Land Escapes

Landscape Lingo or Wishy Washy Words

When you think about the use of words, what do you think about? Whatever you think about, I will bet that you are thinking in words about words. Are words important? What makes words have differing values and meanings?

People, the most communicative beings on earth, employ words for a good deal of that process. Words are used to convey all sorts of ideas, desires, feelings, plans, etc. One important area of communicating is that of buying and selling. It is here that I would like for you to consider the importance of and the quality of words.

Having spent over 40 years in the landscaping industry, I have given a lot of thought to the words land-scapers use. I have concluded that there are indeed few other industries that have a lingo all their own that is as flexible and, in many ways, nonsensical. If you are a realtor or a builder or auto mechanic, or dentist you are in professions that have hundreds of words and phrases that are defined in law or have recognized meanings that are legally enforceable.

Imagine a realtor telling a client that he is going to set up an “escrow account” to hold the $1,000.00 that the client gave him as “earnest money” as per the terms of a “Buy/Sell Agreement.” There would be some serious consequences brought to bear for this realtor if he cashed the client’s check, hid it under his mattress and then claimed “That is an escrow account.” Every step, every form and nearly every word in this real estate transaction has “industry” and legally accepted meanings. Your dentist, mechanic and pharmacist all have manufacturer’s or government licenses, ethical standards and/or board certifications. Layer after layer of consumer protections.

Calling on a Landscaper? Let the rough and tumble artistry of words begin. What’s it mean when he says “We are going to build a rock garden over here” or “The soil prep will be $2,450.00?” The only legally defined and commonly understood term he used so far is “Two-thousand, Four hundred and Fifty Dollars.” There are few terms that mean the same to everybody. Definitions vary widely within the landscape industry and the most valiant attempts to bring any uniformity to the conversations results in definitions that can vary widely when we get into the real world: that is, your yard and your checkbook.

Landscaping is a wonderful mixture of the artistic and the technical and there are many ways of expressing the artistic side with words that can be very elastic when getting technical. Throw in all the variables produced by geography, soils and climate and you have a very rich environment for un-ethical behavior, sloppiness, mis-understanding and dis-satisfaction.

Why is this important? If you are going to hire a landscape professional (another undefined term) to do work in your yard it is going to be a substantial investment. Buyer and seller should not be speaking two different languages. It is not like a car dealer delivering the wrong model car that you can simply take back for an exchange or refund. Whatever the landscaper does, for better or worse, you will be living with for a long time. Experience, integrity, know-how and reputation count for everything in this business.

Steven James has an ownership interest in several landscaping enterprises including Land-Escapes Inc. in East Helena, Montana.