See some of L.A.'s most beloved Plant PPL through the lens of 9 student photographers

·8 min read
Portraits of two women in their gardens, photo of flowers surround them
Regina Valencia, left, loves spending free time in her garden in Eagle Rock. Cristina Jaquez, right, enjoys spending time in her garden in El Sereno. (Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / Los Angeles Times; Jaanai Alvarez / For The Times; Ketzally Alcala / For The Times; Getty Images)

Here at L.A. Times Plants we love to highlight local community members who have a passion for plants. For our PLANT PPL series, we're always on the lookout for people of color to spotlight. What better way to find new subjects than asking young L.A. photographers to capture their communities through their lenses?

Through a collaboration with Las Fotos Project, a Boyle Heights nonprofit that elevates the voices of teenage girls from communities of color through photography and mentoring, we commissioned nine high school students to work on mini Plant PPL profiles. They chose to capture their moms, tíos, neighbors and local plant shop owners.

"This project was a great opportunity to get to know my tío and learn about one of his biggest passions," said student Meadows Stevens. "It built a stronger connection, not only between my tío and I but also my respect for being a plant parent and for those with a green thumb."

Have suggestions on whom we should profile next on PLANT PPL? Tag us on Instagram @latimesplants.

Regina Valencia

By Jaanai Alvarez, 18

In her favorite work apron and sun hat, Regina Valencia loves spending free time in her garden, which she’s named Pousard. Valencia is a mother of three in Eagle Rock, and her garden consists of flowers, fruit trees, vegetables, herbs and succulents. Valencia’s love for plants grew after meeting her mentor and friend Karenann Pousard, a plant enthusiast who enjoyed spending her days taking care of her garden. Through Pousard’s tips and guidance, Valencia began planting seeds after her death in 2016. Valencia named her small backyard garden after her friend, who believed that “gardening was a small way of giving back to the Earth.” Valencia encourages others to begin their own gardens: “Plants are life. They bring so much happiness, and they’re so therapeutic. Having your own garden will help awaken your creativity and give you personal moments with our Earth and loved ones.”

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EnCactusar

By Nayeli Huerta, 19

Artists Jackie Amezquita and Julio Toruno have turned a college hobby into a business called EnCactusar (@EnCactusar). The COVID-19 pandemic gave the two an opportunity to start their own nursery, a small business in Boyle Heights that allows them to spend more time with customers and educate them about plants. What advice do Amezquita and Toruno have for plant parents? “Get to know your plant as far as what type of plant it is, where it comes from, what’s the best environment and give them love and attention.” They also incorporate their artistry into their business. Toruno makes arrangements with cactuses, and they both make ceramic plant pots.

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Sari Sari Plants

By Valeria Hernandez, 17

Alwin Anicete is the owner of Sari Sari Plants (@sarisariplantsla) in the center of Highland Park. Anicete’s passion for plants has remarkably affected his community, “Every time people come in, I hear things like ‘I love the vibe. It’s like a tropical paradise, an urban jungle,’” he says. Anicete loves helping his customers pick out the perfect plants. He has heavy admiration for big plants, describing them as statement plants. His advice for other plant parents? "Do not overwater your plants. Watering is the No. 1 killer for plants.”

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Cristina Jaquez

By Ketzally Alcala, 15

Cristina Jaquez is an elementary teacher living in El Sereno with her three kids, two dogs and two cats. She has a beautiful and very diverse garden next to her house where she spends a lot of time. Jaquez said if she could be any plant in the world, she would probably be a bean. “Bean plants move around a lot. They reach out and leave the soil good for other plants to grow. They are helpful.” Like the bean plant, she cares deeply and believes strongly in helping the people in her life. Inside her garden are various vegetables, herbs, flowers and medicinal plants. Most of what she grows goes directly toward feeding her family. While Jaquez smells, touches and checks in on all of her plants, her dogs, Bailey and Uva, follow closely at her ankles. Instead of listening to music while gardening, she prefers the silence. “I enjoy talking to the plants. What if they want to tell me something? I wouldn’t want to miss it.”

