I almost called this post “Quitting Jobs”, but a positive spin might be better. Yes, we just quit a job that we have done for several years, a business landscape which was admired and appreciated by the old management. The new management wanted an austere look, and after a couple of months of boredom, I realized it was time to amicably resign and pass the job to my friend Ed Strange.
Last year I quit one another job amicably but emotionally because the palette of mostly native plants, and the lack of a creative outlet in adding exotics to it, led to boredom. It was always the last garden I wanted to go to even though I very much like the person who created it, and one day I reached the breaking point over a trivial matter: too many styrofoam pellets blown into the garden which we had just cleaned up the day before. At the time, I was overbooked, had three gardens to prepare to perfection for the Peninsula garden tour, and realized that I was ignoring an insight that had spoken to me powerfully in 2007 while sitting in a lecture by Tom Fischer at the Hardy Plant Society Study Weekend in Portland . I wrote in my journal of that time , “I had tears in my eyes and said to my friend Sheila afterward that I am indeed going to phase out all non-plant-nut jobs. I will keep work that falls into either of these categories: the clients are plant nuts (aka hortheads), or the clients allow me to express my plant nuttiness in their garden.” Then I resolved to “work only at jobs that allow expression of plant lust. This will be a tough one as it might involve quitting some clients I like but into whose gardens I have no creative input.”
I am sure I was thinking even then of the job which I later quit over the styrofoam pellet fiasco, and it took me two years and a sense of overwhelming overworked stress to get to the point of actually resigning. By then, I had already left a private client who was pleasant but who had made the fatal mistake of saying “Don’t buy me any new plants this year.” (I found someone to take over the job.) I had quit a job where the client kept spraying and spraying for “bugs” and fretting over any unusual thing I planted. (“But what is it going to DO?”) And on July 4th of 2009 I quit a long time job where I loved the garden but not the clients. I thought I would feel a pang every time I drove by that garden (which is almost daily) but instead I felt a great sense of relief to have escaped a place where the garden loved us but the clients did not.
So what makes the perfect client? I imagined composing an ad for the local paper which would read:
“Gardening business seeks perfect client: someone who is a plant nut, who will let us express our creativity in your garden, who has an area which is protected from deer, to whom the garden is as important as any other form of entertainment.” I think it went on…but because word of mouth is so powerful, we have never actually had to advertise for more work so I never refined my work-wanted spiel.
A client or garden doesn’t have to fall into my list of perfection to be a job that I like, and I am totally willing to work for people on a truly limited budget as long as their garden appeals to me. I think we have the ideal number of jobs right now, and they all make me happy. Some might be over-ridden by deer and thus frustrating in the limited palent of deer-resistant plants. (Andersen’s RV Park would be a perfect job if it had one deer-proof area.) Some might be on a tight budget so I can’t buy all the plants I would like to see there. And one, Laurie’s, is a beloved garden which has been sold and I have no idea if the owners will want us to continue working there. Yet some perfect jobs provide the deepest joy, and here they are.
Klipsan Beach Cottages
Klipsan Beach Cottages, managed by Mary and Denny Caldwell. The garden has a large area with a high fence inside which I can grow roses, lilies, tulips and other deer snack food. Outside the fence is an island with a pond, and a three woodland swale areas. An important aspect which makes this the perfect job is that every year we expand into a new area. They allow me to plant whatever I like, and Mary herself brings home cool plants. She has a brother who avidly collected from Heronswood back when it was owned by Dan Hinkley and who gives wonderful plants gifts like Cardicorinum gigantea. Mary priotitizes a section of the budget for the garden so that we are always able to mulch and fertilize property. Having a wonderful dog and two cats doesn’t hurt, either.
The Anchorage Cottages
Anchorage Cottages is a job I took on some years ago when one of its original owners was the sister of Robert Jones, Dan Hinkley’s partner in Heronswood Nursery. I think at the time she had just sold her cottage the, like Klipsan Beach Cottages, the Anchorage became a place with multiple owners and managers. Unlike KBC, the managers did not own their own home there. Heronswood had designed the courtyard garden and provided an exciting palette of shrubs like the white Escallonia ‘Iveyi’ and some gorgeous Arbutus and Hydrangeas. I was happy dabbling in the garden for a couple of years until a new manager came along who had no plant love whatsoever and who thought I should never show up to garden on Saturdays…among other strictures that irked me enough to quit. Two years passed and a new manager took over and hired me back and the job turned into the elusive perfect type of job: We are given free reign to plant what we like, we have a budget for mulch and fertilizer, we have pleasant interactions with the guests and their delightful assorted dogs (and they don’t mind at all if we happen to work on a Saturday, because guests usually have some plant questions for the gardeners), and the manager, Lola, has a glorious laugh. And while deer COULD enter the courtyard, so far they have not so much as eaten a tulip.
The City of Long Beach
Long Beach welcome sign
The City of Long Beach is the most fascinating job I’ve ever had, one that often gets bigger. Last year we took on the planting of almost every city planter. In previous years, we’ve been given freedom to add our favourite perennials and shrubs to the parks. I appreciate that Mike Kitzman, parks manager, lets us do our own thing, within reason. I think it helps that we try to anticipate his needs and rarely force him to ask us to do a certain job by trying to keep up on even the boring parts.
Cheri’s, Jo’s, and Marilyn’s
Three further gardens almost attain the perfect rating. Two of them escape it only because the owner has pretty much designed the garden so while we enjoy each one, we can’t indulge our egos by taking credit for their beauty, and in the third one deer have their own vision of what sort of garden it should be (a buffet).
Cheri’s garden (above, left) is beautiful…but complete. It makes me happy to weed there, and we do find room to insert some cosmos and painted sage and a few more perennials. Marilyn’s garden (above, right) is one of my favourites because we created it from a blank canvass of sand. It’s only flaw is that is completely unfenced and a few deer pretty much live in, so our plant choice is limited. Jo’s garden (center, above) is a perfect fantasy cottage garden that was an enormous hit on the Peninsula garden tour. I love being there and helping her achieve her vision of total colour and vibrancy, and she never says no to a new plant unless she thinks it doesn’t provide enough “bang for the buck”.
Our newest garden, Casa Pacifica, is shaping up to be a satisfying project. Owners Dan and Leanne moved here from Texas with their son and have set us loose in a garden already created with good structure of rock walls and shrubs. Dan said the magic words, “Buy whatever plants you want”, which immediately puts him in the roster of favourite clients. We already made a big difference with a vast show of narcissi in the spring, and have now added and continue to add perennials among the shrubs so that the garden this summer should be a place of continual amazement.
Casa Pacifica narcissi
full of potential
future garden area
The house will be expanded this year, and then the center area, above, can become a lavish entry garden where one walks through flowers to reach the house. The two resident dogs, Guerra and Spook, are proving effective at keeping the deer out of the completely unfenced garden. We are aiming to nominate this one for the garden tour in two years!
[January 2013 note: Not yet for the garden tour at Casa P….still awaiting the remodeling job before the garden can be completed.]
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