conflicts between the landscaper and the gardener

nicethymeAugust 12, 2006

Although I provide design and landscape services, I am one of the only gardeners in my area. So, situations arise where I am hired to maintain properties that are designed by an LA and installed by a large out of state landscape co, and the issue is both poor design choices and worse yet, poor quality plants that are under guarantee.

It's such a fine line to walk. Most of the cases I feel compeled to explain that the replacements will be the same poor quality and the guarentees are worthless. Several times these clients ask for proposals from me which are always high dollars because I buy individual specimens (instead of truck loads) and they are high quality material. They use my proposal to push the LA to force the landscaper to replace for free (same crap, different day.

For instance, all the sizable trees are park grade at best with small root balls, either grown too deep or planted too deep. Clearly under stress when they plant them.

In one case, I arrived to find several shrubs had been replaced but were drying up because they were planted too high. My dilemma, fix it or be the bearer of bad news. What's my responsibility to the client? So I decided to replant them and find out that shrubes that look like 3gal material actually have a qrt size root system??? They died anyway, despite my efforts.

This poor man has paid through the nose for this landscape and I'm looking bad too.

Now the result is the LA is compelled to oversee the landscapers work, he communicates to the client through emails and I'm sent copies. In the last one, the LA reports that the 2 replacement trees are in and he had the company pull the dirt away from the trunk and expose the flares - I think "good!" But I get there yesterday and realize that the trees had actually been grown in the field too deep, they have a line on the trunk where the soil had been 4-6" inches higher and the exposed flares have dead fiberous roots. The lovely park grade trees look stressed and I look closer to find the presence of ants all over the bottem of the trunks and pin hole entries on the flares (borers, of course) Great! what is my response to the client? I want to scream, "you should have paid for my trees and my work! but forget it because the awesome trees I sourced were in limited quantity and are surely sold now!" ARGH! to add insult to injury, the LA has also marked two more places for trees and I can't help but think, if he doesn't have me plant them then the client has a learning disability! MY GAWD!

Quit? no, it's my biggest estate and a cash cow for maint. But I'll likely be fired one day because Everything going on looks like I am failing. WWYD?

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The proble is lack of control. It comes down to the property owner. He has an LA, a contractor and a gardener.
The client has either contracted the LA to hold the contractors feet to the fire (prior to construction), or paid for a design with some additional consulting, or he just hired him for the design. There is a huge difference. If the LA was not contracted to manage the contractor, it is up to the client to hold his feet to the fire for guarantees and quality control.

All you are contracted to do is routine mainenance. You should not replant anything because once you tamper with it the contractor is not responsible for guarantying YOUR planting job (whether it is better or worse).

When you see an issue write a note to the client and keep a copy for yourself. Document everything you do and all the directives you get from the client.

Personally, I would drop the account since all they have you do is labor and cut you out of the installs.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2006 at 4:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I agree with laag. If you decide to continue you must have a written contract with the I's dotted and the T's crossed, which means that you take an inventory of everything that you have to maintain and it's condition when you take over. Add your recommendations and comments in a professional manner using whatever reliable documentation you can muster. Suggest any remedial work you consider necessary and cost if you can, this is not maintenance. If he agrees to this remedial work but insists that the other guys do it, then you will have to go back to square one. Maintenance is the poor relation in this unholy trist and you must break out of that, present your proposal in writing and get the reply in writing. If your terms are not agreed then you have your answer, although a look into my crystal ball tells me how this will pan out.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2006 at 4:53PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

You don't think I should hold out hope that once the guarantee period is over, I'll get the nod on future work?
He did have me do 5,000.00 annual planting bed, so that's a yearly job, and some changes like garden phlox in the shade and lavenders in a boggy area - client said go ahead and move what you see fit and replace with what's best...

Either the landscapers are subs of the LA or they have that relationship that seems like a conflict where I don't think the LA is always working in the best interest of the client.

He also now seems to be giving me direction through the client, the last email concerning the boxwood health read "have her make some compost tea..." oh yeah right! I'm not a granola, how bout some mycor and superthrive!

I don't know, nothing against LAs - I've worked with some over the years who I really liked and respected. But this one guy seems like one of those types who never seems to be done and I read him as slightly arrogant.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2006 at 5:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

"client said go ahead and move what you see fit and replace with what's best..." sounds very attractive but fraught with danger. If you are determined to keep this job make sure that you are spending the clients money and not yours.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2006 at 5:30PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I have several classes of clients, this one's in the catagory of "no need for a proposal, just do it" kind. I like those. But yes there are those arbitrary lines of how much is too much before you must ask for a deposit and make him aware of the upcoming hit. I assign a number in my mind to each client as to what they can handle without an estimate. So far so good. I've had clients for the past 6 years who have never signed a proposal with me. With them, there is a repore and a trust.

What I've done so far on this property have been minor spot jobs. If I can get the chance at the trees... I'll take it. I have the ability to go to 4" cal without subing and this place could definately put my equipment to better use than sitting in my yard.

no worries on whose money gets spent. We don't make money backwards in this biz, hey!

    Bookmark   August 12, 2006 at 7:32PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Rightly or wrongly, in this three headed landscape monster it is seldom the maintenance person who is going to be listened to above the contractor and LA. It is simply because the client has more invested in the other two. Unless you can assert yourself and have the personality and nerve to come out and tell the client that they brought in poor quality plantsand did a poor job executing the work, you are on the sidelines. Those assertions should not be made unless they can be backed up by credible evidence and not just opinion because there is a lot of reputation and a lot of dollar value which those words threaten.

