The thorny issue of which type of contract is best for landscape projects was discussed at a special event that brought together all aspects of the landscape industry at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (26 February).
Working Together as a Team, Working Together to Make a Profit was a group effort involving BALI, the Association of Professional Landscapers (APL), the Society of Garden Designers (SGD) and the Landscape Institute and was open to members of all.
The Outdoor Room managing director David Dodd said there was no right or wrong answer: "I tend to use JCLI on jobs of £50,000 plus. I find the Home Owner too ambiguous. It can leave a lot of loopholes. For smaller jobs you often use your own terms and conditions. With JCLI you get paid every month for the work you do."
Andrew Wilson said he finds the Home Owner contract "slightly onerous". His practice, Wilson McWilliam, has started to use the new SGD contract, which is more accessible. He said: "I think the good thing about JCLI is that it deals with plants and no other contract does that."
David Sewell, owner of The Gardenmakers in Banbury, said he uses the APL contract for jobs of £50,000 or more, otherwise he opts for standard terms and conditions.
Garden designer James Aldridge said he has been lucky to have trustworthy clients and he only needs to use a contract once. But Wilson said contracts are good for when things go wrong. In a straw poll of the audience, many people had never had a problem, but those who had were hit hard.
One said there are a lot of grey areas in new build between what builders will provide and what is done by landscapers, while another audience member said they had fallen foul of a similar situation where builders had been thrown off site and his company had stepped in to finish a job.
Others wondered whether a contract is useful if you do not have the money to defend it. A garden designer said she works on her own but always uses a lawyer to draw up terms and conditions: "I wouldn't work without one."
Nightmare clients - how to deal with them
Both delegates and panel members had stories of nightmare clients. One said a client of his had "made a hobby" out of getting out of the contract.
"If you have a client who is intransigent and is willing to get their lawyers in to fight, it's difficult to enact the contract," he said.
The Outdoor Room managing director David Dodd provoked a shocked audience reaction when he said he had been told by the gardener of one of his clients that he prided himself in not paying for work done. After paying, he sued.
"He claimed the plants were wrong and the designer was wrong because they supplied them. It was being a member of BALI and the BALI arbitration process that saved me."