Sunday, May 19, 2013

Follow the Advice of the Expert You Hired. Don't Get Sold a Bill of Goods.

     I am often baffled at the amount of credence and trust that some people will give to various people around them.  How many times have you heard someone ask for advice concerning what to plant or how to amend their soil of the salesperson at the retail 'nursery' or worse still at the local home improvement store.  Why would that person be more likely to know anything more about those topics over the person asking?  They are most likely not involved in growing those plants that they sell.  Chances are that they are really nothing more than sales people.  Yes, occasionally you will come across a plant store that actually grows the plants that they sell and the people who work there would have a bit more background that would allow them to actually answer questions about the plants.  That situation is the exception though; not the norm.  Besides, there is a big difference between growing plants to sell in pots and raising plants on your site to maturity.
     I have a friend who engaged me to provide her with a bioretention pond design for her home site.  This pond was being built because her site was located in a watershed district and had a limit on the percent of the site that could be impervious.  She was hoping to enlarge her home which would have created a situation in which her impervious surface area was increased beyond her limit.  Bioretention is basically a place on the site that is designed in such a way as to capture surface water and give it time to soak, or infiltrate, into the ground.  To enhance this infiltration, the area is dug out and the original soil replaced with a soil mixture that enhances water infiltration because it contains a great deal of pore space.  The surface of this dug area, the 'bio' part, is covered with plants.  Thus my plan included a planting plan with a specific plant list.  Plants on this list were very carefully selected because they were capable of existing under the conditions that the bioretention would create.  They must be able to survive under both flooded conditions and extremely dry conditions.  After all, a bioretention area is designed to drain water into the surrounding soil, not hold it, and therefore when it is not filled with water it will become extremely dry.
     After my friend had planted her bioretention area she called to make sure that she had done the right thing.  She had gone to a retail nursery - in reality a local plant store - and found that they did not have the plants that were listed on my plan.  This is something that I had told her to expect when I gave her the plan and a listing of places where she could locate the plants on the list.  The sales lady that she asked told her that she should simply make substitutions; she did not need to use those plants.  She then proceeded to 'recommend' plants to buy and use instead.  As my friend began the litany of substitutions I was once again stunned.  One plant 'recommended' really does not grow this far south, although it would do quite well in Michigan.  One, if it survived which is highly unlikely, would grow great in extreme drought but die when water pooled around its base for the requisite 48 hours.  Another would die as soon as the basin dried up, which would be the majority of the year.  In other words, she had been sold a host of plants that would not survive and which she could not return.
     My question to her was this. Why did you bother to have me spend time on your plan if you were going to take the advise of a salesman instead?  That salesman was obviously out to make a sale period.  She did not know what you wanted or needed.  She simply wanted to make money off of your ignorance about that one subject and you readily fell into her trap.
     I see the same thing happen time and time again with salesmen and also with contractors who because they have built something have suddenly become the expert.  Are they really an expert?  What has their past performance really been like?  Did it hold up ten years down the road or did it need to be replaced or rebuilt?  If you are hiring an expert, follow their advice.  They do that for a living and most likely carry a good deal of training and experience to the table.  Don't get fooled into exchanging that expert advice for that of a good salesman (whether it be at the plant store or a pitch by the contractor).  That salesman is most likely to simply make a fool out of you and rob you of your hard earned cash.

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