I used to watch a TV show depicting what would happen to man’s creations if we were suddenly no longer in the picture. The narratives begin within one year and advance forward in time, presented with animated images of vines and trees overgrowing their bounds and wreaking slow-motion havoc on bridges and buildings. It was fascinating to me for a while, because there are times I feel like as a species we are of little use anyway, but one day I realized – what’s the point? If there’s no one to see it, is it really happening?
I was a landscape manager for nearly 40 years, and it was my lot to prevent nature’s encroachment. Customers expect manicured results – they have been to Disneyland and want the same effect around their condos or shopping center. I took great pride over the years in servicing these desires, but middle management finally wore me down to the point that my usefulness is limited. That’s why I choose to only write about it going forward.
In early society there was no call for ornamental plantings for the common man; if it couldn’t be eaten, worn, or used people didn’t have any reason to cultivate it. Kings and the wealthy installed lavish and ostentatious landscapes around their castles and estates, and to this day they are mind-boggling to behold. It was only recently that people put in lawns and plants with only aesthetic appeal. Products for the home gardener represent a billion dollar industry, and with the recent awareness of ecological issues the word ‘organic’ has burgeoned into a mantra.
When I was a homeowner I sought out houses with minimal landscaping, simply because I had no interest in doing the same thing at home that I did all day at work. When the kids were little I lived in a house with a raised bed along the neighbor’s garage, with vegetables and herbs. I did dress up the rest of the yard, planting two maples in front and lilacs, rhodies and azaleas in back, as well as re-seeding a brand new lawn. I also put in a dog run behind the garage and a small play area with a structure on the east side, both backfilled with pea gravel. The gravel was mainly to allow dog feces to be picked up easily, and permitted me to spray a bleach solution several times a year.
Approaching my dotage, our manicured surroundings appeal less and less to me. I could see myself living out my last years in a rustic cottage with huge hoary looking fruit trees front and back. Planting beds would be full of wildflowers; daisy, digitalis, yarrow, coreopsis, etc. There would be containers full of berries and assorted herbs and the lawn would be full of dandelions and be maintained at a height of six inches – I have applied 2,4-D for the last time. Naturally there would be a vegetable garden in the most advantageous spot, because nothing tastes better than a fresh picked tomato.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t apply my enormous horticultural knowledge for the benefits of mankind in general. Hit me up, folks.
The landscape industry is having trouble finding workers, an issue I've seen coming for years. When I began my career in 1980 I encountered few hispanic workers, and as I moved up the ladder and had to hire my crew it was my lot to comb through American - born applicants.
Even in the early 1980's it was difficult to find motivated young men willing to perform the arduous landscape labor, and turnover was high. We worked four ten-hour days and my crews had to pull Saturdays, so I had to deal with many hangover-related issues.
I spent the last five years working for a non-profit that employed disabled people, so not only did I have the usual headaches of finding willing staff, but they had to possess a level of disability in order to be eligible.
40 years ago I began my landscape career as a mow jockey, eight hours a day pushing a 21" Snapper mower. The more seasoned workers got to use the triple reel ride-on Toros on the larger turf areas, leaving the rookies to mow the smaller panels adjacent to office and apartment buildings.
It was never fun, but I was a young man beginning a new career and went home each day tired but content. I took pride in creating straight lines and not leaving clippings on the hardscapes, weeds pulled and trash picked up.
In the 1980's there was still small concern in the Pacific Northwest regarding irrigation and the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides - the goal was green grass without weeds, and contractors provided it, or lost the job to someone else. It was a competitive market in a strong economy.
Somewhere along the line the environmental movement started to zero in on golf courses, and soon all turfgrass became an issue due to the resources needed to keep it green and beautiful. The fact is, in my region the use of cool-season turf means fighting the natural habit of the plants to grow dormant during the summer with ample irrigation and fertilizer application. At the same time, I was growing weary of the effort required in my job and became sympathetic to eradicating turfgrass as a landscape staple.
I read that the EPA estimates that Americans use one third of our water to irrigate their lawns, and although I don't necessarily buy that statistic, one thing that does offend me is seeing sprinklers running along and water streaming down the sidewalk, due to poor timing or adjustment.
As a career landscape manager, I am uniquely qualified to help you get the landscape you want, whether you have a standard suburban lot, a small veranda, or an overgrown couple of acres. Give me a call for a free consultation.