Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Garden Variety

I’m on my third set of gardeners this year, and it’s only August.

First there was Hillario and his crew. They used to be good, but last winter they just seemed to lose interest in me and mine. I’d find beer cans in the shrubs and piles of leaves tucked behind trees.

Then I hired a sweet stoner named D. D is a cautionary tale about what happens to Bill and Ted when the excellent adventure continues into middle age.

Every time D came over, he was missing some vital piece of equipment; the mower broke, or the hedger had a screw loose, etc. , so the front yard would look half done, at best. D liked to do the fine work anyway, the garden embroidery, if you will. I would find him picking individual petals off a bird of paradise (“Makes them last longer”), or sitting in a corner, trimming each blade of grass.

It became quite apparent that all the heavy lifting was left to my shoulders. So I said, “D, the backyard is full of weeds. Do you think you can get to that instead.” And he would look at me with a puzzled expression, as if I were a troublesome neighbor asking him to rewire her house.
Or I would say, “D, the ivy on the back fence is getting out of hand. Think we can pull some of it out?” And again with the look. But he might nod to me, as one does to quiet the maniacal rantings of a crazy person.

And then, regardless of what state the yard was in, D would take off within an hour. Much less than an hour if I wasn’t around.

I have these problems with hired-on help because I just don’t generate enough respect. We don’t have an upstairs/downstairs type of relationship; more like downstairs/downstairs. I mean, Hillario was constantly hugging me, for god’s sake, and I don’t think that is common practice with most gardeners. Maybe it was all that beer.

When it came time to let D go (actually, it was always that time, but I kept pushing it off), the exchange went something very close to this:

“So D,” me all cheery and sympathetic. “I guess this turned out to be a much bigger job than you bargained for.”
“Oh, it’s ok,” he said. “I like it.”
“Well, but you see D, things don’t look the way I want them to. I rather like things neat and trimmed, and it’s all too wild for me. It really takes more than an hour a week, I’m afraid. And I am paying you quite a bit, relative to other gardeners.”
“Well, I figure that would be the going rate for the service I offer and my professional equipment.”
“Oh yes, I understand your time is valuable…”

So we went around on this for awhile, and I sent him off with a final check and one of my banana plants. I hope he remembers he’s fired. The only way I’ll know for sure is to check the bird of paradise.


  1. That last paragraph really did make me laugh out loud.

    I'm having the same dilemma with my gardener. The only way I got my "value" from him was when I co-gardened for two hours. Otherwise, it was your scenario. He'd be here for an hour, or much less if I wasn't home.

    I'm in the process of phasing out my gardener. I just cut his generous monthly in half and told him he now just has to do half the work. When we break ground for guest house, it will be a good excuse to say we no longer need a gardener.

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  3. Oh that was great!! For me hired help control has never been much of an issue. I was the hired help! I do have Wade my "blow and go" guy. Hmm, somehow that sounds like more fun than it actually is. You know what I mean. Cut it, blow it, done. No manicuring at Chez Virg. If you can't do it with a weedeater it doesn't get done. I get too chummy too. I stand in the front yard and listen and listen, nodding my head the whole time. Now I hide in the house at the computer and it's better that way.

    Good luck KB. I'd love to see more photos of your yard. I'll bet it's a sight for sore eyes!

  4. Do you think part of the problem is an extension of the women hiring women to clean their house thing and then feeling like they are exploiting someone to do what they should be doing themselves? We do have a gardener, who I think I'm afraid to talk to because I'm afraid I'll sound like a demanding blue-eyed bitch, and we do not have a housekeeper.

  5. I'm looking at alternative careers. What's the going rate for petal picking? Is beer included?


  6. AH: This is brilliant. I think I would love to live next door to you. A gardener clipping blades of grass by hand?! So much nicer than the swarm of blowers I live midst. Tuesday and Saturday's start time: 7:30 am.

    M: Embrace your blue-eyed bitch. I don't know why people think it's a dirty word. I don't know why people think nice is a good word.

  7. Virginia--MOW, blow and go...doesn't sound so...risque'.

    Gotta say K---I lol'd at the hand clipping blades of grass or the bird o paradise. omg! Sounds like you need a M,B,G guy for usual stuff and either an agreement for once a month "clean out the cr@p I won't" or bring in someone else to do the details you don't want to do.

    First, find a gardener whom one of your friends likes. Decide if he's a stoner or not and proceed. Does he speeeeeek goodly english? That'll help. I once tried to talk to a clients this day I don't think either one of us understood what the other was trying to say! Beyond that, tell them you'll give it go for a trial period and either continue for a bit or cut them off---but don't ever tell them how long that trial period is.

    That inner bitch thing---needs to happen sometimes. Be pleasant when you can, but if they are screwing you over, ya gotta do it.

  8. Pardon the vulgarity, but this was damn funny.

  9. I would have the same downstairs/downstairs problem. Which is why I'm glad I'm married to my gardener. Individual grass blade clipping not as odd when he does it.

  10. I can recommend Ramona's gardening team to you if you'd like. It takes a village to raise a child and my mother's team of gardeners to turn all your bushes into poodle shaped topiary.

