Over the coming months, Claudia de Yong will be visiting members of the APL and going behind the scenes to ask - ‘Why did you become a Landscaper?’

I caught up with Rupert Keys, Ruth Gwynn and Alan Williams on their award-winning Gold Medal/Best in Show garden at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival back in May. I asked them individually about the origins of Keyscape and how they became involved in the profession. Alan who joined the company as a Landscaper in 2014 originally trained as an Interior Designer. Ruth, who is married to Rupert, set up the design side of the company after realising she was realising she was losing her horticultural plant knowledge whilst working for the County Council during the 90s when everything was being tarmacked over.

The follow questions where addressed to and answered by Rupert.

Why did you become a Landscaper?

1.      What made you choose a career in landscaping, how and when did you start?

I had always enjoyed being outside and helping my dad and mum out in the garden. I tended to the lawns and burning of the rubbish in an old incinerator, however I think some things should not have been burnt due to an inquisitive mind!!! My Dad bought an old Mountfield ride on mower along with a pair of personal registration plates. I enjoyed cutting lawns so much my Mum and Dad would sometimes find me on the other side of the village cutting the verges and front gardens for other people. 

Keyscape started in 1993 a year after leaving Pershore College of Horticulture and after a spell working for a few commercial landscape companies including a few months for a company in Ontario, Canada. 

2.      Tell me more about your business, staff levels, areas covered and size of projects.

Keyscape has always tended to be a small business with no more than 10 members of staff. My wife Ruth joined Keyscape in 2002 and we also decided that she would start a separate arm to the business by concentrating on garden design and landscape architecture. Ruth also covers landscape planning issues for architects and has achieved several RHS Medals for her show gardens of which Keyscape have built.

Keyscape covers the majority of the UK, although most of our projects tend to be within a 50 mile radius. The projects range from £15K - £250K

3.      What if any are your expansion plans?

Over the last few years we like many landscape companies have suffered from staffing issues. We have therefore recently decided to reduced our staffing levels and use more sub-contractors who tend to specialise in certain aspects of landscaping rather than a whole. 

I shall be looking at other aspect of the industry such as consultancy work. I am also keen to become more involved with helping under 25’s being involved in the landscape industry. 

4.      How and what, if any, in recent years have you seen changes in the industry.

There have been many new aspects of the industry such as artificial grass, composites etc making their way on to the market of which we have been involved with and still are. These products have improved so much over the years and I am a great fan, however we have to be careful that they do not become exhausted and try and keep ahead of the game.

5.      Do you have any exciting/unusual projects planned for the coming months- eg: show gardens?

We have just been constructed a garden on the APL Avenue at BBC Gardeners World Live at the NEC, Birmingham. This was a garden designed and built in collaboration with Marty Wilson, of whom we have now been involved with three ‘Gold’ medal gardens for him within twelve months along with two for Ruth Gwynn Associates and a ‘Best in Show’ at RHS Malvern, so quite a busy year!

Outside of the ‘Show Scene’ we have had some lovely projects recently. 

We are just (whilst being written) about to complete a garden for The Breast Cancer Haven in Solihull for Estee Lauder who have kindly donated some money to commemorate 25 years of the ‘Pink Ribbon’ emblem. Evelyn Lauder came up with the pink ribbon in 2017. 

6.      What has been your most memorable event?

Winning the Fiskars Sword of Excellence and Gold at Chelsea Flower Show in 1992 as part of our landscape diploma course at Pershore College of Horticulture. This was the first time a college had ever received this joint award. The garden was a reclaimed slate mine and designed by Paul Cooper and sponsored by Doctor David Hessayon the chairman of PBI.

7.      What and or who inspires you?

My Dad….. obviously has had a huge impact on my career, however I did not realise it until I reached about 30yrs old. He was an engineer and had a huge eye for detail so I hope I have followed that on for him. He was a very practical man. Unfortunately he now suffers from Parkinson’s disease, although that did not stop him a few years ago from rebuilding a metal lathe in his garage. I still go and gaze at it whenever I visit.

