Friday, April 17, 2009


I had a client once who was incredibly mean. It was in my first year of business as a landscape designer and I took a job doing physical labor for a woman who had a large property that she was trying to naturalize. It was an opportunity to learn more about native landscaping so I would bluff and stall when she asked me questions I was not ready to handle yet, then come home to my office and look up the answers and propose ideas the next day. I would try to anticipate what she might ask next and read about that too, sometimes pretty successfully.
She had a wooded lot with a great deal of invasive understory that needed to be removed and chemically treated to keep it from growing back. She had a good canopy of native trees with a few non-natives that I identified for her to have a tree service remove. I gave her lists of natives and non-native problem trees and taught her tips for telling them apart. She had a pretty good ground cover of native wildflower plants, but they were in little patches here and there, so I proposed that we 'sort' them, digging up some and moving them near others of the same kind to create larger 'islands' of the same kind of plant, much like an a mature woodland where plants have been spreading on their own for decades. This gave the yard a more 'organized' and 'designed' look, making it appear less 'wild'. This was exactly the effect she was hoping to achieve, but hadn't known what was 'wrong' to know how to fix it. She complained and criticized about details and seemed cantankerous and bitter. But she kept having me back, kept asking more questions and moving into working on new areas.
After many weeks of working two or three days a week for her, she declared that was enough work for the season, so I tallied up the hours and dropped off a bill for her. She sent me a check, short by a couple hundred dollars, and a note criticizing my work. I was hurt, offended, stunned, for although she did complain pretty frequently, she had kept having me back, which one would take as a sign of overall approval.
Years later, I saw her at a folk music concert and her companion started a conversation with my kids, so I was forced to chat with them. She seemed not to recognize me. She was nice enough to me and to my children. I was bothered by the situation. I had to admit that I was still hurt and angry, but it was only harming me. I had to give it up.
A few weeks later, I worked up the nerve to call her. I introduced myself and asked if she remembered that I worked with her in her yard a few years back. Oh, yes, she said, and she went on to say how much she appreciated my work and my advice and my help and how she had continued to use my ideas and my methods and the resources I had left with her to keep the property natural. She seemed genuinely glad for having worked with me, and seemed to be harboring no grudges. I was not going to bring anything up, and so I let it be. I figure she must have been having financial difficulties as the time, and was too embarrassed to admit it, but had to have some reason to not pay me the entire amount. It felt good to let it go. It feels good to be able to have pleasant memories of the work and the much later phone conversation. It feels good to be able to count it as a success, not a failure.
I have shared this story with a few people, and some have said, "Oh, I can't believe you didn't tell her off when you had her on the phone!" But she did not seem to even remember having had an issue with me, so what would have been the point? We ended the conversation appreciating each other, she telling me she learned from me and me thanking her for the opportunity to work on her property so many years ago.
I think I should remember that story myself a little more, and let things go, forgive, forget, find the good in the stories and let go the bad. Yeah, that's what I am going to do!

1 comment:

Chuckles said...

"What does not kill me, makes me stronger." or something like that...