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College students raise plants to sell to community

In a greenhouse full of plants, Liz Regan headed straight for some special ones.

“Smell these, they smell like chocolate,” the 18-year-old Merced College plant science student said.

The scented geranium that Regan was talking about is just one of about 150 different types of plants that the college’s plant science class grows, and then sells to the public.

Steve Bell, the plant science and soil science instructor at Merced College, has been helping students learn about plants and growing them since 1998. Starting with the fall semester, students work on growing, weeding, feeding and watering the foliage that will hopefully someday grace a Merced resident’s home.

In Bell’s classes, students learn about all types of plants, but the plants grown for sale are mostly ornamentals, he said. “We grow a few peppers and tomatoes too, but it’s mostly bedding plants,” Bell said.

Karen Elliott, an instructional aide for the plant program, said that students grow all of the plants that are offered for sale to the public.

“We grow some bulbs, but most of the plants are from cuttings or from seeds,” Elliott said.

Regan, who is majoring in Spanish at Merced College, decided to take the class because she wanted to do something that was hands-on. “I like doing this, it’s nice to be able to grow plants,” she said.

Sam Toomer, a 20-year-old general education major, remembered planting flowers and vegetables with his grandmother when he was younger. He said now he knows what his grandmother was doing. “I’ve learned a lot. When I get a house I plan on planting some fruits and vegetables,” Toomer said.

Elliott said that the most popular plants with customers seem to be the old standbys: Petunias, lobelia, vegetables, herbs, zinnias, cosmos and that plant that seems to draw everyone in, the scented geranium.

The fuzzy-leafed geraniums had scents ranging from lime, lemon and chocolate all the way to peppermint. The scent didn’t come from the flowers, but from the leaves themselves. “These are really popular,” Elliott said. “Their scent really travels.”

While Elliott discussed plant prices with a couple, Regan was doing some last-minute pruning to some flowering bedding foliage. “It’s nice being able to use my hands,” she said.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or

The Merced College Plant Science class will be selling plants every Thursday from noon to 4 p.m., and on Saturday, April 26 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. near the greenhouse at the back of the college. For more information, call (209) 384-6251.