Friday, May 22, 2009

Leave Something To The Professionals

Imagine, if you will, hiring a plumber to fix your broken sink (go ahead, really let your imagination fly with this one). Now imagine that you, in a fit of poorly aimed confidence, decide to go ahead and buy the parts to fix the sink ahead of time, so that when the plumber arrives, s/he will only have to put the parts together in the right order and, voila, you'll have a fixed sink. This is as good a time as any to point out that you, unfortunately, do not know the first thing about plumbing equipment or fixtures beyond a vague recollection that, if you happen to be a cartoon Italian plumber, pipes and tubes allow access to dark underworlds where floating coins abound. Basically, your decision to buy parts ahead of time is starting to seem a bit foolhardy. But you soldier on. As you stand in the plumbing aisle of Home Depot, agog and astonished by the multitude of choices and complete lack of floating coins or bricks to smash your head against, you decide to make your selections based on aesthetics, reasoning that any decent plumber should be able to make do with the parts at hand, and beside that you've taken a liking to the little elbow-shaped tubes. So you buy a box and head home to meet the plumber.

The plumber gives you a long, strange look.

Being a professional, s/he jury-rigs a contorted though admittedly cool-looking solution worthy of MacGyver, then tells you not to turn on the water until s/he can get the hell out of there.

The sink predictably and catastrophically fails. What do you learn?

A ridiculous scenario, to be sure, but in principle not so different from one I experienced earlier today. A certain "quirky" client who by her own admission cannot tell the difference between weeds and desirable plants in her yard decided to hire professional gardeners to do some outdoor containers for her. So far so good; I love designing and working with container arrangements and I love showing the not-so-plant-savvy among us the surprising beauty and possibility lurking within the plant kingdom. So my disappointment was justifiably thick when I showed up to find the client had already gone to the nursery and purchased the plants she wanted us to use in her containers. Furthermore, the concept of sun vs. shade and plant's requirements thereof seemed entirely to evade her to the extant that I was forced to put Mexican feather grass in full shade and a beautiful hardy geranium ( G. 'Lawrence Flatman', I'm actually quite taken with this variety right now) in her cave of a covered porch. In the end, the containers looked all right, if a bit out-of-place (imagine a heavily shaded second story window planter filled with the aforementioned grasses, Carex and Dianella - it's like a weird spiky row of sentinels brooding over their own inevitable demise).
Now don't get me wrong... I don't expect everyone to have an intuitive grasp of plant cultural requirements and I don't discourage this kind of experimenting with unfamiliar plants - in fact I believe that the best way to learn gardening is by making your own mistakes and (hopefully) learning from them. I myself have killed enough plants to earn my victims a war memorial (case in point when I first took an interest in ornamental plants I failed to note the fairly important indoor/outdoor dichotemy and would just bring home any plant I liked from a nursery and stick it in my college dorm room, letting it put on a spectacular but ephemeral show for all my roomates). But I just don't see the point in paying professional gardeners to make your mistakes and kill your plants for you. Do not be fooled, while I have been compensated for putting your choices in soil, the accountability is still yours and I will not take responsibility for your doomed sentinels or poor old 'Lawrence Flatman' who, after all, only ever wanted a bit of sunlight.


  1. I hate to sound like a Maoist, but isn't there some kind of client re-education available? Why should the apparently charming 'Lawrence Flatman' suffer needlessly?

    It's time for Maranta to ACT!

  2. when I first took an interest in ornamental plants I failed to note the fairly important indoor/outdoor dichotemyI have seen, like, so much of this lately, though the ones that stand out to me aren't the outdoor plants people are going to be trying to grow indoors, it's the indoor plants that people are going to throw out into the middle of their yard, where they will burn up in the sun.

    But I empathize more with the indoor plants, so maybe that's why I notice them more.