‘Keeper of the Ivy’ is a Model for Gardeners

I have been writing this column in one of three local papers
– the Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Free Lance and Morgan Hill
Times – since 1984.
I have been writing this column in one of three local papers – the Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Free Lance and Morgan Hill Times – since 1984. I’m at column No. 1,129 this week (but who’s counting?). Through those 24-plus years, a handful of columns stand out. I recently received an e-mail from a woman in Sarasota, Fla., that brought memories flooding back to one of those columns, which I called “The Keeper of the Ivy.”

Miguel Villasenor was his name. During his 17 years on the grounds-keeping crew at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Miguel’s primary task was caring for the beloved ivy-covered outfield wall at the venerable stadium. I flew to Chicago back in 1987 to interview The Keeper of the Ivy. Little did I know that this dedicated grounds-keeper would hand trim the ivy every couple of weeks during the baseball season, using an antique-like, chrome-plated, 8-inch-long clipper.

Those memories returned this week when I received an e-mail from Margarita Villasenor-deLara, one of Miguel’s daughters, who now lives in Florida. Margarita sadly informed me that Miguel, who retired in 1991, passed away recently after a courageous battle with cancer. Margarita recalled the day her father came home from work after my interview with him.

“He had come home from work and was so proud,” Margarita wrote me. “He said to my mother and I, ‘Girls, I just had an interview with a nice man about my ivy. I can’t believe someone was interested in what I do. It’s always been important to me, but I never thought about just how fascinated and interested others are in my job as well. I do it because it’s my life, my passion, not a job.”

And that’s precisely the sentiment I took home from my interview with Miguel. The ivy-covered wall was more than just ivy. Wrigley Field was his life, his adoration, and always would be.

Miguel would hand trim the ivy-covered walls every time the Cubs would go on the road during the season. It would take him more than two days to complete. “My boss would ask me whether I wanted a power clipper,” he said at the time. “I say, ‘No. It might be faster, but hand trimming keeps the ivy from getting ragged-edged cuts. I also enjoy hand cutting.'”

As far as new ivy plants were concerned, Miguel didn’t need a fancy greenhouse to cultivate cuttings. Instead, he had a much simpler way of handling new ivy cuttings: “Whenever I prune, I stick a few cuttings into the dirt at the base of the wall,” he said at the time. “The ivy is very easy to root. Usually there’re new plants coming in somewhere along the wall.”

Miguel also would gladly give fans ivy cuttings before games. “Today, there’s probably Wrigley Field ivy growing in gardens from New York to California,” he said, laughing, at the time.

Margarita went on to say that every day, her father would walk six-plus miles to Wrigley Field, day and night, rain or snow. He was a hard-working man who did it all by hand and never complained. Miguel Villasenor will always be Wrigley Field’s Keeper of the Ivy.

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