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Being a Hired Gardener

Posted by vanillalotus 8b (My Page) on
Mon, Aug 4, 08 at 8:17

I'm a college student studying landscape and horticulture. I put out an ad to be a gardener for anyone that needs help planting, planning and taking care of their yards. I've been thinking of starting this as a business but I'm not sure what I should be doing and how I should be doing it on the business end. I'm sure I need contracts but how do I price? Per hour, just a big overall cost if it is one time only job,...etc? Anyone with tips and some ideas to lead me in the right direction. I'm probably in over my head but I'll see how it goes.

Thank you.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Being a Hired Gardener

Hello Vanilla,

I am also a student in the landscape world (Landscape Architecture), and can relate to your situation. I've always thought of starting my own business and have done small work for several people. I've learned a bit here and there about how to organize my work and business and how to deal with people as clients.

However, this summer I am working at an established Landscape Architecture firm, and am learning more than I could possibly imagine doing so by myself. There is a huge advantage in learning from others, as they have a cumulative experience that would take years for you to get on your own. They have been through all of the issues that you will be facing. I am not saying that you should join a company to copy their practices wholesale, but it makes little sense to try to reinvent the wheel when it's already been done many times over. With a model of how a business is run, you can observe, critique, and then eventually modify the practices to best suit yourself. You will save yourself the time and effort of trying different approaches by learning from someone who already has.

- Audric


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RE: Being a Hired Gardener

Thank Audric for the advice. It really does help to go into the business you want to start one day. Right now I work at a wholesale nursery and I'm not really interested in working for a landscaping company because they don't generally know much about the plants and more about paving and making the hardscape structures. This is my personal experience here from where I live and the people I have meet. They don't care about the plants and just shove stuff in there with no rhyme or reason. I'll take it into consideration and maybe there is a place that knows there stuff that I haven't found yet.


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RE: Being a Hired Gardener

In my area, "fine gardening" and those who practice it as a business are in high demand. This is a giant step beyond simple maintenance and involves skilled pruning, design and extensive plant knowledge (plants suitable for a wide range of location and site conditions, propagation and disease/insect diagnosis and treatment) as well as the basic horticultural skills.

As with any aspect of a horticultural business, your experience, how you market yourself and how well you structure your business will play heavily on your success. Take a couple of small business courses, or if your area has a hort school, look to them to develop a business plan, how to write a contract, record keeping and accounting. Fee stuctures vary with the area and the job - hourly, time & materials or flat fees (generally used more with one time deals) - do some research as to what is common for your location and what rates are prevelent. Do not undersell yourself.......many folks unfamiliar or not associated with this industry will try to convince you your time and skills are not worth much. Here, skilled landscape labor starts around $35/hour and goes up. Several friends I know that do "fine gardening" charge in the $50-75/hour range. I know the gal that holds the contract for maintaining the Bill Gates property landscape on Lake Washington and that contract boggles the mind (although she employs an entire crew to do so). It can be a very lucrative business if a rather labor intensive one :-)


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RE: Being a Hired Gardener

Thanks gardengal48 for all the tips. I go to school right now and had a class that briefly touched up on contracts and bids but not much detail. I will look into the small business courses because I'm rather at a loss on what I really need to make sure I go into this successfully and not just blindfolded. I'm not sure what the rates are here per hour but the amounts you gave are shocking for me, I can't even think of asking that much. Right now I am just starting and don't have any experience besides volunteering at the botanical gardens to really justify that much an hour. Like you said though I don't want to short change myself, I know what I do is worth more it's just hard to convince an amount that like when I can't show a portfolio really.

i can only image how much that bill gates contract is like!! Thank you again for the ideas and advice it is very much appreciated.


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RE: Being a Hired Gardener

Hello-
Perhaps you might allow your business to grow organically.
That's what I did.

But first, get some liability insurance. Investing a bit of money in insurance is well worth the peace of mind; some people or businesses will not let you on their property without it.

Next, print up some attractive business cards or have them done for you. Then find a few people to garden for, at 20.00/hr (quite a bit less than the going rate). Start out with garden maintenance: hone your skills at weeding, edging, deadheading, deadleafing, cutting back, dividing, transplanting, topdressing, and what ever else you do in Texas gardening. Try friends, neighbors, relatives for your first clients. Draw up a simple contract to use.

Practice making a first customer visit with a close friend or relative: walking around the property, going over what the client wants, consulting, coming to agreement, discussing hourly rates, etc. Ask the friend/relative/neighbor to be frank about how you did. Were you clear about the services you provide? Did you handle the hourly rate information well? Is your contract clear? And so on.

Take before and after pics of all the work you do for your portfolio-in-the-making. Use pics of your own garden as well. (Your blog is very attractive; obviously you have some artistic talent and can use a camera!)

Soon, someone will ask you to choose replacement plants or prune some shrubs--and you will be onto the next level of gardening practices. Study up. Then a friend of one of your customers will want a foundation bed renewed or a small herb garden put in. Can you do it? Think about raising your rates. And on it goes; your business is up and running.

If you use your portfolio wisely and keep up with your hort and garden design studies, you will attract the right customers and move on to the point where you will be designing gardens and may need an assistant or a crew, more complex contracts, a bookkeeper, continuing ed credits, advertising, pesticide license, etc, etc. Word will spread - you will get more work than you know what to do with if you are good at what you do (and if the economy improves!).

So now, while you are still in school, start small, plant the seed, and your business will grow and unfold (with a lot of work!).

Luck to you.

Ginger


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