Only if you can retain control of the whole process can you really control the quality. The real reason we get involved in construction is because we love it. We have a real enthusiasm for all aspects of the process. It is a philosophical point as well as a practical one. The design and construction process are inextricably linked.
Glorious weather, a weekend of gardening with blossom on the cherry trees and magnolias in bloom – perfect! Well apart from when I glance at the hose reel and realise my trusted tool and fellow reviver of greenery on the sandiest of soils is about to be confined to the shed, incarcerated, and forbidden by the hosepipe ban from the 5th April. A second glance at my splendid multi jet sprinkler with its variety of sprays has me on my knees howling why, oh why, oh why…..like the most agitated of points of view correspondents.
After a strong coffee, some apologies to the neighbours and a brief discussion with two chaps carrying a fetching white jacket with fancy buckles I gather my thoughts…
Well the why is simple after two dry winters the reservoirs and aquifers are low in the south east forcing seven water authorities Southern Water, South East Water, Thames Water, Anglian Water, Sutton and East Surrey, Veolia Central and Veolia South East to introduce a hose pipe ban. With my fanciful garden sprinkler using around 600 litres an hour I can see the need.
But what to do! ….. In fact this need not be the complete disaster I feared; my garden is established and there are steps to take that will keep my plants alive:-
• The use of a watering can is allowed when filled directly from the tap, use it in the early morning or evening to minimise evaporation and the amount of water needed.
• Install a water butt, this is the UK it will rain so store this precious precipitation.
• If you are planning major works to or around your house consider installing a grey water system which also will help stop that water meter spinning round at an alarming rate – watch this space for a more detailed blog on this.
• Install a drip or leaky pipe irrigation system with a timer set for the night or early morning. The efficiency of these systems has been recognised by all water authorities and is now permitted during hosepipe bans – but only with a timer. I am afraid any irrigation system which puts water into the air with a sprinkler head or micro spray is not allowed even with a timer.
• Apply mulch to the borders to keep the water in the ground.
• Mow the lawn a bit higher and make sure your mower blades are sharp and if the lawn does go brown don’t panic!! As long as it is established it will survive and be green again soon! See www.turfgrass.co.uk for more information.
• Save water in the house too, the water shortage is not just a problem for gardeners!
Drought tolerant plants
It seems clear that this will not be the last hose pipe ban and by selecting plants that are adapted to survive in periods of drought the effects can be minimised. Look for plants that grow or can trace their origins to coastal regions or sunnier climes.
These plants will have leaves that are adapted to minimise the loss of water this can be with narrow leaves, leaves with fine hairs to trap moisture, grey leaves to reflect the sun or with waxy leaves to hold the water in. This of course is not just a case of buying a drought tolerant plant, popping it in and job done. A drought tolerant plant will be as likely to shrivel up and expire as any other until it is established and gets its roots down so as ever preparation is key plant well and use a good compost to retain moisture. Make sure you plant early while the soil conditions are moist and keep the watering can handy.
It is also important to remember the winter – there is little point in planting that lovely Aloe with its waxy leaves or that silver leafed olive in that cold spot in the garden. They may well resist the drought only to be frozen to death in January!
For a comprehensive list of drought tolerant plants see http://apps.rhs.org.uk/advicesearch/Profile.aspx?pid=397 or Beth Chatto’s ‘The Dry Garden’ is still an essential read.
Some of my favourite drought tolerant plants are Lavendula, Cercis siliquastrum, Arbutus unendo, Rosmarinus, Quercus ilex, Pinus mugo, Vitex agnus-castus, Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii ……. I’d better stop… there are lots to choose from and I will go on and on!
One element of the hose pipe ban that carries uncertainty and has me back in the why oh why mode is that of exclusions. All water authorities state that the ban should not affect commercial activities and yet at this stage the professional landscaper is not universally exempt from the hose pipe ban. This is still the consultation period and the Landscape related professional bodies the SGD, BALI, APL, HTA and TGA are currently lobbying to have an exemption for the use of a hose pipe by the professional on newly planted schemes and newly laid lawns.
The landscape industry is a substantial contributor to the UK economy with for example BALI (British Association of Landscape Industries) members employing around 25’000 staff with an annual turnover of £1.5 billion and the HTA (Horticultural Trades Association) estimating growers and plant wholesale/retailers employ 300,000 staff and an annual turnover in the region of £9 billion. These are significant numbers and sums and I hardly need say that in the current economic situation they should not be put at risk.
