Do You Get Your Hands Dirty?

January 12, 2010

I tweeted about this poster earlier today, but I can’t help myself, I have to post about it too… just makes me think…

I love items that are at once well designed,  clever and that strike a cord with me.   This one actually helped me put a finger on something that I have been struggling to put into words and formulate in my mind.

roland Reiner Tiango Dirt poster

roland Reiner Tiango Dirt poster

roland Reiner Tiango Dirt poster

roland Reiner Tiango Dirt poster

roland Reiner Tiango Dirt poster

roland Reiner Tiango Dirt poster

roland Reiner Tiango Dirt poster

roland Reiner Tiango Dirt poster

roland Reiner Tiango Dirt poster

I have had an increasing dis-satisfaction with some aspects of my business…part of it is that I hate things like accounting and bookkeeping (ugh) but part of it is the clients themselves. I can outsource some of those painful things, but the client bit is a bit more difficult.  Don’t get me wrong,  I generally love my clients, but what I just realized (looking at this poster) is that so many of them are NOT really garden makers, rather, they are primarily interested in landscaping, which is mostly fine.  But….I have to say, I appreciate those who view the projects that they embark upon as lifestyle projects rather than landscaping, and I find these projects far more exciting.  What I just put my finger on is that perhaps I need to try to ascertain (more for myself and managing expectations than for any other reason) early in a relationship, is what kind of client someone will be.  Are they garden makers, or are they interested in landscaping? Most commercial clients are interested in landscaping and I have no issue because I have proper expectations — they have needs that my business and I can fill – and I enjoy doing it.  It works for me and I love these projects for what they are.

But residential clients are different.  I usually expect them to get personal with their outdoor spaces and they often don’t.  It is part of their home after all.  I think I need to stop expecting that a new client will become a gardener with the installation of a beautiful landscape.  Perhaps, I also need to find ways to seek out more gardener clients.  It strikes me too, as I am typing this, that this is a fundamental difference between working as a garden designer in the UK vs. the USA — many of my clients there (in the UK) were gardeners or they fancied the idea of becoming gardeners and they valued design as a piece of this greater garden creation topic.   Here, it is rare to have gardener clients.   I love a client who is looking forward to getting their hands dirty, or even better, already has dirty hands.  To me, getting your hands dirty means that you are getting outside, YOU are growing and so are your plants, you are experimenting, and playing, harvesting and sharing. These are the type of people I love to get to know. I get it, we aren’t all interested in becoming cultivators and gardeners, and I need to stop expecting that we are, but wouldn’t it be nice? Do you deal with this?  If you are a gardener, are you satisfied with the often interchangeable landscaper/ gardener vocabulary?  Do you agree that there is a difference?

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  1. Kevin O'Brien says:

    Most of our clients are not gardeners, but they know a great garden when they see one. They can appreciate the value of a good design and relish spending time in a great outdoor living environment. They almost seem to approach the decision to buy like shopping for an art piece. They want unique, creative & personalized gardens and not “landscaping”.

    Having the capability to maintain their garden for them is just a natural extension of the installation. I like having some control over how the garden matures to ensure the original vision is realized. Clients may not get their hands dirty, but they do understand & value the importance of maintaining their investment.

    Those folks wanting “some landscaping” generally wouldn’t know what constitutes a great garden anyhow. When someone says they “want shrubs, not bushes because I don’t like bushes” I know my value as a designer will not be realized. Interesting post!

    • rochelle says:

      Kevin – I think it is interesting that you are maintaining as well….I had for many years shied away from that, but in recent years have become more involved with fine gardening and ongoing maintenance. My original hesitation being that I didn’t want confusion between design professional and professional gardener.

  2. Jennifer says:


    At about 5 years into my career, I left a job working on a wide variety of projects (hospitals, schools, trail systems, public parks, commercial spaces, but very few private residences) for a job that was exclusively private residences and estate work. I thought at the time that I was “looking for the soul” in Landscape Architecture. I expected, as you noted, that home owners would take personal interest in their home landscapes. I really, really did. I worked on some wonderful homes, and met some very interesting people, but when I found myself re-doing the portfolio every now and then, I was surprised to discover which projects really meant something to me.

    Some of my favorite projects aren’t even in my portfolio – they’re not glossy, they aren’t in magazines or books. For the most part, the ones that stand out to me, personally, are the ones that make a difference even if I am never witness to it. Those projects tend to be the trails and parking lots that I know people use daily and I hope that they enjoy that space more because of something I did on paper.

    Having said that, I garden and get my hands dirty….but I don’t do garden maintenance for others. There’s no reference or design solution on earth that can substitute for the feeling of moving soil and touching foliage.

  3. Soni says:

    The people that are interested in gardening are probably not going to hire a landscaper. They are going to want do it themselves and maybe hire a lawn crew to cut the grass. I could see someone that is older or disabled and can’t get out to do it themselves hiring a designer. I think these people you are talking about are not necessarily gardeners, but garden enthusiasts.

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