Hospitality, in the garden.

My job is kind of funny, if I sit back and actually think about it.

I am hired by someone I have never met before, to work in their garden. At their home, usually. I drive to an address otherwise unknown to me, park my truck, get out and knock on someone’s door. While standing at the threshold, I see items they like enough to place at the entrance of their home; a rock from that beach, an old wreath that at one point might have been pretty, a woven mat that is a little too worn. All the tiny indicators of what the house is on the inside – or more importantly, of what the personality is on the inside.

I enter a stranger’s home.

Normally, things go fine and the proper events proceed, resulting in me working in their garden. They trust me and we form a relationship. I get dirty and plant things and do a really good job. Things grow.

Normalcy.

Other times, usually within the first few moments upon my arrival, things don’t go fine. There’s been times (yes times, multiple times over the course of my 16 years in business) where a man opens the door half naked, sweaty, dazed and acting completely ready to go forward with our consultation. I notice his pupils dilating as we get outside into the sun, and the constant sniffle and manic gesticulations tell me that someone is (or was)  high. *Spoiler alert – it’s not me.

But someone being high is not the worst or even the most uncomfortable situation I’ve been in – and quickly got out of. There was that time with that woman who had 12 large dogs that acted like they were going to attack us both (“Don’t move suddenly”, she warned), or that man who wanted to show me into his bedroom so I can “understand” the “view” from his bed – you know, so I can properly design the garden. A tamer moment was when I was bent over on all fours, pulling clumps of pine needles from the base of a boxwood hedge and as I looked up, a goat was an inch away from my face. Dazed, all I could muster was to stay exactly as I was and reach out a clump of pine needles to the goat (which he accepted with hungry excitement). When I asked my clients about why they didn’t mention their pet goat, they looked at me like I was crazy and said they didn’t have a pet goat.

I guess where I’m going with this is that gardening professionally can be really, really strange.

Once, in one of the more spookier moments of my career, I was gardening on the residential grounds where a murder took place some years before. Whether from the story I heard (which was true) or not, I felt like someone was watching me every moment I worked on the property. At one point, I reached up to prune a large climbing rose cane and heard a loud, NO! I put my pruners in my pocket, grabbed my bundle of clippings and scurried back to my truck.

I never worked in that garden again.

With all of that being said (and so many more stories not shared), there are still those moments where I am on a site at a job that is just wholly inviting and hospitable. And I don’t mean from the clients or other people onsite (although, if you ever hire someone to work in your home – offering them tea or coffee or a snack is hugely appreciated) I mean from the place itself. A grove of trees, carpeted thick with soft pine needles. A worn, slightly sunken corner of a sun-dappled deck. The shady spot behind an old concrete wall where you can sit down and rest, with your back against something strong and cool.

There are moments in a stranger’s garden where you feel like you are where you are supposed to be.

For me, hospitality is just a feeling in the air… like, when I walk down a path that I have never walked before and I feel like I have walked there before. When I visit the gardens at the Old Monterey Inn, I get that feeling. I feel romantic, nostalgic and at home in a place that is definitely not my home. OMI is a B&B in a residential canyon in Monterey, CA. The 3 story manor and estate were originally built in the early 1920’s, in the stylings of traditional English tutor design, complete with hand carved wood balustrades, ceiling panels and bullnose corners and archways (I mostly like it because there is Port in crystal decanters in every single room). The gardens reflect the manor’s theme, even today with remains from the original plantings of oak trees, boxwood hedging and some simple stone work. My job here is to tend to the garden – often to ensure the boxwood and other established plants are happy. The boxwood is not in the best of shape, gnarled and needs some thinning. But to be beside the boxwood is simply stirring.

Small crushed red gravel lines the separate gardens and feels good under my gate, making me want to walk endlessly around the property. My landscape design sense casts a judgement of, this gravel is so ugly – they need to change it out, but I think it with a smile because I know how good it feels to walk on.

Hospitality can definitely out weigh aesthetic.

The old mossy brick knows the weight of my step and size of my feet. The layers of brick feel soft and solid and comfortable to trot on. They have seen many soles of shoes in the countless years of being there, and mine are just another welcome guest. I feel supported, encouraged and at ease.

Some jobs just feel hospitable and friendly to work at. I can brush by a shrub and I don’t get poked from a stray ragged branch or thorn. No tools get lost or swallowed up anywhere. I don’t get my foot stuck in a gopher holes as I walk along soft soil. I don’t trip. No mean bugs. No dog poop. No sharp cold wind or blazing sun. Just a simple environment in which to do my work… a place to get productively lost.

 

Tell me about the places you get lost within.

Jot the details down below… I want to know about every lustful brick in the path!

english tutor garden gardening hospitality In the Garden Jennifer Segale old Monterey inn stipa ichu

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