The landscape gardening industry is growing and its scope appears to be widening – clients range from residents to businesses to city councils.
Well-off Australians’ time-poor lifestyles also lends itself to landscape gardening, with more people prepared to pay professionals to transform their garden from something bland into something spectacular.
According to Landscaping Australia, gross national landscape revenue was $5.17 billion in 2010, with 12,927 landscaping businesses throughout the country. It’s big business. So if you’re just starting out, what do you need to know?
What is it?
It’s important to note that most landscape gardeners start off as one-person operations, so there’s far more to the job than planting a few flowers.
Landscape gardening could entail water features, building, paving, stonework, wind structures, decking, joinery, groundsmanship, draining and irrigation.
Who is it suited to?
If you’re an indoors person who dislikes being exposed to the elements, this profession certainly isn’t for you. However, if you have a penchant for getting your hands dirty and love being creative, you’re in the right place.
Due to the weather and other external factors which can hamper your work schedule, you need to be resourceful and plan carefully.
You also need to be prepared to get out there and sell your business because much of the work you do will come from personal recommendations.
People will ask their friends, local garden centres and wholesalers to recommend someone good. You are really only as good as your last project, which means there is no room for error.
Rules and regulations
According to Landscaping Australia chief executive Jim Vaughan, the landscaping industry works within residential and commercial fields. There are two distinct areas of operation:
- Soft green landscaping, which involves plants, soils, turf, maintenance and installation. No license is required for this but the rules in each state should be checked.
- Hard structural landscaping, which involves concreting, timber structural work, retaining walls, fences, etc.
This is predominantly completed on a building site and comes under the rules and regulations for the building and construction industry. Again, firms in each state need to check whether a license is required as it does vary.
“In addition to the above, all normal business regulations apply – business registration, OHS, BAS, insurance, various licenses, etc – no matter what level of work is undertaken,” Vaughan says.
In addition to becoming a member of Landscaping Australia, landscapers can also choose to join the Australian Institute of Landscape Designers and Managers.
Membership of the institute carries with it the responsibility to uphold the objectives of the institute and to comply with a code of practice.
Research and competition
Vaughan says landscaping businesses are not unlike any other in that they require a business plan.
“This does not need to be a thick document – three or four pages [should suffice] to give some idea of what you want to do, who/what is around you and the market, competitors, pricing, threats, etc,” he says.
Landscape designers often undertake design training in order to make the best possible use of the land they are working on.
In this regard, they are adept at drawing clear, usable landscape plans, including sections and elevations.
Studies in site surveying, level changes and quality hardscape construction allow landscapers to understand the technicalities necessary for planning stairs, retaining walls, etc.
A sound knowledge of soil structure, profiles and chemistry means they can give their clients the right advice about soil preparation and improvement as well as subsurface drainage.
One of their strengths is the breadth of their knowledge about plants. With a more sophisticated plant palette, a qualified professional will be able to select a more interesting range of plants chosen to thrive in the clients’ soils and climate.
Environmental concerns are also an important part of a designer’s training as poorly-designed gardens can have serious adverse effects on local and other environments.
A designer with the right skills, careful planning and good management can create a beautiful garden than enhances rather than damages the environment.
Costs and earnings
Landscape gardening can be one of the cheaper businesses to go into. According to Vaughan, start-up costs could be limited to a wheelbarrow and gardening implements.
“In the hardscape side of the industry, with structural work, there is more expertise and equipment required and this could reach into hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he says.
The general consensus is that it is best to start small and hire any large equipment such as cement mixers or cutting machines. You will obviously need to purchase your own gardening tools, attire and vehicle.
Vaughan estimates a one-man operation could earn around $100,000 per annum.
An average day
According to Vaughan, a typical day could include gardening work, concreting, carpentry, masonry, machinery operation and supervision.
“It could involve one project for a long period of time or short one-day projects, or (even) less,” he says.
Australian Institute of Landscape Designers and Managers
1300 131 280
07 3488 0916
Australian Government Small Business Support Line
1800 777 275