Shut Up and Dig

Who’s Getting Blown Off Here?

That is a lot of economic activity and a lot of jobs. If you love
facts and figures or just like to get your eyeballs spinning, the
amount of data to be found in this study is astounding. But those
probably weren’t your first thoughts, were they?

Okay, for a more revealing look at what some homeowners and landscape professionals really think about lawn care services, this thread
at GardenWeb is worth reading.  It followed an inquiry as to the
availability of a computer program that could generate a
garden-specific weekly list of chores a homeowner could leave for her
mow-and-blow crew. It seems she was not satisfied with the results of
the less-than-knowledgeable, low-wage, interchangeable crew.  Many
people pointed out that the amount of data that would need to go into
such a software program for a living system – a garden – is so huge
that it wouldn’t be economically feasible from a computer programmer’s
standpoint, much less produce an accurate list of site- and
time-specific gardening chores.

So what’s the average wage earned by these people who are tasked
with the health and upkeep of these living, interactive biological
systems? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, it’s $10.74 per hour, compared to $21.56 per hour for plumbers, who connect inanimate pipes together.  While you can get any number of university bachelor
and masters degrees in horticulture, I’ve never heard of a college
degree in plumbing. (Engineering may come the closest.)

Money says everything about how much value we place on things in our
culture. The mow-and-blow guy, whose customers expect him to possess
extensive knowledge in several scientific disciplines, isn’t paid
commensurate with that level of knowledge.  Even degreed and licensed
landscape professionals suffer from the same low-wage cultural mindset
and are doing what they can to improve the image of the profession, educate their members and the public, as well.

With the large number of colleges graduating horticulture
professionals these days, there’s a good chance that the cause of that
offensive noise you’re hearing is a leafblower operated by a degreed
and licensed professional or someone who’s employed by one and who’s
receiving training in basic standards of care.  And like it or not,
mowing lawns is a big part of landscape maintenance and an important
source of income for many landscape professionals.

I, for one, will not look down my nose at another landscape maintenance
worker because I have a college education and he doesn’t.  I may roll
my eyes when I spot work of poor quality but ultimately it’s the
homeowners who have the final responsibility about who they hire to
work on their property.  You can’t judge landscape maintenance
professionals by the trucks they pull up in, the mowers they walk
behind or the blowers that piss you off.  Rather, how about judging
them by the quality of their work and the pride they take in it, or by
their dependability and willingness – often eagerness – to work hard?
To label an entire industry with the derogatory Mow-and-Blow is just
wrong.

I know you passionate gardening types are a tough crowd, how about some respect where respect is due?

Posted by on December 12, 2006 at 4:40 am, in the category Shut Up and Dig.
Comments are off for this post

15 Responses to “Who’s Getting Blown Off Here?”

  1. Great post, though I expect no different from Tropical Embellishments and Garden Rant. That’s the problem with excellence, it can be thankless. : ) Your comment about not looking down one’s nose at… the mow and blow guys is a good one, for the wrong reasons. We should not look down our noses at ANYONE who works for his or her livilihood. Period. And we certainly shouldn’t judge a person’s humanity by his or her earning capacity. (Judging one’s financial worth is a different issue.) With all due respect, I think you may have pushed a bit too far.

    You wrote: “While you can get any number of university bachelor and masters degrees in horticulture, I’ve never heard of a college degree in plumbing. (Engineering may come the closest.) ”

    You may have picked a poor example for contrast. Journeyman Plumbers are such only after YEARS of apprenticeship. And while I hate paying plumbers too, their role is a little more than one “who connect[s] inanimate pipes together.” Our plumbing systems today are the cornerstone of our health, safety and luxury. Plumbers keep that working. The skills are enormous. The responsibilities are too. A poorly plumbed lavatory can destroy property and make us sick. Hell, it can even expose our homes to explosion risk. A poorly “mowed & blowed” lawn… well… not the same risk, not the same skill, not the same.

    I am one of those of who studied “plumbing” in a University. Yes… it is called Mechanical Engineering. I can’t safely replumb 100% of my house (our -on average – largest investment, where our families live). You say not to look down your nose at mow-and-blow guys and then make this comment about plumbers. Wow.

