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OMG, your clients and mine must be related! Though as a coach I do get hired by some actual gardeners, or people who want to learn (best of all!) but the nature-haters (maybe nature-deniers?) are definitely out there. The "low maintenance" they ask for means NO maintenance, of course, like their interior furnishings. Love your analogy to interior furnishings.

Another interior analogy I often use explains why garden design doesn't start with annuals or perennials. I say it's like furnishing your living room starting with the throw pillows. We've all read that a dozen times, but most homeowners haven't.

So, so true Love. A most enjoyable read. Thankfully the true oddballs and cranks are the minority of the client base. I'll have to delve into my memory data base and try to come up with a good story.

The general clueless example is when the client asks, What is wrong with my tree? Is it dying? No your tree is deciduous. Mark your calendar. Every year at this time it will shed its leaves. They would ask again the following year. Being in Maui they had a plausible excuse. Normal earth bound plant rules no longer applied.

Ah, the Human Comedy... usually much better then fiction.

I'll admit, I prune. Some plants I want in tree-form, others I just don't want as big as they'd otherwise come, and I cut and chop away. Maybe if I had more space I'd do less pruning.

Oh my gosh, this was HILARIOUS. I especially loved the woman gesturing at her husband's back with the coffee cup, rolling her eyes, and saying that his mother was hot-blooded, too...Thanks for the read.

Wish I had some good "industry" tales to share so I could snag the book, but not being in the biz, no luck. May just have to wander on "ovah" to Amazon and get it anyway.

It's like I wrote it myself.

Standard protocol was to get contact numbers from the clients, including a fax number if they had it. One client gave us their fax number and when we had an additional service request he asked us to fax it to him. We did. The next thing we knew he was calling us screaming "How DARE you send me a fax at this number!!!" I guess it was his business fax and there was a potential for his employees to see it. He then fired us. Wow! Unbelievable.

I had another client I was working with that told me they wanted a "natural" landscape with "natural lines." They had a really awkward lot that backed up to a steep riparian zone. So I made them this beautiful flowing design with curvilinear walks and a spiral like patio. They saw it and the wife almost started crying. They hated it. They didn't like curves, only straight, rigid lines. Who knew?

Clients can be pretty entertaining, but for every bad, hostile, pain-in-the-butt client there were always 5 great ones.

I love the client phone calls/emails, "The garden center said there is no such plant, and you can't put 'X' where you want to put it,the contractor I found says nothing you designed in the front yard will grow."

And the client believes them!!! Knowing I am a decades long garden design professional, with a degree, several books written, tv show, national awards.

Hmm. Very happy their intuition has them call me.

LOVED your post. And aren't we LUCKY to do this for a living!!

Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

I'm not a gardening professional and really haven't had much experience working with one either, but I loved "getting to know" one of the pioneers of landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmstead, in the book, "The Devil in the White City". What a character! As the landscape designer for the Chicago World's Fair, he was a stickler for details and drove everyone around him an endearing sort of way.

I'm sure there's eccentricities on both sides--the clients and the designers. I suppose it's what makes life interesting.

Christopher C, my mom is one of those people! I had her plant some Berberis in her front yard and she keeps telling me she needs to replace them because they're dead. I don't know how many times I've told her they are deciduous, just give them some time to leaf out.

Oh, and I also have to mention that landscape maintenance companies are the bane of my existence. We call them "Mow and Blow" and they have to ball and box everything! My biggest pet peeves are when they cut Phormiums and Dietes to the ground like they are deciduous grasses.

I'm not a garden professional, but I do have a story. . .

One of my neighbors has an immaculate lawn and perfectly sculpted bushes, not a twig out of place. Her landscaper told her that her shrubs were diseased with "something that was going around". (The bushes had been browsed into lollipops by deer, and had lichen on the trunks.) The same landscaper told her that her healthy, beautiful crabapples in the center of the lawn a. needed to be pruned like fruit trees that were intended to be harvested, and b. were too big, so they needed to be replaced.

I've never been a professional designer nor a client of one. Your book might save me hours of constructive staring before I see the obvious solutions for my garden, or be the impetus to call in Tara [she's only 200 miles away] to point them out.

