Evaluate Your Gardener



We started to garden in Spain some twenty five years ago and to write about gardening some twelve years ago. In that time we have met many expatriates doing their own gardening like us, and others – becausenot everyone is happy with the efforts and results of either their own or the gardeners efforts and some years ago we were asked by friends to draw up a simple questionnaire to help them evaluate their gardener. They found the questionnaire helpful and every so often we have updated it to include other factors. Originally we intended that it should be included in one of our books but each time we have had to leave it out to reduce the number of pages to meet the publishers pagination needs.

But the gardeners audit was too valuable an idea and ducument to lose so now we have our web site it seemed sensible to make the audit questionnaire available to readers of our site and books. It follows and we hope you find it fun as well as useful. Please tell others about it. If in business feel free to use it as a framework for producing key employees annual objectives or the basis for employing and promoting staff. Yes Dick was involved in the worldwide launch of Management by Objectives in the 1960’s.


The self audit that follows is based on thirteen areas in which an excellent gardener should excel, a good gardener shine and a not so good show weaknesses. In each area four possible levels of achievement or attitude are outlined and points allocated on the basis of 4, 2, 1, or zero. Four being the highest score possible.

Have a little fun completing the audit section by section, selecting the statements that best describe your hired gardener or yourself , or both, and then add up the scores. We give guidelines for interpreting the total scores at the end.