    Bottom line, part of your argument is sound. But please don’t stand too hard on the notion that a guy with a truck, a blower and a mower (or the kid he asked to him that day) is a “skilled labor” participant in our economy. Obviously YOU are. Obviously many horticulturalists/designers/gardeners/landscapers are.

    But let’s get serious here. I’m not being condescending. But there IS such a thing as unskilled labor and I would suggest that a guy who blows grass clipping off my drive is it. Or at least I hope he is because I’m not paying skilled labor rates for such tasks.

  2. ginger says:

    Wow, that was a great comment!!! I have worked as a landscaper after spending four years working on a college degree in horticulture! I can tell you that if you are on your knees working in a garden you are invisible to most people in business suits. Also, many Master Gardeners have actually discounted my opinion after finding out that I am not a Master Gardener which is a very worthwhile program but a short course for hobbyists, not a professional degree. Bachelor degree in horticulture trumps Master Gardener program every time. I know, now I am ranting but that is what this forum is all about! Thanks!!! To all you Master Gardeners out there, thank you for promoting horticulture but, please, be a bit more humble!

  3. Kathy Jentz says:

    I agree the term “Master Gardener” is greeted with oohs and ahhs – while college-level education is overlooked or real-world experience is disdained. I think it is the “Master” title and the public’s misunderstanding of what is behind it. SOME MG’s have milked the title for professional gain as well which IMHO is a no-no.
    What is needed for those pro-horts is an even higher-sounding title for their status that they can market.

  4. Pam J. says:

    I want to add my voice to those who say respect those plumbers. And the electricians and the dry wall installers and the guys who bring back our electricity after a storm and a dozen other tradespeople. I’ve got nothing against higher education, including master gardening education, but I’ll take a flush toilet over a well-tended garden any day.

  5. Gloria says:

    Thank you Christopher C. for reminding us that there is a person on the other end of our often thoughtless labels.
    As an entrepreneur you found a need for a service, then fulfilled that need for pay.A job well done deserves respect as well as recompense.If it is hard to get customers to pay what you need to charge then the problem may partly be due to the abundant competition. Some are willing and able to pay for experience and individual attention others are not and can keep calling alternatives until they get what they are willing to pay for.

    As for the Master Gardener slam why would you be upset over a disagreement with another and why would that person have to pretend to agree with you so as not to appear arrogant.

  6. firefly says:

    “Even degreed and licensed landscape professionals suffer from the same low-wage cultural mindset and are doing what they can to improve the image of the profession, educate their members and the public, as well. …

    The mow-and-blow guy, whose customers expect him to possess extensive knowledge in several scientific disciplines, isn’t paid commensurate with that level of knowledge.”

    I edit manuscripts for PhDs and I get paid $12.75 an hour. Part-time.

    Mothers raise children and they don’t get paid at all.

    The issue of what we do and don’t value, and why we pay others slave wages for things we don’t want to do ourselves, is a cultural thing and isn’t isolated to the “mow and blow” industry. And citing economic figures isn’t, in my view, the best basis for building respect. (The porn industry does quite well economically too.)

    “Bachelor degree in horticulture trumps Master Gardener program every time.”

    If “educating the public” about a profession consists of neener neener “I know more than you do” games, then it seems the lack of respect isn’t solely the fault of Master Gardeners.

    I know people at the PhD level who couldn’t find their nether parts with both hands and a map. Education does not automatically confer skill.

  7. Heather says:

    I pretty much agree with Clerk on every point. But I’m confused as to what the original perceived slight against “mow and blowers” was. To me there’s a huge difference between a skilled, experienced, degreed landscaper and someone who runs the mower, weedeater, and spreads mulch in the beds twice a year. I respect them both for what they do, but in terms of valuing their skills, no, they don’t come close to the same league. One job I can do myself, the other I cannot.
    Perhaps I’m missing the point?

  8. It is just my luck to have an articulate college educated Mechanical Engineer with a sensitive nature in the house. County Clerk you pretty much make my point for me. I can get a bit defensive when I feel all lawn care and landscape services are labeled as Mow and Blow. Plumbers and Mechanical Engineers might feel the same if they were constantly compared to Handyman services.