I am a client of a professional landscape designer. I finally stopped messing around (and messing things up) and consulted a PROFESSIONAL. I found Janet on -- I love the plan Janet made for me, and it keeps me from buying junk at the garden center.

Love, I just finished your book and it was awesome (got an advance copy, lucky me!). I've been a designer for many years, but I still got so much out of seeing how you approach different things.

The most reassuring part of the book for me was when you said that you don't take clients to the nursery to see what plants they like (with the exception of your Tree Safari!), because they inevitably fall in love with things that won't work in their space, and you spend the whole time explaining to them why they can't have this or that darling plant.

I thought that was just my bad luck to have that experience nearly every time! I had come to dread those nursery trips with involved clients because they rarely understand that we need to stick to the shade section or stay away from the floofy-perennials-that-need-more-care-than-no-maintenance section.

Thanks for the encouragement to use other techniques to help clients view plants and see what they're attracted to.

Anyway, I don't have many funny stories myself, at least not that I could print without fear of lawsuit!

But your story about Miss Dark Shady House with the circled plant catalog of giant blooms for tropical sunshine so resonated with me. Some folks catch on quite easily to the fact that plants are alive and have specific care needs, other people, not so much!

Still - can't imagine being in a different field. Majority of my clients are very, very dear to me, my employees and colleagues are generally wonderful people, and I get to geek out about plants all day! I think gardeners and people who appreciate their beauty must be some of the nicest people in the world.

So funny... My story is not nearly as funny as some of your stories, but I'll share anyway.
I do most of my own landscaping but hardscape is a bit different. I know where it should go and what it should look like but I'm not keen on playing with 70 lb cement blocks all day. So when I needed to have my front walk replaced I called in a professional landscaping service. I drew up a detailed plan -- to scale on graph paper -- showing the curve of the new retaining wall, the diagonal herringbone pavers, and indicating the area to be filled with garden soil for an expanded garden bed. The estimate was reasonable, I hired the guy, work began... The day they started laying the pavers he calls me out to ask where I want the banding to go.
"Banding?" I say.
He patiently explains that because of the curve the pattern on the walkway will need to be broken because you can't lay straight pavers on the curve.
I think my mouth fell open.
"But I didn't want straight pavers. Didn't you see on the diagram I gave you? I indicated diagonal herring bone."
He looked at me. "I thought that was just lines."
Give me credit, I did not laugh in his face but I could not resist stating the obvious. "Yeah, diagonal lines. ... Like for diagonal pavers?"
"Oh." He scratched and settled his cap back on his head. "Well that's gonna cost extra."

I've been reading GardenRant almost since it started but have never had anything relevant to say until now. I've been a garden designer for almost 20 years and this post mirrors my experiences with clients exactly! Especially the 'why can't I have a constantly blooming plant that gets put in at the perfect size and never grows and doesn't need to be watered and never gets diseases and doesn't care how much light it gets'? I'm always tempted to say 'you can - if you don't have a problem with plastic'! I once had an interview with the boyfriend of a client (she'd raved about me to him and he decided to see about having someone design his yard too) who told me that, although he could be an extremely talented garden designer if he really wanted to, he just didn't have the time to mess around with it. I quoted him a price I thought would make it worth me having to justify to him every design decision I made and I never heard from him again (it was an astronomical amount). His (now ex-)girlfriend, one of the loveliest clients I've ever had, continues to stay in touch, updating me on her garden's progress, and thanking me for my direction and advice. It's true - for every problematic client, there are many more that make what I do worth it.

Loved you stories. I've occasionally helped my friends pick out plants and give general garden design advise. Two close friends of ours wanted low maintenance plants for the front of their house. One wanted flowers but the other was deathly afraid of bees so didn't want any flowers. I helped them pick out a couple flowering shrubs with a short blooming season and really acted as a mediator.

Now that I've heard of your book, I'll have to check it out. I'm transitioning careers (laid off), we already own a landscape business and I'm a gardener that loves to design/change/remodel my garden. I'm not certain I'll become a landscape designer but it is a dream of mine.

