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Answering as many garden-related questions as we do, we hear a lot of stories from people who accepted an offer of help in the garden from someone who knocked at the door. Granted, we don’t hear from the people who were perfectly happy with what followed, but we do hear about a lot that, sadly, went wrong.

One lady’s precious lilac was pruned so low it was below the graft union and she was left with nothing but rootstock growth that produced no flowers. The only alternative was to replace the plant.

An elderly gentleman with poor eyesight was approached by a man who offered to remove his diseased shrub for £80 in cash. Thankfully, the gentleman went indoors to call his daughter for advice and the “gardener” cleared off. It transpired he had placed a dead shoot (from an entirely different shrub) into the plant in question as “evidence” of the disease. The daughter approached us for confirmation of what she, quite rightly, suspected was a scam.

One of the worst examples of the untrained in action was in our neighbour’s garden, where a man claiming to have arboricultural training swung around in a tree using a chainsaw without bothering to don any safety clothing at all or use the required harnesses. How he left with all his limbs intact is a mystery.

So what? Quite simply, people like these can do untold damage to your plants, but if they injure themselves on your property it could be your home insurance that takes the hit.

There are many levels of training in both Horticulture and Arboriculture and you are entitled to ask anyone you are considering employing for proof of their qualification. Alternatively, the easiest way to employ someone reliable is to use one of the trade associations who regulate their members and keep them advised of any changes in the law.

The British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI) and Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) both have search facilities on their websites where you can find a contractor near your postcode. BALI also offer searches for designers and suppliers. The Society of Garden Designers also offers a search facility. See links below.

The Gardeners Guild lists individual and small-business Horticulturists who have qualified to RHS Level 2 or above, but not all gardeners belong to this body and you will have to ask (if it’s not stated in their advertising) what training your prospective gardener has. Qualifications include City & Guilds, National Certificate and Ordinary / Higher National Diploma. The RHS offer Certificates from Levels 1 to 3. The highest RHS qualification is Master of Horticulture (M Hort RHS), formerly National Diploma in Horticulture (NDH). There are also Certification courses at the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew and Edinburgh.

If you attend any of the larger garden shows, including Chelsea and Hampton Court Palace, you will see the work of the top contractors. They are the largely unsung heroes of the show gardens, because it’s their job to translate the dreams of the designer into workable reality. The trade Associations often have stands at larger shows where you can chat to someone about your requirements.

Unfortunately, anyone at all can buy a mower or chainsaw and go out seeking work and, while not everyone who does this is a risk, many are and our answer is always “Would you trust an untrained dentist to work on your teeth?”

You will pay slightly more to have a trained person but, in the long run, your garden will be better for it and you will save on the heartache if it all goes wrong.


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