Thursday, 10 February 2011

6. Value for money

        How much?  How Much?
This is for the 95% of you who are appalled and confused when the prices for some gardening work you require have come back in the form of a quote or an estimate.
BUT wait a mo...
I’ve just had a word with my solicitor – and I kept it quick.  I know that every word I utter over the lines, I will be charged for (tick, tock), and I’ve got to have a chat with my accountant soon who is a bit more lenient but being an accountant will claw that money back (tick, tock) in due course no doubt.  Fair enough – they can save me time, money and do me a vital service. They have trained hard and have very large left sided brain functions...  But I actually don’t know if they are any good or even value for money, they seem Ok. I use them because others have said that they are good (but I don’t even know if they thought they were any good or good value for money!)
Getting contractors to do your gardening or landscaping work can be much the same. 
Most people haven’t got a clue if what they are being quoted for is value for money or even worth it all or if the person is genuinely good for the job –and after the initial quote (the same with the accounts) - vow to do the work themselves.  Until realising that was a terrible decision – and the mess and cost has inexplicably increased.
At GardenEye we do charge a small call out fee for an initial consultation with you that covers fuel mostly – but really because we want to know that you too are serious about having work done.  We too are highly trained and skilled (large right sided brain functions) and have spent years building up experience, contacts and knowledge etc -  then we get at least 3 free quotes for you, and we will VET these quotes for you to ensure that you are getting excellent value for money, and supervise the works on your behalf.  
The sneaky way some gardeners and landscapers make ‘good’ money is to ensure they get the job in the first instance (gosh these guys are good value!), then bashing you with extras half way through the job.  So GardenEye is also super careful to protect you from this.  We are utterly transparent in our dealings with you and all to do in your garden, so we spec out the job in detail so all see what is and what is not covered – and this ensures  you know too.  - That, in 90% of cases means having a plan, a drawing, a map - if you want, a design to show you where to go and what’s going to happen.
So if you want to really know what’s going on and whether the price is right – call GardenEye, to help you – extraordinarily good value for the time and effort spent on each project... free and easy to talk to, and more than likely to be delighted with the costs!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Snow, snow, snow!

And that's not me telling off my 2 year old with a blocked nose !
It is NOT the early Winter us gardeners and landscapers want. But the designing goes on. In our household instead of a Snowman we built!? an Ice Pyramid, which has been a huge success. It looks spectacular under the moonlights in frosty or icy weather as it glistens like a huge diamond.
So what you need is a great big snow shovel, some eager kids, a plastering trowel or 2, and a straight edge. A landscape rake has proved to be far and away the best piece of kit I have used to move this snow about. Most importantly to flatten the unseemly footprints around the masterpiece at the end!.
So back to proper work in the New Year  -
Happy Christmas
Have fun in the snow while it lasts!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Fashions in the garden

‘We are the Goon squad and we’re coming to Town –’. Bowie.
I have always been confused and slightly alarmed with Fashion in the garden. 
On the one hand I seem to know what will and won’t work, and I like to think I have a very practical sense for the needs and desires of my customers -  which isn’t particularly fashionable. 
On the other, I love to think a little out of the box, and use a modern sculpture or have an unusual pergola or arrange plants to perform in an unusual way, do something a little differently – which is.
I am at hair pulling stage when I see enormous budgets thrown into a garden project that shows no sign that there has been anything done, same old, same old (wow me please), and equally, a grotesque ego trip personalisation of a small garden totally out of keeping with the house, family, area and style of the property.
A garden therefore is always likely to end up designed conservatively with little risk, or far too liberally, with too much.  Some sort of coalition is required (got that in!)
My advice is to insist on some sort of wow factor somewhere in the garden without the wow taking over too much.
The fashions come and go – natural, formal - Pampas grass back in, conifers in, veg gardens in, topiary in: lavender hedges out, cut flower gardens out, immaculate lawns out, water features out...
But ultimately the desire to have a great garden does and should incorporate a bit of everything, but only if they are required.
Unlike architects who have a style seemingly all to themselves and one buys into that style – which may be fashionable of course, beware of the garden designer who has a style.  Your garden and existing property should dictate the direction the garden is to be designed in, obviously there are exceptions to this, but the Sissinghurst  garden at Great Dixter and vice versa just doesn’t feel right to me.
‘-Beep beep - listen to me, don’t listen to me...’

Different but wow!

Good old planting

Friday, 28 May 2010

5.       First impressions and who to choose.

So you have figured out what you want, how much you want to spend and you are looking at getting in landscapers and designers to help you out.  And then they arrive...
And they ask you,(I hope)
What do you want?
How much can you spend? (see previous blogs)
And then they show you a portfolio – you should already have seen their web site (I hope).
You have a look around the garden with them...
And then they have the amazing ability to talk utter gobbledegook.

