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last updated May 28, 2009
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It is important to hire qualified contractors. Credit: RHS/John Trenholm.

Sometimes you need help in the garden, whether it is for specialist work, such as tree surgery or laying a patio, other times you might just need a hand with general maintenance work. There are a wealth of people out there to help, but it can be difficult knowing who to choose. Follow our tips to help choose a contractor.

Points to consider before hiring a contractor Back to top

  • Check if there is a charge for preliminary visits and if this is refundable if the contractor undertakes the work.
  • Find out how long they have been in business and what qualifications they have, checking certificates of competence and insurance if necessary.
  • Get estimates for each part of the work involved.
  • Consider having the work done in stages, paying as you go, if firm quotes cannot be provided.
  • Also consider keeping back about 15 percent to be paid later after any faults been rectified.
  • Ownership of surplus materials and disposal of rubbish are common causes of dispute, so clarify these in advance.
  • Follow-up advice and help should also be specified in the contract, if desired.

How to do find a reliable contractor Back to top

There are professional bodies to which contractors can choose to belong, which vet their members and provide opportunities for ongoing training. These organisations provide some degree of assurance that their members are up-to-scratch, and also have complaints procedures that you can access should you be dissatisfied with the quality of the work done.

However, belonging to these organisations costs money, so there may be satisfactory local contractors who do not belong to them.

Local head gardeners, horticultural colleges and garden centres or nurseries can often suggest suitable people.

The RHS is not able to visit members’ gardens, to act as an ‘expert witness’ or to provide specialist professional or commercial advice. We are also unable to monitor and assess the quality of all the individuals and companies who provide gardening services.

Professional organisations to contact Back to top

Tree surgery or tree assessment

Determine whether you need a consultant or contractor (a 'tree surgeon' may be either or both). A consultant will give professional advice on the health and safety of a tree, on the potential impact on any proposed or existing buildings or any other tree issue including Tree Preservation Orders and planning regulations. A contractor will typically carry out tree pruning, bracing, planting and felling operations and be able to identify and control (where feasible) tree pests and diseases.

The Arboricultural Association
Tel. 01242 522152
Maintains a directory of approved contractors and consultants.

Maintenance gardening services

There is unfortunately no professional organisation representing garden maintenance companies. Look for advertisements in your local paper or telephone directory. People recommended by word-of-mouth are more likely to provide a reliable service. It is worth asking for references and seeking proof of formal horticultural training.

Gardeners are encouraged to register with the British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI) to obtain a ROLO (Register of Landscape Operatives) ‘skills card’, which is issued to applicants who have achieved NVQ/SVQ 2 or 3 plus a health and safety awareness course. It also states additional relevant training such as chainsaw, pesticide or ride-on mower training. For more information about the skills card see:

Full time professional gardeners

These can be advertised for via the Professional Gardeners Guild, a voluntary organisation representing full time estate gardeners, or via recruitment agencies and trade magazines.

The Professional Gardeners’ Guild
Tel. (01900) 824 377 (Secretary, home telephone number)

Recruitment agencies:

Trade magazine:

Horticulture Week:

Garden designers

Consider contacting the Society of Garden Designers if you want a specialist designer to draw up expert plans for you.

Many landscaping companies also offer a design and build service, which is a cheaper option than getting a design done separately. See the section on landscapers below.

The Society of Garden Designers
Tel: (01989) 566 695


Try contacting the organisations below to find a reputable company.

The Association of Professional Landscapers (APL)
Tel: 01538 751976

British Association Of Landscape Industries (BALI)
Tel: 024 7669 0333

Quick facts

Consider employing a contractor belonging to a professional organisation
Ask for references, photographs and ideally speak to previous clients
Get quotes from more than one contractor to get a general idea of costs
Be clear about what needs doing and what budget you have available