By: Julie Zigoris
Delano Nursery might be celebrating their 100-year anniversary, but City College graduate Lauren Borden is infusing the business with new life. The nursery’s sales have grown exponentially since Borden joined in 2014, going from 58,000 to 2.85 million products sold in a year. The business recently acquired a property in Pescadero and opened a retail shop in the Mission to add to their Daly City nursery and Flower Market wholesale center.
Borden fell in love with plants after taking the Introduction to Floral Design course at City College. “Steven Brown is one of the coolest teachers and department chairs,” she said from behind her wooden desk lined with a parade of multi-textured plants: some marbled, some striped, some spotted, some smooth.
Borden likened the nursery to a clown car — it appears small on the outside but is expansive within, holding a wide variety of unusual plants. This highly curated collection also takes center stage in the nursery’s Mission retail store called Bunk Ass Plants. “It’s the Spencer’s of plants,” Borden said.
Her favorite class in City College’s Department of Environmental Horticulture and Floristry was with instructor Charmain Giuliani. “You would go in and forage different palettes of plants and we would make a color wheel with it,” she said. “Oh my gosh, so cool.” She also loved learning from Instructor Thomas Wang, who taught with comics in her Zeroscaping (low water landscaping that focuses on native plants) class.
Borden co-owns Delano Nursery with John Nicolini, who she met while working at San Francisco’s Flower Market in 2014. Nicolini’s nursery is a family business, and he’s the third generation to operate it. Borden helped Nicolini to transfer from paper to digital records. “It was really tough,” Borden said. “Everyone who worked here at the time was over 40 or 50.”
Borden credits a diversification of products — as well as staff — as key ingredients to the business’s success. The nursery began selling unusual plants from faraway states like Hawaii, Tennessee, and Florida instead of growing their own. They also expanded their product line by offering hard goods like pots and supplies for plants.
“The team we have here is super creative,” Borden said. “Everyone works super hard and we’re an environment that really fosters everyone’s opinion.”
Steven Brown, chair of the Department of Environmental Horticulture and Floristry, has fond memories of working with Borden. “Lauren was a very good student,” Brown said. “I’ve admired the way she has been giving input to a long established family business in the Bay Area.”
Many students from the Floristry and Horticulture Department go on to establish careers in the field (no pun intended). Wang cited two paths for graduates: going into public service by finding jobs with the Department of Parks and Recreation or Department of Public Works, or working for private businesses.
The department has had remarkable success both in placing students into careers and in overall stability. Wang describes himself as a “newcomer” even though he’s taught at the school for 15 years; Brown has been chairing the department for 20 years and teaching for 35. Gus Brouaret recently retired after teaching in the department for 50 years. Enrollment has remained steady through all the ups and downs at City College, according to Wang.
The department was founded in 1939, the same year as City College. While men were off fighting in World War II, the department trained women and younger adults to make Victory Gardens. “People were growing food to help with the war effort,” Brown said.
The current historical moment has also led to a surge in demand. “We have had a huge interest in our classes since the pandemic started because people have taken an interest in growing. There’s been a huge interest in indoor plants, a huge resurgence in interest in indoor plants and also in gardening,” Brown said.
There is also a general appeal of plants in a city like San Francisco. “I think it’s a great thing for people to be involved with — in gardening and the flowers and the trees. It is a great respite from our urban world,” Wang said.
Wang also acknowledged the wide array of people who become interested in plants. “Some people are looking for a second career, or they’re just 17 coming in to take their first college class, or they’re retired and did great in whatever field they come from. It has something for everybody,” he said.
Despite stellar job placement, dedicated faculty, and high interest among students, the department’s program has been slashed in recent years.
“They took away all of my lab aid funds, they took away nearly all of my supply budget. So everything that I’m doing right now is by the skin of my teeth,” Brown said. “We’ve been reduced so much by the administration in our course offerings, that I’m having to piecemeal programs together in order to get students through them. It’s really devastating.”
Brown expressed how heartbreaking it has been for him to build up a program over 35 years only to see it cut back so drastically. “We’re one of the last complete training programs in the country,” Brown said, and the viability of the program could be affected by further cuts. If this happens, success stories like Borden’s will no longer be able to bloom.