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Pomona Community Farmer Alliance

By Kyra Saldaña, 18

The Pomona Community Farmer Alliance works to lessen the gap of inequality for low-income communities. “We believe that the systems of capitalism don’t serve marginalized people, and this is our effort to provide healthy, affordable and high quality food to our beloved community,” said Jenny Martinez, volunteer coordinator for the organization. Through its team of volunteers, the alliance partners with local sustainable farmers and sells their produce at wholesale prices, making no profit and providing the community with low-cost, chemical-free and all organic food. This system benefits the community and supports the sustainable farmers providing produce. The alliance organizes half the booths at the Pomona Valley Farmers Market every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p. m. Keep a lookout for their yellow canopies. Follow @pomonacommunitymarket as they work toward a more sustainable and equal future.

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Joey Caviedes

By Meadows Stevens, 15

Joey Caviedes has about 45 plants in his backyard in South Central. They range from plants he’s grown for 16 years to seeds that have recently started to sprout. His first and oldest plant is a pink lemon tree, a hybrid between a grapefruit and lemons. He also has herbs, fruits and vegetables like gooseberries, tomatoes, peppers, 15 different chiles, oregano and figs. When asked about how he’s handled plants so well for such a long time, Caviedes says it takes patience and knowledge. “It’s important to know how to take care of them so they can take care of you.” There is no secret formula to growing a garden as beautiful as his, except giving it water and taking your time to research. The importance of being your own food source teaches a level of independence and life skills; Caviedes doesn’t have to worry about what’s in his produce when it naturally comes from his backyard.

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Xochiquetzal Arrangements

By Kayla Jackson, 17

Elizabeth Muñoz is a first-generation Latina and the proud owner and florist of Xochiquetzal Arrangements (@xochiquetzal_arrangements). Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, she was able to launch her shop in Long Beach as a way to give back to the community she grew up in. “Flowers are a symbol of unity, love, beauty and life that our god and goddess have put here for us to admire. Flowers are a lot like us in a lot of respects, and grouping them together is a way of getting us all together in a community. To grow them, you can use a variety of colors and backgrounds. In the end, together we are beautiful,” Muñoz said. Xochiquetzal Arrangements has hosted many events, and Muñoz plans to expand her shop to focus on community building.

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The Plant Chica

By Gaby Salazar, 18

With the love and support of her community and family, Sandra Mejia was able to transform an old auto body shop in Jefferson Park into her own urban greenhouse and plant shop, the Plant Chica (@theplantchica). It's a place for everyone to feel like they’re in “plant heaven.” Mejia grew around plants and has always had a deep admiration for them. She credits that to her immigrant parents’ constant attempts to re-create their tropical homeland of El Salvador by surrounding themselves and their home in the United States with plants. She started her business by selling plants around her neighborhood and through Etsy. However, she wanted something more impactful and uplifting in her community. “The kids who are from this neighborhood, it's so important for them to see that the owners look just like them, whether they’re Black or brown, it can happen, you can be a business owner,” Mejia says.

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Que Chulas Plantas

By Angelina Flores, 15

Growing up, Jenny Fernandez would always hear her mom say, “Mira que bonitas plantas. Están chulas." (Look at these plants. They are so beautiful).” That's how Fernandez came up with Que Chulas Plantas (@quechulasplantas), a pop-up in the Los Angeles area. During the pandemic, Fernandez turned to her plants to help create a safe space for herself. She quickly discovered that taking care of them was therapeutic and healing. Que Chulas Plantas promotes growing plants in the community by gifting them and educating folks every opportunity they get. In November, they gave plants to kids; they also gave away plants in March for Women’s History Month. “I am extremely grateful for the love and abundance of support we have received from our community, I honestly can't thank them enough,” Fernandez said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.