5 years since starting my landscape design business

Back in January I passed the fairly significant personal milestone of the five year anniversary since I took my landscape design business into a full-time venture. Five years running a landscape design business as well as being asked to write for various newspapers, magazines and fitting in a few books has certainly been fulfilling, if a whirlwind. It’s been a lot of fun but I would be lying to say it hasn’t come with stresses and pressures of running a new business. I thought it was worth reflecting a little bit on what has happened in that time, for me as much as anyone who might be interested.

I’m proud of the fact I’ve managed to pay all my taxes, suppliers and co-workers promptly without fail. There have been quite a few months in those five years where I’ve paid plant nurseries and co-workers and not myself, but overall, it’s balanced out. Starting a new business is tough and it didn’t help that three years in we hit a global pandemic alongside the pains of Brexit putting plant and material prices up.

Keeping all of those things ticking over has been my accountant Jane who has kept me on the straight and narrow across those five years. Anyone who’s worked with me will know I have a mental block when it comes to doing my accounts but Jane has made it easy for me and offered so much advice.

It has helped that I have been surrounded by supportive, wonderful clients who have been interested in my take on plants and wildlife. Who understood at times, especially in the early days, that I was on a learning curve in a new career, a big career change in my late thirties (I’m 42 now). I’ve also been supported by fellow self-employed gardeners and landscapers who I couldn’t have done it without, and many brilliant independent nurseries. I’m forever grateful to you, you are the best of this industry.

So many people I now call friends, what an outcome of the job.

I couldn’t have done any of my work without the support from my partner, Chris, both as an unemployed consultant to me and cheerleader. Really, I cannot describe how much time and help he has given. My sister Hannah too, who has an astute mind for business who offered the right advice at some pivotal moments.

At the start of my career I had some definite design preferences that have shaped in my mind over the years. If not fully solidifying, I certainly have a very clear vision of the direction of gardens I would like to design now compared to five years ago, though every garden I’ve worked on has helped steer me to this point. My future designs will perhaps push the boundaries of what people think of as gardens.

My greatest disappointment has been the discovery of some in the horticulture industry do not care about wildlife, nature and the carbon crisis we are facing. At times it’s felt as though there are two industries, one that is progressive that cares about future generations and building businesses with a conscience, and some who care about nothing but money.

Thankfully times are changing, the gardening media and the RHS are not what they were, now focussed on sustainability to reflect the trend that most new gardeners and designers are too. A number of leading nurseries have switched to peat free composts and stopped using pesticides, improved plastic, water and energy usage. Showing it can be done. I have such admiration for those people.

I must mention one of my great joys, writing. Using my writing skills in the gardening world, to share the excitement of plants and wildlife, educating people across the UK and beyond. I’m so grateful to the amazing people on the newspapers and magazines I’ve worked with and who worked on my books at Laurence King Publishing. I could never have imagined in a million years the way my first book Wild about Weeds took on a life of its own, with people messaging me from all corners of the globe to say they felt the same way. If it’s a love letter to wildflowers it is written by us all. How astonishing and unbelievable it was that Wild about Weeds and A Greener Life were named The Times Gardening Book of the Year. I can remember finding out each time the list was published in the paper to my dumbfounded surprise. But even more than that, it is everyone who reads my stuff and messages because you feel a similar way or share the same interest in nature, that has been the wonder. Who knew so many of us saw nature in the same way. When I set out on this journey I felt alone, I don’t feel alone now.

Going forward, I will continue as I started, by not planning too much, only following my nose toward anything I believe will make a difference to the planet and the wildlife on it. I’d like to work on fewer designs each year so I can spend more time on each one. At one point I was delivering over ten gardens a year, racking up over 70 in total, which I’ve reigned back to about five or six a year. No one tells you before you’re a garden designer that design is only 10% of the job, the rest is people, project and change management that can drag on and overlap for months.

I’ve been experimenting with new plants and techniques on our farm in Yorkshire that I hope to roll out in other people’s gardens in future, which I’m currently enjoying sharing in my Wild Way newsletter.

As I enter what I hope is the start of another five years, I feel I have a confidence in my design and writing that I didn’t have when changing careers from the back of the work I’ve done, it’s reassuring. I’d like to continue exploring art of gardening and also painting and drawing. I’d like to push my writing in new directions.

For the design business, moving to Yorkshire has been a bit like starting over, making new landscaper, nursery and gardener contacts. Overtime I have met some extremely talented people and I hope we can create some wonderful spaces together. I think I might like to expand my business out beyond being a single person to have more of a team, with help on project management and administration, but it’s hard to make that financial jump.

I’ve always been interested in community and where we live now I am blown away by the way community is shaping a better world for everyone locally. More heads are better than one.

Slowly all of these things sink in and new paths lock into place.

3 thoughts on “5 years since starting my landscape design business

  1. Congratulations on achieving your 5 year anniversary. You’ve certainly proved you’re a professional. Well done.

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