On Being a Professional Gardener

Jumping into large piles of leaves or perching on top of grass piles in a wheelbarrow gave me wonderful childhood memories. So, when my husband made the announcement to start his own lawn and garden maintenance business, back in 1995, I felt truly excited.

At the time I worked at a large company, but the company downsized seven months later and I found myself free to start a new career. I’d never considered becoming a professional gardener, so, remembering my childhood experiences, I chose to have fun and join my husband in his business. I told the whole world about my career change, and how great it was going to be.

I began my new job by sweeping up after Chris and handing him tools when he needed them. I fancied myself as a sort of Registered Horticultural Nurse. It did not take long, though, before my original euphoric idea of gardening dissipated like a morning mist. Sweeping turned into pulling weeds and mowing many lawns, while my husband edged. I then learned to use the blower while he mowed. From there on, I graduated to using the weed whacker, the pruners, loppers, hedge trimmers, and occasionally I shoveled dog fecal material.

Bugs became a huge part of my life. Bugs in the dirt, in the plants, in the car, and even in the cab of our truck! Once, we found a praying mantis behind the driver’s seat. Instead of screeching my head off, I carefully picked the mantis up on a stick and let him loose in our backyard. After all, they do love to eat aphids and other bugs, and we had plenty of those. For days afterwards, though, I had nightmares about buggy-eyed twigs chasing me around the house and tapping me on the shoulder in the car.

Not counting the bugs, dirt and dust lay siege to my new career. Dirt plastered my socks, under my fingernails, and my clothes. My shoes had to be left outside, on the porch, because they were so filthy. I soon had to remove my wedding ring, because two huge calluses started to grow around the band. I also discovered unpleasantly that my body could perspire like Niagara Falls!

One evening, after having slogged through an especially hot, humid, summer day, and being especially filthy, I faced a moment of extreme disillusionment. My muscles screamed from exhaustion and my hair was plastered to my skull. I demanded a couple of days off so I could, of all things, clean house and do laundry! My husband almost fainted from shock, because I’d always avoided cleaning house and doing laundry like a plague.

A few days later, I declared open rebellion against the dog fecal material, and, after brain storming, I came up with a reverse psychology plan that would get my husband to take over the job. Looking my “boss” square in the eye, I said, “I refuse to pick up any more dog poopoo today, unless you take me out to a real nice lunch.” He foiled my plan by agreeing! I had to continue with a dirty, stinky job, even though I received a fancy meal.

Weeds were another set of nails in the coffin of my original ideals on gardening. I pulled so many obnoxious weeds that their images literally burned themselves onto my retina. One evening at home, I opened the microwave to see a huge dandelion facing me from the interior. It took rapid blinking, and shutting and reopening the door, to chase it away. I suffered for more than a week with seeing weeds in the bathtub, on my bed, and everywhere else my eyes traveled, until the images mercifully faded away.

I daydreamed with applying at a fast food restaurant, to escape from this horrible job, until, one day I realized that some wonderful things had been happening, but I had been too blind to see. I enjoyed watching rabbits quietly watch us from the far sides of lawns. A roadrunner liked to race in front of our truck as we drove up a certain driveway. One client’s dog loved to snap and snarl at water pouring out of a hose. Once, I discovered two little hummingbird eggs nestled within a bougainvillea, and as each week progressed, it thrilled me to watch what I’d only ever seen on documentaries: the eggs hatched, the mini-babies grew and stared at me from their tiny nest, until the demi-tea cup sized shell emptied. Not long afterwards, a group of zinging hummingbirds surrounded me, as I pruned a large red trumpet vine, and I wondered if they were my “babies.” Another morning, we came across a sick sparrow and I picked him up on my finger, saving him from approaching ants. After walking awhile, and talking to the bird, the little guy suddenly shook himself and flew off.

One afternoon, at a residential site, my husband found a baby mockingbird huddled against a wall. Its sibling lay dead not far away because of inquisitive dogs. I picked up the survivor with my gloves on, and we tried to find its nest. While we searched through the trees, the parents hopped and fluttered everywhere, calling to the baby. We couldn’t find the nest, but at least found a place of safety away from the dogs of the house. The parents could then feed their little one. Later, my heart melted when I thought about the little mockingbird, helpless in my hand, opening up his beak to receive food every time I peeked. I would have missed this, and more, if I’d been working inside a building all day.

All my life, I’d seen full time gardeners at work, but never comprehended, what those people physically endure to do their job. I’ll never again take lightly the job of landscape maintenance, and farmers are also on my list of top notch people. I did not remain a professional in this field, but the invaluable lessons I learned carried me through the rest of my life.

We worked as landscape maintenance workers from about 1995 through1998, until we were robbed three different times. Then we went into educational careers.

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2 thoughts on “On Being a Professional Gardener

    • I began to enjoy the work, getting buffed out with muscles, being outside, being with nature, and suddenly we had to stop. The thievery was almost like a sign: it was the right time to start new careers, and since then I taught art in high schools and we’ve been missionaries. I’m packing for a new move right now and came across this diary writing I did way back when. Brought back good memories.

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