Do I Still Have Garden Cred?

I almost couldn’t bring myself to write this post, because it’s kind of an embarrassing subject. But here it is: for the first time, I hired someone else to do spring cleanup in the garden.

Driveway Border
The Driveway Border after spring cleanup.

There was genuine guilt attached to this decision. Spring cleanup is probably the single  biggest maintenance job of the year, and every spring I would have the scratches, splinters, and aching back to prove I was an authentic horticultural hombre. I feared that hiring someone else to do it for me would undermine my gardening cred, leaving me as just another plant poser, a botanical wannabe.

Left Bank Border
The Left Bank Bed, all tidy.

But the thing is, this year my job required me to put in a lot of weekend hours in February and March, when I try to get most of the cleaning up done (weather permitting). And so I just figured, why go insane trying to stay on top of the gardening chores? I mean, I have a LOT of beds and borders to tidy up, so why not bring in some help?

Front Island Bed and Front Foundation Border


Also, the design/build/maintenance firm I hired would bring a shredder to grind up all the garden debris and then lay it back down as mulch. Disposing of all those stems and so on is always a major pain in the butt. A lot of leaves and smaller debris gets left on the soil, but it can look messy.

west side of garage
West Side of Garage


So I hired the firm, which is called Greenwise (their website is here), and is based just about two miles from my house in Evanston. The arrangements were made in January, and they came and did the cleanup on April 4th.

Back Garden
Back Garden


In the weeks leading up to that date I emailed Jessica, the Greenwise horticulturalist, about every other day with reminders and useful tips (well, I thought they were useful) about what they should and shouldn’t do when they arrived for the job. (Be careful of emerging bulbs! The Clematis should be cut down to 18″! Don’t compact the soil! Should I send pictures to help them distinguish weeds from perennials?)

No Daffodils were harmed in the cleanup of this garden.



Actually, I had planned to be present on April 4th so I could supervise the Greenwise crew but alas, I had to be out of town for work.

So when I returned from my work trip late last week I was apprehensive about what I would find. And what I did find was a remarkably tidy and  well-tended early spring garden. The garden debris was mulched. The trenches around the beds and borders were neat and sharp. The paths were swept clean.

Ditto Siberian Squill.

I was left with profoundly mixed feelings. On the one hand, the garden looked great. On the other hand, I realized with sadness and a pang of jealousy that I was not the only person who knew how to take care of it. Maybe this is how a mother feels when she suspects that her child loves the nanny best of all.

And newly emerging Grape Hyacinths and Prairie Smoke.

I’ve got to admit, though: I may hire these same people to do the spring cleanup next year.

Do you ever hire people to help take care of your garden?

93 Comments on “Do I Still Have Garden Cred?”

  1. My little garden is much too small for hired help, except for large jobs I can’t possibly do, like moving a small tree or removing a large shrub. Your front garden looks great, and it’s a pleasure watching all the emerging plants as I walk by. Bravo!

  2. I felt a little guilty last year when I decided to hire someone to clean up a bed that had got overgrown with ground covers. I was suffering from a bad hip and just didn’t have the stamina to do the work. I belong to a group that sponsors garden tours and our garden would be open to visitors in early June. I wouldn’t have been ready without the help.
    In October, I had hip replacement surgery. I’m happy to report I’m back in the garden this year without pain.

  3. One of the most important roles a garden has is to give pleasure and joy. It can also bring frustration, guilt, worry, annoyance, pain, etc, etc. Anything that cuts down on the latter is a Good Thing. I’m sure it was very difficult to hand it over to a maintenance company and it’s probably a good think you were away! But how brilliant that they did a great job. I understand your slight pique but at least you know you can relieve the pressure on yourself without the worry next time. We did get some help for a short while (about 10 hours total) until we discovered the guy didn’t really know what he was doing, so we now do it all ourselves.

  4. Sometimes we all need a little help Jason, you made me laugh though at the comparison with the nanny. I work as a gardener, and get really protective over the gardens I care for and find some owners have the oddest ideas, its a job if you care about it, that takes a lot a tact and diplomacy. Currently I am biting my tongue in two over some Gladioli planting in a woodland area, done by the owner when I was not there. Still, I have sharp secateurs and a spade. 😉

  5. I am retired so I don’t hire help. If I was working full time like you, that would be a nice option. My garden doesn’t ever look well tended unless I work like a dog for a garden party. ha… Just relax and enjoy your lovely garden. I am sure it missed you and your attentions.

  6. Such a hard decision to make to leave your garden to strangers, as long as I am able I will continue to do my own although the weather this year has made it something of a chore and in fact my clean up is nowhere near finished some of the garden is still like porridge!

