If you’re planning on carrying out some landscaping work in your garden – whatever the size of the project - it’s vital to get a landscape contractor who actually knows what they’re doing. This sounds obvious but many a client has suffered the consequences having taken on a contractor whose work was sub-standard, the result being shoddy (or worse still – dangerous) landscaping, and the client having to pay a second contractor to come and fix the problem.
Problems can range from paving cracking or coming loose at the first sign of frosts, timberwork on fences and built-in benches warping, lawns becoming swimming pools after heavy rain and damp-proof courses being compromised causing water to penetrate into the house…the list goes on.
However, there are lots of very good landscapers out there and if you choose your contractor carefully, none of the above should be an issue. The problem is that sadly there are some outfits out there who should never be let loose on potting up a plant, let alone building an entire garden from scratch.
But if you follow these seven handy tips for choosing a landscape contractor, you’ll reduce the risk of running into problems:
Check to see if they are members of the two trade bodies – BALI (British Association of Landscape Industries) or APL (Association of Professional Landscapers). Being a member of either of these means the contractor has been through some form of accreditation. However, I’ve come across Landscapers before with one of these badges to their name and they were very sub-standard. Conversely, I’ve worked with landscapers who aren’t members of either and their work was faultless – so this should not be your only check that you carry out
Ask a landscaper for past clients who you can contact. If you can speak to clients on the phone you’ll very quickly get a view as to the quality of the contractor’s work. And if you can, make sure one of the clients had their garden built over 12 months ago…as problems do not always occur immediately, so if the garden was built some time ago, all the better. If a contractor is not happy for you to contact their clients, then you’ve got to ask yourself why.
Ask the local community (local forums/Facebook groups etc) for recommendations. But do dig a little deeper – is the recommendation coming from a ‘real’ client rather than the landscaper’s mum, and is the work carried out of a similar size/complexity to your project? You might find a very satisfied customer who only had a shrub removed, when you need hardwood fencing, a porcelain tiled terrace, a composite deck and a bespoke water feature – all of which your so-called ‘recommended’ contractor may not be experienced in. One of my clients recently chose not to go with my preferred contractors based on price, having found a cheaper ‘recommended’ contractor who had carried out some work for a neighbour. Soon after the contractor started the job it was clear that they really didn’t have a clue and were sacked shortly after. The client then had to start the whole process of enlisting a contractor all over again which added 3 months to the build and cost her several thousand pounds in labour and material costs.
Cheapest isn’t always best! Whilst it may be very tempting to go for the cheapest, this could mean that the landscaper will end up using inferior materials, or cutting corners. An example of this might be a landscaper using the correct paving slabs, but using a thinner sub base, resulting in movement over time and the paving coming unstable.
Don’t automatically choose a landscaper who can start soonest. My preferred landscapers tend to have a 3-4-month lead time – irrespective of the time of the year. Rather than this putting you off, see this as a good indicator that they are busy, and they’re busy because they are good at what they do. It always rings alarm bells when a client tells me they’ve found someone who can start in 2 weeks’ time. My general response to this is that they should check that they actually ARE a landscaper rather than someone trying his hand at the game, and to avoid them like a barge pole. Also, if you’ve waited however many months or years to landscape your garden, waiting another couple of months to get the job done well shouldn’t be a huge issue.
If you’re having some building works on your house, think twice about enlisting your builder to do the landscaping works. Whilst they may be keen to take on the work (and you can understand why since they are on site already with a ready-available team and have spotted an opportunity to make extra profit) they may not have the specific skillset to carry out the landscaping works. They may well know their onions when it comes to building a kitchen extension, but not be so competent when working on the other side of your bi-fold doors.
Meet the contractor in person and try to get a feel for whether they know what they’re talking about, and just as importantly – whether you think you’re going to get on with them. Like it or not, you are going to get very well acquainted over the course of the build, and if you live in a mid-terrace, the landscaping team is going to be traipsing through your house for weeks or months on end. So having someone you like (or at least don’t have an urge to bash over the head with a shovel) is an important factor to consider.
If you’ve enlisted a garden designer to create the garden ‘masterplan’ and the detailed construction drawings, it is quite likely that they will have a handful of preferred contractors they can put you in touch with, or they can organise a tender process on your behalf so you can get comparative quotes. The designer will have worked with these ‘preferred’ contractors previously and will be confident they are competitive, good at what they do and able to understand and work from a designer’s drawings. Also, if there is an existing working relationship between designer and contractor, any issues can be more easily discussed and solved without you as client being involved unnecessarily.
However, if you are insistent on finding your own contractor, make sure you follow the steps above and avoid rushing into any decision-making, as if you make the wrong decision now, it could put the project back by months and add thousands of pounds to the final cost. But a lit bit of research and due diligence at the start of the process can ensure you find a contractor who you will get on well with and will build you your dream garden which will last you for many years to come.