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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at

Consultation and coaching for do-it-yourselfers is provided. Occasional emailed questions are welcome and answered free of charge. Oui, je parle francais.

See my work on Pinterest at Garden Guru Montreal

« Personalities in the Garden, Part Two. | Main | A Park For Pollinators »

Personalities in the Garden, Part One.

When I started my garden design business, as a second career after retiring from industry, I was politely reminded by family that age was a significant factor and, for that reason, my business plan ought to include the hiring of others to do the heavy hauling, digging, and planting. Initially, I was upset to receive that advice but I recognised its inherent wisdom. Even now, when I bend down to get dirty and intimate with the earth I can hear the words of my caring sister-in-law resonating in my head: "You're not 27 anymore".

With that advice in mind, I focused on where to find workers for temporary, seasonal employment. It seemed logical that in a large, metropolitan and multicultural city, there would be a large pool of casual day workers from which I might draw. However, a pivotal experience with one laborer taught me that such a plan was not in my best interest.

My neighbor decided to lay grass turf with the help of two workers. One was an experienced handyman and the other a strong day laborer who worked under supervision. The experienced one was not available for seasonal work but his helper was eager. He worked the night shift as a watchman for a senior citizen residence and took on odd jobs during the day. However, his physical appearance was off-putting and my gut reaction was that he would not be a suitable candidate.

The overriding reason was that this man's physical appearance frightened me. Clearly, a handsome man in his youth, his face had accumulated the stresses of life heaped upon him by poverty, hard work, and by the consumption of alcohol. Up close, in one-to-one conversation with me, he appeared to be a gentle man who was polite, well-bred, and intelligent. From a distance, however, he looked dirty, mean-looking, and frightening. My target clients would be uncomfortable with such a person working on their properties or ringing their doorbells in order to use a bathroom. Furthermore, this man would call in sick the morning after every pay day because he had been binge-drinking the night before. No wonder he arrived to work one day, devastated and almost in tears. His teenage son, that morning, had called him a "loser". It broke my heart to see him so humiliated by a person he loved so dearly.

Although this man was not representative of all day laborers available in my city, I realised that there was an expectation on the part of my clients that I would vet the workers that I hired. Day laborers, I felt, would be too anonymous a group; one could never vouch for them unless one knew them over time. My workers would have to look clean-cut, non-threatening and reliable. Clients needed to feel comfortable having them around. To consider another source of labor, I turned to observing those that worked for the lawn maintenance companies. The lawn mower operators looked like college students; they appeared to be clean-cut and harmless- just the kind of employees that I required.

I contacted the local university and was referred to their student employment website. There, I posted the job description and within 48 hours received over 50 replies.  Based on their resumes, I narrowed down the list to ten candidates, and then again to four. Of this last group, the most suitable one was travelling for a studies-related project, the second-best had already found employment, and the last two on the list were hired.

One very highly qualified candidate had not made the final list because his coordinates led me to believe that he came from wealth. I could not conceive how such a person might be willing or needed to work so hard. It was very naive of me to come to that conclusion. Imagine my surprise, to discover only recently, that none of my employees ever needed to work in order to earn money to pay for tuition. That enlightening experience deserves a post of its own.

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Reader Comments (3)

Just gone through your blog and found it impressive. It was nice going through your blog.

July 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnn Flowers

Allan, it is always refreshing and hopeful to learn that the work ethic is not always driven by monetary gain.


July 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEileen

I find it heartwarming to know that there are young people who are willing to submit themselves to hard labor for something other than money for tuition. However, I feel for the people like the 'unsuitable' man you mentioned who does need the money.

July 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRenee

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