THE MODERN MINT BLOG
Today we offer you an interview with the Cycling Gardener of Liverpool, Mike Davies. A lovely part of our job at Modern Mint is that we get to go around asking other people how and why they garden – and this interview with Mike the Cycling Gardener is full of great tips and funny bits, so please read on and enjoy!
Mike, you are the Liverpool Cycling Gardener – tell us how this has come about and why you chose to be a cycling gardener?
Imagine getting up every morning knowing you were going to have to work 13 hours in a hot, uncomfortable kitchen all day, under constant pressure to keep stocks right, to prepare and serve the same boring food, taking b*llsh#t from so called managers, having to cover for staff who were constantly late and didn’t care about what they were doing, being under the glow of fluorescent lighting all day, with no windows or ‘escape’ to sunlight.
This is what I endured day in day out for years until I finally cracked and decided enough was enough.
I wanted to do something outdoors in the fresh air, with no one on my case all the time, and to do something that I would want to get out of bed for and enjoy each day.
I had always helped my grandparents out with their gardens when I was younger. I remembered how much I enjoyed the work and the feeling of satisfaction I got once we had finished a day of gardening. I was trying to think of ways I could afford a van and all the tools I’d need to get started as a gardener.
I only had about £900 in savings at my disposal and didn’t want to start asking the bank for any loans as they just lead to stress in my opinion.
One day when I was scanning my would be gardener competition on the internet I came across a cycling gardeners site.
I wasn’t even passed reading the first couple of paragraphs when I suddenly realised this could be the answer I was looking for.
I had a decent bike already, I had a bit of experience as a gardener so how hard could it be?
Anyway, to cut a long story short I got myself a diploma in garden maintenance through home study, bought a cargo trailer and adapted a cargo trunk to fit onto it, bought a hand push mower by ‘brill’ and my gardening tools, from ‘wolfgarten’ – which were quite expensive but well made, interchangeable, and recommended by other ‘online’ gardeners.
Then I developed my own website with help from my brother (who knew how to program code – the big geek!) – put together some flyers and wrote up some ads for newsagents in my area. After a slow start I was eventually working six days a week – sometimes seven, until I decided I could work Monday to Friday and take weekends off.
I now have a job where I am my own boss, I get to deal with, on the most part, decent people, I get to enjoy watching the seasons change outdoors instead of from a crummy kitchen doorway overlooking stinking bins, and ultimately get to wake up in the morning excited for the day ahead.
What could be better?!
(Pictured above – one of Mike the Cycling Gardener’s gardens…)
How have you adapted to working with only a bicycle as transport?
When I first started out I found that pulling a trailer full of tools (and on occasion, with bags of sand and cement) quite hard going – especially the hillier routes I used to take. I was quite fit anyway as at the time I was used to being on my feet all day in the kitchen and trained weekly with a local running club. Even so it took a few months of pulling the trailer around till my legs got used to it.
I have to carry spare inner tubes, a pump and puncture kit just incase the worst should happen (twice last year). I am now carrying a spare trailer wheel with me as it is easier to swap over than fixing a puncture at the road side. I feel a lot fitter now but have been thinking about getting an electric cycle which would help me out somewhat and still be more eco-friendly than a van.
What advice could you give someone wanting to be a cycling gardener?
Advice would be…
1) Know at least the basics of gardening – I did a short course with Stonebridge college which resulted in a diploma. Hopefully I’ll be adding to this with RHS qualifications.
2) Look up your competition for the area you want to cover before you start, noting their prices and availability.
3) Have a price set from the start. I made the mistake of charging too little to begin with (£8 / hour). I now charge £14 for jobs 1 hour or less and £12.50 / hour for jobs 2 hours plus. Obviously this will change depending on which area of the country you will be working. Don’t give in to anyone trying to get a few quid knocked off as word will get around and you’ll find yourself having to do special deals for others too.
4) Get a decent bike and get it maintained by a professional at least every three months. My bike is made by Scott (editor’s note: Scott do a range of cycling goodies) it cost £800 when I bought it. I’m sure you wouldn’t need one that cost as much as mine to get the job done though.
5) Buy the best tools you can afford as they are what’s going to keep you working. The cargo trailer I use is from AMAZON it costs around £80 and the box itself was from storagetrunks.co.uk – size (I think) was L97 x W50 x H51cm. I had to fix it to the trailer myself with bolts. This company can build a trunk to a specific size but you will pay more for the service… the trunk I got isn’t completely weather proof, but is well built and with a bit of yacht varnish on the seams, should last a couple of years, if not longer. They can supply hasp locks at further expense – I have one one mine. The electric bike I’m looking at getting is made by Volt.
