Welcome to our Blog. Inspiration, updates and industry trends from the team at Landscaping Solutions.
“It definitely brings us closer. You see a different side of people.” This is Landscaping Solutions’ Operations Manager James Double’s verdict on our annual camping trips. Perhaps that’s not surprising when you find out what owner Ben West gets us doing.
Landscaping Solutions’ Ben, George, James, Frank, Jack, Tom and Hudson.
When our social events take place outside work, they usually involve something like golf, go-karting or football. “If I organise something,” says Ben, “we’ll end up doing activities that most of us haven’t done before - friction fire-lighting, bushcraft skills, swimming in rivers, hill-walking on Brecon Beacon.”
Ben’s been wild camping since he was ten, and the trips are now a feature of the firm. Contracts Manager Tom Underwood hadn’t ever camped when he joined the company just over seven years ago. “I wasn’t into it, but I really look forward to it now,” he says. “I’m already looking forward to the trip for this year.”
The trips certainly aren’t compulsory and we don’t have to venture far - a recent camp-out was in the Surrey Hills - but they do offer a chance for us to get to know each other better over a couple of days. “Most love it,” says Ben. “You don’t always get to mix with everybody in the firm, so you’re meeting other people you might have heard of and not worked with. It’s letting hair down in general.”
“It’s team building,” says Tom. “Two or three days in the wilderness with nothing but yourselves. It definitely contributes to well-being and happiness, and if you’re happy in work, then you do it better.”
A BALI award-winning garden, London, designed by Simon Thomas and built by Landscaping Solutions.
Teamwork is vital to a landscaping practice and is at the heart of Landscaping Solutions. It stands to reason that if three or four of us are working on a site for several weeks, the better we understand each other, the better we work together. “Teamwork is very important to the company. I’ve noticed that people coming from other firms say that they like the banter and the fun,” says Ben. “You’re spending most of your life doing this, so if it’s not fun, there’s not much point in having the job. The trips away help to create camaraderie, and it’s calming being out amongst the bird song and around the fire. As soon as you’ve got a fire going in the dusk, people talk about things that they rarely talk about otherwise.”
“We’re a close group,” says Tom. “I pass on what I’ve learned, and the guys teach me; I’m always ready to learn.”
And if you’re wondering how this plays into Landscaping Solutions’ work, then take a look at some of our BALI award-winning gardens.
Alongside teamwork goes the ethos of recognising the talent we’ve got. “The culture of Landscaping Solutions is to promote from within,” says Ben. “We take on young guys and the team supports them to give them the skills and take on responsibility. That’s the most successful way to get people into responsible roles,” he adds.
James joined around seven years ago, was promoted to foreman and now works alongside Ben in the office. Tom, who joined at around the same time, also became a foreman and is now Contracts Manager, overseeing all the teams, giving toolbox talks, ensuring everyone has the workwear, PPE and materials they need. For the guys who moved into the gaps left by their promotion, James and Tom are on hand to monitor and give support.
A BALI award winning garden, London, designed by Jilayne Rickards and built by Landscaping Solutions.
We think the results speak for themselves. The recent BALI awards gave us our 5th award over 7 years, two being Principal Award Winner. Of the latest winner in December 2018, designer Jilayne Rickards said, ““The finish was exquisite, because that’s how Landscaping Solutions work.”
So, when you commission Landscaping Solutions for your garden project, we’ll not just enjoy building it. You’ll also know you have a tight-knit team who will work together to give you the best result possible, maybe even a BALI award-winner.
For a discussion on how we can help with your next garden project, contact Ben on firstname.lastname@example.org or the number at the top of the page.
Here at Landscaping Solutions, we’ve got to know some of the garden designers we work with pretty well.
A garden in Hampton, Surrey, designed by Pam Johnson. She describes her designs as having become increasingly “planty” over the years.
One of the great pleasures of working with the same person on a variety of projects over the years is becoming familiar with another’s working practices so you virtually start from where you left off when the next garden design brings an opportunity to team up again.
“It’s the team you end up working with that’s critical,” says Pamela Johnson. Pam’s had twenty-five years’ experience in the business, training at the College of Garden Design when it wasn’t so much a growing profession, as she says, but a very small growing hobby. Things have certainly changed in a quarter of a century.
