There's just one thing that keeps Paul Brecht's and Joan Conseicao's work from being an unqualified nightmare.
After all, if running what is by far the most populous boardinghouse in Orange County isn't enough, every one of their nearly 7,000 boarders requires feeding, attention and health care for about 11 months out of the year.
The saving grace is that their boarders are not people. They're orchids.
Almost 26 years ago, Brecht began what Conseicao, his sales manager, calls a baby-sitting service for orchids. In a large, covered nursery on Harbor Boulevard in Costa Mesa, the only one in the county devoted exclusively to orchids, he tended other people's plants for the 11 months out of the year when they looked like little more than 7,000 pots full of green reed shoots.
Then, when the exotic blooms began to reappear, so did the customers, to collect their orchids and display them during the relatively brief period when they were in their glory. About 4 weeks later, when the blossoms began to disappear, they returned the plants to the Brecht Orchid Gardens and said goodby to them for another 11 months.
That ritual has been going on for more than 2 1/2 decades at Brecht's nursery, which looks--depending on which section you walk into--like either the world's largest collection of the world's most boring house plants or the model for every sarong Dorothy Lamour ever wore.
Most of the plants in the nursery are on the other side of a doorway with the sign reading Boarding House . To the untrained eye, they don't look much like orchids.
The front of the nursery, however, shows what promise they hold, for it is there that Brecht and his staff display flowering orchids for sale.
Obtained consistently throughout the year from commercial and some private growers, the orchids present a wash of delicate colors and textures around the room--dozens of cymbidiums, vandas, cattleyas, phalaenopses, paphiopedilums, epidendrums and, the most unusual of the commercially grown bunch, the purple miltonia, or pansy orchid.
Rarer orchids do arrive, Conseicao said, "but the unusual things sell right away, within a few hours." Orchid fanciers make regular and frequent trips to the Brecht gardens and tend to snap up the rare plants.
Those uncommon varieties, she said, can cost "quite a few hundred dollars." And, she added, some can be worth several thousand, although "they usually stay within the orchid community, with private collectors."
Growing orchids, Conseicao said, takes patience but not necessarily a lot of money. From the time an orchid culture is planted until the first bloom appears, 5 to 7 years may pass, which is one reason many orchid owners decide to leave the tending to Brecht and his staff.
Others, she said, don't have the time or space to take care of the orchids properly, or they may be away from home for extended periods.
However, most of the about 30 varieties for sale at Brecht's nursery are priced from $20 to $30 per plant.
The best time of year to see orchids in bloom? Right about now, Conseicao said, when winter begins to turn to spring.
That's fortunate for the nursery, she added: Its biggest day is Tuesday, Valentine's Day.
BRECHT ORCHID GARDENS AT A GLANCE
Where: 1989 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa.
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Plant boarding service prices: From $1.35 to $4.65 per month, depending on the size of the plant.
Information: Phone (714) 548-2314 or (714) 548-1363.