For single mum Nicola Preston, life under lockdown is almost business as usual – but not quite.
Owner operator Nikki runs lawncare service Greener Gardens within an eight- to 10-mile radius of her home in Walsall, West Midlands and has to juggle the demands of 5-year-old son Charlie and those of her clients.
“Many of my customers are older ladies,” explains Nikki, “and they are comfortable with me cutting and treating their lawns, even in lockdown.
“Average lawn size is only around 100m2 and I probably spend 15 to 20 minutes on each so I’m in and out quickly. If my job that day includes lawn cutting, my session usually lasts 30 minutes to an hour.
“During lockdown, customers don’t pay me on the doorstep. I email them my invoice then they pay online, so that works really well”
Nikki’s no stranger to lawncare, having worked for national franchise Green Thumb in their admin department. And she likes the outdoors. “When young, I was always working in the garden with dad or helping granddad in the greenhouse,” she recalls.
As the first female owner/operative within the UK Lawncare Association, a woman working in what still is the “man’s world” of lawncare, Nikki is confident in her own abilities to compete on a level playing field with the other sex.
“Many women are put off this kind of business because of the stereotype people may have, they may not believe they can do it. I know we can and I find that clients like to see a woman as they present a different approach the job and are a bit more engaging with them.”
Nikki launched the business nearly 10 years ago, offering a spread of services including general gardening, driveway cleaning and “general labouring” before focusing on lawncare just over two years ago.
Go-to sprayer brand
Her time at national franchise Green Thumb taught Nikki that Cooper Pegler was “the go-to brand” and that mindset carried over into Greener Gardens, when she launched the business.
After completing her City & Guilds PA1 and PA6 certificates, Nikki was suited and booted ready to apply plant protection products – launching lawn treatment as part of her service package just over two years ago.
“I hear that sister brand Berthoud is favoured also,” she notes, “but I use the Series 2000 CP3 20l capacity knapsack all the time and I’ve never had any problems.
“Spraying is hard work if you have to treat large areas,” explains. “I once knapsack sprayed a 4,000m2 lawn and that was tough on my shoulders. I’m planning to purchase a new one with padded harness, which makes the job far more comfortable.”
A self-confessed “very organised person”, Nikki maintains strict practice at keeping her products apart. “The CP3 handles the selective I apply for the summer treatments. “I find that you can catch weeds better by spraying later in the season. My other, CP15, knapsack is reserved for applying iron treatments in autumn, as well as wetting agents.”
Sturdy construction ensures safe spraying, says Nikki. “There are no leaks or drips to worry about. At the end of my eight-week treatment schedule, I change liquids, washing out the sprayers thoroughly then following the CP service checklist.
Correct calibration is critical for applying correct dosage and Nikki takes no chances. “I do this myself, carefully checking flow rate and nozzle output.”
Hiring in a Camon LA25 Lawn Aerator-Plugger when required, Nikki runs her own Stihl RM545VR rotary mower, servicing it from her home garage workshop. “A standard lawn mower service can cost around £70, so I save that overhead.”
Nikki is happy to chat with customers under normal circumstances but “likes to get on with the job”, she says. “They know I’m on a deadline to pick up Charlie from school at 3pm. Probably half of them are working during the day so I have the job to myself and they allow me access if I’m handling the back lawn.”
During lockdown, entertaining Charlie is of course a major priority. “We walk and ride – Chasewater Country Park is close, as is Cannock Chase – both lovely spots for a bit of exercise and adventure, as he is a budding ‘Nature Explorer’.
In her early thirties, Nikki is keen to develop Greener Gardens, “I’m at the start really but now feel I’m running a business rather than just winging it, as I felt in the early days.”
And in one aspect at least, Nikki agrees with landscapers and gardeners the world over. “I take great pride in my work and love admiring a beautifully manicured lawn.”