    D is probably someone I know. Poor sod

  11. double-damn funny...
    (downstairs-downstairs - great phrase & fits me completely)

  12. Very funny. Good luck with gardener number three. Trish's "trial period" stratagem sounds like it could work.

  13. The worst part is, every word is true. When I get rich, I'll spend every penny to bring Trish down here to sort out my domestic life.

  14. Intriguing, mysterious symbolism!
    Berry interesting use of language.

  15. Mid-Town (not) GardnerAugust 13, 2009 at 2:08 AM

    Sounds like the house cleaner I fired, after way to long. Now the house just has that always really lived in feel... messy.

    I have a really good Gardner, although we usually only use him for brush abatement Buy he comes highly recommended as a good Gardner for all things green too. Get my email from PA and I'll send you his name.

    And I agree, somtimes you just need to turn on the hidden bitch.

    Very funny post.

    WV preamo

  16. Mid-Town (not) GardnerAugust 13, 2009 at 2:11 AM

    edit: Buy he comes... (strike out)...
    but he comes...

  17. LOL...This was a riot! Sounds like good bones for a sit-com. You should pitch it to a network.

    I have no such worries. My little balcony garden's miserable state is all my (un)doing.

  18. lol K---I do offer management services, but it'll be that morning commute that'll be the pain in the a$$ for me! ;-)

    then again, one look at me and the candy-a$$ flower picker might just wander off or actually do his (at the time) future m-i-l saw me at a distance the first time and commented to (my now spouse) "she looks like she could arm wrestle me".

    I'll print up new business cards today---scaring the cr@p out of people in your life to get them to do their work---just another service we provide!

    I am good at "I'm sorry, Mrs AH wouldn't like that very much, you need to do that right, and now".

  19. Hey, maybe if HBO picks up Downstairs/Downstairs I can afford Trish.

    MTG: I'll let you know if #3 doesn't work out. (How's the puppy?)

  20. Karin, you are my soul sister!

    I have a great gardener who is more professional than most CEOs I've met. He was hired by the previous owners of this house and we kept him. I'm grateful I didn't have to find someone because I'm sure D would have ended up here if my track record is any indication.

    I love this post. You are hilarious.

  21. I was my own gardener today. I discovered a small neonatal center of Gulf Flitillary butterfly caterpillars in the passion flowers replete with a small mud dauber nest and was stung by a particularly angry one, "discovered" a hornet nest when DH and I were cutting back a hedge of confederate jasmine in the hope that we don't have a repeat of last month's break-in of our workshop, weeded the vegetable garden, worked on the compost, planted seedlings, raked, and watered. I think I was focused, worked steadily, and didn't complain. I don't think I'm getting a paycheck anytime soon. Maybe I should hire myself out.

  22. PJ,
    Apparently your physical therapy is working like charm. Maybe I need to come down for a visit and get some of dat!

    AH, Yep a sitcom is in the stars for you sistah.

    I love it when you get vulgar!

  23. Yeah, South of 'bama Virg:
    Let's get physical therapy!

    btw, did you eat my french macaroons?!

  24. CP
    Mais oui! I'm partial to caramel. Trés bonne!!!!!!!!

    Ohhh my physical therapy today was soooooo wonderful. I'm a new woman........of sorts. Of course a few more weeks in Paree would do the trick.

  25. I’ve had the good, bad and the very ugly. However, it has all calmed down. I now have a real pro. He does what he is paid to do, keeps it very clean, and we have two strophe conversations and it’s over. The ugliest was the most painful. I was growing this great cover of Boston ivy on the front and back hills on the grounds. One week I asked the new gardener if he could clean the weeds from the areas and then do trimming about the edges. I returned home at the end of the day and found a dozen or so large bags of Boston ivy on the front berm, accompanied by front and back brown monochromatic rising and falling mounds of virgin earth. That was one of the few times in my life when I toyed with the concept of capital punishment.

  26. Oh yes, some of us love our gardens not wisely but too well.

  27. You sent him home with a plant? :) I don't do well in those kind of situations.

    Our gardeners were hired by our landlords a while ago. They mostly blow stuff around with the loud leafblower. They weed whack. With a loud machine. And to make it better there is a crew of like 4-5 of them. They are around for an hour, and I have no idea what they do. Other than make noise. :D

  28. AH: I feel your pain...downstairs-downstairs. Rather than take on our mow-blow-go guys myself, I do the nagging housewife thing and try to get The Scout out there to keep the guys in line. Pathetic! And it doesn't work...I think I'd be tougher on them than he is. Did I mention how they trim the bushes with a weed wacker? I'm sure the house is permanently scarred. Then again, what should one expect for $30?

  29. I'm my own gardener. I'd love to fire me. I'm pathetic at my job.

  30. This post is great! I enjoyed it so much (your writing style is very cool!) and I got to laugh more than once.



  31. That was really great!! Very well perceived and expressed.

  32. Collaboration
    maybe is the word for success here.

  33. Yeah Anon. Susan C calls it "co-gardening." Has always been the case, I just need a a reliable co-.

  34. Just believe in him and cooperate, you will have a nice garden.

  35. btw: the frontyard will also be nice.

  36. so that noise you hear is me rooting for HBO!

    OF COURSE for your benefit too! ;-)