Wednesday, 9 November 2011

If it's Fall, it must be cleanup time


It must be November because huge lorries, with industrial size hoses, are currently plying the streets, advertising 'Fall Cleanup' services. Everywhere you look on suburban front lawns, large crews of Hispanic guys in hoodies are blowing leaves and putting them into black plastic sacks.

You see, practically no-one around here 'does' their own garden. It just doesn't seem to be the done thing. Instead, the majority employ one of these so-called 'landscaping' crews to cut their grass, trim their hedges and, in autumn, clean up the hundreds of leaves that fall. These gangs will arrive in a truck before around eight of them descend on your garden, then leave ten minutes later.

In our previous house, our landlady took care of the gardening, so it wasn't really an issue - although she was never satisfied with the efforts of the firms she employed, and I would constantly be having to report to her that they'd only stayed five minutes. But in our new house, we are responsible for the gardening (along with the burglar alarm, wildly over-the-top sprinkler system and other devices that, ideally, we would be happy to live without). The current gardening team will soon finish for the 'season', and we must then decide whether to keep them on, choose someone else - or go it alone.

Now, I am sure that, were we to own an equivalent sized garden in the UK, we would mow the lawn and clean up the leaves ourselves. It's not a massive garden, and the leaves would be quite manageable with a decent rake. Besides, the Brits love to do their own gardens; gardening is such as integral part of British middle class life. Gardeners are mainly for people with acres of land (or maybe eye candy for modern day Lady Chatterley types). Certainly no-one I know in England employs a 'landscaping' firm to mow a small plot of grass and clear up leaves.

But on the other hand, there are obstacles to doing it ourselves. No-one around here seems to burn leaves on bonfires (I'm not sure if it's illegal, or just unpopular) so that will mean lots of bagging of leaves, of which there are a fair few. We'd also have to get hold of a lawnmower somehow. No point buying one for under two years, and it wouldn't work in the UK because of the voltage. We might be able to borrow one from a neighbour, but if that's not an option, I am really not sure how we would manage the grass.

So do we just throw more money at the problem? The gardeners charge $40 a week, which I am told is reasonable but seems fairly pricey to me (considering the barely 10 minutes they spend here). It costs much more for the 'Fall Cleanup'. Also, they don't appear to do any 'gardening' per se other than grass cutting and leaf blowing - one day I asked them cut back some long grasses which were blocking our back gate, and they looked at me as if I had asked them to fly to the moon and back.

Once again we have a choice to make. Accept that attitudes towards gardening are different here and just spend (waste?) the money. Or make a concerted effort to do the garden ourselves by beg, borrowing and stealing lawnmowers and leaf blowers, baffling all others in the street and earning ourselves even more of a reputation as eccentric English? It's a dilemma....

16 comments:

Almost American said...

Voltage? Huh? Don't think I've ever seen an electric mower over here they're all 'gas-powered'. (Checks on Amazon - hmm, yes they DO have electric ones - I never knew that!) We have a ride-on mower for our 3/4 acre - and are one of only 3 families out of 30+ in our neighborhood that don't have landscapers in.

So it probably costs you $1,000/year in landscaper costs. How much is it worth to you NOT to have to mow? For $100 you could get a 'real' pushmower and save yourself gym fees. Or not. A little more would get you a gas or electric powered mower. How much lawn do you have to mow? Disposing of the grass clippings/bagged leaves is more of a problem. I don't know what we'd do with ours if we had a small yard.

conuly said...

There are also manual lawn mowers that are unpowered entirely. We had one for a while until we realized we HATE grass and would rather have flowers and vegetables.

MsCaroline said...

This is really a regional thing, I think; in the town in OH where my mum now lives, nearly everyone does their own gardening, including mowing and raking/bagging leaves. Landscapers or arborists are called in for tree trimming or stump removal, but otherwise, landscapers seem to do mostly business and public landscaping. Same goes for many of my friends back East who really enjoy their gardens and would never dream of hiring someone to do it for them (unless it was an enterprising teenage neighbor to mow the lawn.)The thing I missed most when we moved to the Southwest was gardening. There, everyone seemed to have a landscaper. Back home, I was a bit of a byword in the neighborhood because you would find me digging through the snow in February in the sheltered spot under the honeysuckle where I knew the crocus always started to come up first...Just my opinion, but if you enjoy gardening, I say the h*** with the neighbors and do your own, although you'll have to find out what to do with the leaf bags. In most of the places we lived, the city/county/township provided free yard debris pickup at least one time per season. You just bagged it all and put it on the curb (kerb?) by the pickup date. This is very much a non-issue with me now: no garden, no lawn, not even a balcony....

Nota Bene said...

I've always thought of leaves as part of the natural life cycle of trees, and when they go from green to yellow to orange to brown, it's all rather beautiful. That doesn't help does it?

Circles in the Sand said...

