Natural Perspectives: Hired help for our garden

I think Louann is too embarrassed to admit it, but we have a gardener. Yep, a guy comes to our house twice a month and does yard work.

Louann takes great pride in her garden. But she seems to think that her loyal readers believe that she does all of the work herself. Well, that is almost true. She does all of the vegetable gardening, but most of the hedge trimming, weed removal, and other heavy work is done by our paid gardener.

Why? Because I insist on it. I just can't stand to see the woman doing backbreaking labor on those hot afternoons while I'm inside watching a ball game.

Now you might feel like criticizing me for being too lazy to do gardening. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love working in the garden and wish like heck that I could. But Louann won't let me. The simple truth is that she doesn't trust me. She knows that I have a significantly different vision of our yard from hers.

She likes the garden to be dense with greenery at all times and in all locations. She doesn't mind that there are virtually no paths between the vegetable beds.

She doesn't mind that the roses extend across the main walkway nearly over to the chicken coop. And she doesn't mind her grapevines growing in front of windows to such an extent that most of her precious garden is invisible from inside the house.

If it were my garden, there'd be a little more room in it for people — at least for me.

And so Louann knows that my No. 1 goal for her garden is to thin it out. If she allows me in there with a tool, I'm going to remove something. And everything in her garden is precious to her. Every fern, every nasturtium, and every one of dozens of potted bromeliads plays some essential role that I am incapable of understanding.

But the gardener? Well, she trusts him. He does what she tells him and nothing more. She says he "gets" her garden of fruit trees, raised beds for vegetables, and California native plants with no grassy lawn to mow.

His visit this week was a little different from usual. He came to the door with an embarrassed look on his face. He had locked his keys in his truck so he couldn't even get out the tools that he needed. He asked for a ride to his house so he could get his spare truck key. Fortunately, I had the afternoon off and was happy to oblige.

He and I hopped into my car and off we went.

"Turn down Gothard," he said. "Then turn on Ellis."

"I live behind Five Points," he said, "on Amberleaf Circle."

Now that name may not mean much to most readers, but it hit me like a brick. You see, years ago, this was by far the worst street in Huntington Beach. There are some neighborhoods in our town that are over-crowded and under-maintained. But they are all better than they used to be. And the one that used to be the worst was a little cul-de-sac called Commodore Circle.

It had been horrible. The buildings, the landscaping, the pavement, the sidewalks: all were in terrible shape. Every building on each side of that short street (ten on each side) was a four-plex apartment. There was practically no parking other than street parking. And every unit was crammed with far more people than is typical in most of Huntington Beach.

Back when I was on the Planning Commission in the late 1980s, the city put together a task force of landlords, utility companies and council members determined to upgrade the place. And they did.

New utilities, pavement, new landscaping, new paint for all the buildings. They really improved the place. It looked so much better that someone decided to give the street a new name. They renamed it after one of the landscaping trees that were planted: Amberleaf.

Amberleaf Circle is still not luxury housing. It is still more crowded than, say, my neighborhood. Our gardener shares a two-bedroom apartment there with his two brothers and a sister-in-law.

Both brothers are also gardeners. Our gardener makes about $1,000 a month and each of his two brothers makes about double that, so they have a combined income that allows them to live in Huntington Beach.

My gardener is a quiet, calm, methodical man who does light work quickly and heavy work slowly, exactly like I would hope. His hair has gotten noticeably grayer in the years that Louann and I have known him. His English … well, it's not great, but it works.

I grew up in an English-speaking society so I will probably never get over my gut reaction that my gardener's name is sacrilegious. His name is Jesus, pronounced Hey-soos. He has certainly spared Louann from a lot of hard yard work. She says that she's been saved by Jesus.

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. You can reach them at lmurrayphd@aol.com.

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