a. Gardener treats our garden as if it were his/her own and is rightly very proud of the results. Always neat and tidy. Puts in hours as necessary season by season and not set hours a week. Works more hours in the winter compared
to the summer for a set monthly wage. We get good value for money.
b. Reasonably tidy. Has professional pride and does a good job in the hours we are prepared to pay for. Generally works the same hours each week of the year. 2
c. Probably has too many gardens to care for to do more than just a basic tidy up. Hours erratic. No polish or style. 1
d. Rushes in and out doing the minimum and it shows. Often untidy. 0
a. Well able to advise on what will grow well in our situation, soil, and microclimate and within our budget for plants. We have few plant failures. Good knowledge of local garden centres. 4
b. More a botanist than a practical gardener but has Spanish experience. Learning fast. Jointly we are making sensible decisions. Knows some good garden centres. 2
c. New to Spanish gardening and therefore expects us to make the decisions on plants. Can purchase and plant pansies when we asked for petunias. Knows a few local garden centres. 1
d. Has never gardened before. Has conned us into some major and expensive plant disasters. Not sure where the plants come from. 0
a. Garden is always colourful whatever the season. Prunes and deadheads continuously. 4
b. Some really colourful months but others poor. Lets whole plants die back after flowering before deadheading. 2
c. Spring and early summer colour but little at other times. 1
d. Garden rarely in full flower. As an absentee owner suspect that gardener does a major pruning/tidy up just a few days before we arrive each time. Often the most colourful and perfumed the day we leave. 0
a. Gardener is experienced in growing a wide range of vegetables following natural, ecological and organic principles and does so for us. 4
b. Has grown vegetables before but using chemical products but is keen to work closely with us to introduce healthier practices. 2
c. Has little experience of growing vegetables but is starting to grow a few for us. But needs to be weaned off weed killers and chemical fertilizers and pest control 1
d. Has no experience of or interest in growing vegetables. 0
a. Gardener experienced in growing a wide range of fruit and follows natural, cological and organic principles and does so for us. 4
b. Has good experience of growing fruit but using chemicals but is keen to work closely with us to introduce healthier practices. 2
c. Has little experience of growing fruit but is starting to help us do so. However needs to be weaned off weed killers and chemical fertilizers and pest controls. 1
d. Has no experience or interest of growing fruit. 0
a. Basis agreed and works well. Both we and the gardener enjoy a wide diversity of fruit and vegetables that are shared on a 50:50 basis. 4
b. Basis agreed but doesn’t work too well. A good diversity of fruit and vegetables are grown but the gardener squeezes in varieties that his family rather than ours relish. A disproportionate share of the vegetables therefore tend to be used by the Gardener. 2
c .Limited range of fruit and vegetables grown. Generally they are what the gardeners family likes rather than what we want so the gardener uses most of the harvests. 1
d. What fruit or vegetables that appear in the garden are grown and/or harvested for the gardener and without our permission. 0
a. Has set up and maintains an economic computerised irrigation system that delivers optimum water quantities to all trees, flower beds, containers and vegetables if grown. 4
b. Most of garden on timed watering system. Rest done by hose. 2
c. Generally waters most areas by hose. But therefore costly in labour. 1
d. Many plants wilt weekly and die monthly. 0
a. Plants generally fed when required with constant vigilance and action re pests and diseases. Follows organic/ecological principles where possible. 4
b. Good at watching out for early signs of pests and diseases, but rarely feeds. 2
c. May feed and or spray as last resort when plants are at deaths door. And then uses the heavy armour of chemical warfare. 1
d. Never thinks of feeding or spraying plants. 0
a. Thorough cut back and clean up of all plants including trees and hedges during January and February. Shreds as much as possible for composting and also adds in the weeds and soft prunings. 4
b. As ‘1’ but does not do the big trees or the hedges for which we use other labour. Shreds some material. 2
c. Does annual cut back in the autumn rather than in the new year. Doesn’t use a shredder or put weeds on a compost heap. 1
d. Rarely prunes heavily. Garden is becoming a wilderness. 0
a. Maintains several compost heaps. Shred as much as possible from annual cutback and cleanup for the compost heap and adds in weeds, soft prunings, dead headings, vegetable plants once they stop producing, and our kitchen waste. 4
b. We keep a compost heap and gardener adds to it 2
c. No compost heap but compostable material added to council garden waste bins for central composting. 1
d. Does not compost anything . All gets burnt on a bonfire or added to regular council rubbish bins. 0
a. Takes the initiative. Always looking for opportunities to multiply plants by taking, planting and caring for cuttings. Raises some flower plants from seed and the majority of the vegetables. 4
b. Will take cuttings of plants if we request it . Starting to grow vegetables from seed rather than only buying plantlets. But generally we have to look after them. 2
c. Rarely propagates from cuttings and has not yet grown any plants from seed. Normally cuttings lack of after care and are often forgotton 1
d. Not seen as part of role. Possibly does not know what a cutting is or how to grow from seed. 0
12. IMPLEMENTATION OF NEW PROJECTS e.g. new flower beds, rockeries, pond, terraces, vegetable garden or containers etc..
a. Enthuses over new features. Technically and physically capable and does a good job. 4
b. Good design ideas but not physically capable. But good at
supervising a good handyman or labourer.
c. Will help with the design but prefers project to be done by an independent contractor. 1
d. A shoddy worker. Would not trust to be involved. 0
a. Has appropriate set of well used and maintained tools which are generally designed and manufactured for Spanish conditions. 4
b. Has full set of tools and gadgets that take 15 minutes to offload and lay out each visit but many have never been used. They are for effect! 2
c. Only has a set of old English tools that make Spanish gardening hard work. 1
d. Has very few tools. Always borrowing ours and leaves scattered around the place. 0
a. For security reasons lets us know politely that has arrived and is leaving. Generally works away unobtrusively. Makes an appointment to discuss problems or projects at end of working time. 4
b. Just wanders in and gets on with the job quietly. Will happily stop working to talk about the garden if sees us. 2
c. Never know whether the gardener has been. Difficult to contact to discuss ideas or problems. But basic work always seems to be done. 1
d. Always makes a racket when arriving. Always looking for the chance to stop work and chat. Often about football or politics rather than the garden. Would rather drink a cup of tea or glass of beer than weed or sweep up the garden! 0

We hope that the evaluation questionaire was fun and easy to complete. Now go through the evaluation sheet a second time checking that your ratings are fair and consistent with each other. Then add up the total scores and consider what action you should take if any. Then compare your views with the observations below.

SCORE 40 TO 52 : You either have a gem of a gardener or you are a great gardener yourself.

SCORE 27 TO 40 : You have a good average gardener. Cultivate your working relationship and explore together what could be improved in the garden, how and by when. If the score relates to yourself congratulations.

SCORE 14 TO 26 : If the score relates to your gardener either do more active gardening yourself or give the gardener a warning. If the score relates to you perhaps it would be a good idea to employ a gardener for some of the work.

SCORE 0 TO 13 : If you have a gardener live a life of misery and frustration or change the gardener as soon as possible. If the score relates to yourself find a good gardener fast!

Hopefully our books will continue to help readers improve their scores in the coming years. Perhaps one of them as a present for your gardener might not be out of place. If you have to decide make a change ensure that this takes place with the minimum disruption to the gardening calendar.

© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe March 2007.