This ability can be splendidly honed. I have known many landscapers who have told me to ‘blind them with the lingo’ or ‘baffle them with technicalities’
This is meant to impress deeply and to an extent it really does work.  It is a device designed to lure you into thinking that they are absolute experts and clearly the people to use.  Beware of the smooth talker –some can talk a good game without necessarily playing it.
Are these guys good at building  gardens, or good at plants? Did they do the fence work or build the pool or did they subcontract these things?
Many are very good, don’t get me wrong –but the words ‘out there’ and ‘jungle’ resonate.
So which one do you use?
At GardenEye we take the strain of deciding away from you by choosing the most suitable contractor for the job that is required.  Simply by having vetted them previously. – Having seen their standards of work and professionalism helps us, help you.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

4. Which Landscaper Should I Use?

When I receive a call to go and see a garden, I need to be quite firm on a 
few things.  
That the client is serious about having a job done, 
they have a realistic idea of the budget, 
that my time and expertise will be covered for the consultation and 
that both the clients are there for the meeting.
Because I’m dead serious about wanting to help my client, and my ideas, my report on the garden afterwards and my years of experience are worth it.  The cost of this will be offset if the design work is implemented and having both clients there, gives me the clarity to understand the desires of the brief fully (no third party translation, it doesn’t work) and the direction in which the design should go. 
It is also good to know if they have experience of using designers previously – on an extension to the house for example, so that there is a familiarity with the budgeting process, the recognition and importance of the managerial side and expertise that is involved. (you would not want to do it yourself!)
There are great Landscaping trade bodies BALI and APL, Trust Mark and local Be Sure and Buy with Confidence,  and they have merit, but what if there are 9 or 10 firms in your area who are members?  Your choice.
Alternatively there is the Word of Mouth route, the greatest form of recommendation known to man.  There are times however that I have seen finished gardens with a very happy client willing to recommend to all and sundry.  On closer inspection however the quality of the work has been extremely poor, and the end result is happiness without knowledge (I’ve paid a lot of money for this so I am going to love it, err I don’t know, Is it any good?)
So check who you are going to use and demand references, check their Health and Safety policies and view a portfolio of work, a web site is a good place to start.
At GardenEye we give you the widest choice of contractor, taking away the uncertainty of who to use.  We are knowledgeable and familiar with tradesmen of all types from excellent pavers’, to fencers, lighting specialists, irrigation specialists, maintenance and plant specialists, pool companies  etc etc... and registered landscaping firms who excel in their fields, depending on what your garden requires, and in the local area where possible. 
We know them, vet their work regularly and help them if needed by putting forward a job spec that creates a level playing field for all who wish to tender – and we pass their price straight to you, no mark ups, no backhanders, no subcontracting  = great value.
So the hard work and decision making is done.  Less hassle and time wasting for you.
There are cowboys out there, so beware, but there are also highly skilled young landscapers starting their own concerns and many quality landscapers forced into self employment by redundancy.  These contractors often have many years of experience behind them and are more willing than most to put the extra effort in to make sure the project works out properly. 

Typical before and after – 
This area had to be completely re-thought.  The tree which you can just about make out (a stunning acer) was given a tree bench and the bed removed to create a better flow of the lawn and a perfect outdoor seating area, with a lavender hedge going round this creating beautiful scent  and flowers for the heat of the summer.  It is well located near the back door to the house and gets sun all through the summer months although it is technically north facing.The acer is lit up at night from underneath and the circle of paving is lit by a beautiful 'moonlight' from the top of the house.  The BBQ also doubles as a fire pit to keep the  evening alive into the night.                                       

Monday, 22 February 2010

3.Sentimentality (in; How to get your garden done)

So, you have figured out – roughly what you want, a vague idea of your budget, and now you are nearly ready to get the experts in...but not quite.
I have included sentimentality - because as well as having a new garden built for you – there will inevitable be existing things in the garden (trees, bushes, features), that you want to keep, but a great deal will need removing.  Some of these things really shouldn't be in that location and are only there for what I call Sentimental reasons. E.g. 'It is so big, we couldn't remove it', and 'I've just got so used to it now' and ' the previous owners planted it on their 10th wedding anniversary' - aha but not in the right place!

One of the most important parts of a designers job is to see through what is already there and to create a vision for the future. I see this as my talent. Sometimes however this is compromised by the desire to keep something through sentimental reasons alone.

