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    How do you manage client expectations when it comes to planting?

    February's agenda question

    Manoj Malde, owner, Manoj Malde Garden Design.

    Clients tend to want instant gardens. I have an honest conversation to let them know instant gardens cost money. Mature plants take longer to settle, and possibility of death is greater. I ascertain who is going to look after the garden and how skilled they are.

    I am currently working on a garden where the clients wanted me to design the garden for the skill level of their maintenance team. I explained that the garden is their investment. They need a team who can look after their investment. The penny dropped.

    I explain plants can grow fairly quickly within a season if planted at the right time. More plants can be put in, but some will need to be removed later. Far better to fill in with annuals providing a fuller look but also allowing the planting scheme to mature whilst they enjoy the progress of growth.

    Lewis Normand, sales manager, Bernhard’s Nurseries.

    As a garden designer, it has always been really important to me that my clients understand what a planted garden or landscape will look like on day one, after a year, and also in five to ten years.  Without this, except for gardens created with the most substantial plant budgets less horticulturally knowledgeable clients will generally be a little underwhelmed at handover.

    As a plant supplier to professionals, I also have to manage this issue with clients, especially for show garden plant production, where hopes are always high, even if budgets aren’t.

    As always it comes down to communication and honesty.  Well informed clients, whether professional or retail can only fully appreciate your work if you communicate the reality clearly.  The alternative remains hope and expectation, which without management will generally lead to at least one element being considered a let down.

    Catherine MacDonald, senior design & project manager, Landform Consultants Ltd

    There is no definitive answer to this question since it very much depends on the type of project (residential, commercial or show) and also on budget available for the planting scheme.

    In general, particularly when it comes to perennials, we would advise our clients that it is good to space plants at suitable distances to allow for growth, as per best horticultural practice, and not to overplant.

    Our schemes are normally planted to be effective about two years after they’ve been installed. However, for hedges and trees sometimes client’s want instant impact and therefore we do buy more mature specimens. Also, some of our commercial projects do need an immediate ‘wow’ factor and therefore we will overplant, making sure to explain that these plants will need to be thinned out at a later date!

    David Keegan, owner, DK Garden Design

     Managing a client’s expectations when it comes to planting schemes can be a challenge where often there is a demand, and expectation, for instant impact. Given the nature and scale of the projects I generally work on clients will expect pretty much instant results. To counter this, I explain in the initial stages of commission that my timeline for the achievement of my vision for a planting scheme is five years.

    Giving a timeline often leave clients surprised that my vision for their garden/landscape is invested beyond the immediate. In consequence, they are generally more accepting of the fact that many plants will require time to fill to the designed brief.

    What is more important is the planting combinations and the ability to achieve successional, and year-round interest. Rather than a summer seasonal high followed by drab brown earth until the following year. I think it is this that disappoints a client more than the requirement for patience whilst plants fill and spread to achieve mature status.

    Charles Blumlein, managing director, Location Landscapes

     Managing client’s expectation is usually straight forward as long as you are as transparent as possible. It’s important to present quotations with full description of the job. We include as much detail as we can, for example, the size and number of the plants/trees being used in the project. This includes tree girths, heights of trees and hedging, rootballed, container or modular.  Explain how you have intended the job to be carried out from the unloading of the plants from nursery lorries to machinery needed transport and plants. We tend to order plant as all our work is on domestic side, and most clients want to see an instant garden with the wow effect!

    Chris Stone, managing director, Bushy Business

    The polished images seen on Instagram and Pinterest are great for ideas, showing styles and looks, but can lead to the client thinking that that it the ‘norm’ and easy to achieve. Of course, anything can be achieved providing the budget suits, but then the client’s needs to understand that it has taken a lot of work to get to look like that and will need more work to keep it looking like that.

    As always it comes down to listening to the client and asking the right questions, understanding the site and soil conditions and then being very clear about what is possible and what they should expect for their brief.

    Quite often they are seeing glossy images and wanting ‘that look’. Some companies are happy to provide that and take the money, not necessarily understanding or caring what happens down the line.

    Seeing ‘soil’ shouldn’t be a dirty word, having a scheme that works and that will continue to deliver over the preceding years is much more important.

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