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The relation between gardener and employer is not an easy one, especially if the employer is a gardener himself. There is apt to be a conflict of tastes; and the better the gardener the more acute the conflict is likely to be.
"Studies in Gardening."
THE QUESTION OF THE GARDENER
DO write for me" thus runs a letter lately from a clever friend "a manual entitled, `The Gardener-less Garden,' telling how to get the most joy for the least trouble! Or call it `The Lazy Gardener,' I like to moon around in the garden and I do not want to meet the man with the hoe at every turn. Nor do I like to work very steadily myself, though I always think that I shall want to next year.
"'Oh, what is life if, full of care,
We have not time to stand and stare?"
Still, a book on gardening in its varying aspects could hardly omit mention of that man who must be constantly in sight of those who garden, the gardener, the paid, the earnest, and almost always the friendly, assistant in our labors with flowers. That charming anonymous book, which appeared first in the form of letters to "The Times" (London), "Studies in Gardening," has a chapter, and a capital one, which I would commend, and it is called "Behavior to Gardeners." The few paragraphs I shall commit to paper on the subject will deal partly with this matter, the employer's attitude, and partly with the question of salary or wages; in the latter case taking the gardener's own standpoint.
It has often gone to my heart as a worker among flowers to see the misunderstandings which all too frequently arise between an American and his gardener. And so often this is entirely due to the difference in temperament. The average gardener, slow, careful, methodical, cannot but feel the heckling comments of his employer who wants things done in his way, yet who, in nine cases out of ten, does not know what that way is. The gardener must recognize and resent ignorance, haste, prejudice, and excessive criticism, and particularly is this hard to bear because as a rule the gardener loves his work, cherishes his plants, and, to his credit be it said, does this more faithfully and thoroughly than the untrained gardener for whom he labors.
To take up the other side, for the employer it should be set down that he may himself be a good amateur gardener, coupling to this an imaginative ingenuity which I like to think a characteristic of Americans; and the lack of imagination, the dumb devotion to traditional methods of gardening whose outward and visible signs he cannot but observe on each visit to his garden, go hard with him. It has been my lot to see in several cases employer and gardener antagonistic, and the best interest of an estate languishing under such conditions. One must be friends with one's gardener. I venture to assert that no great degree of success can be reached with flowers unless such is the happy case. Take note of a man's personality, of his temperament, when next you have occasion to decide upon the vital figure for your garden. If the candidate be not "simpatico," know that your garden cannot with him be carried happily, successfully along. That was a refreshing instance of friendship between master and man shown in an anecdote of the great London flower exhibition, the Chelsea Show of May, 1912, and pleasant it is to repeat it here:
"What a true aristocrat is, was forcibly illustrated the other day by an incident concerning the speech of Sir George Holford, who won the King's prize for orchids at the London show, and who, at the Royal Horticultural Society's dinner later, deprecated the great praise given him, saying that his friend Mr. Alexander deserved most of the credit. Mr. Farquhar met him the next day and complimented him on that portion of his speech. Sir George said: 'He is my friend; I never think of him otherwise.' The point of this illustration lies in the fact that Mr. Alexander is the baron's gardener; but the baron never thought of referring to that fact in his speech. He spoke of him as his friend."
This, more remarkable where class distinctions are rigorously observed, has timely bearing upon the relations of master and man in our country too. But here consideration and respect are not always lacking. One of my friends, an indefatigable worker on her own place, with her gardener, had spent the months of August, September, and October in rearranging much of the tree and shrub planting on her large place, moving hundreds of coniferous subjects in that time. Through all the arduous work and who does not know the nervous strain upon those who dig and lift, and those who watch with interest, while an evergreen travels from one spot to another? through all this time the young Scotch gardener's solicitude and anxious effort never flagged. The season waxed late, weather remained fine, and the chatelaine felt that there was still time to move other trees, her mind's eye full of visions. But it occurred to her that the gardener should now be given a modicum of rest from his monotonous labor, that as the fit reward of diligence the word evergreen should not again that season reach his ear, and this reflection was at once acted upon. Often, I believe, is such consideration shown to the men who are our daily companions and coworkers in our gardens and without whom, where large gardening operations are concerned, we should be lost indeed.
To paraphrase the Johnsonian dictum, much may be made of a gardener if he be caught young. The amateur who works constantly among his flowers has an ideal in his mind: a young, strong, willing man, an intelligent man, one who shall be quick not only to carry out his employer's wishes but to study the tastes and doings of the garden's owner, to learn to imitate them that he may do successfully in that master's absence. In the good professional gardener I have perhaps fancied that I noticed a certain gentleness of demeanor, caught, I like to think, from the delicate and care-taking occupation in which he is daily engaged. Surprises, however, may come at any moment witness the reply of our young American farmer, John, who gardens with zeal and ever-growing knowledge and gives me a service which is perfection for its place. John had just returned from a week's vacation. I was most truly glad to see him back, and said so, adding: "I missed you very much last week, John." To my entire confusion, John, without a trace of a smile, looking me directly in the eye, said with the simplicity of a child and without the least discourtesy: "I bet you did, Mis' K!"
Gardeners, according to a classification given me by an expert, should be divided into their several grades as follows: 1. Gardener-superintendent. 2. Head gardener. 3. Working gardener. 4. Coachman gardener. Whose respective executive duties are:
1. Has charge of the whole estate and with foremen and assistants over the different departments of greenhouse, garden, farm, and so on.