  7. I do feel for you Jason. Last spring I had foot problems and just couldn’t manage to cut back our front (which is basically just weeds and stuff awaiting a make-over in the next year or two). So we hired a local “do-it-all” service for half a day and they did a great job, although none of them are gardeners! Your garden looks great, and that’s the main thing!

  8. It is kind of funny that once you are retired and have many small and medium physical challenges, you usually can’t afford to hire someone. Cleaning up doesn’t require a lot of gardening skills just a lot of hard basic work. I’d pay someone to do it, but I’ve got as many beds as you or more spread over several acres. I’m seeing $$$$. I did chuckle when you said you started planning to hire it done in January. 🙂 The beds and paths all look wonderful. Grab a good book this weekend.

  9. I know exactly what you felt when “strangers” came to clean up your garden. But your job is important too and not everyone has a 9 to 5 job, so us gardeners often have too little time for the Spring cleaning in the garden….I have a gardener to trim the hedges, remove unwanted bushes/tree’s and trim the rambler roses.

  10. I am retired but I am giving some thought to hiring someone to trim the edges. It is a job I do not like to do. However like you I would prefer to be around to make sure the person hired knows what he/she is doing.
    I am glad it turned out well for you. It looks very good.

  11. I’ve been wanting to do the same thing this year Jason. Am tackling it late this year and the job grows with every effort I make. Your email reminder and tips highlight the worry I have too, but it looks like you hired a great team. Now you can just get on with enjoying the garden.

  12. We created our gardens when we were about 17 years younger. I find I don’t have the time or energy to care for them the way I did back when I was removing sod to start them. In fact, I’ve given up on one (it was difficult to water . . . it was near the black walnut trees . . . excuses, excuses). Just yesterday I did the minimal clean up on another one that’s farther from the house. I would LOVE to be able to find someone in our area who would help with certain things. Planting bulbs in the fall would be great –the ground around our addition is so compacted that I can barely dig into it. Before my hips were replaced, we did hire someone, who was also a friend, to do some landscaping around the new addition, and I’ve always been grateful for her expertise and muscle 🙂 The plants she put in are thriving and beautiful. I say enjoy the beauty of a cleaned April garden, and look forward to all the work you’ll put in later.

  13. Oh, beautiful gardens! Look at it this way, by hiring help, you are supporting the local economy 😉 And I can’t help but feel that it is a wise person who knows when to ask for help.

  14. Having a crew do the cleanup is rather like getting a haircut: better not to do it yourself (for reasons stated) but seldom quite right. Bonus: you’re happy with the result you got. You now have time and energy for doing the fun stuff of making it beautiful. Looking forward to knowing about your Prairie Smoke. Don’t know where to use it in my garden. Don’t know how much it wanders with all those seed heads. My Autumn Clematis is all over my neighborhood because of the wind-blown seeds.

  15. When we moved from an urban environment in England to a rural one in Wales, I’d hoped we’d get a bit of land that I could grow veggies and maybe use a bit for wildflowers, as it turned out I injured a foot soon after we moved and I’ve not been able to get about well since (amongst other problems that I won’t go into) and so when we bought a place with a big garden (yard) that was designed to need very little work, I was quite relieved. That said, my husband does all the gardening and over the years the work has increased and I often wish he would find someone we could pay to do some of it for us. My sister has a huge garden and recently hired someone to do a good part of the work on it, and personally I think there is absolutely no shame in that. But then my mother, who designed and planted a third of an acre garden and felt the way you do – had eventually to get some help with it.

    Surely the whole purpose of a garden is watching things grow and enjoying them? Being the instigator is lovely and very satisfying but ultimately nature will continue to delight whoever looks after it.

  16. Good for you for setting your creative muse ahead of your tidiness needs. When we moved to the place we’re in, 9 years ago, we finally decided it was time to let someone else mow the lawn (now far less than then) and pick up all the billions of autumn leaves. This fellow is a bit ham-handed so I only let him do that, and we still do all our own cutting back in fall and spring, and of course our own planting, mulching, etc. We don’t have the vast perennial wealth you have so we can get away with continuing our own cleanup, but there are days when I wouldn’t say no to a knowledgeable, strong young person to help…

  17. Last week I mowed for the first time this year, cursing all the way. I would LOVE to farm out the stuff I hate and concentrate on the fun aspects of gardening. Right now I am waiting on a new design for the yard, then I will let someone else do the heavy lifting. My dad “aged in place” until 90+, by relying more and more on outside help to maintain the yard.

  18. I’m laughing at you contacting them every day, I bet you drove them crackers! I would have done the exact same thing… notes to Laura are downright embarrassing when I’m going away. Well done you, I’d certainly save your back and time and get them in each year, they’ve done a truly splendid job!xxx

  19. Love your comment on the Nanny! My garden is never up to par. I cannot believe the energy and heft I must have had thirty years ago when this half acre blank slate was planted. I hire professional arborists to prune the trees but do the rest myself. I’d hire a housecleaner before a clean-up garden crew! Both are probably in my future!

