June 15, 2016
The Garden Girls working in all the right places
Company co-founders Lucy Godinho (foreground) and Darla Hauraney have created a successful business using a team of independent gardeners.
The Garden Girls are not your typical landscape maintenance company. Their crews don’t drive heavily branded company trucks, there are no trailers full of tools and equipment, and they don’t own a lawn mower. In fact, crews are called teams, which consist of part-time, independent gardeners who arrive at a client’s property armed only with a rake, pruners, a bucket and whatever other tools a homeowner would typically use in their own garden.

This unique approach to landscape maintenance all started 10 year ago. Co-founders Darla Hauraney and Lucy Godinho were outside gardening when a neighbour stopped and offered to pay them money to do some work in his own garden. At the time, both women were looking for some kind of summer work — Hauraney was working for a family printing and mailing business that slowed down in summer and Godinho was in her fifth year as a teacher. They became gardeners for hire for that first neighbour, who then told a friend, who in turn told another friend, and Hauraney and Godinho were able to work weeknights and weekends that entire first year strictly by word-of-mouth referrals.

Based in Oakville, Ont. the company has grown steadily over the years, growing from a team of 15 last year, to 20 this season with their sights set on growing to 25 people next year. The company services properties in Etobicoke, Mississauga, Oakville and Burlington that range from postage stamp sized lots to very large estates. About 90 per cent of their clients are residential properties, but they do have some commercial clients such as a restaurant, shopping plaza and condominiums.

Most of the part-time, independent gardeners have other jobs, so scheduling is only done a week in advance using a phone-based app. Gardeners put in their availability and are then matched up with clients. “We first started using the Apple calendar and invited them to jobs,” says Godinho, but like all seasonal businesses, schedules must sometimes be revised around Mother Nature.

Each team of gardeners has a team lead (Hauraney is often one of them), who ensures the work requested by the client is performed to their level of satisfaction, and also deals with any additional work requests or site issues.

Teams are constantly mixed up so gardeners get to work on all of the properties, which sometimes allows for carpooling as well. Hauraney and Godinho strongly believe in not assigning specific gardeners to specific properties simply because they may live close by. “Everyone has a different skill set,” says Hauraney. “Each person has a different eye for pruning and trimming which can then be a refreshing change for the client as well.”

woman working with a hand tool in the gardenCo-founder Darla Hauraney works on job sites while also sharing the daily business operation duties with Lucy Godinho.
With small crews working daily, weekly or even monthly on a property, Godinho says “it makes a lot more sense and is much more affordable” to potential clients. Their gardening service then becomes  comparable to a weekly or monthly maid or cleaning service.

Many of their customers are already avid gardeners who simply may not have the time or the physical strength to maintain their property at the level they desire. “Some of our clients may be dealing with an injury or illness, or have recently lost a spouse,” says Godinho. “Or others are first-time homeowners who have inherited a mature garden on their property and simply don’t know what is in it or how to care for it properly,” adds Hauraney.

Currently with over 150 customers, The Garden Girls run up a waiting list of new clients each spring.  Hauraney and Godinho typically wait until “May Mayhem” is over to visit with new clients during the slower summer months. Hauraney finds once people have made the initial contact they are willing to wait. “In summer, it’s also easier to see what is growing in a garden I’ve never seen before,” which translates into less surprises and makes for more accurate pricing. Even still, she says, “There are always surprises for the first year on a property because when we quote on the work, we are only seeing the garden in that one season.”

All professions must deal with changing client needs, and for The Garden Girls, this is no different. They have done some complete garden makeovers, but always try to work with what is already in a garden when it comes time to revitalize. This means lots of time is spent in fall dividing perennials, moving plants and expanding gardens.

The addition of Turf N Dirt

Those larger garden projects require bulk materials, and for that, Hauraney’s son Brayden started his own company, Turf N Dirt, a couple of years ago. Always a part of the business over the years, Brayden also provides lawn care services to some of The Garden Girls’ clients — something they were asking The Garden Girls about regularly. Turf N Dirt provides everything from soil to mulch to natural stone and aggregates when required. Hauraney says her customers don’t mind the one-stop shop because they know there is a history and a connection with Turf N Dirt. Both companies operate together under the Hauraney Enterprises umbrella.

The Garden Girls have also formed close relationships with a landscape architect and an arborist — both staff they would like to add to their team in the future. “We deal a lot with properties that have a mature tree canopy,”Hauraney says of one of the biggest challenges they face. “Once we have an expert open up the property it also opens up a lot of new ideas and excitement for the property owner.”

Other long-standing relationships with landscape contractors, nursery growers and suppliers are also vital to their success in order to fulfill the needs of a client. They once did an entire makeover in just one week in preparation for a wedding that required all hands on deck and was very stressful. Both Hauraney and Godinho find the work very rewarding. “The harder we work, the better,” says Godinho.

Learning from mistakes

Hauraney recalls one early mistake, creating an entire design for free in hopes of earning a client’s business. “A lot of people try to pick your brain once they know you are knowledgable about plants and gardens,” Hauraney says. “They want your ideas without having to pay.” Despite getting no return for her design effort, The Garden Girls still do not charge for a consultation and none of their clients operate on contracts.

four women with gardening tools take a break from working in the gardenThe teams use primarily hand tools. A blower is the only power tool used when necessary to clean up fine debris.

Gardeners from all walks of life

Finding new gardeners for the team has not been a major issue for The Garden Girls. They use social media, existing employees, and their client base to find new gardeners. They range from retired teachers to students. Emily McKenna is a landscape architecture student at the University of Toronto, who found The Garden Girls online when looking for a summer job. “I’ve learned a ton,” McKenna says. “This work is practical and technical and physical work and school is design-oriented and conceptual — nothing really hands-on.”

Training of new gardeners consists of shadowing Hauraney for three or four days, working at various properties that require different levels of service. After that, the team leader steps in to do any additional training.

Emily Brown is new to the team this year and previously worked for the City of Mississauga’s Parks Department. She says her duties with the city only involved a minimal amount of very basic gardening, something she is very passionate about. This new job allows her to “move into something that was more garden focused.” Brown also enjoys the “freedom to work part-time and have a more guaranteed income.”

Coming from all walks of life and working closely together, many of the team have formed good relationships — with clients as well. Hauraney proudly says some of her clients will make food and offer refreshments to her gardeners.

Hauraney and Godinho get everyone in the company together at least three times a year for a few social events and team building. Everyone meets up in March before the season begins, followed by a mid-summer outing and finally an end-of-season gathering in November.

As for the future, The Garden Girls’ end goal is to have three teams of gardeners out working five days a week. They hope to also add an office administrator to take care of the accounting, invoicing and office duties as the team grows. But for now, both Hauraney and Godinho gladly share the responsibility taking care of the business they have created.

“You know you did a good job when you come home at the end of a hard day and a customer has taken the time to send an email saying how awesome their property looks,” says Hauraney.



As part of a new member campaign, Landscape Ontario’s goal to increase membership by 10 per cent this year, translating into 252 new members, was achieved with the approval of The Garden Girls’ membership application.