Green Machines

We were greeted this particular Monday morning by nice sunny weather at Compton Verney. However, whilst it would have been a great day for grass maintenance, the grounds team were booked in for an away day to our nearby neighbours – the National Trust site of Charlecote Park. It would be very easy to slip into the historical links between Compton Verney and Charlecote, especially the Capability Brown connection, but for this post I shall stay with the reason for the invite; which was for a day’s testing of ‘Green’ garden machinery.

A range of property teams from across the region had been invited to a trial day which had been arranged in association with Sally Drury on behalf of Horticulture Week magazine – the industry standard magazine for garden and grounds maintenance professionals.


Horticulture Week Machinery Trial at Charlecote Park.

The key reason for the day was to put a number of manufacturers machines together in one location, to compare and obtain feedback from a range of operators – a kind of Top Gear special for gardeners but without the attitude! ‘Green’ machines refreshingly were the central focus, battery powered items were therefore the order of the day. We’ve a small but effective range of petrol/diesel fuelled machines at Compton Verney, and with our new ‘Green’ working agenda this year – we were very much looking forward to putting some of these trendy machines through their paces.


Whilst battery power for DIY and professional tooling has been available for many years, only recently has it jumped the divide to garden machinery, including strimmers, brushcutters, hedgetrimmers, chainsaws and even mowers. Portable generators feeding power to hedgetrimmers is popular in many of the top topiary gardens in the UK, although many stick firm with their petrol fuelled machines, for reasons of power and portability.

The items we trialled used a variety of dry batteries – from plug-in types identical to those found on cordless drills, to larger units that were attached to a range of backpacks. Naturally, the size of battery dictated usage time and charge time. What was interesting, was that memory was being built into the newest systems, which when plugged into an associated computer system, could provide information as to run times, attachments used, and importantly – if the unit had been overly stressed in any way. Information obtained directly from a battery unit in this way can be invaluable for service agents when dealing with genuine or fraudulent warranty claims for example.


Paul Smith putting a strimmer to the test on the banks of the River Avon.

I won’t feed back the pro’s and con’s of each machine, but will say that in trying the equipment back to back – it was clear to see that there is much difference between the many models and units available. All of the items we saw are currently available on the open market, but we also heard of new items in the pipeline – which helped to show us which manufacturers were seeking to improve and invest in the range of battery-powered machines on offer.

I would say that overall, the units each had their own selling points, each sounding and looking useful when demonstrated. My concern over run times, or more simply – how long each item would last on a full charge; was vindicated. However, I could see that each item had been designed for a specific application, and many of the items we tried would be perfect or more appropriate for domestic or small-scale professional gardens – not full-sized landscape parks. There were items however, that did show much potential for use at a site such as Compton Verney.


Adding weight to the machine produced a balanced and easier tool for use.

In terms of selling battery-powered machines, I would say there are very real benefits to many users. Quiet: Noise, or lack of noise, was a real improvement over petrol powered machinery, this itself can be a real problem in built up or sensitive areas. Weight: Often a downside to battery-powered items, this was improved with back pack units. Versatility: Although not just restricted to battery-powered items, this aspect is creeping in and very welcome. One power unit could be used to power hedge and lawn trimmers, extending chainsaws and leaf blowers etc. Batteries: Being available in a variety of forms, they now are easier and quicker to charge, but beware of run times, as some were as little as 30 minutes – not good for the average landscape garden, but perfect for the smaller scale hedge trimming.

I could see there are real practical benefits in switching to the appropriate kit, and the day proved very useful as an introduction to battery-powered gardening. One thing that did shine out was the potential with some initial investment to charge batteries via solar panels; which does appear to be offering a real greener alternative. At this stage, a complete switch to battery power isn’t viable for us; petrol powered machinery winning the day. But considering the safety issues around collecting, storing and using liquid fuels, and also the unpredictable cost, battery seems to be the way ahead. I look forward to exploring the use of battery-powered garden tooling at Compton Verney, having been educated and reassured as to the pros and cons.

I’d like to pass on our thanks to Charlecote Park staff and Horticulture Week for making us feel welcome, and for a fascinating day – very useful indeed!

Gary Webb

Head of Landscape and Gardens