For Pam, there’s no substitute for good ground preparation. “If it’s not done properly, it’s hard to get a garden working when it all starts growing.”
Since she started, Pam has designed many gardens in and around London, but has now moved to Dorset. “I had enough of tiny London gardens and the logistics,” she says; if you’ve any experience of the problems of parking, access and spoil removal in Central London, you can probably sympathise.
While she was here, though, the result was some truly gorgeous gardens, of which we’ve been lucky enough to build a large number. Building relationships with designers is equally precious to us. “Ben’s very good with clients and good at running a team, which is critical,” says Pam, “but the next person who’s very important is the foreman.”
Another view of Pam Johnson’s design for a garden in Hampton, Surrey.
The foreman is the one who heads up the team on site, keeps things running smoothly, liaises with the client and keeps the designer informed on a day-to-day basis.
“As a designer,” adds Pam, “that’s the person you work with most.” Here at Landscaping Solutions we have three permanent teams and the foreman of each stays with a project from start to finish. “That’s critical, too,” adds Pam. “If a foreman has a good sense of design themselves, and an understanding of your design, is good with the client and understands your relationship with the client, then it’s good combination. If you’ve not got any of that, then it’s a nightmare. Tom, whom I worked with, is delightful, very talented.”
A beautifully balanced design which won a BALI award for a Surrey garden.
Pam approaches a garden very much from the point of view of the client. “I interpret within their means, manage their expectations. You don’t want something inappropriate to the circumstances. If I was to design something that I wanted, it wouldn’t fit the brief.” At the forefront is always the understanding that, as she says, “It’s not my garden, it’s the client’s garden. And it’s important for the landscaper to respect that too.”
There’s quite a skill to marrying up expectations with circumstance to create a happy solution. Some clients came to Pam because they loved the look of her own garden. “Aspirations can be tricky,” she says. “Unless you were a really good gardener, you wouldn’t be able to achieve that.”
Now in Dorset, Pam is taking a break from designing and, instead, is concentrating on working on the blank canvas of her new garden, currently mostly gravel. “It needs proper structure,” she explains, and she plans to do things gradually, seeing how they develop. “I’m doing it very slowly, rather than all at once. ‘Slow gardening’,” she laughs.
Pam used a sinuous path to echo the border of the pond in this BALI award-winning Surrey garden.
Starting when garden design was so young an occupation, Pam spent many years as a member of the Society of Garden Designers, which has presided over an improvement in working practices within the profession. “The SGD has set out quite rigid guidelines about how to conduct business, making sure everything’s done properly and professionally.”
This has turned out to be to everyone’s advantage, from the client, who knows that sensible quotations have been obtained, to the landscaper, who gets as full a brief as possible from the start. “The guidelines inform the way you deal with contractors,” explains Pam, “so you get comparable quotes for a specification. If all contractors quote for slightly different things, that means nothing.” As a client, it’s vital that your designer understands how to specify and get quotes. “There’s always an anomaly,” adds Pam, “but that’s the designer’s problem to work out.”
As anyone who’s had a garden designed and built knows, “something unseen”, as Pam puts it, is likely to crop up. If a problem occurs, it’s usually the site conditions at the centre of it. “The weather,” explains Pam, “or something buried, or a neighbour who complains.
“A landscaper can be instrumental in working something out,” she adds. “You need someone with good people skills. Ben will have a talk with a difficult neighbour and then say, ‘We had a problem, but we’ve sorted it.’ It’s great when someone does that.”
It’s important that a garden matches the needs of its owner.
Not only that, but we understand that the project we’re working on won’t be the only iron you, as a designer, have in the fire. “If you want him to, Ben’s very good at stepping in and dealing with stuff that would have been the designer’s job if, for whatever reason, the designer can’t do it,” adds Pam.
The better a designer and landscaper get to know each other and the way they work best, the easier it is to liaise and anticipate any difficulties in a build. That’s why we believe in the importance of getting to know how the designers we work with like to do things and in building up a relationship. We’re proud also to have contributed to the success of a number of award-winning gardens in London and the South-East.
Pam will eventually open her new garden for the NGS, but it won’t be very soon. In the meantime, however, keep an eye out for a blog about her new garden and courses on gardening. We’ll give you a shout on our social media when they start.
“Designing gardens is a delight,” says Pam. We couldn’t agree more!
