According to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), seven out of eight households in the UK have access to a garden. Garden sizes, however, vary widely. The smallest gardens are found in the City of London (16m2) and the largest in Na h-Eileanan Siar in Scotland (727m2).
Furthermore, private businesses, charities and non-profit organisations and local authorities all run gardens and parks of various sizes. This means that there are plenty of opportunities for building a business as a landscape gardener.
Successful landscape gardeners tend to have a combination of trade skills and qualifications, people skills and, if working freelance, business skills. As landscape gardening is very physical work, you also need strength and good health.
If you are not particularly strong but are healthy, you might want to look at how to become a gardener, which focuses on garden maintenance. It is still manual work but it is often less physically demanding, especially with modern tools.
Alternatively, if you love gardening but would prefer a job more in the line of knowledge work, you can look into how to become a garden designer.
Trade skills and qualifications for landscape gardening
The skills and qualifications you need for landscape gardening depends on whether you want to focus on hard landscaping or soft landscaping.
Hard landscaping is essentially building, so you need construction skills. Soft landscaping involves laying down lawns, creating flower beds and planting bushes/shrubs, hedges and trees. It, therefore, requires traditional gardening skills.
You can learn both construction skills and traditional gardening skills on a modern apprenticeship. That said, modern apprenticeships will typically focus on one or the other. Modern apprenticeships are targeted at the 16-24 age group but are open to people of all ages.
Alternatively, you can take courses backed by an industry body. In construction, that would typically be City and Guilds. In traditional gardening that would typically be the Royal Horticultural Society. Both have a network of providers throughout the UK so you can learn practical skills as well as theory. The RHS also offers online courses.
People skills and business skills
People skills and business skills often go hand in hand. Quite simply, the better you manage the people involved with your business, the more likely it is your business will succeed. This is particularly true when it comes to managing your customers and prospective customers.
As yet, there are no formal qualifications in people skills. There are, however, lots of resources online. Many of them are free. You may also have real-world courses in your local area, but these are likely to be chargeable.
There are many formal qualifications in business skills both online and in the real world. Many of them will be chargeable. At the same time, you may not need or even want formal qualifications. As with people skills, there are lots of resources available online and many are free.
Starting a landscape gardening business
The first step in starting any business is to develop a business plan. This should clearly formulate your business goals and your strategy for achieving them. It’s vital to undertake thorough market research to ensure that your business plan is viable in the geographical area you plan to operate.
Upfront costs of starting a landscape gardening business
When you start a landscape gardening business, you will need to budget for the costs of equipment and tools, personal protective equipment and gardening products. Since you will be using these materials for business, they will need to be high quality.
You will also probably need a vehicle in which to transport them. Your regular car may not be up to the task. Even if it is, you will need to think about whether it’s practical for you to use it for work. For example, if the vehicle is meant to be shared, what will you do if you both need it at the same time?
Planning for future costs
You will also need to think about the sorts of expenses you will incur once your business is up and running. The golden rule here is to automate as much as possible but keep the human touch for when it matters.
For example, business software like Square Appointments and Square Invoices Plus can handle basic customer service tasks. You will still need humans for more in-depth professional services, like bookkeeping and accounting. These can, however, be hired on a freelance basis.
The importance of an effective marketing plan
You should establish and implement a marketing plan as early as possible. In fact, you can (and often should) start your marketing before you open for business. The simple fact is that you will only get customers if people know you exist. This means that the early days of any business are largely about building awareness and connections.
Pricing and taking payments
When it comes to pricing, there are three key questions you need to answer. Firstly, what pricing model(s) do you want to use? Secondly, what actual prices will you charge? Thirdly, how will you collect payment?
If you’re taking payments in the real world (such as deposits), a card machine is a must. The days of customers preferring to pay tradespeople in cash are long over. If you’re sending invoices in arrears, then it can be useful to offer online payment, too.
Regulation and insurance
Before you start operating your landscape gardening business, you will need to decide whether you wish to operate as a sole trader or a limited company. Once you’ve made this decision, you need to register for tax. You will also need to check if your local authority has any rules on registration in your local area.
You will need public liability insurance. If you have employees, you’ll also need employers’ liability insurance. All insurers require customers to take reasonable steps to avoid risks. This means that you will need to inform yourself about health-and-safety processes. If you have employees, you will need to ensure that they are trained, too.
The specific areas you will need to address will depend on the specific work you do. Anything involving power tools (especially chainsaws), chemicals (such as pesticides) or waste is likely to be a health-and-safety concern.
It’s also advisable to have insurance for your tools and equipment. If you use a vehicle for work, it will also need suitable insurance cover. Unless you are already using the vehicle for business, your existing cover is unlikely to be sufficient.