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Good Gardeners Don't Just Mow and Go

Landscaping * The ones to look for--and hold on to--will mulch, weed, prune, know about plants, fertilize and control pests.

November 18, 2000|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the last five years, Victoria Michaels has had 11 different gardeners work on her Anaheim yard.

"My neighbors laugh every time they see a new landscaping truck in front of my house. It's almost embarrassing how many gardeners I've had, but I want the yard to look good," said Michaels, who believes she has finally found a gardener who gives her garden the attention it requires.

Some aren't as lucky.

With the majority of services willing to only mow and edge lawns, there aren't a lot of full-service gardeners to select from, says landscape designer and certified arborist Julie Hunt, who owns Julie Hunt Landscape Solutions in Dana Point.

She reluctantly started the maintenance end of her business. She used to just install landscapes, but clients would call for help when the yard started to go downhill.

"We finally gave in and now provide maintenance service, which has turned out to be very gratifying," said Hunt, who says high-quality gardeners watch for potential problems and enjoy what they do.

"It's fun to watch their garden grow and mature," she said.

Where lawn care services generally just "mow and blow," gardening maintenance companies keep gardens looking their best by mulching, weeding, pruning, trimming and dead-heading. They do general cleanup and care, fertilizing and pest control, and perform upkeep of irrigation, drainage and lighting systems. Many will prepare soil and do plantings.

"They provide that extra care that the homeowner would give the garden if he or she had the time," said Steve Kawaratani, owner of Landscapes by Laguna Nursery in Laguna Beach, which does garden maintenance, installation and design.

Finding a good gardener is a difficult task, said horticulturist and landscape designer Patti Ferner of Pacific Wind Landscape in Lake Forest, who has done garden maintenance over the years.

"If you find one who provides your plants with that extra TLC, such as washing leaves, dead-heading and checking for pests and disease, hold onto that person."

Homeowner Michaels is doing just that with Nick Sutcliffe, owner of English Gardens in Orange.

"I knew he was the gardener for me because he immediately went to my yucca and started pulling off dead leaves," said Michaels, who says she values a "clean" look. "His employees get down on their knees and clean out my flower beds. That's the kind of detailed work that makes my garden look really good."

Because of their training and the specialized nature of their work, garden landscape maintenance companies charge higher rates than companies that mow and edge lawns.

In general, they earn from $35 to $55 per hour. For an average-size yard, you can spend $150 to $350 or more per month, depending on the maintenance required.

Some customers pay for a consultation from a maintenance company to determine what is needed in their garden, then do it themselves or have their existing gardener do it.

Hunt provides consultations, which include detailed, written instructions about what needs to be done. She also trains gardeners to properly maintain a landscape.

"Most gardeners want to do a good job. They're just not equipped with the information to do it," Hunt said. "If you can train the person you already have about the importance of things like mulch and proper watering, you'll end up with a better landscape."

Helen Magruder of Corona del Mar has worked with her gardener for 15 years, and although it's often been a case of trial and error, she feels that they have developed a good relationship.

"Angel [Gonzales] is dependable and loyal, and we have mutual respect for one another," Magruder said. "He takes pride in his work, listens when I have suggestions and has his own input for making the garden better. He does many things that I wouldn't be able to do myself, such as irrigation and drainage."

Experts offer these suggestions:

* Don't let anyone prune, plant or do pest control if you're not sure he knows what he's doing, Hunt said.

"Trees that are improperly pruned, for instance, can die or may never look the same, and over-fertilizing can cause a lot of problems in the landscape," she said.

* When you add new chores to your existing gardener's list, be specific. Showing pictures of how you want your plants to look can also be helpful.

* Don't be surprised by resistance or even refusal. Some lawn-care companies prefer to concentrate on mowing and edging. Consider leaving the lawn to them and hiring a landscape maintenance business to do more detailed work.

* Jungle Julie Landscape Solutions, (949) 830-9555,http://www.junglejulie.com.

* English Gardens, (714) 870-0260.

* Landscapes by Laguna Nursery, (949) 497-2438.

* Pacific Wind Landscape, (949) 689-8355.

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