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I class myself as a landscaper as most of my work is landscape based, but I wholeheartedly agree with this.

The only issue I see is that unless everybody raises their prices at once the lower charging people will win out and keep wages low still.

In my company I charge well so that I can make a profit and pay decent wages too.

My guess is that every gardener in the country will agree with the main thrust and sentiment of Stephen's argument and I can entirely understand a career changer coming into our industry forming a view that it is the evil horticultural employer who is to blame for the undervalued perception and low wages that are so prevalent.
We are however not unique. I believe the strongest determinant of this situation is the regularity at which gardeners need to be employed by the consumer. Here we share a platform with chefs, nurses (infact the whole care industry), child nurseries and hairdressers, to name but a few, all of which ideally require highly skilled, sensitive and experienced participants to do a great job, but which in the real world have to rely on people who "love their work" or some who are inevitably less skilled.
Contrast these occupations with mechanics, builders, electricians etc who consumers call on only occasionally, or perhaps for one big project and you realize that spending more "per hour" is far more feasible than when it is a weekly or fortnightly outlay.
Next is the ease of entry to our trade. Again we are not unique. Along with decorators and window cleaners for example any bod can turn up and offer their gardening services to a domestic client without training or qualification. This of course brings overall market rates down and make it harder for the more qualified and able firms and individuals to charge as much as trades where no one would dream of using someone unqualified (electricians, boiler engineers etc and "Theatre"!)
And so we come back to the naive comment regarding employers in our industry. Most good employers (and the employers I have met in our industry are generally a far better meaning bunch of people than in many other types of business) want (need) good people to work for them and are prepared to pay as much as they can possibly afford to recruit and retain good staff. But for all the reasons I have mentioned above there is a charging ceiling which prevents our rates going to the levels we would all wish for.
Now this does not mean we sit back and accept the situation. The industry should be constantly educating the public and careers advisers and everyone else who needs to hear that a good gardener is exactly as Stephen says very knowledgeable and highly skilled.
And although I don't think Stephen states in his article whether he is self employed, in employment or seeking employment, I think it is also true that because of the scarcity of skilled people in our industry it is infact possible to make a good living as a single handed gardener for discerning clients, or at management level for a company. Supply and demand does kick in here.
And I genuinely believe that contemporary attitudes and the existence of the web make the possibility of enhancing our standing as good as ever.
So Stephen, keep banging the drum on behalf of gardeners but don't blame the employers. It's just not that simple.

That reply could only have been written by an employer. And whilst I agree with much of what Alfie says, there is much that is simply stated, in my humble opinion, in order to preserve profits.
Sometimes it is a good thing when someone from the outside comes into an industry, and sees it with fresh eyes, as it were.
Firstly, stingy pay and benefits don't necessarily translate into lower costs in the long run. Low pay leaves workers feeling worthless. Feeling worthless, generally speaking equates to low productivity. Staff move on, temps perhaps have to be used until permanent staff are taken on. Interviews, form filling, etc. All this takes time, and costs money in the long run. Paying better wages gives staff a sense of worth. It helps them feel both validated, and an important part of the process. This means they are less likely to move on, and will be more productive.

Ok, so everyone knows this, and it's hardly a new argument. However, for none of the reasons Alfie mentions, is there a 'charging ceiling'. This has been created by business, because it works for business. It is what is termed as 'irresponsible capitalism', fuelled by irresponsible employers who pay low wages subsidised by the government in the form of tax credits. Paying people what they deserve, really shouldn't be an alien notion. Give people some dignity.
The only naivety in my piece, and this I readily accept, is stating that this pay increase needs to start with small companies. These increases need to start from the top down. The larger companies need to cut their profits in order to pay better wages, until smaller businesses are either able, or forced to by the market. Accepting the status quo helps no-one.
I agree that we, like many of the other professions that Alfie mentioned, also suffer from poor pay and poor perceptions, but that also doesn't in any way make it acceptable. Security and working conditions, as well as decent pay are all part of a fulfilling employment.
I've been in your industry for nine years - long enough to see the inequality in it. Yes, I did work in 'theatre', very happily employed as a lighting technician for the majority of the time. The reason I, and so many of my peers felt no need to move on, was that we were renumerated well. I'm not going to even begin to compare the two industries - suffice to say there's probably a bit more cash floating around in the West End than there is in West Ruislip. However, one of the main reasons we were so well paid is because we had a strong union. Maybe that's what the horticultural industry needs. How many gardeners are actually members of a union? A pretty small amount I would guess. I certainly am, and that's primarily because I am only too aware that my boss would sack me sooner than I could blink, if he even knows who I am.

So Alfie, I shall keep banging the drum on behalf of gardeners, and I shall blame the employers, because it is the employers who have the power to change things.

Hi Stephen,
It sounds like you're in the "Us and Them" camp.
Yes I'm an employer but I am also a gardener and like the vast majority of small business owners in our industry, started working for someone else and then went self employed on the tools before employing others as the work load grew. A good relationship with the staff is 100% essential. You make this very point yourself but then imply that employers ignore it. A good small business retains key staff long-term.
And you will be well aware that our industry is significantly represented by small businesses.
So to suggest that there is some conspiracy to create a charging price ceiling frankly doesn't make sense.
The contradiction is this - we have a scarcity of highly skilled gardeners (perhaps partly because of poor pay) whilst at the same time for reasons I have already given there IS a charge out rate beyond which we cannot realistically go. Larger firms generally gain their work by competitive tendering, and smaller firms may tend to be in the domestic market where consumers will also compare prices. At the same time decent firms will want to pay their employees the best rates they possibly can and also to provide the best working conditions or good people will simply jump ship.
Every trade, profession, commodity, service has a price ceiling. Market forces / supply and demand dictate that just as in the theatre if the ticket price is too high there will be empty seats, in garden services if we try to charge too much our order books will empty.
My argument does not remotely represent an acceptance of the status quo. We should all be constantly promoting our skills and selling ourselves in the most positive and professional way to our clients and customers to increase our perceived value in comparison to other trades.
And I also do think this has been happening over recent years. Publicists such as James Wong are busy selling the horticultural industry to the young and the main trade bodies such as the RHS are acutely aware of the issue.
Finally despite agreeing with you on the general undervaluing of gardening and garden services I nonetheless do think that there are plenty of opportunities for skilled people to earn a sensible living in horticulture. For example a good single handed self employed gardener should be able to charge themselves out at the same rate as a company would charge but without the company's overheads.
It's also the recruiting season and employers will be desperate to recruit new blood. Take a look at what's on offer - they may not be the majority, but you may be positively surprised at some of the opportunities.

Alfie, you make some very good points. All I have to say is this: I'm willing to admit that I may not always be right, but I am never wrong. All the very best of luck with your business.

I do agree there are low barriers to entry and low wages for regular garden maintenance. The following changes in my community pesticide bans, popularity of organic foods, interest in native plants and urban agriculture have created a niche for a more knowledge based approach. Monetizing the experienced gardeners "eye" is not easy but can be done. I posted an article about the new gardener ethic http://ecoman.ca/the-new-gardeners/ let me know what you think.

Stephen.
Good man.
Ultimately the cause is the same!
(How do I get into the theatre? !!!)
Best,
Alfie

And after the years of enjoyment by the owners we add many thousands to property prices on resale ! :)

Add $$$ to your article.

As a Landscape Designer I increase property value, reduce HVAC costs, don't poison groundwater with fertilizer/insecticide, to begin with.

Also have a licensed/insured landscape contracting team with home construction. Widens my net, and bottom line.

Alas, all you write about public perception of gardeners is true. Too true.

Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

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