2. Has charge of greenhouses and garden only, with foremen and assistant; does no physical work.
3. Does most of the work himself with laborers and takes care of small greenhouse, kitchen garden, and lawn.
4. Coachman first, gardener at odd times.
While the immigration laws of the United States classify the gardener as a personal body-servant, and his admission to this country is free from restrictions, in England he is not looked upon as such. He is the gardener in all senses of the word, and in no well-regulated establishment would the employer take the liberty of gathering flowers, fruit, or vegetables without the consent of the gardener. Unfortunately, in the United States the majority of gardeners are looked upon as inferior to the chauffeur and the cook. The American gardener, or rather the gardener employed on American estates, in many instances is the superintendent of the whole, including the farm and dwelling or mansion; his salary in a few cases being equal to three thousand dollars per year, with many privileges.
From the same authority to whom I am indebted for the classification of the gardener comes also the following opinion, which I quote verbatim:
"We are unfortunate in this country, not having botanic gardens and gardens carried on like the Royal Horticultural Society in England, where the young gardener is taught the thorough, practical work of the gardener and goes through all departments, even to the menial work of digging, attending to furnaces, etc. In England the gardener has to pay an apprenticeship to the head gardener on some estates. After he has served an apprenticeship to the head, he becomes an assistant, then journeyman, then foreman. So he must have at least ten or fifteen years of thorough experience before he becomes head gardener. The trouble with the American gardener is that he is a specialist either in roses, carnations, or orchid-growing, and has not the all-around knowledge of the European trained gardener.
"You cannot get an assistant gardener in this country to-day for much less than fifty-five dollars to sixty dollars per month and board. I mean an assistant in a large garden, where they specialize in fruit-trees, rose-growing, carnations, orchids, palms and foliage plants, and kitchen garden.
"This, you see, is far better than some wages paid to gardeners. I do not think the average wages paid to a gardener in this country would be equal to one hundred dollars per month. In many instances this is the fault of the gardener himself.
Most places that I know of are where gardeners have made themselves valuable and created the place. I have in mind at least two instances where gardeners were employed at sixty dollars per month and are now getting as high as one hundred and fifty dollars per month; this all happening inside of five years."
The question of the gardener's worth in money is surely to be considered as an important one to both sides. A discussion of this matter has lately taken place with a rather unusual freedom of speech in the columns of one of our best horticultural weeklies; and it may be of interest to quote here from some of these arguments. One writer, himself taking the words of a former Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, begins thus: " 'In every profession which uses a man's highest powers and lays rigid demand on his idealism and courage it is always safe to assume that up to a certain point these men can be overworked and underpaid, because they are much more concerned with doing their work well than with being well paid for it. But when this imposition begins to reduce them and their families to poverty, they do not, as do workmen lower in the scale, go on strikes. They quietly resign and seek some other occupation. It is a commonplace among professions in which idealism plays a part: this idealism is deliberately exploited to the disadvantage of those of whom it is exacted.' This, I think, meets the gardener's case exactly, and, so long as conditions are as they are, gardening must necessarily be a labor of love."
Now hear another, this time on the practical side: "The burning question seems to be how to get away from the fifty-dollars-a-month salary limit. There is no getting away from it so long as people of wealth are willing to hire a laborer who calls himself a gardener, at that price. The remedy, to my mind, is to start a campaign of education among the people who are wealthy enough to hire a real gardener and show them by facts, figures, and statistics that they are losing money by not doing so. A good gardener is worth anywhere from one hundred dollars up just by the same process of reasoning that one would employ in engaging a lawyer or doctor.
"The larger the estate, the more the responsibility. The larger the responsibility, the higher the salary. If a good man is squeezed down to taking less than he is worth, the greater the temptation to make something on the side. If a poor man, that is, an ignorant man willing to take laborer's wages, is hired, then the estate will suffer not only in that, but in many other ways. So that it is the employing class that the campaign of education should be aimed at. It will do no good to scold the seedsman or other allied interests; nor to split the ceiling in gardeners' meetings about the villainy of those fifty-dollar fellows calling themselves gardeners. One hundred dollars should be the minimum, and two hundred, three hundred, five hundred, or even more should not be considered anything out of the way if the training, experience, and native ability be present. But the employers have to be educated up to that."
I would not go so far as to say with the writer just quoted that four and five hundred a month should be given even to a fine superintendent. Proportions should be maintained, salaries of the learned professions kept in mind Still, I personally believe that one hundred dollars a month is the least that should be offered by those whose fortune fits them to employ an excellent professional gardener.
In all these words, the subject of the gardener, his salary or wages, and his position, has been only begun. It is a matter which with the ever-increasing interest in gardens must and will be more and more discussed; and in which the gardener's side must be better looked after by his employer than at present seems to be the case. "And if the reply of an alarmed employer might be that all this means higher wages, our reply is, first, that after all it is very little; and secondly, that the garden must be looked at in a new perspective, not as a tiresome and costly appurtenance every penny spent upon which is begrudged, while thousands are to be lavished on pictures, old china, and motor-cars, but as a great influence on life."
There is reasoning here as cogent as it is vigorous; I fully agree with this writer, and the more so when I think of the disproportionate use of money by those who would keep down the wages of the men engaged for their gardens; for those labors which go to produce what is becoming daily more and more precious to men and women in this age. Let us who think seriously of these things not only learn to value the services of our own gardeners more fully, but let us spread our convictions upon the subject, and soon must come a better understanding and agreement between employer and employed.