In this blog post, I follow up on an important issue that I touched upon in Episode 2 of the podcast, ‘Hiring A Gardener’, where I spoke to Claire Vokins about finding a good gardener and keeping them! If you haven’t listened yet and you’re thinking about hiring a professional to look after your garden, listen to it here now
So, to that all important question, how much should you be paying a professional to come in and look after your garden? Well, as with most things it depends on variables such as the work you need doing, how big your garden is and even whereabouts in the country you are. According to a straw poll I conducted amongst professional gardeners who work in the UK, the average hourly rate is £20.60.
Lower rates - I often hear £10 an hour quoted as a somewhat derogatory figure both by people who employ gardeners and by horticultural professionals themselves. It’s generally assumed that if you can find someone for £10 an hour, they are likely to be unskilled, casual labour who may be useful at carrying out what are perceived to be menial tasks such as strimming, but not much more. However nobody who responded to my poll charged as little as £10 per hour. The minimum rate I came across was £14. Just to note, one of the people quoting this figure worked for family members in their gardens, another had no insurance. Saying that, a Norfolk-based gardener responded who charges this rate and they have an impeccable pedigree so you pays your money and you takes your choice. Just beware that unless someone is prepared to work for you casually for what amounts to ‘mate’s rates’, or they are able to somehow make their business work charging this lower rate, you may struggle to find a gardener for £14 an hour. You probably won’t want to employ someone at this rate if they are cutting corners in their business that could impact negatively on you or them so make sure you do your homework with regard to insurance and their competency.
Average rates - The most commonly quoted rate was £20 per hour. This rate is generally charged by sole traders who will likely sub-contract work out if they need an extra pair of hands or will recommend that you get someone else in if there’s work to be done outside of their remit. As a guide, one Kent-based gardener charging this rate has 5 years professional gardening experience including an 18 month stint volunteering at a National Trust garden. He also has his RHS Level 2 & Level 3 Certificates in Horticulture, plus an NPTC qualification meaning he is competent to safely spray pesticides and weedkillers.
The RHS Level 2 & 3 Certificates in Horticulture are roughly equivalent to a GCSE and A-Level qualifications respectively. They involve a combination of practical and theoretical modules, although you don’t need to pass a practical exam to achieve a Certificate at either Level. If an individual passes both the practical and theoretical qualifications this is classed as an RHS Level 2 or 3 Diploma, although sometimes the terms Certificate & Diploma are used interchangeably. For more information about what’s involved in the qualifications, check out the RHS website
Almost all of the respondents that are charging £20 per hour have RHS qualifications but again, you may find a gardener who’s chosen not to go down the qualification route and is as much, if not more experienced and knowledgeable, than one who has. Horticulture is not a regulated industry therefore professionals can come to the job with any combination of experience and/or qualifications and all will have their merits. This is why it’s good to take up references or ask someone to do a paid trial before deciding whether they’re a fit for you and your garden.
Higher rates – Higher hourly rates were quoted by professionals who seem to fall into 2 broad camps; the first camp is the specialists. The top hourly rate was £41.25 charged by a VAT registered company which specialises in maintaining ponds and lakes. I myself come in at the upper end of the scale too at £35 per hour, but as a rule I concentrate on plants and planting design. Another professional I spoke to who charges the same rate works in the historic gardens niche. If you find an individual or company that concentrates on one aspect of maintenance, you will likely pay more for their expertise.
In the other camp are the medium to large companies who charge slightly more as they have higher overheads to cover. However, they will likely have multiple staff who can carry out a range of maintenance jobs and they’ll provide you with a one-stop shop, which can save you bother if you have a larger garden. They may also be able to provide a more consistent service; if your self-employed gardener is off sick, your garden likely won’t get done that week. A larger company can shuffle jobs and staff around to provide a seamless service.
I’ve used an hourly rate as my preferred unit of measurement, but a garden professional may prefer to charge you a rate for the job. A typical professional can fit perhaps three 2 hourly jobs into a day and the time in between is taken up travelling, so charging an hourly rate in this instance may not be feasible. As an example, my hourly rate is £35 but I charge a minimum of £100. Many professionals will prefer to come less often but for longer to maximise their time, which is fair enough. Another firm I spoke to charges £640 plus VAT for a day and will send three personnel. Again, the most suitable person for the job depends on the size of your garden and the extent of the work involved but a professional will advise you honestly about this, they are not in the business of wasting their time or yours.
So, as a guide, you should probably expect to pay £20-40 an hour for your gardener but as I mentioned, there are no formal qualifications required to work in the industry so a person’s value will be determined by a combination of their qualifications, knowledge, experience and professionalism.
Looking forward, there are a number of factors that have meant less people are taking up a career in horticulture. As mentioned in the podcast interview with Claire, good gardeners are already hard to find and it’s likely that as they become even more scarce, the ones that are left will be able to charge a premium. With this in mind, now is the perfect time to learn a little bit more about looking after your own garden, thank goodness you’ve found Roots and All!