Alice Bowe: Alice Bowe

Alice Bowe was studying at Oxford when she decided she wanted to set up her own garden design consultancy

Alice Bowe was studying fine art at Oxford University when she realised that plants were more interesting than painting.  So she set up her own garden design consultancy offering a range of garden services. She tells how her idea has taken root. 

Name: Alice Bowe Age: 24 Business: Alice Bowe – English Landscape and Garden Design Type of business: Garden Design Start date: January 2005

When did you first decide you wanted to start your own business? I was studying fine art at Oxford University and drawing plants in the Oxford Botanic Gardens when I suddenly realized that the plants were almost more beautiful in themselves. I decided I wanted to become a garden designer and went off to study landscape architecture and set up my business.

Tell us about your businessAlthough the majority of my business is bespoke garden design commissions, I also offer a postal design service that is particularly popular with property developers and first time buyers.

Was it your first business idea and where did it come from? Yes, my very first – but the more I find out about business, the more ideas I keep having, so there are a few sideshoots and the odd complete tangent in the pipeline!

What makes you think there’s a market for your business? The UK market for gardening products and services is growing by over 3% each year and there is a growing interest in garden design fuelled by the media and TV. Inextricably linked to the housing market, gardens can increase the value of property and are becoming more and more important to housebuyers. Gardens are being viewed more as an investment and garden design as a professional skill. Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first? I carried a notepad around with me everywhere jotting down all the ideas and random thoughts that came into my head. At that time my head was buzzing, I’m sure that’s when you get the best ideas. I also discussed the idea with my partner and then wrote a to do list of all the things I thought would need to happen before I could launch.

What research did you do? I wrote my own questionnaire as well as examining existing market research and talking to other garden designers.

What advice did you seek?I was lucky enough to get a place at Nottingham Trent University (The Hive) to study a 12 week business course. They were great, and provided seminars, mentoring and helped me to write my buisiness plan. They regularly brought in external experts to give us tips and critique our plans.

What other help did you get?I talked to anyone who would listen, and trawled the internet for advice.

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business? I think the government are making a real effort to make sure that information is available. This has helped me no end – but you can never have too many grants.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan. I was lucky in that I was taken through the process of writing my business plan on my course. We broke it down into sections and have frequent reviews. I think it was ultimately very useful to have so many people’s input into the business plan because they helped me to step back and review it objectively.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow? Although I though I didn’t need to write a business plan at the start, it really helped me to think through my decisions and without it I think I would have made some obvious and costly mistakes. I view a business plan as a working document – it is constantly evolving and is a brilliant source of reference for me.


How much did it cost to start the business?Only about £6k – although this is not a realistic costing because I have investing in a lot of the equipment as I have been studying so I had most of the tools, car, drawing board, computer, digital camera etc. already

How did you fund this? Part time work as a student – and a loan from my mother – I am paying her pension!

Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected? Please explain them.I am confident that the business will be a success, but I can work part time if necessary.

Are you working from home or from premises?I am working from home – although my ideal would be to build a studio at the bottom of my garden so that I can ‘walk to work’!!!!

How many hours are you working at the moment? Too many probably- but I am enjoying myself so much, it doesn’t feel like work!

How are you managing your day and what steps have you taking to ensure you’re able to get everything done without working around the clock?I make lists obsessively – and can easily recognise which tasks would be more cost effective to outsource. Having temped as a PA during my University holidays, I am well practiced at multi-tasking which helps me no end.

What about staff, is it just you? Just me at the moment – but I hope to take on another designer within the first two years.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far? My budget is limited, so I have to try to find innovative and creative ways to build awareness of my brand. So far, I have been represented at two major trades shows, and been working hard to gain PR both online and in printed media. I am also writing articles, one of which is to be published in The Saturday Times Magazine shortly. (PR, respectability AND income!!!)

Where do you hope to be in 12 months time?In profit, regularly published, respected within my industry and receiving praise and referrals from my customers.

What are the main obstacles to growth?Public awareness – both of my company and of how much it realistically costs to create a garden.

Tell us about your website. I couldn’t afford to pay a web designer so I got a book out of the library and taught myself how to build one. My website is constantly being tweaked – like the rest of my business, it keeps on getting better and better the more I learn.

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do?First and foremost, I want to make a living out of what I enjoy.

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently? I find the excitement of running your own business is exhausting but wouldn’t have done anything differently. I have already exceeded many of my own targets, so I am setting some more difficult ones now!!!

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business?Confidence, determination and lateral thinking


(will not be published)