The exemption should not be an open invitation to splash water around with abandon, indeed all professional bodies offer guidance on how to minimise water use, but a chance to keep trading!
Visit the Society of Garden Designers website http://www.sgd.org.uk/Article/Detail.aspx?ArticleUid=CCA6588A-16BC-44E0-B592-5AADCB70B417 and British Association of Landscape Industries website www.bali.co.uk for news on the lobbying and how to get involved and watch this space for news.
I attended a BALI designer forum recently, which was intended not only as a networking session for BALI registered designer members, but also as a joint session between designers and contractors to talk through shared issues and to find common ground. It was entitled ‘Designers in a contractors’ world – a foot in both camps’. Ironically, this rather accurately describes Bowles & Wyer, so I was there not quite sure which hat I was supposed to have on. It was an interesting day. Quite early on, there was a list of ‘pet gripes’ that had been gleaned from designers about contractors and vice-versa. These were fairly predictable, although there were a couple of classics, such as: “why do you keep putting specification clauses in that you copied from a college spec , that have no relevance to this job?” (from a contractor); or “please read the documents I send you” (from a designer).
Following a breakout session, we came back together to discuss the roles of designers and contractors. There was a brisk discussion around the issue of designers supplying plants. This was partly sparked by one of the contractors’ comments that we had seen earlier. Pat Fox noted that when he was asked about this issue, Andrew Wilson had opined that ‘Garden designers should stick to garden design’. She was of a different opinion, that if there was an element of profit in the supply of plants, then why shouldn’t garden designers be entitled to that?
My own view is that in principle, Andrew is right – garden designers should stick to garden design; if they are struggling to make that pay then they should be charging more. I realise that in the fairly rarefied atmosphere of the upper end of the London and South east market (that I largely work in) it is easy to talk about this with the luxury of choice and that for many this may be the only way that they can survive. David Robinson put forward a spirited and well-argued view on exactly that point, saying that in the market that he worked (largely the West Midlands) the fees were not on their own enough to support a garden designer and that plant sales were a necessary part of the business model.
Of course, I am also aware that many people will take my saying ‘Garden designers should stick to garden design’ as hypocritical in the extreme, because I am engaged in contracting and design build. My point here is that it is better to strike a clear position rather than cherrypick the bits that suit you. Although this allows higher profit levels, I see a number of disadvantages. First off I think it offers clients a confusing situation. Either a separation of design and construction, or one organisation doing them all – these are very clear positions, with little left to chance. Secondly (and linked) is the matter of liability envelope. If a plant is supplied by the designer to the client, but the delivery is taken and the plant is planted by the contractor, then it is not exactly clear who takes responsibility if something goes wrong. Of course, if the designer takes full responsibility then this is not a problem, particularly if he/she also plants the stock. However, in my experience this has not been the case. Often designers want to select and take the profit on plants without the responsibility. Because contractors (like designers) work on a tight margin, in reality the contractor is likely to price in some attendances and loss of profit into the job, so the client will end up paying more in any case. Which perhaps argues the point that they should be paying realistic (i.e. higher) fees in the first place?
A week or two ago, we were really thrilled to receive a bunch of awards at the annual BALI awards ceremony at Grosvenor House. We were particularly pleased to get the grand award and the design build award for the same project, a garden in Surrey. The judges were glowing in their comments, describing the scheme as ‘an exercise in perfection’. This is of course very gratifying, and it is great when everything comes together on a project. People often describe it as ‘everyone pulling in the same direction’. This got me thinking about how quality is determined. There has of course been reams and reams written about how to promote and manage quality – TQM, QA, ISO and all the rest. It struck me though that it really has more to do with an organisation’s culture than anything else. We certainly don’t always get it right in this respect, but everyone at B+W has a commitment to high quality that borders on the obsessional. It is difficult to achieve a really good result without staff at all stages of the project being focussed on the same thing. It doesn’t matter how many forms are filled in, how many checks are done or how much snagging. In the end it will only happen because people want it to.
This may seem smug and even a bit facile. But it strikes me that communication, training, camraderie and a relentless focuss on quality are the only way to produce consistently good results in the long term. The bottom line follows – not the other way around.