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Yes, Coach!

You need to get your act in shape; here's how your coach can help


A little tool demo. Photo by Amy Stewart.
  • A little tool demo. Photo by Amy Stewart.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my meeting with Genevieve Schmidt, an Arcata garden coach. I'm the ultimate low-budget do-it-yourself gardener, and apart from hiring a guy with a truck to haul off uncompostable green waste from time to time, I didn't really know much about working with horticultural professionals. Apparently I'm not the only one: garden designers and consultants all over the country have expanded their services to include garden coaching, which is aimed at people like me who want to do most of the work themselves, but might need a little help from time to time.

I promised I'd give a list of ideas of ways that do-it-yourselfers can work with a garden coach. Remember that there's nothing magic about the term "coach." Other kinds of landscape professionals may offer their services on an hourly basis as a consultant. But until I put this list together, it would have never occurred to me to ask.

Blank slate gardens: If you're lucky enough to be able to start from scratch on a bare patch of land, you might want to get a little help creating the "bones" of the garden. "Sometimes it's just a matter of picking some foundation plants like trees and shrubs," Genevieve said. "Once those are in, you can fill in the rest yourself." This is also a good time to get some help evaluating your soil, and get some suggestions for the most affordable way to bring in compost and mulch.

New homeowners: I pity the person who would inherit my garden if I were ever to move. How would anyone make sense of the jumble of plants I'd leave behind? Even an experienced gardener moving to Humboldt County from, say, Boston or Dallas would need help identifying what plants are already in the yard and knowing how to take care of them. Just having a garden coach walk around the garden with a clipboard to supply the names of plants and explain what they'll do throughout the seasons would be a huge help, and getting a few unfamiliar pests and weeds identified can also save a lot of heartache in the first year in a new garden.

Sellers: Speaking of real estate transactions, the idea of "staging" a house to get a higher price really took hold during the housing boom. It made sense to spend thousands on paint and landscaping when prices were going up. But with the uncertainties in the housing market, nobody knows whether they will get that investment back. A couple hours of a professional's time might give you all the ideas you need to spend a weekend in the garden cleaning, clearing and putting out a few strategically placed flowering plants for curb appeal.

And if you're like me, you're going to be taking some plants with you when you move. Get a little help figuring out what to transplant, when to transplant and what to put in its place.

Bickering couples: Did I say bickering? Mommy and Daddy aren't bickering over the rose bushes, sweetheart. We just have a difference of opinion about how many gallons of carcinogens we want to expose our darling children to. Your daddy seems to think ...

Yes, a garden coach can help mediate those long-running horticultural disputes that make a marriage so magical. "I try to suggest alternatives without advocating for any one particular option," Genevieve told me, laughing. "I don't want them to attach me to the dispute. But yes, couples do disagree about what should happen in the garden."

Special events: A garden wedding, a family reunion, a holiday gathering — these kinds of outdoor events are a good excuse to give the garden a quick tune-up. A professional can give you some advice about where to focus your efforts and what kind of plants to buy to make sure you'll have plenty of blooms on the big day.

Referrals: There is nothing I dread more than opening the phone book and calling around to find somebody to do the irritating little job I can't get done myself. Garden coaches usually aren't contractors, but they make referrals to a network of professionals. Genevieve helps match her clients with tree services, lawn care services, irrigation installers, and so on. "I really try to match personalities, too," she said. "I know these people personally, so I can be pretty sure that they're somebody my clients will get along with."

Test-driving tools: Okay, I've saved the best for last. It has never occurred to me that I could try out a tool in my own garden before I bought it. When I think of all the money I've spent on tools that fall apart, don't fit in my small hands, or don't accomplish the job I'd hoped they would accomplish, I realize that I've probably wasted hundreds of dollars over the years.

But when Genevieve came to my house, she brought a tub of her favorite tools and let me play with all of them. She had a pair of pruning shears from Bahco that she swears are better than Felcos (gasp!); a groovy little sharpener called a Speedy Sharp, available at garden centers and hardware stores, that fits in the pocket and easily sharpens any kind of tool; and a very lightweight soil knife that she found at Garden Gate. I didn't even know I need a soil knife, but I'm all over it now.

Genevieve emphasized that most garden coaches are really landscape and design professionals who have added coaching the other kinds of services they offer. It's a very egalitarian way for garden professionals to work with their clients, one that is based on sharing knowledge and empowering gardeners to do their own thing. "I see so much potential in this town," Genevieve said. "I drive around and see these gardens in dire need of just a little attention. If I can get people out in their gardens, having some success, everybody wins."

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