Plant Safari Takes Root in Upland (Featured in the Daily Bulletin — Diana Sholley, Staff Writer)
Visitors can smell a vast change in the air quality with their first steps inside Upland's Plant Safari. It's cleaner. It's fresher. It just feels a bit happier.
Maybe it's the friendly sales staff. Maybe it's the eclectic variety of gift accessories. But most likely it's the green, healthy houseplants that abound in the vintage yellow house Plant Safari calls home.
"We've been in three different locations on the same street," laughs Georgina "Gina" Walker, a Fontana resident who's owned the Plant Safari since 1992 and has worked there since 1983. Walker, born in Mexico, moved to Southern California with her mother and seven siblings after her father died. She was 15.
"I went to school for two years and could read and write, but I couldn't speak English very well," said Walker, a naturalized American in her mid-40s. "At 19, I started to work in a Mexican restaurant with my mother. This man who did the restaurant's plant maintenance came in and asked my boss if he could spare a hard-working employee to help him, just part time. My boss suggested me."
With her mother's blessing, Walker took the job. That decision set the course for a young immigrant's life. Walker started loading and unloading the shop's truck and helped in the nursery. She had always loved plants and now was learning the horticulture on indoor house plants.
As she worked alongside her boss, a former Cal Poly Pomona professor, and assisted customers, she was also learning English. By 1992, Walker, a 27-year-old married woman, knew the business and knew it well.
"I told him I was going to open my own store," remembers Walker. "He said, 'Work here and give me half the profits and you can buy this one.' In four years, I had it paid off."
Walker, a mother of three, still adheres to the business' original philosophy: Quality plants at low prices. She stocks many plants that are California native or have been acclimated to be California climate friendly.
"People tell me all the time they are afraid of orchids," Walker said. "But we get our orchids from a good grower in Chino who gives (the orchids) three to six months to get acclimated. His orchids last. You can get them somewhere else and pay a little bit less, but chances are, they won't last."
Through the years, Plant Safari has seen fluctuations in the industry. "Business went down when the home improvement stores and the grocery stores first started carrying plants," Walker said. "But we just keep on doing what we're doing and take care of our customers."
Contact our Upland, California, garden center and we'll assist you with all your plant and garden needs.