Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I have been swindled.

Rather, I have swindled myself. I just have no head for business; in the "art of the deal" my medium is crayon and I cannot even stay inside the lines. Understand this, please, before I share my latest folly, which went and continues to go thusly:
The world of fine gardening not being as lucrative as I had hoped (my agent somehow failing to secure me that extra couple of zeros at the end of my salary), it was time to leave the old apartment behind and find a new one in a more recession-friendly neighborhood. On cost, on quality, on vermin content, on crime-riddenness I was willing to compromise; but this time I would have a backyard with garden space. As it turned out, all conditions were met and my girlfriend and I ended up moving into a cheaper, lower quality, previously infested unit in a neighborhood which is no stranger to sirens of all sorts (there's one now!)... but it has a backyard. I repeat: it has a backyard, it did not have one prior to our occupancy. It had a magnificently preserved fraction-acre of bona fide wild American grassland with lovely borders of bona fide wild American weedland and a pile of bona fide wild American deadchristmastreesland (to say nothing of the beautiful englishivyland sprawled over it all).
Being the confident, bargain-minded gardener that I am, the wheels of a deal started screeching in my head (someone needs to lubricate those damn things). Here was a neglected spot of land in my control; I wanted to turn it into a garden anyway, I do this for a living, so why not see if we could make a little deal whereby we could "take care of" the yard in exchange for a monthly reduction in rent. The property manager was game, the owner was game; that brought us all to the bargaining table.
My chips: I am a professional gardener and tenant who will put in more effort of a higher quality than any hired help ever would; were I to charge a client for the services needed at this rental it would be a staggering sum of cleanup and maintenance fees; being an avid home gardener, I will add to and improve the garden/landscape to the extent that rental prices to future tenants will be justifiably increased.
Their chips: they own and manage the damn place and don't give a fig who lives there or how well they take care of the yard.
My initial offer: Stay vague; get a feel for how much they're willing to slash rent. If they toss out a low number, keep in mind it's a negotiation and after some haggling I'll be able to convince them that I am a valuable asset to them as both a tenant and gardener. No numbers yet.
Their counter offer: $50 off each months rent.
My reply: (Keeping in mind my little pep talk about haggling and how much my chips are worth: far more than this paltry offer. In fact, I'm a little insulted at the supposed value of my chosen vocation as perceived by these idiots) umm... (I mean, really, do they think this is how much good quality gardening costs per month? I'm not going to just run through with a mower and line trimmer on my way to 30 other sites) well... (come on, there's at least 10 times that much work every month to be done here I should ask for way more) hmm... (they should be paying me to live here)...
well, OK, $50 a month is fine.
(The sound of a single hands' applause)

And so, after some ferocious negotiations, we settled on a reduction of rent equal to $50 per month.
So far, after a month, I have put in about $500 worth of work (even at a much discounted rate) and will continue to do so each month, putting in many gardening hours and capital expenditures (hoses, sprinklers, plants, etc.) because I want to create and live in a beautiful place and to provide a beautiful place for future tenants to live in a neighborhood where natural beauty may be hard to find. And those reasons will have to suffice, because due to my superb business and bargaining acumen, I desperately leapt at the first offer that wafted past me and will never be recompensed more than $50 per month.


  1. Actually, you're pretty lucky. A lot of rental agreement specifically prohibit the tenants from altering the landscaping in any way. Under your agreement, you get to do some gardening and beautify your home and you get $50 off your rent. Sounds like a good deal to me. (Written by someone who lives in an apartment and has to look at Bermuda grass outside her window.)

  2. At least you have $50 extra a month. Hope you took "before" photos to use as contrast when you are on the Seattle garden tour, and launching your landscape design business.

  3. As a new homeowner (!!) that kills plants by merely being in their presence, I will hire you and pay you at least mostly what you're worth and pay the rest in good times and beer :).

    Your landlord has a pretty sweet deal. I say remember to pot where you can so you can take your hard work with you when you go.

  4. CR- Thanks for the reminder; Time to count my blessings!
    DP- I'm thinking about just leaving the dead christmas trees for the garden tour and trying to pass them off as avant garde garden art.
    Jenna- Be warned that when I accept beer as payment for gardening there is a very steep bell curve representing my productivity: a couple beers and I'm in the zone, a few more and I'm either lying down sunbathing in apathy or furiously trying to recreate classic French parterres using only existing dandelions and rocks.