The high-end South East landscape market is taking off, indicating an end to the recession, say landscapers, designers and growers.
Surrey-based Landform director Matt Moore said wealthy clients are now more willing to spend than last year. "Trade is completely different to 2012," he added.
"This time last year, we laid off four foremen, but I've just taken on someone from another contractor at Hampton Court. There's work at the top-end domestic market, which shows signs of the recession ending. Last year you could get a skip or builders' merchant that afternoon. Now it's 48 hours' notice and we've got a full order book until Christmas."
Landform built five gardens at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show (9-14 July). Moore said he hopes to beat last year's seven design jobs and three builds that resulted from enquiries at the event.
Chris Beardshaw, who designed retirement home firm McCarthy & Stone's Hampton Court show garden, built by Keith Chapman, said he hopes to work with the company on building projects and there is possible work in Russia after his garden featured at Moscow Flower Show (3-8 July).
He added that in the large domestic/historic or historically inspired gardens sector, "there's less speculative work, but more in terms of people working towards a specific goal". He said sport is having an influence. "There's optimism from the lions (rugby), Murray (tennis) and Froome (cycling). It's the Olympic spirit reborn - about a general feel-good."
Fisher Tomlin & Bowyer director Dan Bowyer, a first-time exhibitor at Hampton Court with a garden built by London Garden and Streetscape, said: "Business in 2013 is busy. We're going great guns." He added that one project in Wentworth, Surrey, is for a "James Bond"-style house with a 1ha garden and "Russia is growing".
"We are starting to take on more people again. Last year one decided to leave and was not replaced, but now we can't handle the workload."
James Steele Sargent, managing director of West Sussex-based Arun Landscapes, said business is good this year with "things on the up" thanks to "the sunshine and proactive marketing, contacting designers and going to Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) cluster-group meetings." His "Low Cost, High Impact" Hampton Court garden was one of four created in association with APL, alongside those from Surrey Gardens, Living Gardens and Outdoor Creations.
But Steele Sargent added: "It's still a worry when Europe is under a euro threat. If you'd have asked me before Spain, Portugal and Greece were still in desperate trouble, I'd have said the end of the recession is definitely in sight. But there's a lot of people's money invested in Europe and they are the ones who buy landscape gardens from £20,000-£100,000."
He and Bowyer said many new projects involve houses being replaced by bigger ones on the same plot.
The International Monetary Fund predicts Britain's economy will grow by 0.9 per cent in 2013.
Market indicators - Confidence building up
Robin Tacchi Plants has worked with the retail market, but marketing director Gill Tacchi said the grower is now concentrating on its specialism, amenity growing (see p6).
She added that there has been "an underlying, gradual, tentative building of confidence" in going ahead with developments such as Battersea Power Station after many were delayed during the recession.
Tacchi said developers are moving away from swathes of planting towards more complex planting schemes.
Hortus Loci director Robin Wallis said: "The signs of green shoots were there at Chelsea.
In the last recession (2009), Marks & Spencer and others pulled out because it was not seen as right to spend during the recession. But this year the RHS was oversubscribed with show gardens and sponsors.
"There's megabucks people from Russia and China and elsewhere who want to build an English garden in England at the top end of the market. No luxury industry - Champagne to handbags to Bentleys - has been affected too badly. If you aim high to attract disposable income, you should be OK."
Hortus Loci supplied 70,000 perennials at Hampton Court. Its Malus 'Peter's Red', bred by German arboriculturist Peter Fluegge, is available at £395.