Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, March 2019, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Landscaping Duties 

This month’s topic examines the duties butlers and household/estate managers have regarding landscaping.

In all cases, the duties were to oversee the work of the landscapers on behalf of the employer, relaying his or her wishes and seeing that they were complied with—not just regarding vegetation, but also the maintenance of construction such as rock walls, pavers, and fences.

One household manager provided a detailed account of their duties: “My position is responsible for meeting with the landscape architect throughout the year to discuss any issues the principals may have and to plan preventative maintenance, such as routine tree trimming, aeration/overseeding of lawns as well as a fertilization program, deep-root feeding of major trees and shrubs, and spraying of bushes and evergreens with environmentally friendly products.

“I also work directly with the landscaping company.

“I have a dedicated grounds manager that checks in with me each week when on property.  We often walk the property together and discuss areas of concern or just enjoy the beautiful lawn, flowers and landscaping!

“I review proposals from the landscaping company for upcoming services, such as lawn cutting, cleaning up, leaf removal, any new installations, snow plowing, etc.

“I schedule maintenance for a large, paver parking-court, which includes removing broken/chipped pavers, adding sand each year between pavers, and fixing low spots.

“I schedule the irrigation company each Spring to open up the system, fix any sprinkler heads that have been broken, and test the system. Throughout the summer, if areas need more/less irrigation, I work with the company on adjustments. I schedule them to to close the system and make any repairs in the Fall.

“Natural stone patios, walkways, and large stone steps and retaining walls all require preventative maintenance, such as replacing missing joints, replacing disintegrating stones and water proofing. We have an engineer inspect a very large retaining wall on the property each year.”

Most of those responding had not encountered any major difficulties as a result of their proactive approach, and because they ask questions of horticulture experts and keep in mind that trees and shrubs do grow wide and tall, and that can be taken into account when designing a garden for the best fit.

One recurring problem for one house manager is the decapitation of sprinkler heads by those mowing, which requires seeing the sprinkler contractor once a week for about 5 or 6 months out of the year (in the Northeast US).

A point of maintenance is the necessity to keep the valve box clear of debris that tends to build up. Doing so allows one to see if there is water leaking from the pipes. One estate manager had to have the sprinkler system dug up and new couplings and cracked pipes replaced, and the lawn re-sodded.

Another issue in areas with snow is the damage caused to grass by snow ploughs. One estate had a 1.8-mile driveway that was plowed, necessitating grass seeding, netting, and straw be put down after the snow melt to encourage new growth.

What works best for staying on top of landscaping issues includes:

  1. Communication with all involved: “I feel that a large part of my job,” said one estate manager, speaking for the others, “is to develop good working relationships with all vendors who step on the property. This personal approach is a key element in achieving my goal—finding vendors who are committed to doing a good job for their customer and are accountable if the results are not met.  I like to lay out the principals’ expectations for the project or job in the very beginning.”
  2. Daily and weekly walk-arounds of the property;
  3. Having full-time staff supplemented in the summer with extra seasonal employees;
  4. One estate manager does not use many chemicals on the lawn, so it may brown when there is a lack of rain, and this is resolved by patching with sod.

When asked for any particularly satisfying landscaping environment or project, the following were of note:

“In Connecticut, we had over 3 million daffodils in more than 20 colors on the property, which were spectacular when they bloomed!”

“We are creating a new, larger organic garden this year. We have an English Garden, an herb garden, and flower-cutting garden close to the main house. At the bottom of the property, we have a greenhouse and two different areas for berries. Our largest garden has about everything you can grow in the region. I usually stop there in the morning and pick what I am serving for lunch and dinner. If it is too busy with lots of company, I ask one of the farm hands to bring up what I need. I provide a list of what is ready to pick.”

“There was a metal fountain on the property that was disintegrating and constantly needing attention every year.  It was decided to replace it with a new concrete fountain.  The new fountain is beautiful and the high annual maintenance expenses have been eliminated—always very satisfying.”

To round out the survey, here’s the kind of thing that pre-occupies the minds of our intrepid butlers and estate managers as they go about their employer’s gardens:

“When trudging through the grass to inspect the landscaping work or talk to a vendor, I watch were I step. Why? Snakes! Usually, they have slithered away before you see them, but still I have seen plenty. I am not sure what to suggest for South Florida’s python population [an invasion of a non-native species]. I poke the shrubs with a stick or handle from a rake, before I put my hands down past my knees.”

“One year, we had a vegetable garden contest: the cook at the Main residence with her kitchen garden vs the Carriage House family members’ garden. Both parties worked hard on planting, weeding, watering and nurturing their gardens. Our judge for the contest was the Landscape Architect. On a designated day, each garden was toured and each presented the fruits of their labors—the fresh fruits and vegetables harvested. After careful consideration, the kitchen garden was the winner! To celebrate the win and to thank everyone for their efforts, the principal treated all of us to lunch at an area restaurant.”


The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.