If you’d like a chat about how Landscaping Solutions can help you achieve the design you want, then give Ben West a ring on 0208 2412402 or email email@example.com
There’s what you want from a garden and there’s what it and life impose on you. That’s where garden design and skilful landscaping step in - to marry the two into a something that meets your vision, services your needs and deals with its problems in a satisfactory manner. Oh, and looks good too.
Timber slatted fencing increased the privacy of the garden while the limited palette of colour, requested by the client, added to the calm elegance.
This garden in Barnes, south-west London, designed by Justin Greer, was built by us in 2012 and, we’re proud to say, garnered a BALI award for Domestic Garden Construction (costing between £30,000 and £60,000).
What were the problems? Well, it shared issues that we see frequently in London gardens. The plot is pretty much triangular, 10 metres wide at the house, narrowing to 2 metres along its 20-metre length. For tools and toys, it needed storage space that didn’t detract from the look of the garden, and it needed a greater sense of privacy from the houses close by.
In addition, drainage of rainwater from the rear extension had to be dealt with and, as happens so often with major garden projects, enormous changes were taking place in the house at the same time, the most major being the digging of a new cellar.
The triangular shape of the plot was very clear in the garden before its makeover.
These are merely obstacles that we meet frequently in the course of our work, however. Certainly they were nothing to interfere with our mission to remove the dilapidated decking patio and completely replace the existing unstructured and obviously awkwardly shaped garden with an enticing, more formally laid-out space that would indulge the clients’ desire to be outdoors, relaxing, dining and barbecuing with the family.
Creating the garden’s calm, relaxing atmosphere is garden designer Justin Greer’s strongly geometrical layout, with space for entertaining next to the house, a gas barbecue, a play area screened from the main garden and house. The whole has an elegant, timeless feel.
Sawn Yorkstone was used as a traditional paving and, here, benchtop, to complement the reclaimed bricks and old boundary wall.
Part of achieving this feel lies in the materials used. As anyone who’s been in an old London garden knows, the boundaries are usually tall walls, made of weathered London bricks. This was no different, but one of the boundary walls had reached demolition point, so it was replaced before we began work. This provided the ideal opportunity to create coherence in materials by matching design elements to the remaining boundary wall and we recycled the bricks into the raised beds and water feature. This required a fair amount of work in cleaning up the bricks - we also had to bring in some top-ups from the London Reclaim Brick Merchants - but it was worth it for the sense of age and history they add to the design.
Precise planting is absolutely necessary to make a formal garden design work.
Of course, a formal feel is more easily imposed on a regular-shaped plot - think Roman piazzas or Hampton Court’s Privy Garden.
Here, the hardwood screen not only hides the play area and storage shed but squares off the space in a backdrop to the pleached hornbeams, which in combination with box hedging, standard bay trees and Quercus Ilex add the backbone of formal planting. This needs to be placed precisely for the effect to work as planned, otherwise the eye is drawn to the one trunk that’s not quite in line.
Finally, underpinning the design are the foundations that make it work - the sump for the water feature, hidden beneath the polished pebbles, is reinforced to avoid it being damaged when people walk over it; the hard-landscaped areas drain into plant border and through the polished pebbles.
Polished pebbles create contrast with the sawn paving, as well as areas for rain to drain away.
And what about that rainwater draining off the extension? Hidden pipework takes the run-off along the east boundary and into a soak-away beneath the children’s trampoline, which was placed on artificial turf. This was to ensure the soak-away was away from the footings of the old wall, where it could have eventually made it unstable. It took careful planning and installation.
Also demanding a lot of planning, discussion, collaboration and co-operation was the fact that we had to build the deck before the light well was put down into the new cellar. As we explained in The Secret to a BALI Award-Winning Garden Design, communication is key to making sure a project runs smoothly, especially when you’re sharing the space with other contractors.
Strong horizontals slow the eye as you look down the garden, drawing attention away from the narrowing shape.
Thanks to preparation, communication and our team of skilled landscapers, the build was not only completed within the course of two months - August to September 2012 - but also gave us a BALI National Landscape Award Winner in 2013.
