Took on a client a couple of weeks ago - only doing 2 hours every other week for them, so up till now only done 4 hours of work. Guy has a number of very specialised trees including a wedding cake tree - cornus controversa (variagated). When i took on the job i did explain that i was new to the business and had a long discussion with them about their plants (guy gave me a printed list of all there shrubs and plants) so i knew i had to be extra careful. I explained to both of them that i would not carry out any work until i have discussed first with his wife (he would not be there as he works in the day) which is what he agreed to. Last wednsday me and his wife talked about this particular tree (in the far corner of the garden)- and agreed that 2-3 of the branches could be taken back by a couple of feet to maintain the shape of the tree and to allow more light into the border - it was also growing into other shrubs (this border had not been touched for many months) and could could not get into the border to weed (loads of weeds). I actually showed her what branches i was going to cut - I cut one branch that was over 8 ft long down to 6ft and another couple of branches the same - this still allowed the shape of the tree to be maintained i.e longer branches at the bottom, as a wedding cake tree should be.
Anyway, i actually do this guys mothers garden as well (have been doing all summer and she has been very pleased with my work). He called by his mums on the same wednsday afternoon and said hi and that he would see me in a couple of weeks and agreed to increase his hours to 3 hours (as i explained that i was not able to progress with the border work very quickly, having to do the lawns as well in the 2 hours). Next day i get a phone call off him saying that he didn't want me to come over and do his garden any more cos his wife was poorly and he was giving up work. Thought it was a bit odd. Anyway today he has phoned me, and said that his whole view of the garden has been ruined and that i have killed his tree. I asked wheteher the tree was showing any signs of distress and he just said , he has seeked professional advised about this wedding tree (from a friend of the family who sold him the tree and that i had butchered his tree and probably would have killed it. I was really shocked and as he started getting quite irate down the phone and talking about what insurance i had i decided to cut the conversation short and said i would get back to him. I did point out thought that i had discussed it with his wife and that she was happy for me to go ahead - he just kept saying that i was the expert and should have known better. He wants me to ring this nursery where he bought the tree (actually it was more of a gift cos they are somehow best friends or related to the nursery owner). interestingly , when i first met him he said that this nursery guy had come and pruned another tree of his once and that he had also 'ruined ' one of his trees.
I have offered to go around to disciuss further but he did not seem interested in that idea. I asked him it the nursery guy had been around - he said no - but he had sent him photographs. I am really shaken by his phone call and am not sure what is my best course of action. I would say the tree is about 10 years old and about 8ft high. I was incredibly careful with it - by the way this guy also complained about the amount of work i had done in the 4 hours (2 visits) i have done at his house - and said i hadn't done much weeding in that time. I explained that by the time i had edged his lawn (with sissors cos he is very particular) that only really left me 40 mins to do any weeding! I worked flat out at his house and feel very angry !!! He also confimed that at the moment the tree is not showing any signs of distress (but he said its only been a week?!)
Help I am so upset about this - please please advise what action i should take
I think it's very simple - walk away and don't look back. From what you have said there is no way that you could have done any serious damage to the Cornus, so if he is serious about taking it further (which I doubt) then he doesn't really have a leg to stand on. Just ignore it.
If he's getting you to edge his lawn with scissors then he really is taking the p**s and you really don't want customers like this. Chalk it up to experience and move on.
Its my understanding, and I am coming at this from a horticultural aspect rather than a first hand one, that this particular variety of Dogwood will happily take some hard pruning, in fact, from memory, these type of trees need a good amount of said pruning to maintain the more perfect form of their appearance. If the client decided to try and push the subject and claim some form of compensation then I would go down the "attack is the best form of defense" route and demand soil tests and the like, although as you said, the tree will not show signs of stress for some time to come so maybe the advice to simply walk away is the best.
It all depends how much these two clients impact on your work load and how much you want to lose them.
"agreed that 2-3 of the branches could be taken back by a couple of feet to maintain the shape of the tree and to allow more light into the border"
It seems to me, as there had been an agreement between you and your client, that there is little for your client to complain about.
