23rd July 2021
Whether you need help with gardening jobs that require specialist knowledge or you just want to reduce the amount of time and effort you spend on regular tasks, getting the right person for the job at the right price can feel daunting. Sometimes it can be tricky to know what you should be looking for and finding a great tradesperson who isn’t booked up for months can be an even greater challenge.
Garden maintenance is a bit like housework and, if you haven’t got the time or energy to do it, you may want to hire someone to take care of it for you. Over half of you told us that you paid between £10 and £19 per hour for general maintenance, involving caring for your borders, weeding, hedge trimming and all the usual tasks associated with upkeep.
The level of experience, technical knowledge, willingness to do certain jobs and the amount of equipment required can vary hugely between different gardeners, and picking someone who is right for you can be tricky. Many members who had hired someone for garden maintenance said you need to be specific about what you want done (and what you don’t) and ask them whether they will use your equipment or bring their own.
One member told us: ‘Ensure you know when the maintenance season starts and ends, and what happens when you’re away on holiday or when the gardener goes away on holiday.'
Hard landscaping, such as having patios and driveways laid, is something that will get most of us calling in the professionals. One member told us: ‘The patio was laid by a builder. Big mistake – always use a dedicated patio specialist.’ Generally, our members paid between £1,000 and £2,000 for their patio and decking projects.
Some key points to consider include thinking about how easy your patio will be to clean and how the mortar will look. Different surfaces may become slippery, so it’s important to get experienced advice. For patio work, we recommend getting three quotes if possible. You told us it’s also best to ask to see two completed jobs using similar materials to those you wish to use. It will also help you decide where you might need steps or adjoining paths. You will need to decide whether you will keep excavated soil or whether you want the contractor to dispose of it. If you’re having paving work or a gravel drive, lay a weed-control membrane underneath. A few members told us that they didn’t specify this and have since been troubled by weeds growing between the joints.
As more and more people have their front gardens turned into driveways, this is causing run-off water and drainage problems. To combat this, the government brought in regulations that require all driveways built or extended after 2008 to have a sustainable drainage system (SuDS). This means there must be an on-site soakaway for run-off water or the driveway must be permeable. Laying gravel over a weed membrane; using water-permeable resin blocks; setting brick pavers on sand; or having an inset drain leading to a soakaway are all acceptable solutions.
Mowing the lawn is a simple task but can take up a fair amount of time, especially during the summer months. Robot mowers can be the answer, if you don’t want to get someone to cut the grass for you. Although initially costly, they will take care of the grass without any effort from you.
Those of you who paid for professional mowing had varying experiences. One member told us: ‘One of the biggest issues is that some tradespeople charge by the hour and it’s much better to get a price for the job if you possibly can. Otherwise, what looks initially like a low hourly rate can work out much more expensive in the end.'
You will also need to be clear about how often you expect the lawn to be cut and what will happen if you’re on holiday or if the lawn doesn’t need cutting, such as during a long, dry spell.
If you have a complicated lawn with ponds or areas that don’t need mowing at certain times of year, for example, where the bulbs have naturalised, then you will need to make sure your gardener understands and can deal with the obstacles.
The lawn will need to be cleared before mowing, especially if you have dogs’ or children’s toys on it. Make sure you know who will be responsible for this job.
Sometimes gardens need a complete overhaul, so a garden redesign is called for. Over 90% of members who’d had garden-design work done looked for someone with specialist knowledge to carry out the work. And, with the average cost for redesigning a garden around £3,000, it’s a sensible decision.
Many members got a number of quotes for their work before settling on one designer. Most designers will not charge for an initial chat about what you might need. But one reader told us that their first quote was a ‘rip-off’ given by a ‘designer who only wanted to do designs that cost over £20,000. But charged £50 to turn up and tell you that.’
A good designer will listen to what you want, take thorough measurements of the garden, discuss ideas, produce a design with drawings, and be willing to refine the plans after comment.
Although trees in the garden can be a wonderful feature, they do need cutting back occasionally or even removing. Most of us wouldn’t contemplate carrying out this potentially dangerous job ourselves, so will look for a professional to do the job.
Tree work isn’t a cheap job, with more than half of you paying up to £500 to have work done. But don’t be tempted to find a cheap option. Professional tree surgeons will not only have insurance to cover them working at height with dangerous machinery, they will also have insurance to cover any accidental damage they might do to you or your neighbour’s property as they carry out the job.
One member told us: ‘Be clear what you want them to do and make sure they understand what you want. For example, if you want a tree taken out and stump removed, specify that they remove and dispose properly of all chopped-out roots and takeout the stump. They should also leave the site clean and tidy. Most importantly, do not pay them until you have inspected and are happy with the job they’ve done.’
Whether it’s too big a job to tackle yourself or you want someone with the practical skills, almost half of you have paid for fencing work to be done in your garden. Of course, how much you spend will depend on the size of your garden and the quality of your fence, but a third of you paid up to £30 an hour for having the fence fitted, excluding the materials.
Fences can be tricky, as they usually run along a border with a neighbour. It’s a good idea to chat with your neighbour before installing a fence to ensure they know what is happening and there is no dispute over where the boundary line is.
One member told us: ‘Ensure that your instructions are crystal-clear, and not up for discussion or negotiation between your ‘worker’ and your neighbours. A written contract with plans would be a good idea. We employed a fencer to grub out the old fence and install a new one. He followed instructions from our neighbour, the result of which is that my neighbour has ‘acquired’ approx. 0.6m along the whole length of my garden.’
When you share a border with your neighbour it can be tricky to know how to approach any work needed. If you can talk to them to agree an approach, this is the cheapest and best way to deal with maintenance issues or changes.
However, when there is some ambiguity about where boundaries run and who is responsible for maintenance, it’s worth doing some research and even taking some legal advice.
Fences don’t necessarily run along boundaries, they can be wholly within the grounds of one property. Check your title deeds, or with the local authority if the house is, or used to be, a council property. Or, if you have a new-build property, check with the developer to try to establish where your property actually starts and ends.
It can feel like a never-ending task to keep your lawn in good condition, so it’s no surprise that over a third of you were tempted to get the professionals in to treat your lawn. Lawn treatments can include scarifiying, dealing with moss, and weeding and feeding. Some companies offer this as an overall lawncare package including mowing. As lawns only need scarifying a maximum of twice a year, in the autumn and in the spring, it can feel extravagant to buy a scarifier. It can be awkward to store one, too, unless you have a large shed. However, one member recommended it: ‘Consider buying your own scarifier. It’s the main reason for employing a professional to maintain a lawn and a good electric machine is a viable option.’
As with all garden jobs, it’s essential to know what is included in the price and what the schedule for treatment is. One member mentioned that when they looked closely at the quotes they received, ‘the price was eye-watering'.
Cutting hedges is rarely anything but a chore, so it’s no surprise half of the members who answered the survey said they paid someone to cut their hedges for them. They shelled out, on average, £24.50 per hour for the job. However, depending on the hedge type, you may need someone with more knowledge than simply the ability to use a hedge trimmer. Laurel, photinia and other large-leaved shrubs all need someone who knows how to cut them without leaving them looking messy. You recommended getting references from neighbours who have had their hedges trimmed. Although hedge trimming can seem like a quick, if labour-intensive job, you told us that if the quote for a job seems very cheap, be suspicious – it’s unlikely the tradesperson will make a neat job as they’re prioritising time over quality.
The first port of call for most of us when looking to get jobs done will be a recommendation from our neighbours. Alternatively, is an endorsement scheme run by Which? that recognises reputable traders who successfully pass an assessment process carried out by our trading standards professionals.