At the top of the year when it is cold and miserable, everyone looks longingly for the first signs of Spring and newspapers are full of columns about gardening: what to do to attract wildlife, how to decide on which seedlings to plant and more than anything, when to get started.
Sometimes, though, life gets in the way and you start a bit late, or it begins to feel like a chore. You definitely could plant your potatoes out once the bed has been weeded, but when are you going to get around to digging? Or you would like a pond but don’t have the knowhow...and so your ears start to prick up when someone talks in glowing terms about their gardener.
Before you make that ‘phone call, here is my list of how to get a gardener and avoid a cowboy. Believe me, I’ve learnt from painful experience.
1. Try to get several recommendations for a gardener, not just one.
2. If someone is happy to recommend, then don’t just to discuss the positives. Consider asking ‘apart from the things that you were obviously happy about, is there anything at all that you didn’t like?’ This question teases out issues that you need to know.
3. Establish whether your gardener is an unskilled labourer or has any specific training. If your gardener asserts he or she has certain qualifications or has won prizes, get proof.
4. Agree what work is going to be done, for how much and roughly how long it will take. Don’t leave a project to ‘evolve’ and don’t expect to have the same priorities or perspective as your gardener. Put a list or a drawing together so that misunderstandings are avoided.
5. If you are quoted a daily rate, check what hours your gardener intends to work. A person who works from 9.30 to 3.30 with an hour for lunch is far more expensive than someone who works 8am through 4pm.
6. If your gardener might borrow your tools, mark them clearly. It’s hard to work out later which muddy spade is yours.
7. Never pay in advance.
8. Make it clear that you will always ask for receipts for money spent on your behalf.
9. Once a project has been started, don’t feel trapped into carrying on with the same person; it will only be harder to sort out later. If you’re having second thoughts, shop around and see if you can find someone better.
10. Don’t assume that just because your gardener works outside, he or she is skilled at other things such as fencing, building walls or laying a path. You might just end up with an expensive disappointment.
Above all, stay in control! It’s your garden, you are going to live with the results, and it should be a source of happiness and not regret for missed chances.