A pan-landscape industry event aimed at finding ways of working together spurred strong views over who should supply plants.
Organised by BALI, the Association of Professional Landscapers, the Society of Garden Designers (SGD) and the Landscape Institute, Working Together as a Team, Working Together to Make a Profit at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew last week (26 February) was open to members of all the organisations.
But profit turned a discussion of contract types (see p16) into a passionate debate.
The question of plant supply was on the agenda. John Wyer from combined practice Bowles & Wyer said: "The designer should stick to design and the contractor should stick to contracting. A lot of designers supply plants, but if they're not making enough money out of fees they're not charging enough."
Paul Cowell of PC Landscapes, a member of the Landscape Institute, BALI and the SGD, agreed: "Designers suppling materials is wrong if you want to put yourselves across as a professional garden designer."
Designer Andrew Wilson said designers are going "off-piste and downhill" and called the practice "a rubbish business model".
He added: "I'm absolutely sick to death of doing workshops where designers ask me how to charge more. You charge more by saying this is what you're worth."
Garden designer James Aldridge admitted that he has supplied plants in the past "to make up the money", but he is now trying to change the way he works. However, he said it has taken him years to get to the stage where he can charge enough money for his design expertise alone.
Aldridge said he thinks clients treat garden designers with more respect when they are not "grubbing around in the ground".
SGD chairwoman Juliet Sargeant said: "For me the planting design doesn't finish at the planting plan, the design finishes when the plants go in the ground. If there's a substitution needed at any point, then I'm there to do it and I get paid for that."
One south-west London garden designer said they lost a contract after their landscaper offered to do the design work "for free", which provoked an angry reaction from the audience.
Meanwhile, Landscape gardener David Sewell of The Gardenmakers said in the real world landscapers are "mostly builders", adding that "planting isn't that tricky".
But that view was criticised. Richard Gardiner of Norris & Gardiner said: "We are very good at devaluing almost any aspect of our industry."
Cowell urged everyone to support the Landscape Collaborative Working Group - established during the hosepipe ban in 2011 - which will meet again on 7 March.
He added: "For a professional industry we shouldn't have to have a catalyst to bring everyone together."
PROFITS DEBATED CONTRACTOR CALCULATIONS
The Outdoor Room's David Dodd highlighted a £100,000 project where he calculated the contractor would make £33 per person per hour profit if they did not supply plants. The garden designer would make £75/hr. Supplying plants would land the designer £128/hr profit.
Society of Garden Designers chairwoman Juliet Sargeant queried the figures, saying she did not think Dodd had compared like with like.
A fellow garden designer said: "It feels like you're saying we're stealing profit from you, but we don't make a huge living generally. There has to be a bit of give and take."