The Daily Press is launching a series of interviews with essential workers who are working bravely and diligently to keep the Santa Monica community functioning.

Our first featured worker is James Welch, a landscaper who services Ishihara Park. Municipal budget cutbacks and the booming popularity of parks during the pandemic have significantly increased James’s duties. However, he says he loves spending lots of time in nature and enjoys getting to know the families, pets, and community members who appreciate Ishihara.

What do you enjoy about working in horticulture?

You can have twelve different plants that survive in the same climate but are completely different—the leaves look different, the flowers are different, one is more fleshy, one is more woody, but they all belong to the same place. I love how I can manipulate nature. I can make a particular tree grow the way I want it to grow or I can tame a particular shrub to grow the way I want it to grow. I started off landscaping as a youngster, but a horticulture program at El Camino College gave me more in depth knowledge.

How has your job been affected by the pandemic?

First things first there is a mask on my face. It’s the same tasks multiplied by four maybe five because of the current pandemic. Prior to the pandemic there was a contract service that removed trash bags and replaced trash liners, but due to the economic hit to the municipality the regular staff had to pick up that duty. Because there are more people visiting the parks there is more trash to pick up and I have to work quicker. For me, the challenge isn’t too big of a challenge. I’m meeting more people and running into people I haven’t ran into before, because more people are at home so they are utilizing the park more. It’s almost a blessing and a curse type of thing.

Are you worried about your safety?

No, I enjoy being out here. I’m an outdoors person so I prefer to be outside versus in a building. I’m the guy that trims the bushes so I don’t have any fear going into the bushes or of anything that jumps out of them. The challenge is how to come out, do my job, and make it home safe. I do whatever it is I need to do: the proper PPE, gloves, mask, safety equipment.

What does a day on the job look like?

The main thing is trying to make a safe place safer and more beautiful as the day progresses. Getting the park ready for the public can consist of making sure the toddler play area is debris free, picking up trash, and making sure there is no broken glass. Then there is pruning, cutting, edging, planting, and replacing plants that are not doing too well.

What sort of wildlife do you see?

Everything that flies: birds, bees, hawks, moths, butterflies, crows. Of course spiders, ants, grubs, anything that has to do with keeping vegetation alive you are going to see it. I like being out here because I become part of the ecosystem.

What do you like about Santa Monica?

The weather and the people. Those are the two amazing things. At every park I’m able to meet people, say ‘hello how are you, good morning, I’m fine’. You learn who has what dogs and what children—I can’t beat that.