I would not be very pleased if anyone replanted stock that I was responsible for, or if they charged that my plants were of substandard quality.

This is a delicate situation with higher risks than benefits from what it sounds like.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2006 at 10:58PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

How do you go ahead and "just do it" without a proposal/contract/deposit? Isn't that speculating with your own money in the hope that it will come back with a profit? That surely is backwards nicethyme, I can think of a dozen ways where this arrangement could go wrong.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2006 at 9:02AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

OK, first, when it comes to depths of trees coming from a I the only one who finds it the slightest bit suspicious that the only people NOT involved in the debate over proper depth are those whose business is growing the same trees in the first place? Nope, can't trust them, they don't have a clue what their business is...especially if it is their business.

Second, when it comes to credibility, you will ALWAYS lose to a LD or LA. It's the way it is. Sounds like the account is worth keeping, if you can deal with a certain amount of bs. Descide how deep you can stand it, and when the negatives become more numerous than the positives, walk away. Do so professionally and politely...which can be hard, but is so much more rewarding in the end.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2006 at 12:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Ink, I do operate on a simplified business model (it may be due to never desiring to grow any larger than my 1 truck crew) I set things up to be as stress free for myslef as possible. For this reason I do not do "contract" maintenance, my work is T&M only. We make no promises to anyone about how often we come or how perfect things will be. I work from their budget, they want to spend x amt monthly - they see what they get, they can adjust to make it look better/more hours...

This is how I manage to do design/install and still keep the maint. My clients have to understand to be thankful when I do get there and often know through the grape vine that I'm on a big job and that's why I haven't been there in several weeks... it's the same for the installs, bigger ones do not have us from start to finish without a break beacuse I'll get to a point and pull out for some days of maint, then come back in for the next phase. It works here because the majority of my clients are rarely here, maybe only 1 or 2 are fulltime residents.

So then there's the installs for the maint clients and the "just do its" 1st these folks are used to getting variable monthly invoices from me and 2nd, they have an overload of services to deal with, many having 3 homes... pools, lawncare, cleaners, painters... most don't even see the bills - it filters through their offices and things like "plant the 20 new hosta big daddy to the left of the walk" get lost in the system... they're left wondering why it's taking so long and if I forgot and I'm left wondering why they didn't approve it... I don't generate proposals for certain people for every little thing and they trust that I'm taking care of it. Stress free, they get to their weekend estate and wala! things are done. Yes it takes time to build this trust and I have to prove that I'm not out to milk the cow dry... they can check my hours against the gate code uses for a while and when they see I'm honest then I start getting the "just do it" stuff. I can and have gone too far, which gets paid for all the same but I'll know because they'll make a point of saying, hey lets say anything over X gets preapproved...OK (shrug) fine by me.

Can I get burned in the way I do things? sure I can, they can fire me and I fire them BTDT... oh well. I won't lose sleep over it. I'm only in this because I like to do it, if it becomes a stressful pita well then screw it! LOL

    Bookmark   August 15, 2006 at 5:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

laag, you are certainly confirming my long standing opinion of where I stand in these kinds of things. It usually comes down to who costs them more equaling the clout they have on a property. Builders are above us and the pool guys are expendable.

I suppose my issue comes from being an inhouse head gardener for many moons and that job welded me great power over the subs. The LAs and landscapers consulted me and looked to me as their link to the owner. I was a cherished servant of that family and most likely the highest paid private estate gardener on the eastern seaboard. By the end of my tenure, I had a six person crew and no one asked what I spent. In a word I was spoiled. Now, I'm "that gardener you have" it's difficult to leave one property where I'm the LD and they want my imput on every decision and go to the next where I'm seen as "the weeding crew" and nothing more.

I hold out hope that every LA eventually gets the boot after never being done and I will have slowly gained their confidence that an LD will do.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2006 at 5:59PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hep, you are not alone in your observations. Absolutely... plants as a commodity sometimes capitalism fails us! lol

I'm not above firing a client, but I'm won't shoot myself in the foot over my ego either. Yes, I'll know when the line is crossed. But there is an advantage to being the last one standing if all the others playing the game get weeded out.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2006 at 6:04PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

OMG... this situation has turned around suddenly. We were there when the client arrived for the weekend. He said, he's all done with the landscape company and their constant replacements of replacements.... So no more worries on guarantees.

On the flags for new trees, he said go ahead on sourcing and plant whenever you choose. And he intends to make more gardens. I asked "you will continue with Mr X (LA)?" and he said, oh I don't know, you seem to be a capable designer, and Mr X has been in agreement with all your suggestions."

This is one of those rare moments where it all works out...

    Bookmark   August 19, 2006 at 4:56PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Planting Mature Trees
Thanks in advance to anyone who replies. We have been...
landscape designer wanted
i live in the San Fernando valley/Sherman Oaks. Looking...
POS systems
I work at a nursery and the office manager asked me...
christinmk z5b eastern WA
Ideal careers for a male with a horticultural degree?
I still have a long time to think about this, but it's...
Fungicide for damping off of food producing plants?
What would be a systemic fungicide that could be used...
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™