2 New Professional Online Courses Launched for November

The Oxford College of Garden Design launches two new 4 week on-line planting courses for industry professionals and enthusiastic amateurs.

The Oxford College of Garden Design in conjunction with its sister site MyGardenSchool have launch 2 new online planting design courses taught by multi award winning Hillier Nurseries MD; Andy McIndoe.

clip_image002 A Professional Guide to Choosing, Using and Planting Shrubs covers:-

Week 1: The role of shrubs in the garden and how to use them. How to selecting the right shrub for a situation and a guide to buying the best plants. Giving your shrubs the best possible start in your garden; how and when to plant them.
Week 2: Caring for your shrubs. How and when to prune flowering and foliage shrubs to control shape, size, foliage quality and flowering. Feeding your shrubs: how, when and why.
Week 3: Hard working foliage shrubs – the foundation of good planting. The importance of shrubs for structure in gardens of all sizes. Maintaining a colour scheme with foliage throughout the year and creating exciting planting combinations.
Week 4: Shrubs for interest throughout the year. A pick of the best shrubs that will work hard in your garden to deliver colour, texture and form in every situation, including sun, shade, clay, chalk and in pots and containers.

clip_image004A Professional Guide to Choosing, Using and Planting Trees covers:-

Week 1 – Tree for all Gardens – Introduction
Why plant trees?  The role of trees in the landscape and the visual impact of trees in different seasons. The environmental impact of trees and their role in attracting wildlife into your garden. Trees for screening, trees for shelter and trees for shade. Why we are afraid of trees in gardens. What are the risks and the relationship between a tree and a building.
Week 2 – Trees for Small Gardens
Choosing the right tree for a specific situation focusing on the small garden. The best choices for country gardens and for town gardens including trees for pots. Choosing trees for more than one season of interest: for fruit and flowers, bark and foliage colour.
Week 3 – Planting Trees and Productive Trees
Buying a tree; how, when and what to look for. Planting a tree: giving it the best possible start in life – the importance of staking and aftercare. Fruiting trees as an alternative to or in addition to ornamentals: including apples, lemons, olives and figs.
Week 4 – Designing with Trees
Trees as part of a planting scheme; how a tree can lead a planting scheme through the colour of its foliage.  What to plant with foliage  trees to create a planting picture. Climbers to grow through trees. Planting trees for future generations.
Both courses are on line, allowing students to study from the comfort of their own homes. The next course starts on 5th November and then monthly on the first Saturday of each month. To book please visit our website at


How to Avoid Your Contractor Going Bankrupt!


Whether a designer or client, in these hard economic times, you can’t have failed to notice more and more small businesses going to the wall. 

Whether they are nurseries, landscaping or building firms, it’s hard to make a living right now, jobs are scarce and margins tight.

A worst case scenario, is for the contractor to go under, halfway through a job, potentially costing the client $1000’s as well as designer a monumental headache, trying to find another firm to finish the work.

A designer may even be held partly liable, swept up in any legal action. So you need to be doubly careful when selecting contractors to tender and don’t skimp on the due diligence.

Taking a contractor’s word, that they are financially solvent is no longer adequate. Before signing the contract, bank references should be taken up and the client should be advised in writing to to do a credit check with a firm such as Dun & Bradstreet.

However even this may not be enough.  On larger jobs, lasting several months, the contractor could still run into difficulties. Either through poor management, or if one of  their suppliers goes bankrupt and takes them down in the process.

There is little you can do about the latter, but the designer can help manage the contract and at the same time protect the client from paying too much up front before work is completed and materials are on site.

The first and most important document you should insist on, before work starts on site is a daily work schedule. This is a day by day breakdown of what work will be carried out, to include in what order the jobs are to be completed and the number of man days involved.

Man Days

Small contractors are sometimes reluctant to provide these, as they involve hours of preparation, but I make this a contractual requirement and won’t let a project start before the client and I have both received a copy.

This document allows all parties to monitor the progress of the job.  The designer and client can see at a glance, that the work is on schedule and the contractor can also plan when materials and plant should be ordered, so the work is not delayed due to material hold ups.

In fact, once the contactors see the benefits of this document they will continue to prepare one for each and every job they do.  Not only will this help protect your clients by keeping the job on schedule it will also likely improve the contractors profitability.

Secondly the designer can protect the client by ‘Project Administering’ the contract. Note the word ‘Administer’ NOT ‘Manage’ Most designers are not qualified to ‘Project Manage’ a site, as this implies quality control and would require the designer to be onsite throughout the build.

At the Oxford College of Garden Design  our students are taught to project administrate jobs. ‘Project Administering’ a contract, involves weekly site meetings to assess the works progress.  The designer can remind the contractor to order materials in good time to avoid delays and is also in charge of signing off the weekly/monthly invoicing.

This involves making sure that the contractor only invoices for work completed and for materials on site. An agreed % is then held back (usually 5%) until the penultimate invoice when only 2.5% is withheld until the final certificate of completion is issued (usually after a defects liability period of 6 months)

By going through this process the designer is ensuring that the client never overpays before work is completed onsite.  In the event that the contractor does go bankrupt, then the client should still have enough funds to bring in a second contractor to finish the job.

Some professional bodies guarantee their members, so it would be worth looking carefully at these and maybe choosing contractor.  Organisations like SPATA (Swimming Pool and Allied Trade Association) in the UK guarantee that if one of their members goes under part way through a job another member will finish the work for the outstanding agreed contract cost.

Finally a last piece of advice is to split large contracts down into smaller ones. Consider different contractors for different parts of the job to spread the risk.

Ground workers for excavation, drainage and contouring; Pool contractors for swimming pools; pond and lake specialists for water features; Stone and masonry specialists for hard landscape features such as paving and walls; Turf/Sod contractors for lawns; Irrigation engineers and lighting technicians; and finally soft landscape specialist. 

I have always preferred women contractors to do my planting, as I consider them more conscientious and careful with young plants.