I need staff. My socialist friend is appalled with me when I say this, but she doesn’t watch Downton or garden like I do—an hour a day and most weekends. There are so many things I can’t do: prune tall trees, move hulking shrubs, trim towering hedges or weed for hours without cooking or suddenly deciding I need to run to the village.
I need help, but neither can I socially afford classist comments about staff, I truly can’t afford to pay anyone much (and still keep my budget for plants, and uh, food). Plus: I haven’t found anyone who is quite up to snuff.
I’ve tried various self-proclaimed earth-loving people with trucks. There was the frisky long-haired fellow who when asked to shape a mangy holly, topped it a whopping five feet, exposing not only a power pole but also an offensive streetlight. An edenic hippy chic followed, one that couldn’t do paperwork, or rather only to her own advantage. I tried a man who had cottoned onto the gardening biz without learning very much about plants. And finally a backhoe boulder-moving man who used workers from the day labour pool downtown; people who didn’t know a weed, save one.
I'm exaggerating and being snobbish for effect; I have worked alongside every worker (the best conversationalists were the day labourers), save the holly-hacker who could greenwash so well I left him in the hands of my husband. Ahem.
My first-world gardening problem: Good help is hard to find.
The best gardener I’ve had specializes in installations. He single-handedly plants trees. I had him put in ten-foot hornbeams, with burlap-wrapped clay-coated roots. He used his body for leverage. Dutch and Gouda-powered, at the age of sixty he is a gardener of the old sort: conservative in movement, practically energy-saving in design. His hands naturally gloved, one missing a tip of finger. His feet, size fourteen (if you count the workboots) and count the boots you do when delicate perennials are sending up shoots. No tiptoeing through the proverbial tulips for this man. And therein lay the problem—I’d ask for a plant moved, watch him wield a wheelbarrow like it was Tonka toy and then seize up, staring fixedly at his humungous feet.
I’m no angel to work for: I dither, preferring to design on the fly until the garden ‘feels’ right. And I’ve been dropped as a client for having a lawn lousy with rocks. Recently, I invited over a gardener who I thought would be perfect for me (he mentioned soil over dinner) and while he didn’t take the job, he did offer to help out for free in exchange for my teaching him, which I’m trying to count as a blessing of sorts.
At this time of intense clean-up, when trips to the dump have lost all charm, it’s time to admit to one’s limitations and call for help. Gardening is hard work, true horticultural educations are rigorous, take years, and the work is not well-paid. But if we’re willing to pay for people to design and sell our homes, why do we balk at the price and knowledge it takes to create living beauty, to care for greater part of a property—that outside?
I’ve decided to divide and conquer: an intern, an irrigator, a pruner, an excavator, a helper. Many hands. Let’s just not call them ‘staff’.