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Garden Veteran

Long-time gardener, Vietnam vet finds solace by helping keep the Botanic Garden healthy and green

A garden in the desert needs one essential and scarce ingredient—water—to stay alive.  One gardener at the ABQ BioPark has devoted himself to the Botanic Garden’s irrigation needs for nearly 15 years.

Gardener James Chavez started as a temporary employee at the ABQ BioPark Zoo in 2001. After two years he transferred to the Botanic Garden, where he has worked since.

Chavez said he enjoys his job.  

“I love it here. This place is amazing, especially in the spring,” said Chavez. “It’s like magic when everything’s blooming.”

In addition to the garden’s beauty, Chavez credited his enthusiasm to great co-workers.

Chavez is a Vietnam veteran. At 18 years old, he was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1970 and served for one year before returning to the United States and entering the National Guard.

He said he was lost after returning from Vietnam. Though years have passed, Chavez said that working at the Botanic Garden is therapeutic and keeps him busy. He said his military training gave him a strong work ethic that is useful on the job. 

Before working for the BioPark, Chavez had previous experience with his personal home garden and an irrigation company.

Chavez must battle the high desert’s characteristic aridity to keep plants healthy. The Botanic Garden utilizes an assortment of irrigation methods—from bubblers to “spaghetti” systems and traditional sprinklers—and Chavez keeps his eye open for signs of dryness in plants, making necessary adjustments.

Chavez helps with a variety of other roles at the Botanic Garden too—he cares for the duck pond and fountains, picks up debris after storms and fixes breaks in pipes and sprinklers. During the winter and storms he spends more time inside the Mediterranean Conservatory watering, keeping walkways clear and trimming. He said working in the conservatory is one of his favorite tasks, especially when he gets to help prepare indoor flower shows, such as the Winter Fire Colors Show.

He also helps keep the Festival Green, well, green. In the spring, new sod necessitates daily watering. After it starts growing, staff reduces watering frequency to two or three times a week. And after garden summer concerts, irrigation staff must help the smashed grass recover by giving it a much needed aqueous pick-me-up.

Chavez said his wife is always eager to take advantage of the skills he has picked up on the job. She sometimes comes to the BioPark with their grandchildren (they have seven) and discovers projects she would like him to implement at home.

“I’ve learned a lot more than when I came in,” Chavez said. “I go home and I can repair all the plumbing in my house.”

Although Chavez said he loves working at the Botanic Garden, he plans to retire at the end of 2016. After retirement, he’ll travel with his wife, starting with a trip to San Antonio. He also said he’ll visit the garden from time to time.

Catherine Hubbard, Botanic Garden Manager, said Chavez is well liked among staff and is dependable whenever help is needed. She said the BioPark will miss him.

“He is an amazing person with an amazingly positive attitude and deserves recognition for his many contributions here,” said Hubbard. “We will be so sad to see him retire from our horticulture family, but know he will love all the time he will soon get to spend with his personal family.”