If you’re a garden designer and would like to discuss how we can help you with your next project, or if you have a garden would like more information on how we at Landscaping Solutions can help you with its design and landscaping, contact us on 0208 2412402 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CDM - Construction Design Management - is something we’ve noticed makes a lot of garden designers nervous. Brought in in 2007 and revised in 2015, the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations demand that every project has suitably qualified and experienced duty holders in place, to shoulder the designated responsibilities and, in the case of designers, this consists of “identifying, eliminating or controlling foreseeable risks”.
A finished project for a garden near Richmond.
The regs also demand that designers prepare and provide relevant information to those who need it and liaise with the principal contractor “to help in the planning, management, monitoring and coordination of the construction phase”.
Put like that, it’s understandable that, as the regulations finally begin to filter into the landscaping industry, there are a few qualms. Funnily enough, it’s the domestic sector that’s feeling the burden most, rather than contractors working on the commercial side; when you’re working for the likes of Taylor Wimpey you’ll be a very big fish to be principal anything.
Working for home-owners is different. They, too, have their responsibilities, but aren’t expected to understand them. Former BALI chairman Richard Gardiner runs Nag Solutions, which helps landscape companies improve their compliance credentials, and sums up the situation this way. “The problems come in the domestic sector. There’s no pressure from the client, the home-owner, and you wouldn’t expect them to be up to speed. It’s more challenging than the commercial sector because most of the time the domestic contractor operates as principal contractor, and a lot of responsibility sits with the principal contractor. Contractors do tend to bury their heads a bit.”
Machinery should be placed in a safe position.
It’s the same with designers. “Again, they bury their heads,” he says. “The designer is the interface with the client. If they are aware of what they should be doing, then they should guide the client.”
At Landscaping Solutions, our heads are well and truly above ground. Some time ago, we took a good hard look at what is demanded and how far we fulfilled it, and we brought Richard in as the expert to check us over for any gaps in our approach. Consequently, we’ve embraced CDM with quite a bit of enthusiasm.
Why? Ben West, owner of Landscaping Solutions explains, “It’s going to increase professionalism and bring the landscaping industry in line with the rest of the construction industry, which is quite far ahead of us in this area. It’ll reduce accidents by making the consideration of risks and hazards part of the design process, so that, hopefully, they’re designed out of forthcoming schemes. And it’s going to make the finished garden a safer place for the homeowner and their visitors.”
A tidy site is a safer site.
What this means for you, as a designer, is that we know what’s needed and can help you with your responsibilities. “We recently did a job for a lady who wasn’t sure what CDM meant,” says Ben. “We provided her with documentation, the people she could speak to, links with various websites, and looked at her current documentation to see if it was rigorous enough.”
If you’re a home-owner reading this, then you can rest easy that we understand our duties and carry them out. It will also potentially reduce your costs by flagging up potentially massive additions to the bill brought about by, for example, the use of oversized, heavy paving that will need cutting on site in hard-to-access gardens where the only solution is to bring in a crane and then cut by hand.
When you’re not used to doing something, and there are plenty of other things taking up valuable time, then getting to grips with CDM is daunting. But it doesn’t have to be.
Landscapers should have all the appropriate work equipment and footwear for the job.
Paramount in CDM is the need to communicate. “Essentially, the designer should do a risk assessment for their design and talk to the contractor,” says Richard Gardiner. “The contractor might come up with a different way to solve a problem which is more satisfactory. All parties need to be in communication, putting the client, designer and contractor in tune with each other.”
If you’ve read our post on The Secret to a Bali Award-Winning Garden, then you’ll know that communication is one of our priorities. That project demanded hundreds of both emails and phone calls. If a problem occurs, we’ll let you know. If a schedule needs to be rejigged because of a delayed delivery, we’ll tell you. If we foresee a pitfall in the way things are scheduled, we’ll suggest a solution.
CDM doesn’t have to be feared. It’s raising standards across the industry and that has to be applauded. However, everyone can do with a bit of support, especially when something’s new and full of legal implications.
“CDM is a good thing,” says Ben. “With any of our projects, we’ll be happy to offer advice to designers who are a bit unsure, and it’s a chance for everyone in the industry - landscapers and designers - to show clients and designers that we take our responsibilities seriously and recognise our duty of care to fellow contractors and our clients.”
If you’d like to discuss how we can help with the CDM requirements of your next project, give us a ring on 0208 2412402 or email us at email@example.com
Richard Gardiner can be contacted at Nag Solutions.