Luke may not had known at the time how much of an impact convincing his parents to rent him an allotment would have, but he’s now sure that his time being one of the youngest allotment holders in the country made him realise he wanted to get into gardening.
“It wasn’t the coolest thing in the world for a 13 year old to be doing” he tells us, but Luke’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed; his work one the allotments earnt him the South West in Bloom Youth Award in 2005, while he was still at secondary school.
After completing his work experience with the Eden Project working on displays of vegetables, ornamentals, fruit and crops, Luke decided to study a two year National Diploma in Horticulture at Duchy college.
It was during his time at college that Luke began his aspirations to start his own business, and the concept of Man for all Seasons was born. Aged just 17, Luke began to pick up work from customers at Plymouth Garden Centre, where he had a part-time job.
In the early days, I remember setting up the business and deciding what I would charge. I charged £9-£10 an hour to begin with, and remember my mum saying ‘people aren’t going to pay that Luke’. Within a couple of months I was absolutely fully booked.
From there it hasn’t all been plain sailing, with the business facing a setback when Luke broke his ankle during the early stages of trading. Unable to work, Luke faced 7 weeks in a cast with lots of customers he didn’t want to let down.
The solution, Luke found, was to call in his Dad Mark; “I remember hopping along on my crutches trying to teach him how to use a lawn mower and strimmer and having a plastic bag over my cast to keep it from getting wet and dirty”.
Since then, Man for all Seasons has become somewhat of a family affair, with Mark quitting his job as a taxi driver and becoming a full time gardener, and mum answering the phone for messages.
The Man for all Seasons team also includes a labourer and head gardener, as well as a range of subcontractors to lend a hand on bigger jobs.
Luke and his team provide the complete service, including everything from a regular grass cutting service to complete garden design projects.
Luke tells us about his decision to rebrand in 2015. “People recognise the brand now and recognise that it’s something that’s been done properly – it shows I’m serious about what I’m doing.”
“We cover grounds, gardens and landscaping; anything in the garden for people who actually like their gardens!” Spanning such a wide range of garden projects, the team are no strangers to a challenge, and a year ago they took on their most complex job to date.
With the task of planting 6 Photinia trees, both the team and the client were shocked by the sheer size of the plants when they arrived; “they arrived on a lorry, two guys had rolled them off and they had bounced and dented the tarmac.”
After considering many options to get the 3/4 tonne trees into the back garden and planted, a crane was hired for the day as the most feasible option; lifting all 6 trees, a mini digger and 6 bags of top soil over the entire house. The team proudly finished in just a day. “It was nuts!” Luke admits.
The business also takes on the challenge of large commercial scale gardening projects. As their biggest site, Man for all Seasons is kept busy with their Millfields contracts. The team is involved with not only maintenance but also review meetings and regular contact with the management, ensuring they’re not just contractors that come in to do the job and then go again.
Valuing a relationship with the client, the team choose not to class themselves as contractors no matter the site size, instead sticking with the title of gardeners.
“There are loads of gardeners in Plymouth – if you look in the yellow pages there are hundreds of them – but there aren’t many people who really know their plants and what they’re doing.”
Offering high end horticulture is something Luke is passionate about, as plant and pruning knowledge can take a lot of studying.
Luke began to expand Man for all Seasons’ services to garden design in June last year, after completing a HND in Garden and Landscape Design at Cornwall College.
Open to projects with a budget of £5,000 – £25,000, Luke values constant meetings with the client to throw ideas around and create a brief and concept that works to suit each individual. And it doesn’t have to be a complete garden re-design; “if they’ve got a garden that’s already quite well established, it could be just some smaller changes that are needed” Luke reassures us.
Man for all Seasons also offer a bespoke 3D model for each client, allowing them to put themselves in the garden, walk around, zoom in on aspects and see what it will look like from their neighbours driveway for example.
The Man for all Seasons team also discuss maintenance with the client during the design process. “It’s great to build these fantastic gardens and the client’s intentions are always there to maintain it themselves, but if there’s a plan in place or quarterly review of how they’re doing this ensures the longevity of the garden” Luke tells us.
“You can quite easily step outside your back door and think you know straight away what you want, be it a patio or a deck. I’ve had that many times – but my job as a garden designer is to work with the client and find the best possible solution for their garden, taking into consideration everything they want.”
Showcasing his work, Luke tells us he’s proudest of a garden design that can be found in Saltash. “It’s the best garden I’ve built so far from a creativity point of view. Yes there were some complications along the way but in the end we delivered a completed garden to our clients that ticked every box for them.”
Looking ahead, Man for all Seasons has three projects in the pipeline, and is working with Luke’s old tutor from his design course, Matt James, to design some exciting new gardens.
Luke is also expanding his business into a brand new Man for all Seasons unit, which he got the keys for just last month. “I’ve got stuff in storage all over Plymouth at the moment – a cement mixer, rotovator – bits and pieces everywhere!”
As predominantly a store for his equipment including bigger tools like his ride on mower, Luke is looking forward to having a base and sees the space doubling up as a workshop for more bespoke pieces further down the line.
Man for all Seasons seems to have an exciting time ahead, as when we ask Luke where he sees his business in the future he has some big plans. While the business looks to still maintain gardens big and small, Luke himself wants to focus more on design work and project management possibly across the country. In order to do this, Luke tells us how he’s looking for new staff members with the right skills and expertise.
With bigger budgets you can be more creative; you can start looking at more bespoke products instead of picking up a catalogue.
Luke also tells us he wants to go back to studying within the next few years; brushing up on his skills and confidence in planting design as a single module. Finally, Luke has aspirations for a Man for all Seasons show garden at either Hampton Court or Chelsea over the coming years.