0 Making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

The trouble with being a landscape contractor is that very few customers will have exactly the same conditions and requirements. This can make equipment selection a challenge and in many cases a compromise is required. And then there are some contracts that dictate that only one machine can reliably do the job.

One of Richard Gardiner's contracts for SC Johnson's UK Head Office falls into just that category. Norris & Gardiner has held the grounds maintenance contract for the 30ha site at Camberley for 35 years. It's a contract that in many ways is ideal; the Facilities Manager hasn't set up prescriptive targets and Service Level Agreements, but then again, Richard knows that leaving the showcase site in anything less than A1 condition could have serious repercussions.

As Richard comments, "The first thing that visitors to the company see, even before entering Reception, are the grounds and first impressions matter immensely! We see ourselves as ambassadors for our clients."

Parts of the site are relatively straight-forward and involve mowing, flower bed management and lawns, but the trickiest parts of the site are the "Pitch & Putt" golf course and playing fields, comprising around 10ha.

he area is usually water logged over winter and becomes home to a number of badgers that literally tear the fields and greens apart. That means that when Richard and his team do get access, usually in May, they have to start from scratch again. Of course, once the turf starts to be restored, a cut & collect policy is essential. In Richard's mind, there is only one mower that can provide the requisite quality of cut on such undulating ground. In February, Richard purchased his second Amazone Profihopper.

Speaking to Richard about the reasons why he feels that the Profihopper is the only machine capable of doing the job, he said "The Profihopper is an out front flail mower that can scarify while it cuts, which is essential considering that the site is waterlogged for much of the year.

So not only does the ground 'look' good because it can be striped, it actually improves the sward in the process. The Profihopper has a zero turn, which is ideal for negotiating obstacles such as trees and goal posts and for the end of stripe runs, but it can mean a slight loss of traction if the ground is very damp. But overall, it's very easy to manoeuvre; the steering levers take a bit of getting used to, but once mastered mean that you can steer with the left hand leaving the right hand free to lift the deck over any obstructions."

Although not a huge problem at the SC Johnson site, the Profihopper is also useful for leaf collection - particularly on a number of his school contracts.

Richard has a number of contracts covering all aspects of maintenance, from wild-flower meadows, cricket & football pitches, approaching 100 housing developments and Minley Station, comprising Gibraltar Barracks and Minley Manor which featured in the films 'The Mosquito Squadron' and 'The DaVinci Code'.

"There is even more pressure on high profile sites, Minley Manor has extensive formal lawns at one end of the spectrum and meadow land at the other" comments Richard, "People like a lawn to look 'right' and that usually means stripes - even though it doesn't necessarily improve the turf. Having a machine that is versatile, so it can work on a range of grounds and still give a cut that both looks good and helps improve the turf is a tall order, but the Profihopper seems to pull it off; it can actually turn a sow's ear into a silk purse! Horticulture is both a science and an art. Having the right tools for the job is important - not just for the client, but also for the operator".

The Profihopper's main driver is Jeff Meredith and he comments, "It's rewarding to leave a site knowing that you can be proud of the job and the client can see a marked difference in the grounds before you arrived and after you left."







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