This doesn't help either, but I love the photo of all the leaves! Nothing autumnal about Dubai, other than it got down to 22 degrees at night and people thought it was freezing!

PantsWithNames said...

Revel in your weird Englishness. And whilst you are doing it sit outside with delicate cups of tea to fulfil any lingering stereotypes your neighbours may have of you. x

Kim, UK said...

well, if you have 8 guys doing 10mins each, you're actually paying $40 for 80mins work. Or $5/guy for 10 minutes.
Maybe you could double check how many guys/how long they work; do they really have 8 guys working for 10 mins each, all at once? You could negotiate; $3/guy/10 minutes, and a cup of tea? ;)

nappy valley girl said...

Almost American - Will definitely look into mower costs, assumed it was terribly expensive but maybe not! Our Village actually collects the bagged leaves, so that's not so much of a problem.

Conuly - Oh, I like grass. Would love flowers and veggies too, but not really enough time in the new house to start a proper garden...had to leave my little tomato plant behind when we moved.

MsCaroline - yes, they do pick up leaves - see above. They do it for about 3 weeks in December. Interesting that it's a regional thing, I wonder why?

NB - it is indeed beautiful. It's truly lovely around here at the moment, although the bare trees for winter always make me feel a bit bleak.

Circles - 22 is the ideal temperature really - daytime that is!

Pants - Oh I think we will...

Kim - last time they came there were actually 5 and they stayed 10 mins. But I reckon the head of the firm creams all the money anyway. Would love to offer them a cup of tea - just to see the look on their faces!

Calif Lorna said...

We have landscaping crews here too but there's not so much to pick up. They just seem to blow things around and then the next crew comes for the house next door and blow it all back. I think I'd quite like to have a crew come once a week for the mundane stuff and then get stuck into the garden to do the interesting bits. As we're renting our house out in the UK, I would love it if we could find a similar service there. Our garden is becoming a huge mess and gardeners seem expensive and hard to find.

Would love to go for a walk through all those leaves!

Lynn said...

Burning leaves hasn't been allowed since the 70s because of the Clean Air Act. Too much particulate matter. Many communities pick up leaves and most compost them which is good. Having landscape crews is definitely an upper middle class thing that would be typical in your area (and mine, I live in an affluent coastal community), but not for most people in my state, who do their own. $40/week sounds like a fair price for a crew. They don't take very long because it's a crew, they know what they're doing, and because they have efficiencies of scale. (I can change the oil in my car myself but it takes me all day to do what a professional mechanic can do in 10 minutes.) Generally they only do lawnmowing and leaf cleanup, not actual gardening; you can get that done, but it takes more time and is therefore pricier. Check out Craigslist for deals on lawnmowers, either gas or reel. Then sell or give them away on Craigslist when you move. Sorry to sound so bossy, didn't have time to phrase it all more politely!

Tanya (Bump2Basics) said...

I think the landscaper thing is indicative of the more affluent area where you live on LI. I saw this growing up too, though we lived on a 1/4 acre property and always did our own gardening and leaves. My mom loves that stuff and it has rubbed off on me. Maybe it would have been a different story if we had massive yards, but maybe not....I say enjoy the fresh air and look into a gas mower that collects the grass clippings.

I've just been on skype with my folks today and my mom had just raked up about 10 bags of leaves that were out on the curb. So there's some inspiration! It rubbed off on us too; we finally hauled ass into our small alley of a backyard and raked up the leaves!

About Last Weekend said...

Yes my mother noticed the same thing when she visits. Of course being a Kiwi she is a really keen gardener. And as she said all the gardens here look the same. Scruffy hedges and a few flower that are replaced every month. A couple of months back there was a great article in New Yorker about how obnoxious leaf blowers are (there is a group through the tunnel trying to ban them) but gardeners refuse to work without them.

angelsandurchinsblog said...

Sounds as though you'll soon be learning all about the joys of leaf mulch!

A Modern Mother said...

Califlorna is right, in California they just blow leaves from one house to the next. Weird.

nappy valley girl said...

Lorna, Susanna - I agree about the leaf blowers, they seem a bit redundant. A good old rake is needed!

Lynn - no, you didn't sound bossy - useful suggestions!

Tanya - the leaves are really coming down now and I can't even see my lawn....

ALW - most people's gardens round here are quite boring, just lawn and trees. A few people have interesting flowers and shrubs, but it's not like in the UK.

Angels - not if I can help it!

A Confused Take That Fan said...

Ooh, well, my husband is the (unpaid) gardener in our house and we have a sweet chestnut that dispenses leaves for about a month solid. Takes lots of bagging and then he goes off to the tip with 'em. I don't know, if I were you I'd either give it a try for a while, and see how you get on (about as long as it'd take to recoup the cost of the lawnmower) and if you were finding it too hard, then call the guys back in. I will miss the leaves on the tree...don't know about you..