Gardeners, was Japanese trowel/knife of some sort

Terri Bates
Fri, 20 Nov 2015 15:25:55 PST
Do not despair of finding a gardener if you really want one. Even if
you are a collector. Even if you have hundreds of plants that can't be
easily replaced. I know for a fact they exist. Just know and be clear
what you need. Be persistent and creative in your search.

When interviewing, focus on tasks not ambiguous titles. Your future
gardener may call themselves plantsman or landscaper or handyman or
designer (not all are ignorant or duplicitous, Jane). A full spectrum
of gardening services exists, as varied as the people who choose, and
survive, this profession. Gardeners have extremely low status in the
U.S. In the private sphere, most find a way to multitask, many will
have a checkered work history, not all want to own that label. Be open
minded, few will have a Kew pedigree.

Not many can afford a fulltime gardener, any more than they can afford
a fulltime personal chef. Certainly not I; though we can dream about
selfless hardworking elves who work wonders overnight. Is your plant
habit worth pilfering a college or retirement fund? Probably not. But
as a general rule, people who can afford to eat out on a frequent
basis can afford some level of assistance in their garden. After all,
why invest in plants but not on their care?

Decide on a budget ahead of time. Realize that the more work you
offer, the less overhead cost for your gardener. Expect to pay $30/hr
as an absolute minimum and tack on more for greater experience,
distance to jobsite, or upscale location, and definitely more if less
than a full day's work, often more if only peak season and possibly
more if you are a high-maintenance personality.

Will your gardener have to maneuver insanely steep muddy terrain or to
balance on a thin rock precipice to prune your roses? If smart,
they'll charge you a bit more; insurance is expensive, workers comp
non-existent and a bad back is a career killer.

At least in Washington state, also expect to pay sales tax. By law
here, consultants and designers are professional services, but as soon
as trowel (or hori hori) touches dirt, your gardener becomes a taxable
commodity. But I digress.

Plant addicts actually have an advantage over the average homeowner in
defending their garden from plausible poseurs -- knowledge. Do they
understand garden lingo and can they intelligently discuss garden
tasks? In such and such garden bed, what would be their preferred
weeding tool? Do they recognize and exclaim on uncommon plants? Do
they admit unfamiliarity and ask your specialist advice on rare
plants?  If hiring a company, ask to interview the actual gardener
(employers struggle to find and retain quality gardeners too). Finding
the right person can be hard work but, as others have said, it is much
easier than undoing damage from the wrong person.

Almost never is the mow and blow type of landscaper going to care
about plants. Even if they do, they are trained to be super quick and
overly tidy and are often taught the most appalling misinformation on
the job. It's a competitive industry and it takes time and knowledge
to care for plants properly. Damage from poor cuts, exposed roots,
soil compaction, hidden high N fertilizer or pesticide application
(yes really happens), et cetera can take time to be obvious.

A garden designer might be good but IMHO only if they willingly call
themselves a gardener and have references that include maintenance. It
can be quite rewarding, personally and financially, for a
self-employed person to do both. Trust the sort that pokes in your
soil on your first meeting over the kind that wants to rearrange your
yard or subtly sneers at your pot ghetto.

A truly skilled pruner - the kind you'd trust with your mature
Japanese maple - probably has the ability but not the time or desire.
They too are underpaid but generally charge more for pruning than
other services and so stay busy doing that if experienced.

If you are a plant geek and want someone worthy of your garden, you
need a plant geek. And you need to invest some time working with them
in your garden to make sure it's a good fit.

Finding one is not as simple as looking in the phone book. The best
ones, especially the less expensive good ones, will not have lots of
advertising because when not working in a client's garden they are
obsessing in their own. Plan on trying word of mouth at good nurseries
(ask the employees not just the owner) or local horticulture program
(if you press it and talk up your garden, experienced former students
names will be shared).

Unless you plan on apprenticing them yourself (not a terrible idea in
this economy), they will need to have acquired hands on experience
somewhere. The _typical_ nursery job offers good beginner experience
but little incentive (in pay, benefits, working conditions, or job
satisfaction) to keep skilled plantspeople from going solo. A smaller
or specialty nursery will have provided better education. Designers
who actually installs their designs are better grounded in garden
realities. A good plantsman supplements hands-on by reading widely and
communicating with other experienced gardeners. A chat over a cup of
tea will get you better and more honest details than questions such as
do you like gardening.

If you want a true gardener's gardener, they likely spend some of
their hard earned cash and precious free time joining local garden
clubs. Ask around! Though be prepared to woo them with an interesting
garden and relatively steady work and hospitality. Remember they
obviously aren't in this field for the money. Only hire someone who
_wants_ to garden, who is passionate about plants.

And be prepared for quirks: your future gardener _chose_ a
non-traditional career for a reason. For instance, perhaps they got
burnt out working indoors and endlessly talking with people 5 days a
week, perhaps they rashly cashed in all their dotcom stock options to
help fund years of underpaid work experience, or perhaps they just
wanted the freedom to spontaneously schedule their time and go hiking
in the mountains on a lovely day.


Terri -- who will argue the merits of the slightly concave carbonized
style hori hori over flat or stainless any day; who finally
understands why the woman at Hida Tool called it a bunny tool; and who
is absolutely hopelessly wordy while basking in the sun on a brisk
autumn day.
Terri Bates
Pacific NW Gardenmaker
W WA foothills Z7 -- where it dropped to 26F early this morning though
SeaTac didn't quite reach freezing, where the Colchicum and Mahonia
petals that survived the recent windstorm are now history, and where
newly-acquired late-flowering Snowdrops are poking above the surface

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