Sheena Marsh has been working as a garden designer for nearly 20 years and was awarded Business Person of the Year 2018 in the Oxfordshire Business Awards.
In the second of our Professional Profile blog posts, Sheena tells us why garden design has always been in her heart and how she has carved out a successful business in the Cotswolds.
1. Can you please tell us a bit about how you started your career in garden design? Was this your first career or did you do something else before this?
I began my career as a Primary School teacher but had always been interested in design and on purchasing a house with a large garden in 1996, I decided to follow my heart and took a course in garden design.
2. When did you decide to start your own business and what have been the highs and lows along the way?
I redesigned my own garden and did a friend’s as a case study for my course, and that was it, I was off and running. I set up the business properly in 2002 and we became a limited company in 2011. The business has grown considerably and we now have 25 permanent staff and 5 freelance contractors. We undertake around 6 garden designs at any one time and have nearly 40 that we maintain. The hardest part of the business is recruiting and maintaining skilled landscapers. The highs are when we receive recognition and praise either from our clients or from the industry. Last year I was lucky enough to be awarded Business Person of the Year in the West Oxfordshire Business Awards which was a very special moment.
3. What is your niche and how does this help you to attract new clients?
Our niche is that we offer a one-stop shop, undertaking the design, build and ongoing maintenance of our gardens which is very appealing to clients. They can be safe in the knowledge that their beautiful design will be maintained in the longer term. We offer a very bespoke service and often create one-off pieces for clients. No two designs are ever the same.
Last year we made the brave decision to take premises on the main high street in Witney, fortunately our gamble has paid off and has really raised our profile locally. We now gain a lot of ‘walk-in’ business which is lovely.
4. How important is your website and social media to your business?
Social media is important to raise our profile and is an easy way to show off our creations and reach new people, we have instagram, facebook, twitter and linkedin accounts. I’m really proud of the website, its easy to navigate, visually beautiful and potential clients can browse by price and see what they could attain for themselves which is very powerful.
5. What has been your most rewarding creation/why?
For me it’s about the end result rather than a particular design. There are always problems encountered along the way but it’s our job to overcome them and ensure the client is always thrilled with the finished product. Providing brilliant customer service and having happy customers is the most rewarding part.
6. Where do you get your inspiration?
A mixture of places really, I love visiting large gardens to see how they have sectioned the space, I like to be sympathetic to the local architecture and mix traditional and contemporary styles, my mantra is ‘draw from the past but look to the future’!
7. Which industry figures do you most admire?
John Brooks who pioneered the ‘Outside Room’ from which we now draw so much, and Christopher Lloyds for his Arts & Craft style and introduction of rare plants.
8. What is your favourite garden to visit?
My favourite garden is Rousham, near Oxford which was designed by William Kent in the 17th Century, much of which is still as he designed it. Kent pioneered the landscape movement and was the predecessor to Capability Brown. I provide lectures on the gardens at Rousham and I also love Sissinghurst in Kent.
9. Do you have particular plants that you always use?
Not really, we are quite client led. It’s normally more telling when they tell us what they don’t like!
10. What plants do you use to create colour in the garden during the winter?
Verbena Bodnantense, Skimmia, Holly, Cornus, Winter Clematis Cirrhosa ‘Freckles’.
11. How important is hard landscaping within your designs and do you have any favourites?
Hard landscaping is always an important element and the choice is led by the design, budget, colour and style required. We use a lot of Indian sandstone and porcelain.
12. What are your ambitions for the future?
We are ambitious for the business and work to a strict 90 day rolling strategy so we never stand still and can continue to grow and take on exciting projects.
Oxford Garden Design Videos
Garden Makeover timelapse video.
The Oxford Garden Design team show us how to lay a lawn.