He also aims to provide expertise for landscapers who are highly trained in hard landscaping yet lack knowledge in horticulture.
Hambrook set up in business in 1970 "with just a spade and a fork" and now runs a £4.5m-turnover company across five limited companies, with 80 staff and 60 vehicles to offer everything in horticulture a client might need.
Hambrooks in Titchfield, Hampshire, is a "garden design centre" rather than a garden centre and has 16 show gardens to offer clients inspiration. Head garden designer
Mike Hodges expects to convert 50% of enquiries into projects and Hambrooks completed 380 projects in 2016.
There is also a design studio, planteria, shop, coffee courtyard and hard goods sales area.
At nearby Curdridge, Hambrooks has its internal sales and wholesale nursery, internal and trade landscaping yard and garden design office, as well as machinery and vehicle maintenance department. There are designers/estimators and maintenance teams based there, as well as mechanics and three nursery staff.
Nursery manager Tom Parker says low-maintenance, architectural and screening plants are most popular. Managing director designate Neil Fisher adds that the ideal garden people want is a low-maintenance cottage garden, which he jokes he is as yet unable to produce.
Crest of a wave
Trade is "coming up to the crest of a wave because of the housebuilding", he adds. "If builders are busy, we're busy. The difficulty is finding staff to meet demand." Hambrooks has had its best autumn ever and its 14 teams are booked up until July, after good weather and the economy helped this winter and spring. Hambrook says: "If the sun is shining, people will spend money."
Hambrook starts staff on budget gardens (20% of business) before they graduate to makeovers (70%), then £50,000+ Chelsea-style projects. It is important to cover all areas "because if you start on a budget garden you bring on your staff and if you allow the competition to do that the client goes to them for the next garden".
There are video screens showing off Hambrooks' offer at three local garden centres, including John Browns and Manor Nursery. Hambrook says the Titchfield site is too small to operate just as a garden centre but is perfect as a specialist.
The Hambrooks Plant Book
The Hambrook Plant Book was conceived and compiled by Hambrook, who draws from more than 45 years of hands-on horticultural experience, imparting a lifetime of plant expertise.
With easily accessible information and a comprehensive guide to plants, shrubs and trees, it combines the best features of every plant with details of the right aspect, season and soil conditions.
The "Content" and "A-Z" indexes guide the reader through the packed and colourful classified pages and include two specialised "Plant Features" and "Plants for a Purpose" sections.
There are nearly 200 pages of illustrated plants as a resource to appeal to both the inexperienced and the more advanced landscaper or gardener. Hambrook’s matter-of-fact and no-nonsense approach means that the book is easily accessible, with simple descriptions. Every plant featured has an illustration.
Hambrook believes that this type of book will help to sell plants in garden centres because all of the plants featured are readily available.
All Hambrooks clients will receive a free copy.
"I wanted to write a reference book about the plants I have thought are good and reliable that I have used in my working career," he says. "I wanted to help the public and also create a great reference book for our designers."
The book took five years to finish and Hambrook says it is "very basic — people get overwhelmed by the technical". He points out that he has used Hillier and Notcutts manuals all his working life but says they do not focus on commonly used plants, adding that they are too complicated for the convenience gardener.
He deals with the less-knowledgeable gardener who may have neither the time nor inclination to do their garden themselves, so they get Hambrooks in. He says the book will hopefully bring these customers in-store to buy plants from Hambrooks.
All the plants are easily available from Hambrooks, which sources locally and offers specimens from Europe, although it no longer grows much from scratch itself.