Common examples;
· An Ash tree (or similar) that has self seeded, been left unattended to grow and has now become a feature blocking out the sunset in the evenings or is in obviously awkward place.
· A large Magnolia grandiflora planted against the wall of the house (when it was popular to do so) and is now taking light from the house and beginning to damage the house itself.
· A water feature lovingly put in – but in entirely the wrong place.
· The remains of an old garden – where much of the original plan has been worn away, died or where plants that do remain look tired and lonely.

And it happens to the best of us.
I inherited a 10ft high Camellia (Camellia japonica 'Nobilissima') from an American client in London. It was in a massive pot and already 7ft high. How I got it to my house is a mystery from his 3rd floor balcony, before it stayed in its pot in a perfect position for 3 years flowering abundantly twice. Of course it came with me to the country when we moved 4 years ago, and it had by that time outgrown its massive pot. So with much thought and considerable effort I planted it out.
Unfortunately my garden has changed and my big 10ft friend is just unhappy. It has flowered pitifully only once and looks sick.
But I’ve kept it and tried to nurture it (see this article on camellia care) and ignored the fact that it is now not fitting in to the garden as it should, but after all that effort I am loathed to move it.
So what have I done.
Well my blogren you decide. Here it is, - your suggestions please. (I’ll show you what I have done later)

The point is – be open to change and relish your opportunity to stamp YOUR mark on YOUR garden right now. Have a good look at the garden and make a note of the things you really really want to keep. For all the trees or shrubs that need to be taken down remember that you can put two of each back somewhere else.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

2. How much can I spend ?– what is my budget? - Part 2

Before I set up GardenEye, a customer wanted to screen off his view of the road with some mature evergreen shrubs. It was impossible to get him to understand that big plants cost lots of money. I got a plan in place for about a 10k spend – which seemed reasonable, after shopping around at three reputable nurseries. This was then reduced to a 5K budget which reduced the plan to its skeleton. Even after explaining that this was a minimal requirement for the plants (if he wanted them mature - which he did) and a digger would be required, compost brought in, stakes, ties, making good the site AND labour – and this was a fairly big area – he still couldn’t get it.

‘Can’t you just dig a hole and shove ‘em in?’... well, No, I can’t.
Eventually he bought half a dozen small random evergreen 10 litre pots and, well, shoved ‘em in. If I had known that he would be happy with small evergreens, I could have helped, but I was not given a budget and therefore he could have avoided some interesting planting choices and arrangements as a result. 
So the point is, whether you have a small part of the garden that needs redoing, or a fence - or the whole thing - Try and get a feel for your budget spend.  GardenEye can help you by understanding the budget and giving you sensible clear advice and direction to have the garden you desire.

If you can’t give a budget then there is the likelihood that the garden budget will be guessed for you. That will be determined by what cars you drive, how you dress, the style of the house etc. And it is horribly presumptuous.
This generalising gives landscapers a bad name, because if the client says he wants everything, has a good appearance, a new million £ house and cars etc, there can easily be an assumption that he might be prepared to spend 100k on his project rather than the 30k he actually had in mind, and this affects the entire garden project.

GardenEye however is designed to work with the client and serve their best interests at all times. If the budget is 20k and three companies price on exactly the same thing -at over 25k –then that is how much it is going to cost, and either the materials or the plan will have to change. We will not be fooled or conned by the contractors but we ensure that they are charging sensibly themselves and will highlight odd prices when they come in.
We try to give the client the reassurance that they are paying the right money, and get great value for their project, and contractors the opportunity to avoid the wrath of the client and a project handed to them from GardenEye. Win, win for all.

As a Rule of Thumb and a rough cost guide for having a complete garden redevelopment is half the amount you have or are likely to have spent on doing up your house or 5-10% of the value of your property  – if you want a better garden than just a few random evergreen plants shoved in... or you can concentrate on having areas done bit by bit as your budget allows. 

...And a glorious reminder of what flowers look like, roll on Spring.

Away from Gardens for a brief fantasy

Aside from gardening for a moment.  The National Lottery Euro Millions last Friday had a whopping jackpot of £133 million.  I recently decided that buying a ticket on line every now and again is the only way to avoid looking like a very sad fool at the newsagents.
SO, eagerly awaiting my e-mail to tell me 'News about your ticket' - this is what I was told would happen if you won,- my e-mail promptly went down for all of Saturday and most of Sunday.
THEN all 600 previous mails came flooding into my inbox and right at the top 'News about your ticket'! Oh my God - (the reports were 2 winners, 1 in the UK, £65 million each...) I've done it - I can design the greatest garden in the history of gardens!
AND I opened it up. 'Congratulations you are a lottery winner' it said.
£6.90 it also said.
BLAST. Back to the drawing board!
Of course the good news is that I am still available to give you the greatest garden in the history of gardens...

And to the second half of Budgeting soon...