wishes.

*I'm also not convinced about convincing slobs who don't even weed their front garden to actually pay for someone to do it.*
Nice. My aim is to make it easy for people to cheer up the fronts of their houses and perhaps to encourage them to get involved and do a bit themselves. But the idea is not to get them gardening. Each season they could request another makeover where tired looking plants can be replaced with new ones and bulbs to pop up in a few months' time. It's along the lines of the municipal parks schedules but on a personal and small scale.

In my years of garden design I've found that: a) if people aren't happy with their garden it's usually because some serious hard landscaping needs doing - which I am not prepared to do any longer. And b) people like their plants to arrive like furniture, to not grow too much and not require any maintenance.

HopefulHamster Thu 05-Oct-17 23:44:51

If you are in north herts let me know!

JoJoSM2 Fri 06-Oct-17 00:01:38

JeNe, sounds like a an nice idea especially if you'd go and update the planting every season. You could easily charge more for it too - £49/m2 sounds like a nice number. Although I remain to be convinced that people with manky front gardens covered in weeds would buy the service or subsequently water and weed the patch.

AmIAWeed Fri 06-Oct-17 08:11:59

I don't want to detract too much from the OP but I do think JeNe has a nice idea. Lots of people are scared of gardening and have no idea what they are doing so they ignore it, then there are the others who may have just moved house, have no time because most people start inside before moving onto the garden (except me, once kids rooms were done I was straight to the garden - probably could have replaced the boiler by now had I not!!!) plus, front gardens are so small, most people with small kids focus on the back where there is more room to play so again the front gets ignored.
Once you see one or two houses down a street looking after their gardens it encourages others to do the same - the key is to make it simple and easy, that's exactly what JeNe is suggesting. At £30 it is also affordable to many.

annandale Fri 06-Oct-17 08:20:22

Also hoping you are in Sussex as my mum desperately needs a gardener...

I think there is definitely a market for this and I would have paid for it in the past. It's possible that you might need to take on some maintenance type work to pay the bills such as my mum

Pithivier Fri 06-Oct-17 08:48:24

We tried for 4 years to get a gardener for my parents, in north Essex. It was impossible.

I think when advertising it is important to put a land line number as well as mobile, home address and to offer to supply references. I would definitely quote by job rather than an hourly rate.

We did get one lady who did it for six months, she came once a fortnight and charged £30. She gave it up,and I think it was because it was not viable. We would happily have paid more. Definitely be wary of undercharging because then you are stuck. If you are asked to do a regular maintenance role charge.a bit more. That way you can maintain your prices for 2 years. After that time people are happy to accept a rise In Rates.

Can I ask what area you will cover?

MyAngels Fri 06-Oct-17 10:24:29

I'm in North Somerset, not Herts or Sussex I'm afraid!

yellowDahlia Fri 06-Oct-17 10:54:49

I think there is surely a market for people who don't want to pay £££ for a garden designer but want more than just a quick 'chop and tidy' job which (sweeping generalisation) can sometimes cause more damage to a garden than good. There must be people who want guidance so they can maintain things themselves and/or folks who can't be bothered but do want a lovely garden. It sounds like you have a really good grasp of your area and target market and you could be offering something which fits neatly into that gap between the two extremes.

I've looked into this as I dream of jacking in the day job to do something garden-related. This book could be very helpful as she does exactly the kind of work you're thinking of OP. I read it very recently and found it extremely helpful in picturing exactly what would be involved in becoming a self-employed gardener. She's very matter of fact and covers absolutely every aspect of the job.

FWIW it's helped me realise that although I would enjoy it, it's not the kind of work I should give up my current job for (I'm a bit risk-averse) -
but if I was being made redundant I would definitely do it! I'm currently studying for RHS Level 2 so that when I'm thoroughly sick of office life I can chuck it in and set up a small nursery smile

MyAngels Fri 06-Oct-17 13:08:37

Thanks for the book reference yellowDahlia I'll definitely read it.

CiderwithBuda Fri 06-Oct-17 13:31:16

I'm Somerset too MyAngels.

We have half an acre. Mostly grass which DH cuts. He is obsessed with cutting the grass. I initially loved the idea of th big garden but ended up hating it. I find it completely overwhelming. So I stopped doing anything.

Our back garden was working well as we had our patio extended and DH was looking after it all well and we have planted beds with shrubs.

Front garden on the other hand........

We had a lovely lady who was setting up as a gardener. Just weeding mainly. She charged £15 an hour and used to come for three hours every four weeks and just concentrate on weeding - front and side gardens. She had to give up for personal reasons so we were back to square one.

I've now got a friend who is a garden designer involved and we are redoing the front and side. She has a few guys who do weeding, digging etc and they all get £8.50 an hour which we pay direct. She charges £18.50 an hour for actual gardening. Is great at moving things around, dividing plants etc. She charges more for design plans etc. She has just done a plan for a large bed for me and charged £300 for doing the plan.

I struggled to find anyone initially when I was looking. Phoned a few who never got back to me etc.

Your idea sounds great to me.

JeNeSuisPasVotreMiel Sat 07-Oct-17 00:28:19

Good luck OP and I hope I didn't hijack your thread too much.
There is such a shortage of knowledgeable gardeners, keep up with the studies and you'll be in demand.

I'm RHS qualified with a diploma in garden design, but you never stop learning.

Coincidentally I think I may be in the same area as you! wink

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