    As someone who designs, installs and repairs irrigation systems, trust me, I have the utmost respect for a good plumbers skills. I picked plumbers basically at random while at the Labor Department site. It also worked that this is another skilled trade people like to complain about paying such high wages to, after all “they only glue pipes together”, and to compare society’s value of them based on their pay. The “inanimate pipes” was not meant to make a plumber’s skills look smaller or for them to need less intelligence.

    It was to raise a question of why the living ecosystem is accorded such a low value status when compared to a relatively static mechanical system.

    My comments regarding the differences between unskilled lawn care services and educated horticulturists were edited out for the sake of brevity. They matched yours that anyone willing to work regardless of skill level deserve respect and that hands on experience can account for a great deal of learning.

    I may not want to a pay plumbers rates to fix a leaking faucet or running toilet and hire a handy man instead to save money. Can I then blame him and the entire plumbing industry when my toilet explodes because neither he nor I had enough knowledge to realize there was another much bigger problem?

    I think a good case could be made that the unskilled labor blowing the clippings off your drive is also part of the “cornerstone of our health, safety and luxury.” Many homeowners expect and require these services to apply fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides to their lawns and yards. I would suggest that the future genetic viability of children and their descendents, their current and long term health and the sustainability of the environment for all life are equally important to plumbing problems.

  9. Christopher, you are correct: we agree. I just thought the plumber / financial / argument was ill chosen. If I were you, with your skills, persepctives and background, I’d never again say that “I was in the mow and blow industry.” You aren’t. (Just as Heather wrote.)

    Just because there are unskilled tasks to be done in a garden, doesn’t mean that aren’t ALSO skilled tasks. But here’s the big thing: In the big picture, pay is RARELY commensurate with knowledge or work (as firefly points out). Pay is a function of the marketplace… and the marketplace is irrational.

    There is more to life than pay. And if the goal is money, gardening is probably NOT the easiest route. Honestly, this shouldn’t be any kind of surprise. But my god, man! Your gardens are spectacular. And your life is connected to such things! Even I can see the value in that! And you are CERTAINLY allowed to rant. In fact, I feel bad for having posted what I did… especially as plumbers, I imagine, can take care of themselves without my help. Great post. That’s what I should have written.

    And as for the whole master gardener – college degree – my education – your education thing: Excellence and Education are their own rewards. Formal or informal. Condensed or extended. Excellence and education. As I get older I’ve come to believe that they are the ONLY rewards… except for maybe dogs.

    Living near dogs is a pretty good reward. But that’s just me.

  10. Verdant Heart says:

    Tit for tat is the inevitable product of ranting, especially on the web. It’s kinda like quackgrass. Keep hacking at it and all you get is more quackgrass. I garden for peace, beauty, & the creative stimulation. Ranting is the last thing that comes to my mind. To me it seems antithetical to the whole thing. I’d rather spread my compost where it will make things grow.

  11. ginger says:

    A good rant generates lots of comments and what eloquent comments they are!!!

    Verdant Heart: Thank you for that reminder of why we all garden in the first place!

  12. Oldroses says:

    THE NOISE!! THE FUMES!! THE CHEMICALS!! Everyone is overlooking the incredible amounts of pollution being generated by the landscape industry. I am a responsibe, organic homeowner. I use low tech non-polluting technologies like rakes and compost to achieve the same effect as my neighbors’ extremely offensive landscaper. I realize that professional landscapers could not make a decent living without the pollution emitting machines and health threatening chemicals that they use. Shouldn’t that tell us that we need to re-think our landscapes? If the only way to maintain a pristine lawn is by damaging our environment and ourselves, we should re-think our concept of what is an acceptable lawn and garden.

  13. JLB says:

    Well said Oldroses. When I look out the window to see one of the daily lawn care crews that visit my neighborhood, I don’t look down my nose at the workers (whom I hold with great respect), I cringe at the imminent noise and air pollution!!! Ah, the blissful silence of winter. :)

  14. It can be little difficult for the crew not to take personally drive by and walk over complaints from strange people offended by the methods of maintenance. There are some people who are not shy about letting landscape crews know their moral stance on lawn care issues in other peoples yards.

  15. susan harris says:

    Christopher, I’m with ya on that one. The self-righteous can be truly rude. I’ve been assaulted by strangers and club members alike for my crimes against the environment.

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