Monday, September 16, 2013

Worse than Competition

I knew gardening was in real trouble when the Mayor proclaimed National Garden Week, to honor gardening.  It’s like a week to honor housekeeping.  But housekeeping is harder to do without.  
There is a worse thing than a lot of competition: not enough competition.  It shows in our local gardening business.  There are not enough people willing to pull weeds for other people for money.  There are so few of them that most landscape maintenance companies cannot find them and have stopped looking. 
They mulch, spray, mow, hedge, and blow, but don’t pull weeds.  They plant color annuals in blocks of potting soil and boxes.  Some spread “weed barrier” cloth and cover it with bark or rocks, in a vain attempt to stop weeds from growing.  It doesn’t work very long, and the cloth eventually shows and is ugly.  They mow over goat heads with riding mowers, spreading them from one property to the next on their tires.
When a necessary service is hard to find and expensive when one finds it, then people start to think of it as a luxury.  After all, few of one’s neighbors are gardening, and good weeding is definitely more expensive when you find someone willing to do it, being detail work that takes more time than whacking weeds. 
But God is in the details, and the Devil lies in ignoring those details.  Expensive lawns fill with weeds like nut sedge, which can only be controlled by pulling.  Proper maintenance is always better than the alternative.  But if one can’t find the workers, one can’t do it.
Nor does a business necessarily want to stand out from the norm.  When government and most businesses are content with mediocrity or even downright ugliness, it is safer to blend in.  People might look on a beautifully maintained landscape as conspicuous consumption.  Nor do most businesses want to spend more money than they have to.
Likewise, large, out of town corporations find it safer and cheaper to blend in to local mediocrity, and do not budget for full maintenance, or in many cases, any maintenance.  This happened to Cascade Block when they were bought out by Willamette Graystone. 
Banks don’t do any maintenance on foreclosed properties that the police don’t make them do.  The police cannot demand that which the City does not do itself, though our code demands gardening every square foot of the City, since it forbids mature and seeding weeds.  But it can’t be done if the City can’t find enough workers willing to do it on a regular basis.

In the face of all this, gardening is endangered, and a gardener has a hard time finding people willing to pay for proper landscape maintenance, because one does not have enough competition.