  20. We do so when we can afford it, Jason, usually for the big jobs or cleanups. I am so glad when the person we hire knows what they are doing, or asks about what they don’t know.
    Your garden looks great, and there’s a certain beauty in a garden before the flowers bloom. You can see the bones of the garden.

  21. Oh, well done. A very smart move. You are still the gardener, but a posh gardener with staff. I love the idea of getting someone to do the spring clean up, but like you I would worry that they couldn’ t do it quite the way I’ d want it. I have too many treasures, I wouldn’ t dare risk it. Tempting though; the idea of idling about, nice and clean and tidy, with a nice glass of wine, whilst other people get hot, bothered, dirty and achey.
    I am getting help with my secret garden though, as the job is quite beyond me.

  22. Working with landscape professionals in my job, I never had to hire them, getting all the cleanup for free. Now, with all the perennials, I do it myself, knowing they do not know the difference between weeds and emerging perennials. Most landscape companies in this area don’t regularly deal with native plants.

  23. You still have cred, and don’t feel guilty about it. We know that not all garden tasks are created equal, and some are more, or less, fun than others. Pick what you want or can do, and pay someone else to do the others.

  24. Looks great, Jason! I’ve never hired anyone to do work in my garden, but I’m a firm believer in the practice of hiring others to do the less enjoyable chores in order to free up time for the parts of gardening that fill your soul. No guilt necessary.

  25. I know how you feel. We hired someone to trim all the hedges and bushes last year, and he did a good job, so we will have him back in autumn, but I’m worried he might disturb my newly planted bulbs….I’ll try not to walk around after him!

  26. Nice photos Jason. I like seeing your beds bare and at a distance. it give me a better sense of your spaces. I have used a cleanup crew once when I was selling my home in Palatine, Il and had an infant and toddler. I also hired help in 2014 to build a raised bed and dig another bed along a fence and do some edging. This year I am hiring someone to install a tree and create a small bed at the edge of the patio. These helpful hands take care of heavy lifting that is too much for me, freeing me up for other projects.

  27. I used to have someone do the hedges for me – I was petrified of the hedge cutter. He retired and rather than hire someone else I bought a cordless one. I’m a dab hand now.
    I think you still have your garden cred Jason – needs must and all that. Everything looks good – you can sit back, not for too long mind, and enjoy!

  28. The first time I ever hired someone to do a garden cleanup was in 2010 but in that instance I didn’t feel guilty: I’d just finished a year of chemo during which I was unable to do a single thing in the garden. So you can imagine the state it had gotten itself into! I did make the attempt for one day and then faced the fact that no, I was in no condition to even THINK about whipping a totally neglected (except for the mowing) half acre back into shape.

    The second time was the first autumn here at the Money Pit. In this case I just flat out did not want to do it; too upset about having to lose my previous garden which I loved. So I hired the least expensive thief and gnashed my teeth over the cost ($350!) but I simply had zero motivation at the time. My gardening work ethic still ended up making me feel just a bit “cheap and tawdry” for not doing it myself though, LOL

  29. When we first moved, the first year I didn’t know anything about garden and so hired. But after that no more. It’s simply a big job with so many perennials and side, back and front garden that cleaning continues through August September :-p. How did u find the co,pany? I am scared that they will kill root up natives thinking them as weeds.

  30. Of course you still have garden cred, you can now enjoy your garden for the rest of the year. We have had people in to help with heavy work and as we are getting older, this is happening more and more, it means we can get on and do the jobs we enjoy.

  31. There’s no shame in hiring help; besides now you have the time to do the fun part of gardening–plant! I would be apprehensive about hiring someone, especially if I wasn’t there to supervise, but it looks like they did a fantastic job. I had to get some help last year when my mother’s health was deteriorating, and I’ve decided to do that again this year so that things don’t get out of control here. So far, though, it’s been my granddaughter and a friend’s granddaughter who have helped me. They need supervision, of course, to know what’s a weed and what’s a good plant, but those young knees and backs sure are a godsend when it comes to digging and toting wheelbarrows full of mulch and compost!

  32. What a dilemma. My husband works a lot of weekends, and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything. So yes, I admit it, we hire help most years and it looks so much better for it. They’ve gotten to know me through the years and know what to touch and what to leave for me to do. They also know there will always be a note on the patio door giving them instructions if I am not home. Which I try to be because at this point I’m a little protective. So no, don’t feel guilty, just enjoy how nice it looks and that you supported a local business.

  33. Of course you do, Jason! Just because you needed extra help as it would have been too much doesn’t make you any less of a gardener, if anything it makes you more of a pragmatic gardener, knowing when too much is too much and getting help in to keep the garden on track.

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