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Whats New In landscaping? We Asked, Gareth Wilson Answered

01/03/2022 - News

It’s all too easy to get stuck in a rut, but, as a wise person once said, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.  Which is why Richard is so keen to get out on the road, meeting the garden designers, landscapers, innovators and influencers who are constantly shaping the UK landscape industry. 

We caught up with Expert Witness Gareth Wilson - somebody who has made some big changes in his life of late.  And we asked him about everything, from his own recent career change, to TV programs, rogue traders and industry innovations.

Gareth had a lot to say! So before you start reading this blog, you’re going to need to make yourself a cuppa and get comfy.

Landscaping Consultant Gareth Wilson at the Futurescape Show

We asked:

  • Enlighten us - what’s been the most challenging part about retiring from landscaping and becoming an expert witness?
  • * In your opinion, what needs to change in the landscape industry to prevent rogue traders doing a poor job?
  • * Give us 5 questions that a prospective client should ask before hiring a landscaping company.
  • * Tell us what you think about TV garden makeover shows.
  • * What advice would you give to a landscaper starting out in their career?
  • * What’s new in the Landscape industry? What have you spotted recently that could change the way we build gardens?

How Have You Coped With The Transition From Landscaper To Expert Witness?

I’m not going to lie, I love my new role but it was hard to change my mindset.  For the whole of my career I’ve been used to getting up in the morning and working outside all day long. Even when I was learning the trade as a youngster, it was all about working in all weathers, putting in the hours, exchanging banter with my work colleagues and timing our home time for when the last bucket of grout was used up.  There was an occasional morning spent catching up on admin work in the office, but for the most part, the phone calls, the project management and the day to day running of the site all happened on site.

These days it’s different.  A good 80% of my working week is spent indoors, behind a desk, looking at a screen. I was one of those children who struggled to sit still in the classroom or to focus on one subject for any length of time. I prefer to be active and I like to have lots going on around me.  I’ve had to really discipline myself to sit down and get reports written while the facts are still fresh in my mind.

There are site visits of course. Most of the time I enjoy them and I’m getting to see parts of the UK   that I barely knew existed. However, it HAS taken a while to get used to dealing with people who are visibly upset at the standard of work in their garden.  Sometimes they’re mistaken, and I’m always relieved when a problem is a matter of perception or of poor maintenance.  Perhaps they don’t understand how plants and landscaping materials behave, or perhaps they’ve failed to look after their garden. Even so it IS hard to remain neutral and professional when I see genuinely poor work. Usually I drive around the corner and have a good swear!

Gareth Wilson training a young landscaper in the art of laying pavers

What Needs To Change To Rid The Landscape Industry Of Rogue Traders?

The more I see of poor standards of workmanship, the more I think that our industry needs to be regulated in some way or other.  I commend all of the work that BALI and the APL do to raise standards in the industry but there are a lot of landscapers out there who don’t want to belong to an organisation. Amongst those ‘non members’ I’d say that around 50% are damned good landscapers, the others however are shockingly poor.  How is a prospective client supposed to know the difference? And who is there to protect them when things go wrong?

The 21st century consumer has high expectations. And I don’t blame them! When you work hard for your money you don’t want to think it’s been poured into a project that disappoints at every turn.

The real problem is that rogue traders tend to either quote ridiculously low prices or have temptingly short waiting lists.  Modern consumers may be savvy when it comes to quality - but they’re not very good at waiting for goods and services and they have no idea what is and is not a reasonable price to pay for quality workmanship. It’s little wonder that they fall into the trap of awarding work to those who don’t deserve it.

An industry regulator could make it easier to spot a good landscaper, help to manage client’s expectations of waiting lists and prices and also make it harder for anyone to enter the industry without being vetted.

I do think that the new BS 7533-101 is a good start - at least it has recognised that there should be minimum standards for domestic work as well as commercial.


a few examples of appalling landscaping work carried out by rogue traders

Just a very small sample of some of the appalling standards that Gareth has encountered in his work as an expert witness

What Questions Should A Client Ask If They Want To Know How Good A Landscaper Really Is?

  1. What fall rate are you laying your patio’s to? ( this is a basic requirement and something I’m passionate about)
  2. Do you have any trade accreditations? Eg APL, BALI, Marshalls, Bradstone, NVQ.
  3. Can I see a portfolio of your work?  (This is where a good website or up to date social media profile is worth it’s weight in gold)
  4. Do you have any references for past work? (with phone numbers!)
  5. Will you draw up a formal contract once the quote has been agreed?
  6. Ask for proof of relevant insurances.
  7. Tell me how your work practice complies with CDM regulations.

From a landscaper’s point of view - you should be proud to have the right answers to all of these questions - they’ll set you apart from the rogue traders out there. 

Tell Us What You Think Of TV Makeover Shows

Don’t get me started on this one! There’s one TV garden makeover show that I like.  “Your Garden Made Perfect” has sensible budgets and we see landscapers working to high standards.  The rest of them are appalling!

How ever can we expect the man in the street to value the skills and abilities of a good landscaper when they are actively being shown the equivalent of a rogue trader at work?  All that dotting and dabbing, slabs being laid on top of existing patios, decking with no ventilation gaps beneath. It’s a blight on our industry and does more harm than good.  

PS: Well done to Mrs Lambert for translating my actual words into something that can be published!

What Advice Would You Give To A Landscaper Just Starting Out In Their Career?

Train, train, train and then train some more. Make time to expand your knowledge. By visiting trade shows, asking questions on social media and/or arranging training days. 

If your suppliers offer training courses, go on them.  Millboard, Bradstone, Grabo, Marshalls, Wildflower Turf - they all have some amazing learning opportunities. Even if you think you know a product inside out, you can always pick up hints and tips that will save you time and money.

I know it sometimes feels a bit alien to shut the site down for a day and do some training, I promise you, in the long term, by up-skilling yourself and your team you will earn better work for your business and have a reputation to be proud of.  

Be a sponge, absorb everything you are taught. Be open minded about learning new techniques, trying new products and most importantly of all, understand the materials you are working with.  When you know why you need to work in a certain way, you will be able to overcome any challenges that come your way.

And don’t restrict your learning to products - knowing how to promote your skills and your company is an art in itself.  Even if you plan to outsource your marketing, it’s always good to have a basic knowledge of selling techniques. You should aim to convert at least 50% of your site visits into work, otherwise you’re wasting a lot of your valuable time. Talk to somebody like Neville Stein about business development and sales training.

What’s New In Landscaping?

For an industry with such a firm footing in traditional values, it’s amazing how much innovation is going on.

For this section of the interview I wanted to pick out just one product or service that’s new enough to be novel, yet has been around long enough to have proven it’s worth.  I narrowed the list down to three, but couldn’t choose between them.  So I’m going to mention all of them….in alphabetical order.

First up is the Grabo.  Fantastic bit of kit. Multiple uses on site, including laying pavers, moving stuff around site, and placing porcelain cladding.  Highly recommended.

The Grabo being used to apply X-Tech porcelain cladding to a wall.  Video courtesy of Andy Lewis Landscapes

Secondly is the Raimondii Berta Electrosponge Machine - brings a really high standard of finishing to paving projects and saves an awful lot of wear and tear on the knees.  Plus, of course, it’s relatively fast, so if you have one of these in your equipment stash, you know you’ll be reducing man hours on a project and you can be more competitive with your pricing.

Wise words there from Mr Wilson.  If you’d like to find out a little bit more about Gareth’s services to landscapers and his expert witness work.  Head on over to his website.

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Raimondii Berta Electrosponge