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26 March 2021

How to get help in the garden

All you need to know about what to look for in a tradesperson and the price you should expect to pay
Cutting the lawn
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Ceri Thomas

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

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.'

  • Look for qualifications or quiz your potential gardener on plant names, if you want them to do some pruning or weeding. If they don’t have the appropriate knowledge, you may end up with poorly cut back shrubs and ornamental plants weeded out. 
  • Personal recommendation or references are a ‘must’, especially if your potential tradesperson doesn’t have appropriate professional qualifications. Be clear about what the job entails and whether waste will be removed from your garden.
  • Make sure they have the appropriate personal protective equipment and keep their machinery in good working order. 
  • Ask to see evidence from the tradesperson that they have liability insurance. This can cover their legal costs for injury to the public or damage to property, and may pay compensation if they’re at fault.

Get help from a Which? Trusted Trader.

Hard landscaping

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.

  • Some paving manufacturers, such as Marshalls, have certified installers who guarantee their work. 
  • Driveways and patios have quite different uses, so look for a suitable tradesperson to carry out each job. 
  • Take the time to look at your neighbours’ patios and driveways to see how they have weathered. This will help you determine if you want gravel or brick paving. If you see a drive that is in great condition, you can ask for a recommendation from the owner. 
  • Remember to ask how your new driveway will be SuDS compliant. If you have a driveway installed that isn’t SuDS compliant it will not meet building regulations. This can cause you issues when you come to sell your property or, if it’s spotted earlier, you can be made to remove the drive and replace it with a SuDS-compliant surface by your local council. 
  • Ask to see evidence from the tradesperson that they have liability insurance. This can cover their legal costs for injury to the public or damage to property, and may pay compensation if they’re found to be at fault.

Check out our Best Buy pressure washers to keep your patio or driveway clean.

Mowing the lawn

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.

  • Find out whether the gardener will also trim the edges along borders and fences. 
  • Check whether they will take the clippings away with them or expect you to dispose of them. 
  • If your gardener has horticultural training, they may also be able to give your lawn some treatments in the spring and autumn to keep it looking good. 
  • Ask to see evidence from the tradesperson that they have liability insurance. This can cover their legal costs for injury to the public or damage to property, and may pay compensation if they’re found to be at fault.

Learn more about robot mowers.

Garden design

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.

  • Make sure your potential designer spends time with you to discuss the plans and is prepared to go through a few iterations before they get it right. 
  • Does your quote include planting or just a planting plan? Make sure you know what is included in the job, for example, will all waste materials be removed from site? 
  • Ask for references and some examples of previous designs.

Discover the best places to buy plants and seeds.

Tree work

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.’ 

  • Ask to see evidence that the tradesperson has liability insurance. This can cover their legal costs for injury to the public or damage to property, and may pay compensation if they are found to have been at fault. 
  • Make sure you know the scope of works – for example, is debris going to be removed? Check for tree preservation orders or if you’re in a conservation area. 
  • Talk to neighbours. It may not be their tree but if it overhangs their garden, any work will impact on them. 
  • Look for qualified workmen who understand what type of tree it is and prune appropriately.

Our Best Buy garden shredders will cut up prunings.

Fencing

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.’

  • Get more than one quote (not just an estimate of cost) and make sure it includes disposing of the old fence. 
  • Look for professional qualifications and insurance. 
  • If you’re installing a new fence, check your title deeds to ensure you’re following the correct boundary line. If it isn’t clear, you may need to take legal advice. 
  • Allow gaps in footboards so that hedgehogs can travel between gardens. 
  • Ask to see evidence that the tradesperson has liability insurance. This can cover their legal costs for injury to the public or damage to property, and may pay compensation if they are found to have been at fault.

Boundary fences

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.

Get advice from Which? Legal.

Lawn treatments

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 scarfiying, 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'.

  • It’s worth remembering that your lawn only needs to be treated once or twice a year and a ‘one-off’ treatment may last longer if you’re willing to mow frequently. 
  • Many well-known lawncare companies are franchises, so service levels can vary. It’s worth getting a neighbour’s recommendation.
  • If your lawn is in very bad shape, returfing may be the quickest and cheapest solution, rather than prolonged and expensive treatment.
  • If you have areas where grass won’t grow, such as under a large tree, then no amount of lawn-care treatments will solve this and you should look at different planting solutions, such as shade-loving plants or bark laid over a weed-control membrane. 
  • Although scarification and treatment will keep your lawn looking good, repeat treatments will be needed, particularly in shady areas where moss thrives.
  • Ask to see evidence of their liability insurance. This can cover the tradesperson’s legal costs for injury to the public or damage to property, and may pay out if they’re at fault.

Do the job yourself with our Best Buy lawn treatments.

Hedge cutting

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.

  • If you have a large, boundary hedge, it might be worth talking to your neighbour about sharing the job. Generally, a hedge that separates two gardens will grow along the border of both properties. This may make it the responsibility of both neighbours to keep it trimmed on their side. Of course, either neighbour can install a fence so they don’t have to bother. 
  • Find out if the person trimming your hedge will also dispose of the clippings. 
  • Think carefully about how often you need the hedge cut and when. You will need to avoid disturbing nesting birds and will not want to trim it when flowerbuds are forming or new ornamental leaves are developing. 
  • Ask to see evidence from the tradesperson that they have liability insurance. This covers their legal costs for injury to the public or damage to property, and may pay compensation if they’re found to be at fault.

Find out when to cut different types of hedges.

How find good help in the garden

The first port of call for most of us when looking to get jobs done will be a recommendation from our neighbours. Alternatively, Which? Trusted Traders is an endorsement scheme run by Which? that recognises reputable traders who successfully pass an assessment process carried out by our trading standards professionals. 

  • It’s also good to know which professional qualifications you might look out for. If you just want someone to cut your grass, then experience and a professional manner maybe sufficient. However, if you need someone who is knows about plants, then look for someone with a RHS Level 2 Diploma in Horticulture or a similar qualification at that level. 
  • There are many qualifications for tree work. These are a few to look out for: NVQ/SVQ Tree Work (Arboriculture); ISA Certified Master Arborist; BTEC National Award, Certificate or Diploma in Forestry and Arboriculture; and the National Diploma (Arboriculture).
  • If you’re looking for someone to take on a landscaping job, look for a qualification at a minimum of Level 2. Some examples include an NVQ Level 2 Amenity Horticulture (Landscaping); a Level 2 Certificate in Practical Horticulture (RHS); or a Level 2 National Certificate in Horticultural Land Practice.

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