as it sounds

getting paid

somebody stole [part of] my car...

somebody stole what...

Does anybody know the answer to this equation? Two calls yesterday from two people in the trade both to say they just took a hit of a five figure sum of money where the client refuses to pay. No reason – just not getting paid.

The problem is it seems as this colleague of mine told me today, is that litigation is expensive and sometimes for certain amounts of money not really worthwhile chasing. So what does one do?

I went into my neighbour for a cup of tea yesterday [also self employed] and told him my tale of woe. Guess what? He’s not the only one. If ever I wanted feedback this is the time for it.

feedback?

all smiles in your garden...?

all smiles in your garden...?

For part of the Quality Award system, a well needed accreditation that Bord Bia introduced to the landscaping industry I [peter donegan] tried to introduce an option to allow customer or even general public give feedback, their thoughts or even complain easily to the finest landscaping company in Ireland?!! We have had varietions of this in the past but a friendlier more simple ‘form’ were one could add comments if preferred seemed the route.

We failed this part of the award accreditation so far because we had no complaints over the telephone. We had one or two emails [more to say thank you] asking if something could be adjusted or tweeked but none sofar a complaint.

Maybe it’s an Irish thing not to complain? or maybe we have the mix spot on!? but when in an audit situation and the auditor is saying ‘no complaints?’ One kind of starts to wonder?

Garden centres and nurseries have an option to have a customer feedback form – but I know from doing my research for this part of the ‘best practice award’, most people referred to when in a hotel style situation and after filling in the customer feedback form, they wondered if the person behind the counter will take the form out and read it as soon as they leave or else if theirs is the only one in there. In essence to criticise or complain because of service you would have preferred may be embarassing, frowned upon or even considered impolite.

So now, not so much where we are going wrong but more how to I make my company improve every day – and as Irelands most famed Corkman would say – we can always give more than 100%.

artificial gardening

real gardens...

real gardens...

This article was published by the farmers journal early august 07 which I [peter donegan] wrote as a result of my mild sense of humour. It turns out I know the guy through a friend and he now has a copy of the article hanging in his bathroom. It turns out his father spotted it and not so much recognised the name but moreso the picture of the garden! Everybody was happy.

  • Garden n 1 brit an area of land usually next to a house, for growing flowers, fruit, or vegetables. 2 Also: gardens a cultivated area of land open to the public: Kensington Gardens. 3 lead someone up the garden path Informal to mislead or deceive someone
  • Green adj 1 of a colour between yellow and blue; of the colour of grass. 2 covered with grass, plants, or trees: green fields. 3 of or concerned with the conservation and improvement of the environment
  • Joke n 1 something that is said or done to amuse people. 2 someone or something that is ridiculous: the countries inexperienced leaders are regarded as something of a joke

Collins Dictionary [fourth edition paperback 1999]

This has to be the oddest article I have ever written and I have really struggled to find myself in what is usually a free flowing movement of the mind from the heart to my weekly FJ piece. The reason I feel this way is that usually I understand the message I wish to convey and hope that you the reader will enjoy the end result as I did and that somewhere through this journey of life you will find that my piece by reading or realising has made you or someone else smile. Sometime ago I wrote a piece about a customer who threatened legal action against a contractor because he had asked for a ‘no maintenance garden’. Naturally and of course this was not given to by the contractor. It was sometime later in another article that I wrote ‘no maintenance is only achievable through Mr Macadam’s ingenious invention, or concrete’. I was wrong. I could not believe my eyes when this photograph was emailed to me. It could not be a ‘green’ space and it definitely could not be a ‘garden’. I did not know what to call it by any definition. As a last resort I found one that I believed suited and Collins Dictionaries have thrown in an extra added cliché for an extra added smile. Enjoy!

never had your garden ‘designed’ before

Here’s a piece I wrote some time ago. Recently we have had a wave enquiries where people feel that not paying for a design is saving money. That’s perfectly fine but as long as you take the correct free advice and from the correct people.

