How to start a landscaping business

Running a landscaping company can offer fresh air and plenty of exercise, here's Startups step-by-step guide to starting your own

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Perhaps it’s something to do with the wartime spirit which has prevailed in the wake of the credit crunch, or it could be the fact that Alan Titchmarsh is now widely hailed as one of Britain’s foremost sex gods. Either way, gardening is all the rage again.

According to the Horticultural Trade Association’s figures, the landscape gardening industry employs over 60,000 people and has an annual turnover of approximately £3 billion – and it is growing. But if you think it may be time to flex your green fingers then there are certain rules you need to know.

What is a landscaping business and are you suited to it?

What is it?

Think of gardening businesses and an image of mucking around in the garden and getting a suntan probably springs to mind. You would be wrong though, there is real hard graft involved – the majority of landscape gardeners start off as one-man operations. According to Kath Walker, field officer for the Association of Professional Landscapers, there’s far more to the job than the odd bit of weeding.

“You have to have training. It’s a diverse industry and you have to have expertise in lots of different areas.” These include water features, building, paving, stonework, wind structures, decking, joinery, groundsmanship, draining and irrigation. Then you also need to have a pretty comprehensive knowledge of plants and what can grow where. As Landmark’s Mark Gregory puts it: “At its simplest it’s doing garden makeovers. At its best it’s an art form.”

Who is it suited to?

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If you’re definitely an indoors person who dislikes being open to the elements then it probably isn’t for you. However, if you like getting your hands dirty and being creative, then maybe its time to start considering braving the elements.

There are certain myths surrounding the industry – for example, gardening is not confined to the summer. While we enjoy our gardens in the summer, most of the work and the planning is carried out in the winter. If you’re out in the garden in the summer, you won’t want to share it with workers and cement mixers. “People prefer not to have work done during the holidays, particularly if they have children at home,” Gregory explains.

And working outdoors can present difficulties. Summer 2007, for example, was a washout. “It never stopped raining, and everywhere was like a quagmire,” Kath Walker explains, “we couldn’t get the topsoil ready, you couldn’t mix and dry it.” However ‘hard’ landscaping, such as installing ponds or building walls, is becoming increasingly popular and this can be done undercover.

Though some aspects of landscaping can be completed undercover, the weather and other factors can hamper your work schedule so you need to be resourceful and plan carefully. Warren Hall, who runs his own business in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, explains: “The first year was exceptionally difficult, I had to do lots of maintenance work, but as the days got sunnier, the work picked up. It’s ideal to squirrel the money away: the summer may be busy but you need to cover yourself over winter.”

Additionally, you need to be prepared to get out there and sell your business. Much of the work you do will come from personal recommendations. People will ask their friends, their local garden centres or wholesalers to recommend someone good. In this sense, you really are only as good as your last project. As Gregory puts it: “We don’t advertise, the work comes to us. People are paying for our reputation.”

You also have to be prepared to go back to school. To gain the skills and knowledge you’ll need for the job, taking a course at a horticultural college is the way forward. Hall studied for two years at Guildford, Surrey and one of his placements was at the nearby Chessington World of Adventures. And you never know, it could even be fun.

Ready to get started? Find out everything you need to know about how to start your own business here.

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