Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Feliz Navidad and the Economy

I just read a sad and sobering article on the news site about how a young 35 year old woman went from earning
80 thousand dollars a year to eviction.
She lost her job like so many of us have in this downward spiraling economy.

I'm a landscape designer in Northern California and have been self employed for about 25 years.
During all these past years and previous recessions I have always faired extremely well.
I have never lacked work.

But my story has drastically changed.

For the first time in my life I don't have enough work to keep myself or my business associates busy.

But I am a survivor and fortunately have some other skills besides landscape design. I am also a seasoned

A couple of months ago when I started to really feel the pinch I sent out a dozen or so cards to former and
existing clients offering my services as a gardener.

As luck would have it I landed a couple of nice gardening jobs and I appreciate these jobs very very much.

A week after Christmas I was working in one of my clients gardens.
I had just pruned some olive trees and was hauling the clippings out in a burlap tarp .
As I threw the bundled up tarp of branches into the back of my pick up truck a young boy passed by.
He wished me a "Feliz Navidad".
What ?
My spanish is not that great but I recognized the phrase after a minute passed by.
This nice young polite boy greeted me in a language that he thought was befitting of my job.

I instantly felt a pit in my stomach. I felt myself professionally demoted and in a truly unwarranted and eschewed way I felt humiliated .
As the day went on and I continued to mull this thought over and over in my mind I started to see my job and life in a new light.
I told myself that gardening is a noble profession and that I should not be embarrassed by the work that I was now doing to make ends meet.
After all I went to college for this profession ( ornamental horticulture ) and quite honestly I love it and I am pretty darn good at it.

So I guess I am one of the lucky ones in this crappy economic downward period. At least I have a few good gardening jobs , one or two good landscape architectural jobs and I have my dignity.


Louis Raymond said...

What a thoughtful and poignant (and strategic) post. You're awesome in your design abilities, your client-development skills, and your capacity to think about---think through---ups and down in life and career.

The economy is scary indeed. The election could hardly have been more exhilarating, and the economy more ominous. But w/o the economic collapse, we wouldn't have had so many people voting for O. Sad but true, too many people I'm sure would have been unable to overcome their inner bigots until they were forced by their pocketbook. But, focusing on the good, O is It, and he's likely to be just the historic pres we need for these horribly historic times.

Meanwhile, we'll all laboring away, often literally as you describe, trying to get through with our dignity as well as our finances reasonably intact. Thanks for your candid and thoughtful update; it's a help to everyone reading you.

Anonymous said...

“I felt myself professionally demoted and in a truly unwarranted and eschewed way I felt humiliated.” You felt this after someone wished you a merry Christmas in Spanish? What if they would have said it in Chinese or wished you a happy Kwanza? Now I feel humiliated.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, why would you feel demoted?

This boy may have felt you were a kindred spirit. Perhaps his family was in the same profession.

Deviant Deziner said...

Thanks for your comments thus far.

Perhaps a little more information would be appreciated and helpful.

For the past two decades my work has been in high end residential landscape design in the affluent communities of Marin, Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley and Carmel Valley.
Most of my days were spent in an office doing research , design and development.
Several days a week I could be found out on the job site doing construction administration and design oversight.
Rarely if ever did I pick up a shovel and move soil or prune a rose shrub.

This is the crux in my story.
A big shift in my professional identity has changed.

The young boy who wished me a Feliz Navidad was a blue eyed and blond headed neighborhood boy walking home to his multi- million dollar estate.

Anonymous said...

I am at a design/build firm for a company in a top city that installs and keeps some famous landscapes. If it comes to it the owner would grab the shovel to do any kind of work. It's not degrading. It's survival. We're still doing what we love to do. Thank god for that.

Christopher C. NC said...

I get it. The sweet and polite blue eyed blond kid is used to seeing mostly Hispanic gardeners and laborers. He assumed you were "just a laborer" and you haven't been that for quite some time. It was the job demotion, not the ethnic reference that bummed you out.

Me, I'm gonna have to get out there and find some clients this spring. The job market isn't any better here. My meager savings are gone. I don't want to go back into debt and I can't milk the luxury basement accomodations to much longer.

Deviant Deziner said...

Thanks for clarifying my thoughts so articulately.

Best of luck in finding a good gardening job.

By the way, the cozy cabin is looking WONDERFUL !

Warm regards,

Susan aka Miss. R said...

I understand completely. This economy is leveling the playing field and making equals of many who have never been. Now everyone is re-thinking, re-positioning, re-branding, revising how we do business and how we perceive ourselves. These new perceptions are sometimes out of sync with who we thought we were. One thing's for sure, we can no longer define ourselves by what we can or can't buy.

Genevieve said...

I'm doing the same. Last year the largest part of my income was from design.

This year I saw the writing on the wall and hired maintenance employees and positioned myself as THE company for fine garden maintenance - the stuff the mow and blow guys can't cover.

Design will be back, maybe not this year, but soon enough. And until then we can offer far more to our gardening clients than can most companies.

People are working now to preserve what they have rather than build something new.

EAL said...

A very interesting story. I can't imagine thinking that because someone is doing a certain job, they must belong to a certain ethnicity!

But I'm glad you are finding a way to make up for the downturn that has affected your profession as it has so many others.

Gina said...

Michelle - mostly I sit around wishing I were in business for msyelf, like you lucky ones. But just today I saying to somebody that there is something to say for "working for the man." I work in healthcare and although there have been layoffs at my hospital, my job has remained safe, so far.

I wish you all the best.

ps - i keep saying I wish I could garden for a living.

gonativegal said...


I know this sounds like I'm sucking up but you are one of the most talented people I have seen in this industry.

I've worked as a professional gardener for several years and I've been on the receiving end of many of these well intended gestures - sometimes it hurts, but after awhile you learn to just shake it off.

When all is said and done - you've at least got your self-respect for an honest day's work done and money in the bank.

Please keep your spirits up.


ArtSparker said...

Very candid. The clarification in the comments was helpful in understanding the story.

The other side of the coin is that I feel profoundly discouraged at the inequity of seeing guys who look to be of Hispanic origin putting in lawns...that rather expensive symbol of nature at her most abject.

Jon said...

I admire you for keeping your dignity and self-respect and doing what it takes in these tough times. There is truth in the cliche that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. There is nothing dishonorable about hard work and dirty hands, and you are blessed to still be working in the horticulture/landscape field instead of sitting home moping and drawing an unemployment check. Hold your head high and your chin up and keep on keeping on. I admire your resilience and tenacity during these difficult times.

Jon at Mississippi Garden

Deviant Deziner said...

Thanks Jon for your words. They meant a lot to me .

To Susan, Elizabeth , ArtSparker, GoNativeGal, and Gina, thank you for lending your thoughts.

It's a sad state of affairs here in Northern California where construction has come to a stand still and you can feel the tension in the air.
So many of my friends , co-workers and peers are just barely scraping by with little work.
Others do not have any work at all to go to.
Those who do have jobs know that they are lucky and do not take them for granted.

My old body is starting to wear out, but I keep on plugging away because it is the only work that I have ever known.
Gardening and landscape design has always been very good to me, and I hope I can continue with it until the day I drop.
I can't imagine doing anything else.

Thanks for your thoughts.