Forget skills shortages - drought is the worry
The market for landscape installations was relatively thin in 2005 but tendering for future projects was at the highest level many in the industry could recall. Most of these tenders were on projects scheduled for completion in 2007 and 2008, so many landscape contractors envisage getting very busy in 12 to 18 months' time.
The trend towards more hard landscaping and fewer plants and trees continues on the larger commercial projects, where ongoing maintenance costs are carefully considered. However, housing developments and particularly social housing look to provide an "open play space" at the centre of schemes, bringing air and space into a complex. It is usually better to start by designing the environmental conditions in which the buildings are placed.
Keep on planting
The hottest topic of the moment is the cold weather and, more specifically, the effect the coldest March since 1987 has had on planting. The daffodils that had started to appear in some parts of the country, such as Swansea, as early as mid-February only appeared in late March across the rest of the UK, almost a month behind schedule.
However, this late flowering does have some benefits: projects that depend on the planting of bare root stock, which is usually finished by early March, have had an extra four weeks to carry on planting.
Of more concern is the effect that another dry winter - the third in succession - will have in terms of hosepipe bans in the summer. The orders for hosepipe bans are ready to be served in parts of Sussex and Kent. Water will still be available from sewage works and so on for collection in tankers and distribution from bowsers (at a cost). However, handheld watering equipment is up to 15 times more labour-intensive than using irrigation systems and maintenance costs are likely to soar in the summer:
- Labour cost of irrigation by handheld hosepipe, 25 litres/min supply at 20 litres/m2: £2/100 m2
- Labour cost of operating irrigation systems: £0.15/100 m2
Lead times and delivery
Lead times are less important to landscaping projects than effective programming.
Bare-rooted plants can only be planted in winter, but container-grown plants can be planted any time. This means selection against availability is more relevant than delivery times.
Most landscape consultants and contractors have been approached in the past six months by continental nurseries anxious to dispose of stock as continued depression in the economies of Germany and Holland has reduced demand for their plants. Deliveries from continental nurseries can be made in a matter of days and transport costs are offset by the substantially reduced prices.
Labour costs for landscape work increased by just over 3% last year, with a typical standard worker now earning £5.50-6 an hour. While it is too soon to identify an overall increase in landscape workload for 2005, our database suggests an increase of 4-5%.
(See table below: Percentage change in costs from October 2005 to March 2006)