Adapt and Grow -
Making an early impact with your business
Angela Potter won an RHS Chelsea Flower Show prize before she started her garden design business. However, it is business resilience that has helped her adapt and grow through some challenging times.
Angela Potter’s career as a garden designer got off to the most extraordinary start. In 2008 she was in the final year of her garden design diploma at Capel Manor College and was setting up English Eden with business partner, Ann Robinson.
With that process still ongoing, they were awarded a bronze medal in the small garden category at RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Their prize-winning design? Ratty's Refuge, part-garden, part-habitat for Britain’s dwindling population of water voles.
“I cannot begin to tell you how many doors it opened and continues to open today” explains Angela.
“We had this inspirational tutor who just said: ‘Be bold, just apply to Chelsea, don’t go to a smaller show first.’ I am so glad that we threw caution to the wind, followed a passion, and got our names out there. It gives your business an incredible kudos. The earlier you can achieve that, the better the chance you have at success.”
It was not easy though. Producing an award-winning garden helped give Angela many of the skills she would need in business. In fact, so time-consuming is the process, she is glad she took it on before she had too many clients:
“You have so much to think about. It is not just designing a garden, you have to think about supply chains, finding sponsors is a massive part of it too; there is an entrepreneurial side to it because no one knew who we were, we had to demonstrate a sound business plan. Our main sponsor was the River and Rowing Museum at Henley on Thames who were incredibly supportive. Our design now lives in their grounds and is still a draw for visitors.”
“Protecting water voles is a passion of mine so we worked with Cambridgeshire Wildlife Trust as well. With so many moving parts, it is important experience for running a business in this field. Not just that, of course, but the exposure if gives you is fantastic. I have two thick books full of press cuttings from all over the world following our award. Henley also reported visitor numbers increase by thousands in the year our garden opened there.”
Building business resilience: Gardening in lockdown
With so many people spending time in their own homes over the past 18 months, Angela has seen a huge spike in business: “I am rushed off my feet, our volume of business is four times bigger than usual. It felt like a short-term thing to start with, but now, more businesses are bringing in remote working as a permanent feature of work. For many, the garden is now a focal point, rather than something simply to maintain."
At the start of the first lockdown, Angela was not sure what was best for her business. She did not have a business continuity plan:
“We were exempt from lockdown restrictions – I could keep working - and I had to take a moment to decide... do I want to continue this business? If I had not kept going, I do not think I would have a business now. It is not that I anticipated how busy I would be, but more that I had a list of clients who I had been working with for years that I did not want to let down. I am very glad about the decision I made.”
The whole experience has taught Angela a lot about resilience:
“I think back to 2008 when I started. With the recession, it was difficult. I could not make the investment I would have made in terms of equipment. I just had to keep on going, take all the jobs that came in and take all the advice I could. All this despite the accolade of the awards from RHS Chelsea Flower Show. I have learned that resilience is the ability to soldier on through difficult times and remain optimistic about the future.”
Angela has some sage advice for people in the initial stages of their business:
“Just do it. The more experience you get, the more self-belief you have. Word of mouth also helps, so know that while you can’t guarantee it, doing a good job and building relationships will eventually open doors.”
Angela is passionate about gardening as a tool for mental wellbeing:
“Research has proven many times how gardening can help with a range of conditions, from PTSD to depression. There is also a growing body of evidence to demonstrate how natural spaces can improve your immune system, lower your blood pressure, and help combat stress. If you are gardening, add in the sense of achievement, being physically active, the focus on something a bit different, and the joy of looking at something you have created, it is an amazing way to improve your wellbeing.”
“For me, gardening makes me deeply happy. It brings me closer to my parents who have passed away. I incorporate memories into my garden; looking after my mother’s favourite shrub is like you are nurturing a memory and keeping it with me. Gardens are so life-enhancing, you spend time in them with friends and family, you entertain, even have weddings. Gardens are where you create memories and where you save them too.”
Gardening tips for busy people
Angela works with many busy professionals who do not have hours to spend gardening every week:
“If you pick the right plants, you don’t need to spend hours a week. Think about when are you are going to be in the garden most and make sure your plants are thriving when you are going to be there to see them.”
“You don’t have to hard-landscape, a few beds or raised beds can make an enormous difference. It is good to have a mixture of trees, lawn, flowers and even grow some vegetables. Make your garden a beautiful space that is nice to look at, but also attracts wildlife, and even gives you a few veggies at the end of the summer!”
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