Stories from the field

As we reach the end of 21-days of lock-down, we thought we’d end off our articles with some fun stories that have happened to us in the field. Most projects have something notable about them, but occasionally we encounter scenarios that are quite memorable, so we thought we’d relay some of the best of these below. We hope you enjoy them, along with our previous articles. Stay safe, and we’ll hopefully see you on the other side of lock-down.

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

During our early years as landscapers, we often spent time training our team members on the names of plants they were putting into client’s gardens. This was one of the reasons we wrote the Gardeners Guide to Indigenous Plants in 2017, to give our team something to use as a reference guide for the plants they were working with. Because we are indigenous landscapers, most team members became quite adept at recognising local species, but there were always new exotic species to learn, either because the client had requested them, or because they were already existing in the garden, and we needed to transplant them. But sometimes we simply forgot to explain the names of those exotics. On one occasion, we were working in a garden in Northcliff, when we were asked by the home owner to transplant their Brunfelsia (Yesterday-today-and-tomorrow). So later in the morning I turned to one of my staff members and said exactly that: “please move this yesterday-today-and-tomorrow.” He looked at me for a moment with a very blank stare, and then said “when do you want me to move it?”

Siri to the rescue

We’re quite sure most smartphone owners can attest to having had Siri – that all-knowing ‘AI’ app – blurting out “I’m listening” at inopportune times, or even answering a question you never asked. We were once working in one of our regular client’s gardens when we needed to move an old granite patio table-top, as the home owner was refurbishing their home, and the patio furniture was in the way. Moving a granite table-top is a delicate process, and we simply weren’t watching when we should have, and the table broke in half with an audible crack. The team was quite shocked that they’d damaged the client’s furniture, and the mood became very sombre. But there was nothing we could do about, and we had to move on, so we called an impromptu meeting to discuss the plan for the rest of the day. Imagine my surprise then when, just as I started the meeting, my Siri blurted out “Water under the bridge!”
(PS: In case you’re wondering, we replaced the client’s table-top at our cost)

Staff go AWOL

Landscaping is hard work, with the majority of it being ground preparation, or trenching, if we are installing an irrigation system. We try our best to be welcoming and accommodating to new team members, but it’s not for everyone, and many new team members have left after a few weeks as it is simply too hard to keep up on a daily basis. Sometimes though, in cases where we are consulting for a project in a different province or country, we don’t have the luxury of using our own team, and have to rely on the home owner to organise local staff. On one such occasion, in Zambia, the home owner had organised his own staff – 6 in total – and on the first morning I introduced myself and got everyone to start clearing and preparing the ground with picks and forks. Unfortunately I was in for a surprise two hours later, when they informed the home owner that the work was too difficult and they were leaving!
As an addendum to this, I unfortunately did not know what their remuneration was going to be, which might also have contributed to this scenario. But it also showed me, in a rather direct way, how lucky I was to have the staff members I do.

Impromptu water feature

Many landscapers (and other contractors) can relate stories of how they were working in a client’s garden when they hit the main water supply, resulting in an ‘impromptu’ water feature. Some of these can be quite impressive, especially if the water pressure is high, often resulting in a water fountain that can rival that at Silverstar Casino. Scenarios such as these require a cool head and clear communication to the client about how we are repairing it, and how long it is going to take. In other scenarios however, such as hitting the main water supply for an entire complex, the stress levels can go up a notch.

We were once working in a residential estate that was still being developed (also in Northcliff), installing a new garden and trenching for an irrigation system, when we hit the estate’s main water line on the verge. The water pressure was over 10bar, resulting in a water fountain that was – to say the least – spectacular. Fortunately we were installing hi-density irrigation for the home owner, and were equipped with the fittings necessary to repair the pipe. But first we needed to turn the water off. We found the developer and reported the matter to him, but he immediately came over to grill us on why we’d hit his main water line (it was only 200mm deep). We let his anger simmer for a minute, then politely pointed out that we would be installing our irrigation pipes below his main water line (at the irrigation industry standard of 400mm), and therefore, if he wanted, we could assist him in lowering his water pipes for him. Needless to say he was not impressed by that comment, and promptly disappeared, and we never saw him again!

Don’t touch my weed!

We were recently called out to a home in Broadacres to assist a client with seasonal maintenance of a garden we had installed a few years back. At the time, she had tenants who were staying on the property, but they had not been informed about why we were coming. So when we arrived we were immediately asked by the tenant why we were there. “To weed the garden,” we said. He promptly led us round the back, to the patio, where he pointed out his ‘pot’ plant and said, “Well, don’t touch my weed!”

I want fake plants

And lastly, we sometimes get some interesting requests, a common one being for the supply of artificial plants. Artificial lawn is useful in certain situations like kids play areas, whilst artificial plants are commonly for interior decoration. As landscapers, we do use artificial lawn where appropriate, but obviously prefer a garden with as much life as possible. In this regard, we were once asked – by a prospective client – for “fake lawn, fake flowers, and fake trees”. I promptly replied that in that case, it would be best if he got himself a fake landscaper! I’m quite sure this type of response doesn’t do our ratings any good, but then I’ve always found it best to be honest and direct!