MARICOPA -- If Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino blackjack dealer Agnes Gabica was told in 2009 she would be running a successful plant nursery and landscaping business in just 12 years, she would’ve laughed.
“I didn’t mean to open a nursery, it’s just a coincidence that I learned about plants,” Gabica said.
Ten years ago, Gabica was working the card tables as a blackjack dealer at the local casino when a coworker began asking around for some help with her landscaping business.
“I’m like, ‘I like plants!’” Gabica joked, “So that’s actually how I started.”
Gabica would help her coworker with yard work and in return her coworker would share some of her trade secrets for plant care and maintenance. Eventually, Gabica started repotting some of their landscaping clippings to grow her own plants.
Pretty quickly Gabica’s home was overrun with cacti, succulents and blooming flowers and she was so successful in her side-landscaping business she quit her job at the casino. In 2012, she and her husband Troy Towne bought a 3.2-acre property in Hidden Valley to fully expand their growing collection of diverse plants and flowers.
Towne has worked in the plant industry since the ‘80s, mainly working with commercial entities that need greenery for their new developments. When they met and married in 2009, Towne began helping her with the commercial side of her business too.
Gabica now runs Desert Plant Collection Nursery with Towne, and they sell a wide variety of desert foliage and succulents to landscapers, business owners, homeowners and even other, smaller nurseries. While Towne sells their plant selection to clients like local homebuilders who need vegetation for their model homes, Gabica caters to the residential plant lover.
She was happy to sell her flowers and plants to homeowners in Maricopa, but she quickly realized her clients also needed help with how to place their plants after purchase. So Gabica decided to help design their yards, something that quickly became her specialty.
Gabica now does landscape design consultations, where she first assesses the client’s backyard and then they work together to choose from the nursery’s array of plants. She will then draw up her client’s dream yard, remove any previous plants that don’t fit the new aesthetic and plant the new, desert-friendly plants. She can even add water features like a pond or river bed on request.
With these consultations, Gabica not only gives her residential clients the garden they want, but also educates them on how to maintain their new garden.
“I kind of give them a little bit of education, because sometimes they want to put plants where it’s hot all the time or there’s no shade at all,” Gabica said. “Especially in the summertime, they will cook from the heat. I gotta give them a little bit of suggestion, that way they will have a better landscape.”
Most of Gabica’s requests are for low-maintenance gardens — something that can still look great with little to no upkeep from the homeowners. For this, Gabica recommends her smaller desert plants and evergreen plants.
For those out there with brown thumbs, an evergreen or perennial plant is a plant that sustains life year-round, while an annual plant will die seasonally. Gabica says this is an especially common mistake that residents make when they move to Maricopa from other states with different climates.
“(They) go to the store and get all the plants that are really pretty right now and they don’t realize that some plants that are available in the store are actually annual plants,” Gabica explained. “Then when the season’s over, they think the plants are dead.”
Another common mistake is purchasing a plant that grows too fast, which Gabica says are generally some of the most difficult plants to maintain.
Gabica estimates she has now planted over 1,000 gardens and is booked sometimes over a month in advance for consultations. While she loves her property out in Hidden Valley, she hopes to one day have a store right in Maricopa to not only sell her plants, but also supply growers with pots, seeds and growing tools.
Towne and Gabica have a blended family of four adult children, Andrea, Sandra, Christopher and Alana, as well as 17-year-old Priscilla, who was just accepted to Arizona State University. Priscilla hopes to study finance and maybe one day help Gabica with her nursery business.
Over the last decade, Gabica has figuratively and literally grown her nursery from a small Maricopa backyard into a blooming competitive gardening and landscaping business. At her nursery, she reaps the same rewards for the time she takes each day to water, fertilize and nurture her plants.
“They give you flowers every day,” Gabica said of her plants. “When I see the flowers, I think that’s the most rewarding.”