Professor David Stevens and the late John Brookes also inspired me with their simple but informative garden design books when I was at college and trying to make a go of it when first starting up. 

There have also been many lecturers from Pershore College…Dave Edmunds, Bill Simpson, Frank Hardy, Paul Bearcroft, Graham Westgate, Phil Mullington to name but a few! Wouldn’t be here without their knowledge and enthusiasm …they were also very tolerant!

Julian Dowle, however I think would be the most influential person in my horticultural career. He judged my first RHS show garden in 1994 and many since. No matter what medal we received, Julian always gave sound advice and feedback of which we always took on board. 

I think ‘Sir’ Julian would sound good!

8.      Do you have a speciality? Is there anything you would like to experiment with in the future- eg: materials?

We have tried many things in the industry and we are always looking at improving the productivity of our work. I have only just recently started using a brush in jointing compound. We have always been traditionalist when it comes to this part of the job, but I have to admit there are some great products out there now. I would like to try the new grouting machine and sponge by Peter Stott @ Tilers Tools. Apparently, it cuts down on messy applications and removes all deposits after application.

9.      Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into a career in landscaping?

Get out there and contact your local APL company. I think practical experience is the best way in a manual industry but also think about getting some qualifications on basic horticulture including plant identification. It doesn’t matter if its basic knowledge, the rest will come with experience and enthusiasm!

10.   Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Blimey… Firstly, not continuing like I am on the tools! The reconstructive surgery has already begun on shoulders and hands, so I think it’s time to reduce the impact on the body.

I have been very fortunate being involved with many people in the industry but would also like to be more involved with the development of the younger generation coming through the ranks as well as looking at alternative or sustainable materials coming on to the market. 

11.   How do you find being a member of an association like the APL has helped your business.

We have been with the APL for some 15 years or so. 

Obviously the legend that is Phil Tremayne has made the association what it has become today, however two of the people that have made a huge impact to me have been one of the founders Alan Sargeant. I still use a slightly adapted template of Alans T&C’s he gave to us as students. And no one can forget Mark Gregory who is always so busy but has time should you need any support. 

Theses APL legends along with others behind the scenes make the association feel like a big family and it’s proven when we get together to do an APL Avenue show garden! That’s why I’m a member.

Paul Baker, Holland Landscapes

To start the series, Paul Baker from Holland Landscapes, based in Colchester Essex, discusses how he joined his father’s landscaping business and what plans he has for the future.

1. What made you choose a career in landscaping?

My dad was running Holland Landscapes and I would help him on a Saturday morning and in school holidays. I never wanted to be a landscaper but I did enjoy being outside and helping out.

2. Some people find it tricky working with family. You have worked with your father for a number of years - what’s the secret?

We have a very open and honest relationship, if we don’t agree on something then we will say. While this can be a bit tense at times, we always come to a good resolution. This has always been the best way to work for us and we never fall out.

3. How has your father’s experience in the industry helped and influenced you?

My dad is a perfectionist. When I was younger he would always point out errors in my work or method of works. While this may have been frustrating at times it has made me the perfectionist I am today. Another big influence is my dad’s honesty and integrity. He wears his heart on his sleeve and always has our client’s best interests in mind, he would rather lose money than deliver a sub-standard project. This has transferred to me and has become the ethos of Holland Landscapes.

4. How have you seen the industry change?

When I started at 16 concrete paving and one of the only options available. Now, there is a massive variety and most of it from ethically sourced quarries. Technology has come a long way in landscaping as well. From garden lighting controlled by smartphones and new resin compounds.

5. What have you planned for the coming months?

I am looking for a new team leader, like everyone we really struggle to find good staff. Our team at the moment is amazing and my advice to any business owner is to really look after the good ones!

6. What has been your most memorable event?

This is an easy one, winning the Supreme Award at the APL awards 2011. This was such an amazing achievement!

