In 2014, Lauren Borden worked in the San Francisco Flower Market in a space across from John Nicolini, whose grandfather started Delano Nursery, Inc., a wholesale interior plant nursery, in 1922. Borden, who studied horticulture and floristry at City College of San Francisco, planned to move on from her floral design job, and she asked Nicolini if he’d like some assistance. He took her up on it.
“John just looked miserable because he worked so early and so many hours. He basically was running the ship with, like, three people,” she said. “I asked him if he needed some help, and he said, ‘Yeah,’ so I would come in at three in the morning and unsleeve hydrangeas. It was so fun, and I loved working with plants. He trusted me a lot and had me work more and I dragged his butt to all these different nurseries. We tried a lot of new stuff, and we’ve grown at an average of about 35 percent a year.”
Now, at 29, Borden’s the general manager and co-owns the business with Nicolini. Delano’s has grown from five employees to 17 during her time there.
Women and people of color make up more than 90 percent of the staff at Delano, and Borden says that means different perspectives, which she credits for the nursery’s success. Another reason she thinks the nursery has done well is because she and Nicolini believe in treating staff well. In agriculture, the average starting wage is around $9 an hour. At Delano, it’s $25—plus benefits.
“I feel like investing in your employees makes a huge difference. Everyone has a story about how much they hate their job or their boss, and I never want to be that company,” Borden said. “We have a livable wage for employees, we have health care, vacation pay in your first year even, maternity leave, sick pay, bereavement pay, we pay lunches even. John understood that, and he backed me on that and we’ve been able to do our best to treat people well.”
In its centennial year (they don’t know the exact date, so they decided to go with celebrating January 9, because 1/9/22 mimics the founding year), Delano is expanding to Pescadero, where they will have 140,000 feet of greenhouses along with the wholesale nursery in Daly City, a wholesale center in the San Francisco Flower Market, and a retail store on Mission Street called Bunk in San Francisco.
Borden looks forward to the expansion and growing more of their own plants, a huge saving on shipping. She and her co-workers are excited to try out hydroponics to save water as well as testing out different soils and growing methods.
And Borden, a queer woman, has has other ideas to shake up the industry where most owners are white straight and male.
“When we have the Pescadero property, I want to be a resource for women in agriculture,” she said. “I’m like the queen of grant writing and there are so many different resources, especially for the Latino population. I’ve been trying to reach out to grower friends and turn them on to different grants. I want to be a hub for those kinds of things.”
A few years ago, Borden says she never thought she’d be the general manager of a successful nursery and she appreciates all the faith Nicolini has in her. “I’m super grateful to John and his family for letting me into their not family legacy and helping me continue it,” she said. “All that blind trust has gotten us here, and we’re doing well and it’s great.”