This is the latest in a new series we call Plant PPL, for which we interview people of color in the plant world. If you have any suggestions for PPL to include in our series, tag us on Instagram @latimesplants. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Dianna Martinez started her business, the L.A. Garden, with a lightbulb moment — literally. Three years ago, her father taught her how to grow a pothos cutting in a lightbulb, which became her first product and sparked a whole line of ideas that three years later has turned the L.A. Garden into a thriving business and staple at art fairs and farmers markets around town.
Martinez, a Boyle Heights native, might be best known for her cajitas — box planters with succulent arrangements and decorated with Latinx-inspired art like lotería cards. “The art I display on my planters is based on what resonates and connects me to my culture and community, specifically song lyrics, iconic phrases and Mexican folklore designs,” Martinez said.
What started with painted planters evolved into creating wedding bouquets, flower crowns, boutonnieres and arrangements for events. Recently, Martinez began collaborating with other artists to create a line of clothing, bags, stickers and accessories. She also hosts private workshops for parties where guests can create their own planter creations. You can find Martinez at the downtown L.A. farmers market on Sundays from 9 to 3 p.m. at 5th and Broadway in front of the Last Bookstore.
When and why did you start your business the L.A. Garden?
I always knew I wanted to create something with my hands, something that was unique and different. I finally saw the connection I was looking for through art and plants. I love working with different mediums and textures while building and painting. My special touch was bringing life to my art form through plants. The boxes I create are my canvases, and the plants are the paints that bring it all to life.
What kind of response have you received from your community?
I am grateful that the Boyle Heights community has welcomed my business and has given me positive feedback. My art is a reflection of my culture, my community and my identity. Working with plants has taught me to keep thriving during hard times and that through my business I can help spread joy. Symbolically, every new leaf has been an opportunity for innovating ideas and creations.
What’s the biggest tip you can give to plant parents and up-and-coming entrepreneurs?
Have patience. Every plant is different. They have varying needs, including being selective of space. Some like more sun than others, and it will be important to move them to a spot that best suits them. Once you find its ideal spot, the plant has to adapt to the temperature, light and water amount. Growth is not seen from one day to the next. It will take time and a lot of patience.
Many plant parents get excited about buying many beautiful plants for the home. However, it will be important to acknowledge plants are not just green accessories for the home. They are life and energy. We can relate to them as they are all unique, with individual needs. With consistent care and love, they will thrive.
For fellow entrepreneurs: There is never a better moment than the now. There is no certainty on whether an idea will work or not. Don’t worry about what others are doing. The only competition you have is with yourself. There will always be new ideas brewing, and if it doesn’t work initially, you can move on to the next best thing. You will never know if you don’t try.
Where do you hope to be in five years?
In 2025, I envision myself in a studio space large enough to create, showcase, and host workshops and events for the L.A. Garden. This space will also be home to a nursery where I will grow a variety of native plants and flowers sustainably.
I close my eyes and can picture a space filled with community members who feel comfortable and who are eager to learn something new. The L.A. Garden is more than a plant business. Through plants and art, we have meaningful conversations and reflect on how we are all connected and can flourish together.
What’s your favorite plant?
My favorite plant at the moment is the Passiflora edulis or passion fruit (maracuya in Spanish). It is beautiful, luscious and abundant. The flower shape is quite unique.
My dad jokes by saying that I am like the maracuya plant. Just like the leaves that have completely covered our entire fence and are now making their way to the rooftop, I’ve gradually expanded my home office. I utilize the living room, dining room, backyard and even the kitchen. I am expansive like the vines and vibrant like the fruit it grows.