Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
August, 2009
Regional Report

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See how the new planting borders the existing lawn.

Helping Hands

Well, I finally did it. It took years to gather the courage, but I had a huge project at Henry's that was more than I could handle on my own. I needed the help of someone willing to dig in less-than-ideal soil (read; concrete).

Henry's wife was all for hiring some guys off the street. You know the ones -- they hang out on the corner near the mall, waiting for work. It has to be a very hard way to make a living and I know they need the work and all, but I was brought up never to talk to strangers. My sister-in-law uses "the corner guys" all the time for painting projects. My concern was that Mrs. Henry and I would be found, minus our heads, in a creek somewhere.

The Plan
I had an epiphany about planting the upper part of the lawn at Henry's with some of the roses that we receive every year from various growers. Dozens of elegant, gorgeous roses are crowded, sometimes two to a container, on the upper patio deck. Henry's drip irrigation system leaves much to be desired and the roses were begging for a new venue.

The only problem with my plan was digging the holes. The clay soil is similar to concrete and digging there involves using a pick and mattox. Buzz Bertolero always says to get the best results "plant a one dollar plant in a ten dollar hole." In other words, the planting holes should be much larger than the root ball.

My only solution was to hire some of the "corner guys" to do the digging.

Off We Go
Mrs. Henry was all for the idea. We jumped into her little car and headed toward downtown San Mateo. I was voicing my fears and she kept saying, "Don't worry, it will be just fine." Easy for her to say, she is an Episcopalian minister who has faith in the human race, plus she obviously doesn't watch the same scary news shows that I do.

She made a right turn off Third Street, just past the railroad tracks into a parking lot where there were many gentlemen waiting patiently for a day's work. It turns out that it was a day labor exchange where the workers are all registered. Mrs. Henry laughed when I told her I though we were just picking up strangers off the street. "No wonder you were so worried," she said.

We parked the car and went into the trailer where a coordinator was waiting to help us. He took our names, asked how many men we needed and what kind of work we wanted them to do. Gardeners were to be paid $12.50 per hour, directly to the workers at the end of the day. After finishing the paper work, the coordinator drew names from a coffee can. The names Fernando and Alex were chosen. We didn't know then how lucky we were to get that particular team.

Manos de Obera! (Hands to Work!)
Fernando and Alex were very hard workers. I speak just enough Spanish to get myself in trouble but Fernando and Alex knew how to garden and weren't afraid to get their hands dirty. I told them what I wanted and where to plant, and they started by carrying the roses down from the upper deck. The day was hot so Mrs. Henry kept pitchers ice water on hand for the crew. I have always been the kind of person who has to stay busy when someone else is working. I don't like standing around just watching, so I kept myself busy by weeding and pruning while the guys sweated over the hard-packed soil.

At noon, we broke for lunch, generously provided by Mrs. Henry. Fernando and Alex were very grateful for the delicious sandwiches, as was I. After the short lunch break, we all went back to work.
By 3:00pm, I was done in. I'm ashamed to say that I am not nearly as strong as I was before the cancer treatments. I was overheated and wobbly from fatigue. Fernando and Alex just kept on digging. Mrs. Henry offered to return the men back to the labor exchange and sent me home.

Project Complete!
The new section of the garden looks incredible! Fernando and Alex stayed and even offered to move the remaining soil to the other side of the fence before taking their well-deserved pay.

I would recommend the San Mateo Labor Exchange to anyone who has a project too large to handle. Go to You will help not only yourself, but someone who is willing, and able, to work and who needs the money.

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