7. What inspires you?

A few things. My dad has built an amazing company from nothing and I want to do my best to keep this going and improve on it even more. I would like to one day pass on the business to my son and keep the family name going. Also, there are a lot of amazing landscapers out there, many who I am friends with. The work they do is mind blowing. I am always learning from these guys.

8. Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into a career in landscaping?

Yes, listen to all the advice you receive and process it. This information is extremely valuable. And don’t run before you can walk, the big projects may seem prestigious but get it wrong and you can put yourself in a bad position.

9. Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Still running Holland Landscapes and Tapestry Design Studios. I am happy with two build teams, but maybe we will have a maintenance team as well. Maybe Tapestry will grow and employ more designers. Watch this space!

10. How do you find being a member of an association like the APL has helped your business and what’s it like to be a committee member?

We joined the APL in the late 90’s and we have seen our company turn into a very professional organisation. The combination of the business tools available, networking with like-minded people and the CPD events on offer has really pushed us to strive for perfection on and off site.
Being on the committee is extremely rewarding. We have made some massive changes to the APL and the way it works over the last 5-6 years and it is really heading in the right direction now.

11. How will you be celebrating 30 years of creating beautiful gardens at Holland Landscapes?

We are doing a series of blogs throughout the year looking back and forwards to the future and we might even take the whole team out for a celebratory meal!

Paul and Chris Baker – Holland Landscapes winning one of their many APL awards

Dan Ryan, Design It Landscapes

This month I talk to Dan Ryan from Design It Landscapes who I met up with at The RHS Malvern Spring Festival back in May, where he had designed his first ever show garden..

What made you choose a career in landscaping, how and when did you start?

I have always had an interested in design which started when I won a garden design competition in junior school. Originally I wanted to pursue a career in graphic design until my grandparents suggested I studied garden design. I was often helping them in the garden and enjoyed being outdoors so in 2003 I joined Pershore College.

Tell me more about your business, staff levels, areas covered and size of projects.

I started Design It Landscapes in 2013 after having been self-employed as a subcontractor to various Landscaping companies for five years. We have three staff including an apprentice and cover Worcestershire, Warwickshire and the West Midlands Areas carrying out medium sized projects for various garden designers alongside our own design and build.

What if any are your expansion plans?

We are currently looking for new members of staff due to our workload and the size of the projects increasing and are also considering taking on an apprentice under the APL Apprenticeship Scheme.

How and what, if any, in recent years have you seen changes in the industry.

There seems to have been a shift towards people making the most of the space they have whether it being a large or small garden and also wanting that space as an extra room to the house making them want to invest more in their garden. Especially when it comes to outdoor living, Fire Pits, Pizza Ovens and Outdoor Kitchens are becoming more and more popular.

Do you have any exciting/unusual projects planned for the coming months- eg: show gardens?

We have been asked to build the APL stand at BBC Gardener’s World Live for the second year in a row and will also be helping Big Fish Landscapes with one of their gardens at the show this year.

What has been your most memorable event?

My most memorable event to date would have to be RHS Malvern Spring Festival this year where we were awarded a Silver Gilt Medal for our garden sponsored by Bovis Homes. We were over the moon with the result and the feedback we received from the public as well as other landscapers and garden designers and are looking forward to doing another show garden.

What and or who inspires you?

Over the last few years I have gained a lot of inspiration from working with other more experienced garden designers and sharing knowledge as well as them encouraging me to be more creative.

Do you have a speciality? Is there anything you would like to experiment with in the future- eg: materials?

After having worked with corten steel for the first time in our show garden, I would like to incorporate it in to some of upcoming projects for its colour and texture. I would also like to install some green walls and have had some interest in a current project.

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into a career in landscaping?

My advice would be that they would need to be prepared to work hard and have the vision to see past a blank canvas to create a garden.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?

I anticipate being an established business with more teams of staff and having had the opportunity to design and build more show gardens.

How do you find being a member of an association like the APL has helped your business?

Being a member of the APL has enabled me to establish new contacts and also given me the business support and network I needed to begin expanding which was my main objective for becoming a member.

Dan with his Silver Gilt Medal ( photo courtesy of Bovis Homes)