Hector Flores Flores of Flores Design

(That is his name, you know, "Flower" to the second degree.)

It occurred to me the other day while I was in my study listening to the leafblower’s high pitched whine outside my window that the slight figure with the mop of curly hair who was manning the machine was more or less invisible behind the noise and the task, an unsung yet vital aspect of life in our hamlet. I decided to invite Hector in for coffee. The house was chilly so I started a fire in the living room. In spite of my best efforts to prevent it from happening, smoke began to billow into the room instead of up the chimney to such a degree that we had to open all the windows and turn on the fan. Fortunately, that day it was warmer outside than in.

Hector was unfazed. He said in his impish way, almost as if proposing an evening of fun, that he would climb up the chimney (on the outside) the next day and see if any squirrels or birds had built a nest in it or if any vines had grown into it. I found his suggestion immensely reassuring. He was going to take care of things. I have since learned that this is a signature feature of Hector’s approach to his work, an ability to simplify what seem like insurmountable problems, to meet challenges in quiet, effective ways. He began to tell me his remarkable story.

In 1991, at the height of the violence of the Salvadoran Civil War when death squads targeting civilians and disappearances were at their worst, Hector’s mother, Ana Flores Ruiz, managed to make her way to the United States and safety, leaving Hector and his brothers who were young teenagers at the time, with an aunt. She came to Sparkill where she knew people and found work. Six years later, through hard work and determination, she had established herself well enough to have her sons join her.

Hector’s first job was in Queens at a pizzeria when he was 16. He said he was lucky to find the job but after about two years, moved to Haverstraw to be nearer his mother. During this period, he obtained status as a legal immigrant. Through an acquaintance, he was introduced to Judy Tomkins, a prominent landscape designer in Palisades, who took him on her crew. Eventually, he became her crew leader and right-hand man for his eye and his judgment. Working for Judy, he says, was one of the most important experiences of his life; she gave him the opportunity to discover a natural talent for landscape design and to learn from a master. Eventually, he felt confident enough to go out on his own and this past February, he established his own business, Flores Design.

With a wink, Hector says he loves everything that has to do with flowers, but not everything he does is planting. For example, a client had a brick walk and patio that resisted every effort to keep them from being so slippery from mosses that you couldn’t safely walk on them. He came up with the idea to substitute blue stone for the brick and laid it with an intricate design in which the stones appear to nest against each other. The slippery danger was alleviated and the path and patio became a work of art. Hector carries his sense of beauty into everything he does, be it selecting the right plant for the right spot, laying stone, or stacking wood.

His secret aspiration in life is to be a professional photographer. When he is not at work, he roams the neighborhood taking photographs. He showed me several. They reveal the same concern with design that can be seen in his landscaping, an almost tender regard for the natural world.

He made a point of asking me to write that every day he is grateful to Judy Tomkins for everything she has taught him and to all the people who have believed in him and helped him build a good life. We finished our coffee in a smoke-free room and I closed the windows. The next day, sure enough, he climbed up the chimney (on the outside) and found vines and leaves and clutter blocking the flue, and cleared it all out for me. Now when I hear the leafblower outside my study window, I no longer hear the whine of the machine. I hear the beating of a human heart.

Hector asked that the profile end with this statement; "All that I do could not have been possible without God, Faith and the love and support of my family and friends but mostly importantly the inspiration of my mother."

Below are several of Hector's photographs.