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Seeking The Worlds Best Landscaping Materials

15/08/2023 - News

It’s no secret that Arbour Landscape Solutions sources landscaping materials from all around the world.  We of course have a large selection of UK made products that have been quarried, manufactured or grown by British suppliers. But not everything can be made in the UK, which is why, MD Richard Bickler reaches out to overseas suppliers too.

Richard Bickler of Arbour Landscape Solutions standing in front of an Egyptian pyramid

Never one to miss an opportunity, Richard usually manages to combine work with sightseeing whilst also learning about culture and community

Richard Bickler, our MD, is continually seeking the world’s best landscaping materials. Which means that he’s often to be found researching landscaping materials from other countries. But he’s fussy, very fussy. And to find out whether those materials reach Arbour Landscape Solutions’ exacting standards, he feels it’s important to travel to wherever they are. Because it’s not just the product he’s interested in - it’s the people and the places that shape them.

We asked Richard about his criteria for sourcing landscaping materials from all around the world.

porcelain paving production in Italy with large pavers on rollers

Visiting our porcelain paving producer in Italy, this is part of the process that brings beautiful landscaping materials to our yard in Leighton Buzzard and from there on to amazing landscaping projects throughout the UK

Q: In The Last 12 Months, Where Have You Travelled In Your Quest To Find The World’s Best Landscaping Materials?

Naturally I’ve travelled around the UK looking at quarries and meeting growers and manufacturers. That’s something that I try to while I’m out and about visiting clients. I like to make the most of my time out of the office.

This year so far, I’ve also visited quarries and stone processors in Spain and Portugal. Where I’ve been able to broker some superb deals on Sandstone, Limestone and Granite.

I’ve spent time in Egypt, where I fell in love with the Egyptian Limestone that is currently one of our most popular stock products.

Turkey - an incredibly scenic country - is where I sourced our quartz paddlestones. 

And finally, Italy, because in my opinion, Italian porcelain paving is the best in the world.

Q: How Do You Assess The Quality Of Landscaping Materials?

As an ex-landscaper working closely with garden designers I feel I have a good eye for a quality product. However, it’s not just the materials I’m travelling to see - it’s the suppliers and their premises too. For me, quality needs a holistic approach, it’s as much about the production and order fulfilment processes as it is the end product.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of things in this world that are just plain wrong. Things such as poverty, slavery and a blatant disregard for health and safety. Some businesses may overlook those factors in the quest to maximise profits, but I’m afraid I cannot sanction that behaviour. No, I want to be sure that the landscaping materials in my stock holding and on my website are responsibly sourced. Which is why I don’t take the supplier’s word for it, I go and look for myself.

I want to know that employees are respected, that everyone has decent PPE and that the tools and equipment are fit for purpose.

The other thing that is important to me, is having trust in my suppliers. I want to know that their products are as consistent as possible and, that if there is a problem, it can be sorted swiftly and easily. To do that, I need to look them in the eye.


large crates filled with boulders which will be shaped to form paddlestones.

The raw materials for our paddlestones sitting in a stone yard in Turkey

large circular machine filled with flat stones, the machine tumbles the stones to create a textured edge popular with landscapers and garden designers

Tumbling paddlestones to give them a textured, rustic looking edge

Q: On Average, How Much Time Do You Spend With A Potential Supplier?

I’m not one for an impulse buy! Before I even consider visiting a potential supplier I’ll do a thorough check on them. Are they solvent? (ie won’t let my customers down) What is their attitude towards their employees, customers and stakeholders? Do they have a good health and safety record? What is their response time to orders? Are they reliable? 

A visit usually lasts 1-2 days. The itinerary will include touring the premises, getting to know key members of staff, examining processes and discussing prices, shipping, business development etc etc.  

To me, business is all about building relationships. I try to get to know my clients so that I can help them better. And I’d hope that a potential supplier would try to get to know me so that we can develop a close working relationship too. The service level that sustains Arbour Landscape Solutions, can only be maintained if we have helpful, reliable suppliers. 

Of course, with any product or service, there may be the occasional blip along the way. I need to be confident that a supplier will be supportive and helpful should anything go wrong, and will work with me to put things right. Again, it’s only by looking someone in the eye that you can get a true feel for their character.

What Would Make You Think Twice About Buying From A Supplier?

Simple. Poor communication, poor sampling prior to my arrival, reluctance to negotiate, unreasonable lead times, substandard products, badly treated staff. I cannot and will not tolerate deceit, cruelty or shoddiness in any form. If a supplier lets me down, then they let my customers down too and that’s just not acceptable.


concrete step made from a new lightweight concrete for better environmental credientials

Closer to home now - a new lightweight concrete product developed and produced in the UK

Why Travel All That Way? Why Not Speak On The Phone Instead?

Nothing beats face to face communication. To shake hands with a supplier, see how they work, how they live, how they treat staff and to get a feel for their character. For me, it’s easiest to be on site and ask as many questions as I need to all in one visit.

I like to visit quarries and factories to see that products, people, packaging and performance aligns closely with what Arbour Landscape Solutions needs in order to offer our clients the best quality products. I need my supply chain to run as smoothly as possible, and for me, a site visit answers my questions far more efficiently than a phone call or an email.

In-person visits also mean that I can share information with my customers honestly and transparently. They are not getting second-hand opinions. I’ve been there, I’ve seen it with my own eyes, I’m not relying on a picture on a website or on the supplier’s point of view.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t jump on a plane and visit suppliers around the world every other week. I know that flying is not particularly eco-friendly. However, I do think that it’s important to visit suppliers in the interests of social responsibility. When seeking the worlds best landscaping materials it would be all too easy to line the pockets of unscrupulous employers who treat their staff unfairly. That’s something I never want to do.

For garden designers and landscapers who want to minimise their carbon footprint by sourcing landscaping materials from the UK, Arbour Landscape Solutions has curated a range of UK made products. 

Click on this link to discover which of our 6,500 products are made in Britain

For landscaping materials that have minimal environmental impact, take a look at our Eco Range