Is it time for a garden appraisal?

January 28th, 2018
Posted In: Gardening know how

If you want to take your garden up a notch, book a garden appraisal.

Maybe you’ve moved to a new house and you don’t even know what’s in your garden?

Or your life has changed – you now have more time (or less) for the garden, and it needs to change too. You want more interesting plants or need easier-to-look-after ones.

A garden appraisal isn’t a re-design

You’re not considering calling in the heavy diggers. Instead, you want a fresh eye from someone experienced enough to give you practical, creative ideas to improve your garden. Or you want to know what you’ve got in the garden and how you can make the best of it.

A garden appraisal is best carried out by an experienced gardener or garden designer whose style you like. If you want to focus on plants,  then a professional gardener is probably more appropriate than a garden designer, but it depends on the individual. Many garden designers are very knowledgeable about plants, but not all.

Garden appraisal from Posy Gentles

Posy Gentles’ style is a subtle use of colour and texture. Her garden appraisals include planting plans and creative garden ideas.

If you have a gardener for a few hours a week, you probably already have an ongoing system of appraisal built into the way you work together. But even so, it’s sometimes illuminating to bring an outside eye in. (Although make sure your gardener is happy with that, and doesn’t see it as criticism of his or her work.)

And if you don’t employ a gardener, a garden appraisal from time to time can give that essential professional input.

Step-by-step garden appraisal

Gardener Julie Penny is approached to do appraisals ‘when people move to new gardens, and have no idea what plants, trees or shrubs they have. ‘I usually walk round with the client,’ she says. She recommends that they take their own notes, adding things like ‘shrub to the left of the tree’, so that they can identify plants later on. ‘I usually encourage them to do a rough plan of their garden or beds as we go round, as that helps them feel more confident with their own space.’ Many people who have just moved into a new garden may not know the difference between perennials and weeds, so taking their own notes helps them distinguish.

Julie identifies plants and then emails the client with a list, with when and how to prune or cut back. ‘I send email prompts at appropriate times of year. Sometimes I’ve been asked to do the actual maintenance work, but I’m too fully booked, so I have recommended jobs to other All Horts members in the area.’

The garden appraisal plus strategy…

While there’s a slight difference between finding out what’s in your garden and getting a garden appraisal in order to make changes, one naturally leads to the other. Your first garden appraisal might be an introduction to your garden – what’s there and how to deal with it.

But a year or two down the line, you’re likely to want to look at it all again. Do you want the garden to be more easy-care or more colourful? More privacy or shade? Have you either fallen in love with or taken against a particular type of plant? Maybe you were a complete novice but now you have the gardening bug?

A garden appraisal to improve your garden

Do you want more colour and wildness or easy-care shrubs….?

Garden maker Posy Gentles has often been asked to assess a garden or border, and give suggestions for taking it up a notch.

How much does a garden appraisal cost?

This post is the second in the ‘getting help in the garden’ series. The first post was on how to find a gardener who’s perfect for your garden.

In that post, I go into how much to pay a gardener. The Gardeners Guild recommends £20-£40 an hour, which is very similar to what you would pay most self-employed trades people, such as decorators, carpenters etc.

If you are getting a garden appraisal, it should be by someone who is experienced/qualified (no point otherwise). So you will be paying at the upper end of that scale. And a garden appraisal doesn’t just involve going round a garden. You will also need to pay – usually at an hourly rate – for the time spent in research, planning, writing reports, sourcing plants or travel. Julie Penny estimates that her garden appraisals will cost a minimum of £75.

Garden appraisals are usually costed at an hourly rate

The price will be affected by the size of the garden, how much you want to change it, and what your ambitions are. If you just want to change a single border in a small plot, that’s obviously going to cost much less than making more dramatic changes in a larger garden.

After all, the gardener will spend 2-3 hours walking round your garden on a garden appraisal, giving one or two ideas verbally. Then he or she will go home and think about it, researching ideas and checking things, then writing a report with recommendations. If they do a plant list, with where to get those plants, and pricings, that’s going to take another hour or two.

