Monday Opinion: Expertise

Someone once said that the definition of an expert is someone from out of town.  I prefer local, if that works.  I have several clients with conservatories that were made in England, and shipped over.  Crews came with those structures, to install them.  They were truly beautifully made; the installations superb.  But as with a furnace, a dishwasher, a car or a table saw, every beautifully made expensive thing sooner or later needs adjustment, service, or maintenance.  Having a serviceman come from England is impractical for lots of reasons.  I have dealt with Tanglewood Conservatories in Maryland.  They build beautiful glass houses; a consult on a problem is entirely within reach.  But given the choice, a conservatory built by a company within 50 miles of me would be ideal.  Should there be no one, I will consult an expert from out of town.  

I have been the expert from out of town.  I have done cut flowers and decor for parties, weddings, and events.  I have landscaped in parts of the country other than my own.  Working out of town is a challenge.  For cut flowers, my supplier will fly material to me.  This usually works fine.  Except for the Casa Blanca lilies.  They take days to open.  I drove them to West Virginia with me, 5 days ahead of the event. 20 buckets of lilies in my Suburban was more perfume than I ever want to experience again. The day I realized that 2500 roses had been flown to Charleston, South Carolina instead of Charleston, West Virginia, was one of the most hair raising days of my entire career.  I owe it all to a trucker that I promised the freight charge plus 500.00 that I got my flowers trucked to me in time for the party.  Why so many roses?  We were recreating the Stork Club from the 1940’s.  Once I have my flowers, I may need supplies.  When I am out of town, I do not know where the closest hardware store might be, or a place to get sandwiches for lunch.  Nowadays, computers have made that sort of trouble easy to solve. Invariably party and event venues are staffed with people who would vastly prefer a local person who knows the ropes.  They have a point.  I am a time consuming nuisance, not knowing where the loading dock is, or the restroom, or the kitchen. 

I have designed and trucked landscape materials to a number of cities and states other than my own for installation.  I have designed projects in other states that I did not install-but only those states in which my horticulture would stand. That said, I do no landscape work out of my zone, or a zone similar to mine. I have turned down work in California, Hawaii, North Carolina, and Florida.  I may be an expert, but I have no expertise whatsoever about plants in those areas. The first thing anyone has a right to expect from an expert is expertise.   In California, I would be a design expert- sans expertise.   

This past week I got an SOS from a client in Toronto.  He had engaged an expert pool company to design and install a pool in his backyard. So far, so good.  I am not sure how it happened that the pool company came to design the landscape to go with.  I understand the big idea.  Dealing with one person over a pool, a terrace, the landscape, the irrigation and lighting sounds great.  The fact of the matter is that a person expert in designing and building pools may not be a good choice for a landscape designer.  As Rob put it, if you need to have heart surgery, you need a team.  An internist, a nursing staff, a heart surgeon, an anesthesiologist-and who knows who else.  For sure you do not want your anesthesiologist performing your heart surgery.

Landscape in no way mirrors the life and death situation of a serious surgery.  But my client’s pool contractor did what he knew best; he paved the entire back yard save for 4  2′ wide strips around the perimeter.  All that paving will be blazing hot and glaringly uncomfortable, come next summer.  The paved yard has all the charm of a parking lot.  He specified at least 15 different species for the few square feet left for plants.  I spent the weekend redesigning the landscape, much of which involves sawcutting concrete.  The landscape design as it was drawn would have been impossible to like, and impossible to maintain. 

This expert in pool design and installation has no expertise in landscape design that I can see.  He did not have the good sense to say no to my client.  It will not be easy for him to remove some of what he just paid to have installed-but better to deal with it right now, than deal with the consequences next year.   Almost every field is so complicated and requires so much knowledge-very few people are expert in multiple fields.  I do not design sprinkler systems, or lighting.  I defer to Gillette pools when I design how a hot tub will look.  I am not an expert in drain fields.  I cannot cook, sew, play the clarinet, or hang wallpaper.   If you should ask for any of this from me, chances are excellent that I will recommend someone local with expertise.


  1. Silvia Weber says

    Deborah, How did that trucker get the delivery address SOOOOO wrong? And how did you get 2,500 roses in time for the event? We enjoy reading everything you write!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Silvia, I only knew that the city was right-the state was wrong. Who knows who put those roses on the wrong plane. I contacted a trucking company close to the airport in the wrong city, provided by my floral supply company, and promised the driver a 500.00 tip if he got my roses to me that night-I knew at 11 am that the roses has gone to the wrong state. I had them at 7:30 that night. He got his 500.00. We worked most of the night. At 8 am, I had a huge plate of scrambled eggs, and a quart of whole milk, courtesy of the kitchen at the Greenbriar hotel. We has a table set with linens and silver 3 meals a day- in the kitchen- the entire week we were there! At 7:30 pm that night, we were ready. I had recut the stems, and arranged all 2500 roses within 24 hours. I was young then. That hotel has it all going on-the Greenbriar, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. It is a great place to work, and even a better place to stay. I still remember the trucker’s name- Vincent. I hope never again to have that much excitement on the job.

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