Gardener Quest (Part 1)

How naive we were. €500 for the initial overhaul of the garden. That was the initial budget, back in July 2021 when just moved into the house, we allocated to hiring a gardener to remettre ordre dans le jardin or do a bit of tidying in our little garden. 

Both Silviu and I were newbies (and still are) in gardening. We had no concrete ideas on what we meant by “tidying” other than it likely included weeding. Since Silviu was busy with dealing with the house renovation contractors, it was up to me to find a gardener to take care of our little piece of green. 

When we first moved into the house, it was end July, the middle of summer. As mentioned previously, summer holidays are sacred to the French and nothing can stop them from their time off.  It’s usual to take a few weeks off to escape to the beach or the mountains; many small companies find it more efficient to close for business during this period. Thus, it would be almost a mission impossible to find someone to provide any gardening services. Thus, I decided to wait until la rentrée or start of school year in September before searching for a gardener.

By September, we had lived in the house for three weeks and were starting to get acquainted with the house, including the patch of grass surrounding it. As the school year would only start on the second week of September, I had time to spend in the garden, and which I gladly put in.

Freshly plucked tomatoes from the my garden. Frankly speaking, they are not as crunchy and sweet as those sold in the supermarket. Yet, pleasure derived from eating homegrown tomatoes beats all!

Unexpectedly, the physical work involved in the garden—pulling weeds, trimming long neglected plants, and digging up unsalvageable plants—is actually my cup of tea. I think gardening work suits me because it matches my personality. I like to see my efforts being appreciated and gardening is one area where I can get such gratification. The results, generally, commensurate with the amount of efforts you put in (unlike the immature students I teach!), even for someone with a not-so-green thumb. It’s such a pleasure to see the tomato plants you have recently fertilised, pruned, and sprayed with insecticide, bear fruits which ultimately end up in your kitchen. Or that the former bed of strawberry plants tainted with leaf scorch are now spurting out unblemished, healthy-looking green leaves. Second, since I like things to be neat (everything has its own particular place), when I get to root out weeds, removing their pesky presence from my sight, a soothing feeling settles in me. 

Joys of working in the garden: seeing healthy leaves and flowers of strawberry plant.

After working in the garden for a week, I had a clearer idea of what we needed. For one, as mentioned in an earlier post, several of my plants were sick, including the two pêchers or peach trees and one pommier or apple tree. We hoped that a gardener could diagnose and treat the fruit trees, and prepare them for the next harvest. 

Second, it would be nice to have someone helping with the weeds. The weeds are just like roly-poly toys. The toys always right themselves regardless the number of times you push them. As for the weeds, after you meticulously remove the weeds from one area, thinking that you finally see the last of them, you see tiny leaves peeping out from the ground a week later.

Third, a gardener would be able to suggest to us what new plants we could add to the few empty patches of land scattered around the house, or replace the ones that I did not like. Moreover, Silviu wanted to grow a hedge along the fence, surrounding the front part of our compound. 

So, with the above ideas in mind, I started searching for a jardinier or a gardener in our area. It was not as easy as I thought it would be.

I started with an online search for a jardinier around the place we lived. Since our garden was not big, I was thinking it might be cheaper if we engaged a freelance instead of going directly to a company. When I typed in jardinier, the search results threw out mostly websites related to the word paysagiste. To me, a paysagiste is a landscapist, someone who helps to conceptualise and design the extensive grounds of tycoons and magnats, not for a little turf like ours. Besides, we needed someone knowledgeable to treat the trees and give us suggestions on the type of plants we could add to our little green patch. 

The weeds are just like roly-poly toys. The toys always right themselves regardless the number of times you push them;

Besides showing results with paysagiste, there were also a few results relating to lawn mowing, pruning, and cutting/uprooting of trees. I needed none of those services at that time. The priority was to treat my trees so that I could enjoy healthy peaches and apples next year. 

After a few days of fruitless search for a real gardener, I decided to sign up to one of those platforms which connected service seekers and service providers. I put up a post stating my search for someone who could treat trees. Unfortunately, I did not get any response. A few days later, with no other choices in view, I called up one of the companies that showed up in my jardinier search, even though it called itself a paysagiste. The company promised to send someone to the house so as to be able to provide a quote.  

Mr. TL arrived, surprisingly, on time for appointment. Over my six years’ stay in France, I have found that punctuality is a rare attribute among the denizens. Anyway, after giving him a tour of our little patch of green, the paysagiste told us that our peach trees were ‘condamnés’ and we should remove them. He suggested that we grow fruit trees that were more suitable to our region like prunes and pears; peaches were more suitable to sunny regions like the south of the country. He advised us to visit an upcoming local plant festival to have an idea of the kind of fruit trees we would like to grow. In addition, he recommended we trim the hazelnut tree which was overgrown. A smaller tree would be easier for us to look after, and yet not affecting the yield of the tree. 

Silviu and I spent half an hour with Mr. TL, asking him for a quote on the suggestions that he gave us, including the assistance in growing a hedge. I found Mr. TL helpful and hoped that my search for a jardinier would soon end.  At the end of the visit, the paysagiste told us that it would take him more than a week to get back to us. We were surprised to hear that it would take him that long to get back to us. His business had to be flourishing as our quote should not be too complicated. 

Two weeks passed. Mt. LT still had not sent us his quote. I sent him an email to follow up. Two days later, we received a letter in our post.

Weird! All the private service providers that we had dealt with used emails. This company was the first one which sent us a quote in paper form. It was not an ordinary piece of A4 Xerox paper, but a high quality coloured paper. It even had a watermark on it!

Unfortunately, despite the quality of the paper, the contents were not what we expected. Mr. LT  had sent us a 3-line ‘quote’, stating that he would provide annual maintenance services  which consisted of weeding, hazelnut tree pruning, and discarding of any vegetal waste. The work would take half a day and would be undertaken by two gardeners.  The 3-line quote would cost us €816 (value-added tax of 20% included). Assuming half a day work constitutes 4 hours, and sending 2 gardeners over would mean a total of 8 hours for €680 (excluding tax). 

€85 per hour! Spending €85 per hour for something that I can do myself!  Weeding, pruning and getting rid of vegetal waste! I can do the weeding and pruning myself and I do not mind doing them at all. As for the disposal of vegetal waste, as long as the waste is not too bulky (e.g. trunks), the municipal actually sends a truck to pick up the vegetal waste once a week; so, why would I need his to dispose? If he comes only once a year, my garden would be in ruins! 

To get rid of us, he put us off by sending in (late!) a farcical quote so that we would not waste his previous time.

What happened to our request for a quote on cutting/uprooting of the two ‘condamnés’ peach trees? And the assistance to grow a hedge? My feeling was that our business was too trivial for his company. To get rid of us, he put us off by sending in (late!) a farcical quote so that we would not waste his previous time. Any doubts of them not wanting us a a client were cleared when they did not follow up with us. 

Gardener quest continues…

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