P80310+++++Shady applies to more than trees. It applies to many of those who are hired to maintain trees and landscapes. In my career, I have worked for some of the best arborists, nurserymen and other horticulturists. In fact, some of my colleagues, particularly a landscape designer, two nurserymen and at least three arborists, happen to be legendary. I would say that I don’t mean to brag, but that would be inaccurate. I will write about some of them sometime. This here is not about them.

Sadly, I have had the misfortune to work with some really shady characters and businesses. They may seem to be more professional than the real professionals who take their professions very seriously, but it is all for show. I can tell you all about the brochures, and use all the buzz words, but it is all a lie. From sustainability and planting natives to save water, to diagnosing problems before they become serious, they are all lies. Their objective is to take money; as much money as possible, for as little effort as possible.

Even their contracts were not considered to be sustainable. I once informed an operations manager that the oleanders that were planted below a sign were not the dwarf oleanders that they were supposed to be, and that in order to prevent them from obscuring the sign, they would need to be pruned and deprived of bloom. He was not concerned, and told me that we have no idea who will be taking care of the landscape by the time that happens.

Sure, they would plant garden varieties of native ceanothus, supposedly to save water, but then water them so much that they would rot and die. In fact, they would put so much water on lawns that many established trees would rot and die. They would then charge a lot of money to remove the dead trees, and then charge more money to plant new ones, even though they were responsible for killing the originals.

I was once instructed to go look at a ‘Marina’ madrone that was a street tree in what had been the old Fort Ord, where some of the old homes, buildings and landscapes were in the process of being salvaged or renovated. I was only informed that the tree was in bad condition. Upon arrival, I found the single madrone in a well matched row of others, on a curving street. I was quite annoyed that the tree was so distressed from severe aphid infestation that it could not be salvaged. The subject looked as if it had been healthy for many years, but only recently became infested with aphid within the previous two years. The other ‘horticultural professionals’ at the site should have noticed the problem before the tree had deteriorated as much as it had. Now, removing the tree was going to compromise the conformity of the evenly spaced and well matched row of street trees. I wrote the report prescribing removal.

I needed to visit the site for another problem a few weeks later, and when I drove by where the tree should have been removed, I noticed that it was still there, and very dead. Interestingly, a tree next to it was missing. That made me wonder. I radioed in, and was informed that the tree had been cut down. You can guess where this is going. They had cut down the wrong tree; a perfectly healthy ‘Marina’ madrone. Why didn’t the crew removing the healthy tree question the removal of such a healthy tree next to a dead tree? Who knows. I wrote another report prescribing the removal of the dead tree, which was removed the second time around.

The client was charged for the removal and replacement of BOTH trees, the dead tree, and the healthy tree that was removed by ‘mistake’! The replacement trees were large boxed trees that better matched those that were removed!

For those who do not know, madrones should be planted while young, and will rather efficiently grow to match the others. Boxed trees get too distressed from the transition to recover right away, and wait around for years before they resume growth. By the time a big boxed tree starts to grow, a smaller tree would have already gotten established and grown larger. Boxed madrones are really for those who want to charge more money than they could get for smaller trees that cost much less.

So, the landscape company charged a lot of money to maintain the landscape, so that trees would not die from negligence. Then, they charged not only for the removal and replacement of a tree that died as a result of their negligence, but also a tree that was killed by their stupidity. As if that were not enough, they charged for the the most expensive replacement trees available. They were shadier than the trees that they killed.

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18 thoughts on “Shady

  1. There are unshady, unscrupulous characters in all walks of life. Long ago, we signed a contract with a builder to construct our first house, which was part of a small development. We paid a deposit into a trust fund but the legal firm holding it, paid it out to the developer and although we took him to court and won, we never saw that money again! The legal firm denied repsonsibility as the person concerned had left.

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  2. Sadly, Tony, your article highlights a very real problem. Last year, a local and well-known landscape supplier was fined for charging unsuspecting buyers a fortune for soil which was eighty percent sand, mixed with a bit of sugar cane ash. They marketed it as rich garden loam ready for sowing with lawn seed. Go figure!

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    1. The incident I wrote about is only one of more than I can remember. I could stay very busy just writing about such unpleasantries; there are happier things to write about, like the real horticultural professional. I have worked for the best.

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  3. Quite a sad tale, I would think that the sort of people that took up gardening of any sort as a business would have a love of plants and be ethical. Seems that is not always the case. But how does the average person know until too late….

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  4. From my observations and occasional chats with people who have landscaping done here where I live, the shady types evidently outnumber the ones who actually care about what they do. It’s difficult to get any kind of landscape maintenance firm here that doesn’t gouge for work, does the wrong work and charges to remove the messed up stuff and replace it (and sometimes people have gone through several firms before they just do it themselves to have it properly done). I had a firm that was supposed to cut the grass, they cut the grass, they cut the shrubs down, they killed a small tree, they cut the flower beds and weeded the large pots of all the plants in them and were shocked when I refused to pay them. They didn’t have the guts to take it to court.

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      1. That firm came highly recommended too which was even more of a betrayal. This happened at a store i used to own and we were known for how attractive our landscaping was. One of our customers surprised us with replanting the big planters, replacing a couple shrubs and all the flowering beds. I hired her to tend the place after that and it was always more beautful year after year. She eventually took care of several gardens, including her own, in the area and did excellent work.

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      2. The business that I wrote about is also highly recommended, and is a good business in other regards, such as benefits and compensation. The good guys who do not swindle do not generate the sort of revenue to be so generous.

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  5. There is a reason that we don’t hire any “gardeners” to take care of our yard. I once had a service (really just a “mow and blow”), and they cut my pineapple sage and garden sage down to the ground. Both were very large and lovely. They thought they needed the same kind of pruning as a rose! But they literally cut them to stubs. When I put in new ones several months later, I told the business owner not to let his crew touch them. He proclaimed that they would grow back!! I reminded him of how long they had been dead, then got rid of them a couple of months later anyway. My experience and that of others is that they just know how to mow lawns and prune shrubs, then they use their leaf blowers to blow the debris into my yard! Ugh!

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    1. I would not mind if they just mowed and blowed (blew?), but they tamper with things that they have no business tampering with. It is so infuriating that they earn more than I earn as a professional and very educated horticulturist and arborist, but know less about horticulture than I knew by the time I was in kindergarten. I really can not think of anyone who knows less about what they do than they do. My younger brother who has absolutely no interest in horticulture can see how idiotic they are

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