Friday, September 18, 2009

Thank You Ladies and Gentlemen, Please Remember to Tip Your Gardeners

OK, you don't have to, but it sure would be nice.
Out of the blue the other day, after a couple hours' work installing some new container plantings, my co-worker and I were each slipped a nice crisp $20 bill by our client and told that we did beautiful work for which he was very grateful and that we should treat ourselves to something cold to drink.

I nearly cried.
And yes, I treated myself to a Grande, Pomegranate something-cold-to-drink on the rocks, no salt.

It just doesn't happen in this business; tipping is something from my high-school days of delivering pizza, when the extra couple of bucks almost made it worth driving around in a perpetually overheating car exposing myself to cracked-door slices of sordid Americana. Back then the tip was an acknowledgment that, while pizza delivery is not rocket science, I still managed to not f*ck it up in an industry rife with f*ck-ups; furthermore I took that spare change as risk reward, knowing that the next cracked-door might reveal a particularly well-armed slice of Americana demanding more than just an extra packet of Parmesan cheese (trust me, it happens).
But gardening is different. If you are a bad gardener, you are not tolerated because at least you showed up with pizza; you are fired. Therefore, the mere ability to maintain regular clients is its own reward and letting me keep 83 cents for not messing up a hedge is more or less redundant. I do not wish gardening to become one of those awkward trades where tipping is sort of half-expected to the point of crippling ambiguity on the patron's behalf to be returned by ready, frosty glares from any slighted worker. While I am not laughing my way from jobsite to the bank every day, I am paid a fair wage for my work (some days I believe this more than others) and do not expect anything beyond an agreed upon price for my services. That being said, gardening can be grueling work and gardeners are known to enjoy a something-cold-to-drink after a long hard day, so I am certainly not going to refuse the $20 out of some noble but vague system of vocational ethics. Nor will I be offended by the social hierarchy implicit in any tipper/tippee relationship, because I choose to interpret a tip as the only available means of expressing superlative gratitude in an increasingly impersonal culture (although I would also be moved to tears if someone slipped me a thank you note or chocolate-chip cookie) rather than as a patronizing reminder of my servitude. If I came to expect a $20 tip after every job, the gesture would rapidly lose its significance and sincerity; as it is, I am moved because it is a completely unexpected act of generosity and kindness. Never underestimate the power of such acts.
Here are some other ways you can thank your gardener:

* Consistently keep your vicious attack dog locked up inside, not just occasionally
* Hire an on-site massage therapist to tackle those charlie-horses, cramps, muscle strains, and general soreness that inevitably arise in the course of the day.
* Speak to him as an equal, not as a servant
* Offer to sharpen his tools
* Offer to give him a straight-razor shave when he starts to look particularly scruffy
* Shout peppy High School cheers out of the window when he clearly cannot get the leaf-blower started
* Remember his name
* Remember that he is human and cannot achieve superhuman feats of gardening merely because you desire it
* "Accidentally" Leave tall frosty glasses of iced-tea, with just a little bit of lemon, scattered around the garden on hot days
*Every once in a while, pretend that plants are something interesting out of which someone besides a complete reject might choose to make a career

That covers most of the bases, but remember as long as it's a sincere gesture of appreciation, it doesn't really matter what you do. And don't limit yourself to gardeners; everyone likes something cold to drink!


  1. Well the solution, clearly, is to always show up with a pizza.

  2. *Every once in a while, pretend that plants are something interesting out of which someone besides a complete reject might choose to make a career

    Seriously. In my experience, this attitude is more common from employers than from customers, though.

  3. In this case, a pizza might be a nice tip for the gardener.
    Like many other art forms, gardening is under-appreciated by too many. But it's the appreciative who really matter, and whom you can take delight in inspiring. Totally worth it.
    (I heart gardeners)

  4. It's supposed to be a hot weekend here. I'll try your idea of leaving glasses of iced-tea scattered around the garden for my gardener (moi) in the hope that it will urge me on to yet another tedious task.

    Now that you have covered the disinterested but kind employer, do you have anything to say about the "let me show you how to do that in the proper way" types?