So it all depends on how big your garden is, how much you want to change and how much you’re prepared to spend on carrying out the strategy. A garden appraisal could take anything from around 3 or 4 hours to 10+.

At a rate of £20-£40 an hour that’s anything from £75 to £400+.  But it is a one-off or an annual investment, not one you would make every month.

When should you have a garden appraisal?

Garden consultant Alison Marsden says that early in the year is a good time to plan ahead for the summer. If you have perennials which are underground in winter, you may also need another visit in the summer. But any time of year has its advantages and limitations!

How do you find the right person to carry out a garden appraisal?

I think word of mouth is probably the best way to find the right gardening specialist for this sort of work. Which gardens locally do you like? Who does the garden? You will need someone with experience and/or qualifications. You could try The Gardeners’ Guild, who have a list of members.

Ask local nurseries, garden centres or large open gardens if they know anyone who carries out such work. Remember that you do need someone experienced – for example, the Head Gardener of a grand garden near you if he or she does some freelance work. You’re not looking for a horticultural student, but someone who really understands what works and what doesn’t in gardens like yours.

Posy Gentles is based in Kent, Julie Penny’s Wychwood Garden Company is based in Oxfordshire and Alison Marsden’s Gardening by Design is in West Kent.

How do you tell if someone is right for your garden?

Have an initial chat with your prospective garden expert, and ask them what sort of gardening they personally like doing. If they have a website (most self-employed people have websites now), then you can check out their style there, too. Some people may have a portfolio, and other experts open their own gardens for a few days a year, for local open garden schemes or the NGS.

And you can also ask to talk to previous clients, because you’ll get a much better impression of what sort of a gardener he or she is. If you love vibrant colour, it’s no good employing a minimalist to do a garden appraisal for you.

What then?

Posy Gentles charges for the initial site visit, because she gives some ideas there and then. She asks garden owners what they like about their gardens, what they want to keep and what they don’t like. What do they most want to change? What colours do they like? And what do they use their garden for? Is it mainly to look at from the house or do they entertain in it in the summer? Then she makes initial suggestions, followed by a written report with plant recommendations and creative ideas.

You'll get a plant list in your garden appraisal.

A garden appraisal can include a list of plants with their names and where to get them. The gardener can also order them for you, but remember that the longer they spend on your project, the more it will cost you, as it’s usually an hourly charge. They should also be able to advise you how to look after the plants.

If you’re thinking about taking your garden up a notch, or you’ve moved to a new garden and don’t know where to start, these posts will also help: The Secret Garden Strategy – how to renovate a rented garden without spending too much money and How to Revive Your Garden.

What sort of help do you need in your garden? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter or the Middlesized Garden Facebook Page. Thank you!

Pin to remember garden appraisal tips:

If you want to improve your garden, book a garden appraisal. #gardenrenovation #improvegarden





6 comments on "Is it time for a garden appraisal?"

  1. sunrise gardens says:

    What a fab article (as always). As a gardener, this is something that I do in my customers gardens without realising it, but actually I would love to do more of this on an ad-hoc basis. Great advice, & will add this to my capabilities.

  2. An excellent article, and thank you so much for highlighting a valuable service that probably ought to be available more widely than it is. As a professional gardener myself (who offers garden assessments), I would love to see more of my colleagues go down this route, and publicise the fact, so that eventually people get used to the idea of using a garden adviser/consultant as a matter of course.

    1. Thank you for commenting. I think that sometimes people are nervous of asking for help, worried that it will cost a huge amount of money or don’t know how to find a gardener qualified to do an appraisal so I’m hoping this post will help.

  3. This is such a great idea – it’s the word appraisal that makes it different from people thinking they have to “get a designer round”. Also I hope we can help people to realise that a gardener is a professional person who needs to earn a living like everyone else and not an extension of the Scouts “Bob-a-job” week (for anyone who remembers that!

    1. Thank you – I feel that it’s really important to try to communicate the professionalism of gardeners, because somehow that doesn’t come across at high profile gardening events – eg garden designers get all the acclaim at ‘Chelsea’ etc.

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