On the subject of collaboration

By: Beverly Law BSc., MCIHort, MPGCA

Freelance Horticultural Consultant for Lady Penelope Gardens and others

During 2018 , there was increasing debate about collaboration within the horticultural industry. Angela Palmerton (Director of Lady Penelope Gardens Ltd) was asked to speak on three industry panels discussing maintenance and aftercare of designed gardens. These panel opportunities were wonderful for getting the discussion going and proved the passion for this topic.  We want to continue the good work with a discussion forum. Lady Penelope Gardens would like to start by putting the issues as we see them, and hope that there will be replies that would instigate an industry discussion.

We know some excellent designers whose background was in horticulture and who took this knowledge with them when they embarked on a design career. However not all designers have this background knowledge. Often garden design courses do not include any practical gardening and plant idents. We would like to encourage designers to collaborate with us from the start of a design, to utilise our expertise. For example, it is not until you have worked as a gardener that you fully appreciate the perils of pruning a 10ft climbing rose; or pruning pleached trees at the back of an herbaceous border with no pathway or gap etc. That kind of hands-on experience helps. The same would apply to horticulturistscollaborating with designers to help us with design. It works both ways. And of course, the same applies to hard landscapers too. We should not be trying to be experts in everything. This is not a fair deal for the client.

We also strongly believe that the question of aftercare is best dealt with during the initial negotiation with a client. Clients could be asked “What is the budget for aftercare?” at the same time as budget for design. If no aftercare budget is available, it is likely the design will fail. A designer’s name and reputation rely on its’ success. Your name as designer on a garden must enhance not ruin your reputation. If a design is based on the budget for aftercare first and foremost, it will bring the issue much more into the equation for the client. To reiterate the midwife example that we have heard a lot of recently, to ‘give birth’ to a garden knowing that neither you nor anyone else is likely to care for it afterwards, is as shocking a thought as it would be if it was a baby.

So whose responsibility is it to introduce and insist on aftercare? The responsibility must lie with garden designers. An aftercare maintenance schedule to realise the designer’s intentions and be available whomever cares for the garden in the future should be written into the design contract and charged for and can be easily produced for designers by trained horticulturists. The level of detail necessary including what skill level of gardener would be appropriate for that design is well within their expertise and they would be best placed to do this. The client will then have a tangible understanding of the role of the gardener for the garden’s aftercare. Gardeners will embrace the design and protect it for the long term. As we know gardens do not stand still. It is not fair to leave the client with the job of engaging the right skill level of gardener for their garden and may explain why many clients don’t do it at all….