In the Orchestra Pit

We put some thought-provoking questions to our Chief Conductor, John Guildford.

Where did you grow up and what are your earliest recollections? Have you always been involved in the landscaping industry?

I was born and lived in Cowley until I was three, from where we then moved to Hillingdon. From as early as I can recall I was fascinated with plants – my brother and sister both worked at Milton Hutchins, the largest growers in the country at the time, and my mum and aunt worked at Low and Shores, a huge nursery with 2 mile long greenhouses (it’s now the site for Brunel University).

There were always gorgeous flowers around when I was growing up. I also remember our next-door neighbours had a growing patch and I used to love seeing everything develop – the process was so interesting. So, when I was seven, I asked my parents if I could have a space in the garden. They said ‘yes’ and dad built me a greenhouse where I grew large chrysanthemums and other sorts of cut flowers. By the time I was 15, I was quite enterprising as I was growing plants from home and selling them to local schools.


What made you decide to become a landscaper?

When I finished school, I got a job working for a Dutch nursery. It was on the site where Terminal 5 at Heathrow is now located, and we grew lettuce and tomatoes all year round. It was at this point that I decided to go to college for further study. I attended Merrist Wood College for three years and achieved a Diploma in Landscaping.


What qualifications and skills are necessary?

Hands-on experience is essential. Anyone can go to school and learn the theory, but without putting that theory into practice out in the field you’ll never fully understand the ins and outs of each job. Books might tell you that erecting a pergola takes 3 hours, but it doesn’t teach you how to overcome obstacles that are unique to each job  like the terrain, the different levels of ground, etc. Also, attention to detail, initiative, and teamwork are all essential skills that are invaluable to a landscaper.


What was your first job in landscaping?

My very first landscaping job was at the Holiday Inn at Heathrow – I did all the grounds maintenance there. But the best landscaping job I ever did was working for Lady Weinberg. (Lady Weinberg is a film and television actress turned hotelier and designer and noted figure in London society also known as Anoushka Hempel). I did the grounds maintenance for her Marmsbury estate and it was so detailed. Everything was maintained by hand – secateurs for hedge trimming, spirit levels, etc., it required extreme attention to detail and was such a wonderful job to be a part of.


From whom did you take inspiration – professionally and personally?

I have always loved Jeff Hamilton’s weekly garden programmes and his books – his work is just fantastic! But my biggest inspiration, both professionally and personally, was James Potter, or Brian as I knew him. I met Brian when I was a teenager and worked for him at his nursery. He was a brilliant grower – so knowledgeable and he had a dedication that I have never seen since. I worked with Brian right up until he retired in 2000 and we remained close up until he sadly passed away in 2016. He was like a father to me and his legacy still inspires me every day in the way I run GLG.


What was the thinking behind setting up the GLG business?

GLG is all about providing the best quality landscaping work – whether it is grounds maintenance or complete re-landscaping. We want to be the best and work with amazing people to create exceptional projects.


What is the most unusual project you have tackled?

There was one project I remember – it was both unusual and incredible. The client wanted a huge pond – more like a lake really – in the back garden for coy carp. We had to hire a huge crane digger to dig out this lake and then fill it with puddle clay to hold the water. It took weeks to fill the lake up! We then planted a variety of special aquatic plants. The end result was quite spectacular.


What stands out as the most prestigious job with which you have been involved?

In 2012, we maintained the grounds of the Crowne Plaza, Heathrow. For the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, we worked on an incredible landscape project for the hotel grounds, which were attended by the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester on the big day. We created two cascading waterfalls from the roof of the building, which ran down the walls into five further waterfalls and eventually into two channels that ran along each side of a walkway, which intermittently had laburnum-covered arches along it. The effect was stunning, and we were very proud of the result.


What is the most memorable moment in your career?

The fondest memories from my career so far are from when I was growing with Brian. I loved working in the nursery. I would have stayed there forever if I could have.


What advice would you give anyone coming into the industry?

This is not a job that you can do half-heartedly, you have to LOVE it. It is hard work and long hours – you really need to live and breathe all things horticultural… That, together with a little bit of luck, and you can really make it.


How has the industry changed during your career?

It’s become a lot harder. The cost of labour has increased, there are all types of  insurance to consider, as well as health and safety and other overheads. Everything is more complicated and more expensive than it used to be. It is also a lot more challenging to find the right people. At GLG, we are a close-knit team – we are like a little family and it’s not always easy to find someone who fits into the fold.


When you aren’t landscaping, what do you like doing?

Walking the dog now! The boys bought me a little Staffie puppy for my birthday this year, named Little Bry (after Brian),  and so I spend most of my time off focussed on him now!  But mostly, I love being around good company – spending time with my friends and family, maybe in a nice restaurant. I do like a good restaurant! I am lucky to also have a best friend that I regularly travel around the world with – we always have a good laugh!


What is your motto?

Be loyal and trustworthy, and always do your best.   You can’t ask for much more than that!