Please, Find Me A Gardener

When all else fails...

At this point in time I’d settle for Chauncey Gardiner, the Peter Sellers character immortalized in the film “Being There”. Chaunce, the intellectually challenged gardener, was mistaken for a member of the aristocracy by one of its own when he introduced himself as Chaunce the Gardener. Come to think of it, as a gardener Chaunce was more than competent, one up from the three we’ve hired and lost or fired in the course of a year.

It may not be that Oaxacan jardineros as a class are sub-par. I’m convinced that to a man (haven’t yet come across a señora jardinera) they are simply more often than not well-intentioned untrained hard workers who one day say “I think from now on I’ll be a gardener, but if someone wants me to be another trade, I’ll be that too.” I don’t mean to be critical of the multi-facet vocations of most Oaxacans as dictated by economic necessity.


Jorge (names have been changed to protect what innocent) was recommended by one of the two major viveros in the city as a fine, knowledgeable purveyor of the green who could lay sod and plant and tend a garden. A resident of Tule as others in his craft, Jorge took me to his abode and then by way of reference to a nearby project he’d just completed. All seemed fine although in retrospect I ought to have been suspect when in answer to my query, “yes it looks beautiful now, but you only just finished sodding and planting, and it’s all flat, not on a steep hill like ours,” he retorted “don’t worry.” I never squawked about price because his was more than reasonable. So why when he told me how much yocuela (river silt used as a base for sodding) we’d need and I answered that I think we’ll need more, did he insist that he knew best? As was his sample obra I’d seen the week before, our finished landscaping initially seemed top notch…green and attractive, what with my religious watering as directed by the maestro. Then the brown patches began on the slopes where I suspected dirt was deficient. “Don’t worry,” once again I heard, “it’s normal, it’ll be fine.” He’ll never know because he stopped returning my calls and was never to be seen or heard from again, perhaps too busy quoting for the maintenance contract of the gorgeous grounds in front of the Tule Tree.


We happened upon Raül walking in the neighborhood with weed-eater and young son Sam (aka “Would it Be Okay if I Lived with You Instead of With My Parents?”) in tow. Alas my unsung hero. He had gardeners’ tools and a family. I was to learn in due course that being a family man isn’t always good if it means leaving the country to provide for one’s progeny et. al, and owning implements could mean I get stuck with them like a reluctant pawnbroker.

Oaxacan gardeners are unique amongst most of their countrymen. They don’t always have answers to every question posed. On the contrary, to a man, when presented with a problem they don’t immediately have a retort, but rather the rejoin is “I’ll have to ask the engineer” (meaning the adviser employed by Dr. Innes Farm and Veterinary Supply Outlet)… which begs the question as to how they can call themselves jardineros if they can’t identify ailments or determine appropriate percentages when mixing concentrates of insecticides.

Raül was good while he lasted. Good within what I came to accept was a yellow thumb trade. Go ahead and ask the engineer…better than killing my foliage (Am I foreshadowing here?). He said he found grubs in the sod, (although I still think it’s a yearning for yocuela issue), showed up regularly, sometimes with son Sam and sometimes with brother Bob, also a gardener, first introduced to me as a painter. Upon being asked for a painter, while identifying his sibling as a reliable candidate, when the time came to get some walls and trim freshened, both Bob and Raül did the job. Raül talked me into buying his leaf blower when he was short of funds. God knows I needed one, just to remind me that I didn’t need one because in Oaxaca, contrast Toronto, the leaves don’t turn color and fall thereby requiring a blower to clear them. But I did need a weed-eater, so when Raül showed up at the house requesting a loan of $200 pesos to help him with his travel expense in getting to D.F., the first leg of his voyage to Canada, his tool-of-the-trade seemed like appropriate collateral.

Raül had in January said that next month he was off to Canada (Ontario, Saskatchewan or Quebec) to work the fields (a program of the two governments for campesinos to help out with planting and harvesting). When I told him that he must be mistaken because all he’d plant in February would be snowballs, he was adamant. Of course it wasn’t February, so it came to pass one April morning that I acquired Raül’s weed-eater but lost a willing weeder.


I resented having a yardkeeper in the first place, frequently arguing with Arlene that notwithstanding the size and slope of our terra firma and now being 50 something with ailing neck, back and knees, I could still get the job done (and in the garden as well). So now was my chance, what with 2 gardeners lost and none in sight. Welcome a friend (now here I’m tempted to name names) with the highest of commendations for his botanical whiz-kid to whom I’ll refer as L’Enfant Sauvage (from the late sixties French film, translated as The Wild Child). LES we called when required, but ought to have done so less so. Twice he seemed as the others, though needing more guidance which should have been a hint. I should have known to not let Arlene have a young man around the house while I was out of town. LES fertilized (the plants), and fertilized and fertilized. When asked if the 2005 hurricane season has caused any devastation in Oaxaca, I tell of Hurricane LES. Cacti, succulents, regular plants and bushes; indoor and outdoor; potted and in-ground, all have fallen to LES. When Arlene told him to use “Triple 17”, she mistakenly assumed that she didn’t have to identify which flora should and should not be fertilized or explain that she didn’t mean to use three times the maximum dosage of 17.

Never had it crossed my mind to ask a guest from Canada to bring me a copy of the Farmers’ Almanac so I’d know when the harvests have concluded and I could expect the return of Raül…until next February.

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