His team of landscape gardeners have transformed many Sheffield gardens, winning several awards in the process. Star reporter Rachael Clegg meets landscape gardener James Bird to find out how it’s done...

Todwick Court Landscape Gardener James Bird , at work
Todwick Court Landscape Gardener James Bird , at work

Transforming green space all in five weeks work for James after turning quagmire into miniature country pile

THE near quagmire facing James Bird is a daunting sight.

His team of gardeners and builders are excavating the grounds of a Todwick haven to create what will eventually be a formal-style garden.

Not yet though. There’s a lot of work to be done over the next five weeks. Right now, James, 42, is knee-deep in mud. He’s at the very first stage of the garden transformation process.

But it’s a familiar process. For more than 20 years James Bird Landscape Gardening has been transforming gardens across South Yorkshire and the rest of the country.

“This garden will take about five weeks to finish. We excavate it first and remove all the spoil and have that transported off by a lorry - the logistics of all that is a real challenge and that’s mainly my job. Then we have to put in any drains for patios or driveways.”

Once the drains are in place, the team then fill the area with hardcore, to create a solid footing, and once that’s in place it’s time for adding the surface - whether paving or gravel.

As soon as the surfaces are laid down it’s time for the finishing touches - the turf, trees, shrubbery, planting scheme and ornamentation. “They’re really what finish the job off,” says James.

To achieve this in a meagre five weeks is something of a feat. His team work flat-out while James arranges all the deliveries, plant collections and other infrastructure jobs.

But it’s worth the hard work.

“It’s always a total surprise to see the finished result because usually I’m there at the start and then I leave the lads to it until the end,” says James.

And, five weeks on from excavating the Todwick garden, he’s pleased with the result.

“It looks superb. The team works really hard to ensure that our installations surpass our clients expectations and our latest project is no exception. It’s a superb scheme and our clients love the finished garden.”

The garden is like that of a country pile, only a miniature version, with a formal lawn and sandy-coloured gravel pathway.

It’s hard to imagine that just five weeks ago, this formal contemporary garden was nothing put a pile of mud. “Every garden has its own unique stamp,” says James, from Nether Edge, Sheffield.

“I employ a number of landscape architects as each designer has a different specialism.”

Following an enquiry James will visit a garden, give them a quote and then the designer will have a consultation with the client to discuss the designs, the planting scheme they want and the ‘look’ they are after. And, surprisingly, though the cost of living is rising and people are tightening their belts, James is busier than ever.

“Only a couple of weeks ago I had 30 enquiries in one week. As soon as the sun comes out people start people start becoming interested in their gardens again, it’s like ‘right the winter’s over, I’ll get on with that project’ and it’s a way of adding value to their home.”

But though James is flat-out, he enjoys it. “I’m outdoors a lot and I still get excited about seeing a project evolve from start to finish.”

James’ own career history is also something of a dramatic transformation. When he was aged 21, James started mowing lawns for money, but he had no idea what his part-time pursuit would turn into.

And now, at 42, he owns one of the country’s most acclaimed landscape gardening companies.

He’s seen garden fashions change over the years too.

“Decking is still very popular but I can definitely say that crazy paving has had its day. The increasing popularity of home improvement and gardening programmes has meant that people are more aware now of the garden being part of the home and not just a bit of extra land at the back of the house. Now people view the garden as an extension of the home.”

The idea of the garden becoming part of the house is something James’ designers have used in many of their gardens.

One particular garden - in Wales, near Sheffield - looks like a huge living room. It has an L-shaped sofa and even a coffee table.

The same garden won the national BALI - British Association of Landscape Industries - award for the best garden between £30,000 and £50,000. The range of James Bird’s commissions is vast. He’s even worked for the BBC’s Rogue Traders programme as the person who fixes a job after the rogue traders had done a bodge job. “We had to do a driveway after the rogue traders had made a mess of it. The BBC set it all up and paid us to put it back to how it was.”

Other unusual jobs include designing and landscaping the garden of an architect who built a separate house for his tortoise. “That was quite unusual,” says James.

But it’s not just the quirky jobs that grab attention. James Bird Landscapes was awarded another national BALI award for a small, cottage-style garden for a stone house. The garden is two huge borders running parallel to each other and each bursting with purple flowers.

“That one won an award for the £20k and under category,” says James.

And while the Sheffield company’s a household name in landscape architecture - James didn’t foresee this happening.

“Over the years it just developed but I started off doing soft landscaping and maintenance. Then, as more ambitious jobs came along I employed a builder and it went from there.”

James no longer gets stuck in like he used to. “I’m busy running things now and organising jobs but the team are always out working and they do a great job.”

It’s not all about landscaping though - James also has a Japanese Knotweed service. But he admits that is own home is no show piece. “My own garden - or yard - is really minimal - easy maintenance, that’s what I like.”