We have designed anything from 17th century five acre gardens to the most modern and futuristic of advanced and out of place designs – and built them. We have also on the other hand designed and built gardens that dont cost the earth but do look really good.

The second piece of advice is to take the correct advice. So should one pay for a consultation charge? The answer is of course if you feel you should and naturally if you will get something valuable and worthwhile for your cudos. If you do decide to get a garden designed and/ or built for either sixty five euro or sixty five thousand euro remember the numbers at the bottom of the page of the invoice is what it actually costs and you gotta pay that amount [I’ll get back to that later]. In the meantime – enjoy the article.

peter

You want to get the garden designed. You have already tried and after spending the entire lottery, it still looks humorous. The sun is shining. The neighbours have just started their barbeque. You own a jungle. Where do you start?

On the cheap: Measure up the garden. You don’t need a measuring tape or trunnel wheel. One large pace equals one metre approximately and one of your feet is one foot (you’ll have a rough idea). Drop down to the local garden centre and with sketch in hand ask all the questions you can. Its better to go on a Monday when it’s quiet. Always give an idea of the theme you want in the garden, don’t tell them I want this and one of them etc.(if you say water feature and it may not ever have looked good in your back yard – the friendly people who were going to give you advice are now on commission and your stuck with a gift for your sister.) Remember you don’t have to purchase on that day. Call the offices of a professional landscapers/ designers association. They’ll put you in touch with somebody in your area. Generally you can get advice (free) over the phone. They don’t have to call out.

  • Pay a little: Call a landscape contractor of reputation. They may charge for call outs/ consultation charges, but this is a very wise investment (even if the Father-in-law and Jimmy’s brother/ cousin/ sister are all expert green fingers). Decide on the basics with your family first. Do you need?
  • A shed – what size and type? Brick or timber?
  • A washing/ clothes line – Rotary/ retractable/ or one for the local football team?
  • A barbeque – built in or moveable? Gas or coal? Consider the neighbours and the clothes line!
  • Kiddies play area – Swings, slides and pits? sand or bark mulch? Moveable or resident? In my opinion it is better to put these ‘built in’ in one area – this can be adapted/ changed to suit your investment/ garden at a later date. ie. when the little ones mature.
  • Lights – how many? Security and/ or decorative? Sunken or above ground level? Remember low budget/ plastic looks better below ground and you’ll still see the light.
  • Outdoor electricity points/ plugs – where? Always get a double and get the two done together.
  • Outdoor tap/ water source – where? Both of the above mean the contractors don’t need to traffic over your new flooring and you don’t have to be there shedding tears at the state of the place halfway through the job.
  • Table and chairs area – Just for two or the entire Partridge family? Decide on whether it goes to full sun or shade. Please, pick/ measure the dining set you want first and allow 1.5 metres off the back of each chair. This means you only get the size of patio required and the stonemason doesn’t retire on your entire garden budget. (It also stops Nanna falling into the new rose bush when she pushes her chair away to get up from the table.)
  • Raised timber structure/ Patio – take the advice of your consultant and ensure it fits into your overall theme.
  • Green waste area – they can be ‘off in scent’ but they are in todays genre a must.

Ask for a rough ‘outline overview sketch’ of what the garden will look like – on headed paper – this will save you the cost of a full design service. Assuming it’s not a requirement of planning, this should, with a little vision and trust on your part, suffice. Again give a general themed idea of what you would like.

Pay a little/ lot more:Call a registered landscape designer. They usually charge for call outs/ consultations. They will charge for their design and also a percentage fee to oversee their design. This will be a very detailed design with a planting plan you may not understand ever and may come complete with a visual impression of what you can expect to see. Your garden designer will ensure you don’t need to do any of the above. Ensure your requirements are met so as not to result with your designers very own memorial playground. Let them know how much time and what gardening tasks you are willing to spend/ do in the garden (be honest and realistic!). Find out what contractor will carry out the necessary works and as important if they will do the after care/ maintenance. Get an estimate of cost on the landscaping of this wonderful design before you pay for the actual drawings. This ensures you don’t end up with a very expensive piece of paper that will never become a creation.