I am also looking at a new – purpose built trailer (which can carry more weight with it’s stronger frame and wheels). It’s made by Surly and costs around £800 with it’s special hitch.
Please don’t be put off by some of these prices – I started with just £900 of investment but have found that you usually get what you pay for and would rather have purpose built equipment than have to replace bits here and there. Especially now that I know this is what I want to do for a living.
6) Get fit before you start out. Get out on your bike or to the gym and work on your leg muscles especially, not forgetting you will be lifting, pulling and twisting a lot of muscles you may never have used much before gardening for a living.
7) Get a decent breakfast inside you before you start work – it will give you energy for the day. I take bottles of water with me and bags of nuts, bananas and breakfast biscuits (Belvita) – which also provide your body with the energy it will need. This might sound like common sense but I used to go without breakfast and found myself struggling a bit until lunch.
8) Get insurance in place BEFORE you start – mine is with Tradesman Insure and costs around £80 for the year. You can cover for ill health with this company too for extra peace of mind.
Where is your furtherst client Mike?
The furthest I travel now is within two miles from where I am based. I roughly travel about 4 miles per day (20 miles per week) during the summer months.
What do you do with waste and arisings from the gardens?
I let my customers know that I usually utilise their council bin for waste. I supply garden bin bags for any extra waste for free. If it’s a lot of waste I would recommend hiring a skip. Some of my customers take waste to the local tip instead of waiting for the council to empty the bins.
I’ve found that my customers don’t mind about the waste situation. I would recommend being upfront with people before the job starts so they know what to expect… the free bags go down well.
Do you have a typical client?
I’ve found that, at first, a new customer is usually more interested in my trailer and how I manage without a van, than what they want for their garden. I spend the first 10 minuets showing how I fit all my tools in the trailer!
They all seem to like the fact I get about on a cycle, I’ve had nothing but positive comments. It’s only my second year so I don’t think I’m all that well known yet. But I’m sure as time goes on more and more people will get to know me. I get comments about being seen out on the road quite a bit (I have advertising on my trailer).
How does being on a bike change the way you work?
The biggest change I’ve found with getting to my customers on a bike is having to work out my booking times – allowing enough time in the morning to get to where I’m going, and enough time in between jobs for travel. I try to book jobs close to each other (sometimes on the same road) on the same day to cut down travel times.
I’ve been told that some gardeners my customers have used before myself, have been in such a rush to get to the next job that they had left without finishing the job or sweeping up properly. I usually only book 3 to 4 jobs a day, and try to leave 1/2 an hour in between jobs to allow for any time I need to stay a bit longer to tidy up.
Do you think being a ‘cycling gardener’ will become the norm? Will we see a movement back to trades that are incredibly local to their area, and a part of the community?
From what I can see via the internet there are only a handful of cycling gardeners in each city right now. Hopefully though, as time goes on, more and more trades will realise that having a van or car to get about is not always completely necessary.
I think as technology moves on the power available from ‘e-bikes’ will increase, and the use of these cycles will rise. Purpose built cargo trailers are now available too, allowing the non -DIY’ers among us to own one. Petrol prices are quite low at the moment, but I’m sure that will change in the future and influence how we all get about.
Thank you Mike, so informative and we’ve loved hearing how a cycling gardener works. For more ideas on being a cycling gardener, check out a Modern Mint blog post from last year – Have You Tried A Cycling Gardener?
I am running a topiary workshop in 2020 with the wonderful topiary artist Charlotte Molesworth at her spectacular topiary garden in Kent. This is a topiary workshop where you will learn to clip, so be prepared to do some cutting. We start with a tour of the garden, which Charlotte and her husband Donald have been cultivating for 34 years. It is organic, full of wildlife and has the most extraordinary pruned shapes made from yew and boxwood. You can see more photos of the garden in an article in the Guardian here: Topiary Garden In Kent What Else Will …
On Monday night I gave a talk to the Hardy Plant Society Middlesex. Below are a few links for further information based on some of the ideas discussed in the talk: Real Seeds – a fantastic supplier of fruit and vegetable seeds for growers. Boxwood Caterpillar Advice – from the European Boxwood & Topiary Society. I will also write a little companion piece this winter with more information and some topiary techniques, so watch out for that on this website. Boxwood Lure & Nematodes – my preferred option for dealing with the caterpillar. Discount code for 10% off is EBTSBOX29GBZ …