Thursday, 12 February 2015

Hit and Run Landscaping

Wow, it's the middle of February already! Not long until the gardening year kicks off for real, and so a post about gardening at last.

At the moment, as is usual for this month, the requests for additional renovation or landscaping work are starting to come in. We maintain about thirty gardens of varying sizes, and all have required extra work at some point or another. We were asked by the residents of the property below, to put forward proposals and costings for a variety of different jobs. Turfing over of existing flower beds, some lawn renovation and planting of specimen Rhododendrons. Areas 4 and 5 to be completely cleared, a railway sleeper edging to define the new border, and lots of new planting. Area 2 is an old 12 foot high Leylandii hedge that needs to be removed and replaced. Area 8 is to have everything hard pruned as it has all become too large for the spot.

Sometimes, when a site is large, and the work complicated, we prefer to provide an aerial view, with the individual jobs clearly marked, it has saved a lot of confusion. An additional bit of paper with the individual job details and pricing comes attached.

I've called this post 'Hit and Run Landscaping' because we have witnessed some quite poor planning and planting by two highly qualified garden design companies over the last couple of years. Most garden designers can get away with it, as they don't have to return to maintain their own work.

The first was by a small company of two very well spoken young women. There was lots of arm gesticulating and sweeping descriptions. They had been asked to design a sensory garden for a rest home that we looked after. The finished design looked pretty, but apart from some bamboos had nothing to challenge any of the senses other than sight. In fact we had to remove some of the planting immediately, as they had included plants such as Aconitum and Hellebore, along with several other poisonous plants, which in a dementia care home is not good. To get the 'effect' that they needed, everything had been purchased looking at it's best at that given time, and planted much too tightly. We were asked by the newly proud owner what we thought of his new landscaped feature, and he was somewhat taken aback by our damning opinion of the finished product. As well as the poisonous plants being dangerous, we pointed out that in three weeks all of the flowers would be over and all interest would be gone. They had predominantly used herbaceous perennials in flower at that time, and it was more cottage garden than sensory. Come late summer/winter, all that would remain would be the bamboo. We told him that there were no plants to smell, nothing that would stimulate touch and so forth. It was also pointed out that where they had crammed too many plants in for immediate effect, a lot of his money would be wasted when quite literally half of the plants would have to be removed as they would eventually become smothered by there surrounding counterparts. He was a little disgruntled, but come the following winter/spring/summer, after the garden looking bare for four cold months, and then overgrown at it's peek, he took our point.

Unfortunately, the designers no doubt went on to badly plant other places, leaving other gardeners such as ourselves to put things right at a later date. Still, they were nine grand richer, so they wouldn't care anyway. Over planting, and the use of incorrect plants is widespread amongst the garden design world. The motto appears to be 'As long as it looks good when the money changes hands'.

The second company, and in fact the largest and most 'prestigious' landscape and garden maintenance company in the area, is guilty of a slightly different 'hit and run'. 

While we as a garden company try to include plenty of plant diversity in any of our designs, we do recognize that sometimes simplicity is called for, but this company appears to be taking simplicity to a whole new extreme. So far, all of their designs, and I am talking about upwards of fifty in the last year alone, have all not just included, but been entirely made up of the same evergreen imported specimen plants. Phormiums, Griselinia, Agave, Photinia, Buxus, Cordyline and Euonymus. 

There is no doubt that each individual garden ends up looking quite spectacular, but just the same as their last garden, and with what could turn out to be a dangerous lack of diversity. In their striving to provide year round interest, they have lost all imagination for other plants, favouring instead the simpler, quicker, and thus more lucrative method of ordering the same plants, from the same suppliers. This type of planting is also becoming far too widespread, and as a result the Italian and Dutch growers are mass growing on a colossal scale. Tulip fire, Pansy leaf spot, vine weevil have all become a serious problem due to mass growing and importing. Now we have Box blight to such an extent that other types of plant are having to be used, and will no doubt become a problem also later in time. But the designers don't have to worry, because provided that the garden looks full on completion, then the money can change hands and they move on. 

We probably make far less money than we could, by spending far too much time walking around far too many nurseries, and looking through too many growers catalogues and books for availability, but we have to maintain our gardens, and as such are accountable for our own designs for hopefully many years to come. Sometimes there is more to life than making money.

As for builders who plant up their own sites, well, that's a subject for another post, and I can feel myself getting hot under the collar already. 


  1. You are so right about there being more to life than just making money. Doing a job right and well done is important. You want your clients to be happy and content and to be able to face them as you maintain their gardens.

    Don't get too hot under the collar, it isn't good for your health. :-) Easier said than done I know.

    Happy Gardening to you and Amanda and Happy Valentine's Day too ~ FlowerLady

    1. Good morning Lorraine,
      In this modern world, where money is so important, it's hard to make it a lowish priority sometimes, but it is important to. I hope the clients are always happy with our work, they do appear to be. I have calmed down now anyway.

  2. I have a small garden and i am paying every month a local gardner to maintan the garden but it never looks clean and beautiful , May be it is the weather here or him not being profetional but the only one here.

    1. Hello Yael,
      If you are paying him, and you are not happy, then tell him. A beautiful garden is not always easy to make, especially I would imagine in a climate such as you have, but you should at least have a tidy one.

  3. I am sure that when you have to come back regularly for maintenance, you have to do a much better job than designers who disappear once they have been paid.
    I hope your health is better now that the spring rush will start before long.

    1. Hi Alain,
      Having to maintain the garden does indeed put an onus on us to create something that will look good in five years time. The health is much better thank you.

  4. I felt quite shocked, when I read your post Gary. I hate people being conned and that's just what they were by these two firms. I felt particularly alarmed when poisonous plants were planted in the care home garden - what on earth were they thinking of. Hope you're feeling better health wise and 2015 is a great year.

  5. Hi Molly,
    The care home planting was particularly worrying on evrry level.

  6. What a shame. People hire a landscape Gardner to improve their home and life. To just phone it in as the big company did is a shame. I hope these 50 people never see each others gardens. Or maybe they should.

    cheers, parsnip