If you have ended up here looking for a job as a trainee gardener than ‘Welcome’, please read a little about who I am and what I am looking for. Thank you! If you are here just to read my blog than thank you for your time and feel free to comment. Kindest regards, Paul, The Lone Gardener.
History of Business
The Lone Gardener was started in 2009 where most of the work was caring for small local gardens and a few commercial sites (doctor surgeries) that needed regular maintenance. The work was sufficient to earn me a ‘survival’ income but as an unskilled gardener (£7.50 an hour) it would always be difficult to accumulate enough income to cover for the period between September to March when inevitably business would be very slow.
As of February 2009, I was fortunate to obtain work as a subcontractor helping to maintain a 2 acre specialist garden which left me in awe. Outstanding specimen trees, sweeping borders 30 metres long, waterfall, bog garden, cut flower garden, metres of finely trimmed hedging of various heights and varieties and a pond that has had several pounds of investment to house the koi carp. It would be a surprise to know that this particular garden has had approximately 1 million pound invested into it since 1997, when originally the paddock was purchased from a neighbour with the sole aim of creating a private Eden. I say “I was in awe” quite simply because I had never seen anything on such a large scale in a private domestic garden and I certainly would never have been able to maintain this garden without some sort of plant knowledge or education. Time was spent researching and looking through books at plants familiarising myself with various types of weed and how to identify them, timings for pruning plants, how to treat disease (the orchard has always been a struggle mistakes by previous gardeners, most trees are cankerous due to bad pruning) how to maintain lawns etc. so much to learn!
Sadly, 3 months into the contract the client decided to terminate attachment to my business acquaintance (due to his reluctance to do anything that didn’t require a hedge-trimmer, a mower or a strimmer!) requesting me personally to take on the contract full-time. Amazing! What a privilege to be trusted with such an investment, SCARY TIMES. Personally I didn’t feel I was ready so adopted an alternative plan which became a short lived nightmare!
In discussion with the client he suggested I should go to college, which I did in September 2009 and by June 2010 I had passed my RHS Level 2 Certificate in Horticulture given me much confidence and understanding in regards to plant physiology, environmental issues, control of pest and disease, propagation of plants, nutrients, plant science and much more. For those that have studied at RHS level you will understand why this was so important.
During this time (Aug 2009-Aug 2010) I had been able to bring in a contractor with experience to take full control of the contract writing me in as a subcontractor at ‘x’ amount of hours, hoping that he would offer me inspiration and act as a mentor however it didn’t work out as planned. He was hardly ever there personally expecting me to do most of the work yet happy to take the large chunk of money and then supply young teenagers that were in fact doing more harm than good and then when he approached the client suggesting he wished to remove me from any future contract in Aug 2010 I decided to put forward my own proposal and have never looked back. I was deeply upset by his lack of professionalism and unmoral conduct as at the time his business was struggling and not only was I able to help him through a quiet winter period I saw it as a chance for him to engage with this project making it a portfolio piece to promote his company and skills but he simply saw it as a cash cow and left me looking unprofessional. Throughout all this I constantly had the backing of the client and the trust that we have developed over the last 4 years is as a result of great communication. I must mention that from 1997-2009 there had been 9 head gardeners in control at The Manor at various times, all dismissed for whatever reason. May I also remind you that in 2009 I had only just decided to become a gardener, unskilled, and now 4 years on I am qualified and charge a bit more than £7.50 an hour! I am not telling you this to promote my ego it is merely to show to you what can be achieved if you wish to change career or embark on a career path that will surely be successful if you have the right attitude.
Method to Success
The main consideration here is that my client had invested up to a million pound over a 12 year period and wasn’t getting the high standards he was searching. This needed to change. It was imperative that this garden was maintained to the same standards you would expect at Hampton Court or Blenheim Palace and it simply wasn’t happening even with huge investment. Sometimes as a gardener you have to work unusual hours it is not a simple 9-5 job, yet predecessors had viewed it as a simple maintenance contract. It was through due diligence and hard work not necessarily knowledge that I was able to secure the contract in my unskilled capacity and it allowed me the chance to study, further my education and use this first hand in my every day working life. In seeing how useful the previous course had been I didn’t hesitate on starting a degree in Horticulture and Garden design at Moulton College in September 2011.
In return ‘The Manor’ has become a labour of love but in a positive way and although the money was important the satisfaction of creating a picture worthy of that sort of investment became an obsession and 4 years on we are certainly closer to where we need to be.
“The Manor” has and will always be important to The Lone Gardener as it is the primary source of income however it also opens up so many opportunities for my business. As a sole trader it is only possible to do ‘x’ amount of hours per week but given that this garden has such a broad spectrum of opportunity it is the perfect training ground to learn the skills necessary to deal with ALL issues in the world of horticulture. I have had to structure my time by organising maintenance plans, weed management, pest and disease control especially in the orchard, how to manage certain plants to promote their strengths and prolong their qualities, schedule of events for plant and lawn maintenance and also a prime objective is how I can reduce the amount of maintenance in some areas by using weed membranes or alternative planting schemes. Changing areas that are overgrown like our woodland walk into springtime bliss with bluebells, snowdrops and anemones and improving plant selection in borders and the cut flower garden.
As a business I now have the skills necessary to expand with confidence with the understanding that credibility and reputation is significantly important to be successful and for this it is imperative that you study and become certified in whatever profession you choose to partake.
Now the time has come for me to look to the future so if I am to make progress I need to expand my business with the aim of acquiring at least 3 regular contracts of this nature as a solid foundation. For this I need additional recruits and if they step up like I did, than its just possible that they could have a great career in horticulture ahead of them and the prospect of becoming a part of The Lone Gardener which I can assure you will bring its own rewards. If you are 16-17 years old now and looking to the future, realistically with qualifications in 3 years you could be earning £25,000 a year in an industry that is desperate for skilled workers. If you feel that you have what it takes you should contact me at email@example.com but you must live near Markyate in Hertfordshire and be willing to work as hard as me !
I am extremely interested in Sustainable Development and recently attended a presentation on Living Walls and Green Roof’s. This is an area that I would like to research more as the whole concept of living walls is a fascination to me. Imagine looking at the fascia of a building 50 metres tall covered in plants in the middle of a city, then try to imagine what a whole street may look like. Is this the future utopia that we should be aiming towards as a civilisation? We continue to build and develop the land with disregard for nature yet if we integrate nature into our cities then this in turn could reduce pollution and improve the quality of life for so many. In the western world living walls are a new concept however they are slowly being brought to our attention with projects such as the one at Borough Market in London and Victoria Station. As a business this is very interesting to me both financially and morally but I would need to be secure in the knowledge that this doesn’t contravene time spent maintaining ‘The Manor’.
I am in the final year of my degree (June 2014) and hope to have more time when it is completed but already I have planned where I want to go next and should you be fortunate to come and work with me than this too could be part of your future. Expansion into an untouched market that with incentives from the government possibly in the future, will become huge with many companies addressing their corporate responsibility duties towards their carbon footprint by installing living walls and green roofs and by recycling water.
I hope that this has been informative to you if you are considering a career change and I would be happy to offer advice on courses or training providers however realistically what I am really looking for is someone who is 16/17 years old and wants to work hard, study and earn lots of money. Is that you ?
Thanks for your time, TLG