It’s a quiet day on the northern side of Cal Poly’s campus. There’s a warm glow over dozens of rows of mums, ragworts and succulents. A light breeze carries the smell of freshly cut flowers while somewhere nearby a horse neighs.
Located near the equine unit, the Poly Plant Shop has been one of Cal Poly’s best-kept secrets since it started in the late 1960s, according to many students and faculty. The shop currently employs 13 students and functions as a learning laboratory where everything is grown and sold on site.
Horticulture professor Virginia R. Walter is coach of the Cal Poly Flower Judging Team and has more than 40 years of experience in the industry.
“[The Poly Plant Shop has] been here forever,” Walter said. “Most of the students aren’t even horticulture majors, they just really like plants. So they come from all kinds of backgrounds, which of course offers all kinds of experience to the consumer.”
To spread the word and encourage more students to get involved, the shop uses social media and a strong email list of loyal customers from all around the county.
“We try every fall to encourage new students during WOW to find out about the plant shop,” Walter said.
Cal Poly alumna Melinda Lynch teaches floral design and supervises the Poly Plant Shop. She thinks the shop is a great opportunity for students as they learn how to grow a crop, take care of it, market it and work the sale.
Graphic by Arinee Rahman
One project in particular gives students a lot of experience with marketing. Every December, the Poly Plant Shop has a poinsettia sale where the line goes out the door on opening day.
“The [students] do wholesale for some of the churches and businesses that want to have poinsettias during the holidays, so they’ll buy wholesale and come pick them up or the students will deliver them,” Lynch said.
The students get paid for their work. At the end of the sale, which is whenever they run out of poinsettias, the students subtract the costs from the revenue and take home the profits. They keep track of their hours and get paid according to how many hours they worked.
“If you work, you get paid,” Lynch said. “Much like in the real world.”
In addition to the popular red poinsettias often seen around Christmas, the Poly Plant Shop has orange, yellow and pink poinsettias that display different color patterns in its leaves.
“You can’t find this kind of variety at Home Depot or Costco,” Lynch said. “We really take pride in being able to offer unique plants.”
Video by Katelyn Piziali
In the spring, students put on Tomato Mania — a project that tests students’ abilities to grow and harvest crops on their own. Tomato Mania consists of teams of five or six students that grow hundreds of tomatoes as an enterprise project. It typically starts in April and is open to the public.
“Last year they sold out. They sold every tomato they grew,” Lynch said.
Horticulture students that gain experience at the Poly Plant Shop go on to launch careers in everything from floral design for weddings to anything in the agriculture industry.
The hands-on experience running the shop gives students both horticulture and marketing skills needed to be successful in their future careers.
Rachel Romanelli is a senior recreation, parks and tourism administration student who has worked at the Poly Plant Shop for about a year. She describes the typical duties of the students that work there.
“We’re a fully-functioning floral shop, meaning that we make base arrangements, bouquets, and any type of arrangements needed for large parties or birthdays,” Romanelli said. “We also make boutonnieres and corsages.”
Having a background in art and design is helpful for being able to put together great-looking arrangements and bouquets that the customer will want, according to Romanelli.
Video by Brittany Tesmer
“With the plant sale side of it, the horticulture students bring in stuff that they’re growing in their classes or for their senior projects or whatever it may be,” Romanelli said. “We have those potted plants inside, and we have a nursery for outside plants from the greenhouses as well.”
Below is a map of the Poly Plant Shop.
Graphic by Arinee Rahman
The greenhouses, located just around the corner from the shop, are where students learn how to grow plants in controlled environments.
Below is a 360 degree view of a separate portion of the greenhouse called the stuppy, where students grow succulents.
Stuppy – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA
Photo by Arinee Rahman
Students learn about pest control, including handling chemicals and avoiding cross contamination within the different greenhouse rooms.
The shop is fairly quiet, with the back room filled with poinsettias waiting to be taken home and a bell on the door that rings when a customer enters. Christmas music plays softly.
“I love the people I work with, my boss and making the flower arrangements,” Romanelli said.
Romanelli was one of Lynch’s floral design students when she was offered a job at the shop about a year ago and has been there ever since.
“I loved Melinda [Lynch] as a teacher and loved working with the flowers. My boss and what I do has kept me here,” she said.