Have a friend who is a garden designer and she loves to share stories about her clients. My all time favorite was about a woman in So. California who found and hauled home a LARGE wooden chainsaw carving of a bear for her garden. My friend worked all day with her crew to get this monster placed and stabilized in the landscape. A few weeks later, she gets a panicked call from the owner, "It's raining all over my bear! Come quickly and move it indoors!" Wouldn't the concept of 'garden sculpture' imply weather-hardy?

Well at least I'm not feeling alone anymore....

My best/worst client had

1. 2 hours max of sun (but she said "its really sunny)
2. deer browsing (what do you mean i'll have to periodically spray repellants if I want Hydrangeas)
3.well water (I don't ever want to have to water because the well might run dry)
4. wanted no maintenance

I had to bite my tongue and not suggest plastic plants! The client was disappointed when the plant palate was so limited due to her "conditions". Ultimately she paid for design, but I told her my schedule was too full to do the install. I can only imagine what she would have come up with then!!

This was a fabulous read,thank you! I currently have your book on hold at the local Library, and I'm not the only one since it's on the wait list. I toy with the idea of entering your profession but when I read stories like yours I wonder if I would be able to keep my chin up in the face of such, well, stupidity! I can't wait to read more...

I had a friend of the family ask me to do their front yard for them. Everyone warned me that it is impossible for her to ever make up her mind. In the 12 years she had owned her house she had painted the exterior 10 times!

So we went over the plants, let her think about them for a few weeks. When she gave me the ok I purchased them and brought them over. I placed them (still in pots) where they would go and again let her think about it a couple of weeks. She finally said she was fine with their placement so I put them in the ground, hooked up her irrigation, etc. She said she loved it and was really excited. The following week I went back to her house to take photos and to my surprise (although I was warned) everything had been moved! Over the week she had gone around looking at other people's yards, decided she wanted something different and hired someone to come in and completely redo it. At least she paid me.

I am the garden "expert" in my circle of friends and co-workers. If they have a problem or want advice on what to plant they come to me. So my one co-worker doesn't like nature (but owns a camping trailer with air conditioning and tv) he completely concreted over his entire back yard around the pool and hot tub with the tv. Now he would like to install some planters with vines in them to hide the wood fence. He wants them to keep their leaves in the winter, actually never shed them (that's messy), not to actually cling to the fence, never go out of bounds (on the other side of the fence), rarely need pruning, and give some nice colour interest. I also know that he would not welcome birds or bees or any insects that may be attracted to said plant. Of course the first word out of my mouth was "plastic". That is still an option.

He was also the one a few years back in a previous house who wanted a front garden like his neighbours, that bloomed all summer. So I went to have a look at the neighbours garden, lovely. I told him about all the shrubs, that he would need, to which he said, "oh no, I don't want any shrubs, just flowers". I told him to go have another look at the garden, it was small, but had lovely bones of many shrubs, so that the flowers would pop. UGH.

Just so you know how universal these problems are - I spent 18 years working as a zookeeper and I can pretty much top any story you come up with.

I've read your book and it's terrific, funny and full of information, wish I had had it before I became a landscape designer, client nightmares notwithstanding. Isn't it funny how you can tell the very first instant you hear their voice on the phone whether it will be a good fit or not? Thanks for the stories.

What a great post - I'm a web designer, and whether you're pushing pixels or pushing peonies, dealing with the client is always the most exciting, frustrating and memorable part of the job. You can advise all you want, but ultimately - it's the customer, and they are always right ... as long as you ensure you get your hourly rate! Please send me a copy of the book!

What a funny and true post. Working with people who want a real connection with the outdoors is one of my favorite parts of design work. But clients who request "no maintenance" plants and basically ask for graveled-over back yards do make me shake my head sometimes.

And accepting a job from a client who absolutely cannot be pleased or who has a bad vibe with his/her spouse is, I've learned the hard way, a job you really don't want, no matter how well it pays.

Luckily, the good outweighs the bad, and the rewards of working with a variety of interesting and engaging clients makes up for the occasional bad apple.

I look forward to reading your book.

BTW, no need to put me in the running for the book. I already have a copy.

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