It's not easy being greenspeople, who take care of plants on set

Greenspeople provide and care for the assorted trees and shrubs and grasses on film sets.
Greenspeople provide and care for the assorted trees and shrubs and grasses on film sets.PHOTO: UNSPLASH

NEW YORK (NY TIMES) - For two decades, Ms Ginny Walsh has worked as a greensperson on a variety of TV shows and movies, from Meet The Parents to, most recently, The Gilded Age.

Greenspeople like Ms Walsh provide and care for the assorted trees and shrubs and grasses on film sets - hence "greens" - but they'll also step in and help with other nonvegetative tasks like, say, digging graves (for funeral scenes or mob hits) and trenches (for World War I battle sequences).

There are fewer than a dozen full-time greenspeople working in New York, according to Ms Walsh. "It's one of those jobs where people go, 'Ohhh, I didn't even know that that exists," she said.

As with much of the entertainment industry, a lot of what Ms Walsh does is fakery.

Those beautiful flowers in that lush garden might be plastic, or silk, or live flowers attached to nonblooming plants; those fruit trees in front of that grand estate may have arrived just that morning, their pots artfully hidden behind some newly placed shrubbery.

Over the years, Ms Walsh has created a tropical Vietnamese jungle in the suburbs of Westchester County for The Post, Steven Spielberg's film about the Pentagon Papers, and a wheat field out of truckloads of ornamental grasses for TV series The Americans.

When the producers of Meet The Parents wanted to shoot a fall scene in the winter, she and the rest of the greens crew painstakingly placed fake autumn foliage, leaf by fall-coloured leaf, onto trees that had long ago gone bare.

"If it's summer, they want winter; if it's winter, they want summer," she said.

Greensperson has been a legitimate film profession in Los Angeles since the 1920s, said Mr Will Scheck, retired greensman who has worked on Ang Lee's The Ice Storm, Frank Oz's The Stepford Wives and Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, and the television series Madam Secretary and Ramy.

But New York has been a different story. Back in the mid-1990s, when Mr Scheck got his first greens job, there weren't any full-time greensmen in the city.

If producers needed that sort of work done, they'd call the set dresser, or one of the props people in Mr Scheck's union, IATSE Local 52, or even farm the work out to a local landscaper.

Mr Scheck saw an opportunity, and started calling himself a "greens coordinator".

"I just made that up," he admitted. Key greens, chief greens, lead greens - they're all names for the head greensperson on a film or TV production.

What makes a good greensperson? The best of them know how and where to get things, no matter how rare or obscure or out of season.

There are rental places in New Jersey for fake trees, feed stores for bales of hay on Staten Island, and nurseries from Long Island to White Plains for just about everything else.

"I've given nurseries a couple bucks for weeds," said greensperson Michael Thompson.

Sometimes, greenspeople need to travel farther afield. On the set of Mildred Pierce, the 2011 miniseries starring Kate Winslet, wintry sections of New York had to stand in for sunny Southern California, circa the 1930s.

To find the scores of needed tropical plants, Mr Scheck trekked down to nurseries in Homestead, Florida, just outside of Miami.

"I probably went there 10 or 15 times," he said.

Mr Scheck returned with four or five tractor-trailers full of greenery - including 15 palm trees - that he and his crew placed in an enormous greenhouse built specifically for the shoot on the Steiner Studios lot in Brooklyn.

One April night, there was a frost warning, so the crew scrambled to fill the place with electric heaters to keep their US$50,000 (S$67,000) investment alive. "We sort of went in panic mode," he said. The plants survived the night.

Greenspeople often don't get the recognition they deserve because the best greenswork is seamlessly woven into the background.

And while viewers might not notice the occasional slip-up, other greenspeople sure do.

There's the forsythia inexplicably blooming in August; the houseplants and wildflowers amateurishly stuck into a forest floor; the tree supposedly growing in a yard, its black nursery pot visible.

Being a greensperson in New York comes with its own challenges.

There's the weather, of course. During cold winters, they take on the role of babysitters, tending tropical plants in makeshift hothouses, carting them out into often freezing temperatures when a production calls for them, and hoping the lot of them don't drop dead from shock.

"We kill a lot of plants," Mr Scheck conceded.