Posted by urbansuburbanecoliteracy | Posted in Landscaping | Posted on 12-06-2010
During the last meeting with a problem client on June 9th, he complained that designers don’t create designs that are “buildable”. Honestly, I don’t know from what mental pit he dug out this particular bone to pick. I was hands-on long before I even started designing. That’s how I learned to design based on functionality rather than on pure aesthetics alone. (You can have a “pretty” garden that’s a maintenance nightmare or select a plant palette that looks great until it starts to grow out into maturity. Oops.) What’s more, I don’t see a point in creating a garden design that can’t be implemented.
This client is a retired general contractor in Sherman Oaks, CA and not a garden or landscape specialist, certainly not a designer by any stretch of the imagination. He wouldn’t have contracted my services if he was able to do the design himself. Had I known beforehand that he had burnt through a series of designers over the past ten years and had a disparaging view of them, I wouldn’t have worked with him. As a former service provider himself, he knows fool well what it’s like to encounter predatory clients who try to pick his brain clean like mental piranhas.
I’ve run this problematic scenario past other professionals in other design/consultation fields and the conclusion they draw is this: the man’s trying to see how much he can get away with. In short, he’s behaving like a bully.
I listened carefully to this client, as I do with all design clients. I paid attention to their lifestyle and aesthetics. The client and his wife like curves and to encounter little surprises in the garden that enchant them. I included a lot of edible plants for wildlife since the client and his wife are fond of watching birds and other animals in the garden and I made all the regular access points of the garden easily accessible from the pathways since the couple are in their golden years. Maintenance was going to be relatively easy due to the design.
The couple was so friendly and they were a dream to work with at first. It seemed like a perfect match between what I could offer and what they wanted. The final meeting to review the design went off without a hitch – they were over the moon! I asked if they had any changes they wanted to make to the garden design. They had none and made no other requests for any other renderings. From what I was told, the garden design met their expectations and it had benefits and features that they hadn’t even thought to ask for. Because this client and his wife had been so sweet (they had had even invited us over for wine and appetizers and loaned us the DVD of “Dirt: The Movie”) and because they were so excited about getting their garden started, I told my client and his wife that I was giving them a complementary bonus – a detailed writeup on the first steps to launching their garden project.
Things suddenly changed after that May 30th meeting for the worse. The first sign of trouble in the first week of June was that the client was trying to pump me for more consultation via e-mail. I gave him a few more relevant and timely tips but it wasn’t enough to satisfy him. Truth is, when entitlement mentality is present, even giving everything would not satisfy someone under its thrall. I offered ongoing support and consultation online for a very reasonable monthly fee and he never bothered to respond. Instead, he ignored the offer. The only thing that had changed between the end of May and June was that the client was not able to pump me or my colleague for free expertise. That’s what upset him. Rather, he upset himself because he feels entitled to more professional expertise and advice that he has no willingness to pay for.
Another thing that I noticed was that the client was selectively cherry picking through the advice I gave him, choosing to only do the tasks that he wanted to do and what interests him. (He was eager to get started on the garden trellis, even though that should come long after initial site preparation and after the pathway is laid since the trellis was designed to match the shape of the pathway below it.) Never mind that site preparation can make or break a garden. Shoddy preparation means shoddy results, analogous to the computer programming aphorism, “garbage in, garbage out”. The last we heard, the client told us that he had stopped doing any site preparation.
For reasons that don’t have anything to do with the clarity of the instructions or the quality of the information, the client has shortsightedly refused to follow the detailed directions he has been given that would ensure the long-term success of his garden. Rather than doing what he needs to get the results that he (claims that) he wants, the client confirmed my worse suspicions when he complained on June 9th that he isn’t getting the full specs he wants, i.e. specifications for the trellis materials and curvature; the pond construction materials, equipment details, and how to build the pond from start to finish; permeable pathway layout and installation; CA native and edible plant selection and acquisition; planting locations and optimal spacing, etc.
Unfortunately, he’s skipping steps that would make the garden less weedy in the long run, not for lack of good information, but for want of receiving information to his liking that wouldn’t require work he would dislike. On top of demanding build out specifications, he also complained that the lack of perspective drawings made building impossible for him.
I don’t care what contracting or building service profession you’re in, no one will provide full build out specifications for free. NO ONE. If by “buildable” my client means that he hasn’t been able to extract any specs from any designer for free, then truly no garden design is buildable according to his expectation. Moreover, no designer will provide extra drawings for free, especially when they weren’t requested and paid for. What’s worse is that he modified my intellectual property – the design – without permission and against my recommendations. He has complained that the text labels on the plants are no longer there. They are. It’s just that he reduced the scale of the drawing to 1/4 of its original size, thus he made the text impossible to read.
This client has managed to dissipate whatever goodwill my colleague and I had towards him through his self-defeating two-faced behavior. His behavior is confusing, foolish, upsetting, and contradictory, to say the least, and his inability to “play well in the sandbox” guarantees poor results in the garden while perpetuating his frustration. It also allows him to rationalize passive aggressive blame for not getting the results he wants although ultimately he is responsible for getting in his own way. Because the client refuses to follow the advice he has already been given, my colleague and I can only interpret his collective choices as lack of interest in and no authentic commitment to the garden’s long-term success, sustainability, and integrated function. Permaculture sounds great to him in theory but the real work is apparently distasteful and it doesn’t interest him as a dilettante. He wants all the great garden results without possessing the systems thinking to get those results and he wants to enjoy the bounty of the garden without the work. What my colleague and I find fundamentally offensive is that this man believes that he is somehow entitled to much more than the design service that he paid for and received. Add to that the slime factor for friendly overtures made as a pretext for getting what he wanted at our expense. In the end, this client’s contempt for my and my colleague’s livelihoods as professionals is apparent, as is his lack of respect.Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it (http://www NULL.addthis NULL.com/bookmark NULL.php),