There is a certain amount of subjectivity concerning the right's and wrong's of pruning. I doubt very much whether you've killed the tree and I would say that strategic pruning is acceptable where the unchecked spread of a mature plant might affect the surrounding borders.
It seems to me that there is little that you can do at this stage and I wouldn't expend too much energy fighting your client; seems your relationship will be hard to salvage anyhow.
I would try to get several photos asap if at all possible just in case and in the future, if you feel it necessary, send an email detailing your intentions and get written agreement before doing similar in the future.
What a horrible man!! Can't imagine trying to edge a lawn with scissors.......... would have though it very difficult to do a decent job.... you deserve a medal. His wife is probably ill with mental health problems living with him I'd think............ write the job off, move on and try and forget about it...... you couldn't have done more.
I'm so sorry you're having to go through this experience; it's very upsetting and worrying for you I know (my first design client was awful & tried to con the design out of me for half price - I had to stand my ground and was shaking like a leaf when I came away from the meeting!)
There is no way you can have killed the Cornus by the amount of pruning you've done and it sounds like you took every care possible to ensure that the client was happy with the amount you were cutting it back.
Clients like these you don't need - cutting the edge of the lawn with scissors - control freak alert!!!!!
I know it's upsetting but I would echo other members' comments and just walk away. Maybe there is a hidden agenda in that they can't really afford a gardener or that they wouldn't trust any third party with their plants?
May I just ask though if you have a horticultural qualification?
Please try not to worry (hard I know) I guarantee the Cornus will survive. Don't let the experience put you off, there are good and bad clients and as you gain experience you will more tuned to any 'alarm bells' to be wary of.
thanks for your responses on this - just to clarify - this client has paid me up to date (cash) for the two, 2 hour visits i have done in the last month. He rang me the next day saying he didnt want me to do his garden any more cos his wife was ill (obviously he made that up) so i will not be going back to work in his garden.
I only charge £12 per hour and made it cleaqr that i was not an 'expert' gardener and i would always discuss what i would do each visit with his wife before i did it - which is exactly what i did last week before i shortened some of the branches. His wife came and looked at the tree after i had done it and agreed it looked much better! This guy is claiming his wife did not do this? Anyway i guess i am worried that he is going to pursue me for compensation - should i get in first and send him a letter to lay out my position? as i said he kept asking me about my insurance? As i said it does look like he will let me go back to his garden so probably not going to get the chance to take any photos.
This forum is designed to help members avoid costly errors and to share our experience but please bear in mind that we are all professionals and what we write is in the public domain - it's worth considering the language we use in our responses.
I would move on without worrying about any repercussions from this incident, he will not do anything.
We have all have to deal with control freaks at some point and the only good thing about it is that you learn to spot them a mile away when estimating for new work.
I worked for one for a couple of weeks, and was asked on the second week not to walk so heavily on the gravel driveway and leave any indentations. I was not allowed to blow around the house with the leaf blower in case anything stuck to the side of the building and was not allowed to post my invoice through the letter box in case I got the white carpets and the white leather couch dirty.
I had to leave it in the garage, so where better to leave a muddy invoice but under the windscreen wiper of his brand new sports car. Anyone would have thought that I had put a sledge hammer through the window. lol.
They can't change and do not care about anyone else, as long as they have control.
Quite a few of those I have come into contact with over the years also seem to suffer from OCD obsessive compulsive dissorder.
So do not blame yourself Claire, there is probably a lot more to this situation than you think.
You have nothing to worry about, however in these situations put yourself in your clients shoes and you can normally get a better understanding of why they react in a particular way. You will come across so many different clients in this line of business and you soon learn which ones you can work with and which ones to walk away from. Employing a gardner is a two way street, they will want to find out if your particular style of working is to their standard etc. and for you to better assess ithem and the requirements etc. Don't be worried about going back to a client and re-discussing work requirements and timescales etc. and on the other hand don't be too upset if a client cancels your services.
Out of interest, did you really edge his lawn with sissors or do you mean edging shears? Was this his suggestion or yours?