Remember:

  • Know your budget limit but be realistic.
  • Agree all prices before your contract starts.
  • Stonework requires dry weather and plants/ lawns need water.
  • Don’t pay for contractors tools to sit in their shed on ‘down time’ and don’t end up paying a contractor to water you plants
  • You don’t have to do it all at once.
  • Gardens can be phased in over a period of time. It may take a little longer but you will get that dream.
  • Don’t be afraid to do something different
  • Quality products cost more and cheap can be often tearful rather than cheerful.

You can contact me in the following ways

international garden festival

the garden that time forgot...

the garden that time forgot...

I got a call from a friend of mine on Wednesday asking me to Emo Court in Laois to take a look at a garden festival taking place there. I went but I was dubious, mainly because I thought it was just another [yes another] garden show.

We just had Chelsea, then straight to Bloom where I had my own garden to build. Now The International Garden Festival and it does not stop there?

To explain I must delve a little deeper into my hesitant negativity. With any gardenshow where awards are given, the designer has two choices; They can build an amazing garden or/ and fulfil the brief and get the medal. So often the people that are the paying visitor and the spectators can be forgotten, in that what they take away from the show and the designs they have seen. They may see gardens that are nice and symmetric and gold medalled but, they may not walk away inspired or excited. Big budgets and sponsors have their place and are necessary, but for the man who designs with his soul and borrows and builds with little or nothing, it may result in the most amazing garden that becomes so quickly forgotten as a result of ‘critics’ who feel it safer to mention those of solid gold standard in order to maintain their standards.

This exhibition however is a revelation and a breath of fresh air and I ask that you will love it and embrace it as I did. There are no medals for media critics to follow by and the reward for the designer – building a garden because you are passionate and strive to make a difference. Here I met people who liked this one or that better and the criticisms, witticisms and charms are what you ‘the customer’ takes from each garden.

The other twist is that this is not a weekend event, unlike most this actually runs from June 29th until 23rd September. So why would six French designers, one each from the USA, Australia, Germany and Italy and four Irish designers do this? And a love for what you do was the answer I was always given. Not only does one have to give up the three weeks to build the garden but also the three months to maintain it. Whilst the show is in its infancy, festival director Rosaleen Flanagan really does deserve praise for her efforts and consequently the results of her passion and drive for this festival are there to be seen. Rosaleen has secured a five year minimum deal with the Office of Public Works and Emo Court, proof enough for me. But the main reason I felt her ambition and determination was the attendance and belief in her show by three garden legends. All three; David Fountain, Chelsea gold medallist and the genius behind 4scapes.com; Andy Sturgeon of Chelsea gold fame and Stuart Sharpless owner of tadpole engineering and myself will all most likely build gardens here next year. Potty?! Whilst I did really like all of the gardens in very different ways two gardens, in my opinion, stood out from the crowd.

I have built showgardens myself and one must appreciate that my choices are solely because I saw something very different. As a spectator I felt I would love to introduce one or more elements of that design into my own garden. The first is a/maze: meeting the world designed by Rebecca Massey and Dominic Griffith, two students from UCD. My advice to you before entering this garden is to leave adulthood, mortgage rates and world leaders outside.

This is design in its purest form and I truly love it for that, which makes it so amazing. It combines a maze of international flags hanging like washing from a large family clothes line arena. The flags are so large and set in such a way that one can get lost so easily and then find little gems like a swing or the two oaks that frame the natural backdrop that is the lake of Emo. If you are fortunate enough to meet the two young designers and Dominics Mother at their garden do pass on my best. More importantly remember not to walk but to run through the garden like a child freed from school at summer time. My other favourite by Victor Moreaud and Catherine Charles is The Garden That Time Forgot. One of the many treasures of this gem are the twenty foot plus fishing rods with large red balloons attached to their ends swinging through the Irish gales. This really made me smile and if something makes you that happy then it must be good for the soul. I’ll look forward to meeting you there. Enjoy!

For more information visit The International Garden Festivals Website.

UPDATE 15th October 2007: please see this article