You may have noticed (ahem) that we have been celebrating our 25th anniversary here at the Garden Company, which has been a great opportunity to celebrate – and has also prompted us to look at what lies ahead. I took part recently in ‘The Detail is in the Design’ panel at this year’s Futurescape conference with this at the forefront of my mind – what can we predict with any certainty about landscape design’s future, what ideas are being developed, what are the main trends that will affect the industry, my colleagues and clients?
Having listened to my fellow speakers, discussed various questions raised by delegates and considered my personal experience over the years, here’s my view:
1. Landscape design ideas will become more ecologically sound and emotionally rewarding
Designers and clients are already expressing ecological interests and concerns through a wide range of choices, from planting lists featuring native species to locally sourced materials that fit comfortably within a context. Concern for local wildlife will also become more and more part of the design concept. People will add more edible planting to their schemes and interest in the journey from ‘garden to table’ will flourish – foraging could even play a part. In an ever-more digital age, designers will have the opportunity to re-connect people with nature and provide huge emotional satisfaction in this way. As part of this ‘re-connection’, designers and clients will be even more focused on enhancing the relationship between home and garden – marrying the indoor spaces to the outdoors, and ensuring flow, harmony and a sense of continuity throughout. For me, these are all positive moves, to be embraced by us and enjoyed by our clients.
2. Clients (new and existing) will relate to us differently
Building and maintaining positive, productive client relationships has always been a core part of what we do, as it is for any service business. This isn’t going to change – if anything, clients will become more selective and discerning in an era of austerity measures and economic uncertainty, so winning – and deserving – a client’s trust will be key. What is changing fast though is the way in which we communicate with clients about their needs and expectations. Social media – for marketing, sales and ongoing project management/delivery of our services – is set to grow and grow. For example, blog posts, tweets and up-to-date images of our work will be expected by clients as a given, not a ‘nice-to-have’. The good news is that this approach is custom-made for what we do – it enables us to show people our expertise rather than asking them to put their trust in us blindly. When we publish content via social media, it enables prospects to find us and sample a piece of our expertise immediately. Personally, I fully welcome these changes – because I prefer sharing our genuine abilities and expertise with others over a traditional ‘sales pitch’. In future, this is how we will build familiarity and trust with new and existing clients.
3. Finding and keeping talented people will require new thinking
Finding, growing and keeping talented people is one of my main tasks as the founder of the Garden Company. It’s always been a challenge and is likely to become more so. We are losing baby-boomers from the workforce, the education system is in a state of flux and the free movement of workers is hard to predict. However, our recruitment strategy is very simple and we will continue with it – we are always looking for energetic and client-focused people to join our team – we don’t wait for vacancies to crop up. College qualifications are great but are not a pre-requisite – what matters most is a passion for gardens and a desire to ‘wow’ clients. We will continue with our commitment to continuous training and development – for example, supporting people through an accredited apprenticeship programme every year. It’s a bit like planting trees today to reap the benefits later.
What is changing fast though is (a) how we recruit - again, social media will play a big part and (b) how we manage people once they’ve joined – recognising that their expectations are different to those when we first started recruiting over 20 years ago (not better or worse, but certainly different!). We will need to constantly develop how we interact with, motivate and reward our staff. A simple example for us is getting company news out to everyone quickly via group texts rather than written memos. In my opinion, finding talented people and knowing how to keep them engaged will be one of the most challenging aspects of running a successful design and build practice in the coming years.
So, change is afoot in some key areas for us and set to continue:
- Landscape design ideas will become more ecologically sound & emotionally rewarding
- Clients (new and existing) will relate to us differently
- Finding and keeping talented people will require new thinking
I’ve said it before in these blog posts, this is a great industry to work in. We are in the privileged position of creating beautiful spaces for people to enjoy. A lot of that is brought about by sheer hard work. Some of that hard work has been automated already and even more will be automated in years to come. However, I believe that the sparks of creativity and passion for gardens that lie at the heart of every beautiful place we create cannot be automated. We will continue to listen intently to our clients, understand what they want and need from us, and use our technical skills and expertise to go on and create it. If this was easy, it would have been automated long ago! Creativity and passion are not easy to mimic - as the great, and sadly late, Leonard Cohen said: ‘If I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often’. Luckily, when creativity and passion do come together the results can be outstanding and that is why I am continue to be excited about the work that we do.
If you have any comments about this post, then please do add them below. Finally, a special thanks to Jim and Lisa Wilkinson at Pro Landscaper for providing another thought-provoking conference experience.