On a Mission

Mary Wen, Jesus Sanchez, Sara Achterhof and owner Peace Mi. Photos by Kamala Kirk

When walking along Mission Street in South Pasadena, it’s hard not to notice Mission Gardens, with its whimsical display of garden curiosities on the front lawn. From plants shaped like animals to succulent wreaths and blossoming bouquets, the shop is a botanical dream come true. Owner Peace Mi, who lives three doors down from what used to be Mission Nursery in San Marino, was a regular customer of the former establishment for years until the owner passed away last year. She had considered buying Mission Nursery from the late owner’s family and continuing the business, but when they told her that they were closed for good, Mi decided to open her own business.

With a background in art history and a successful career as a librarian under her belt, Mi had never worked in retail—but plants have been her passion since childhood. She would frequently partner with her husband, an architect, on his various projects by overseeing landscape designs, and eventually realized that she wanted to open a business of her own. When she came across a ‘For Lease’ sign in the window of a property at the corner of Fair Oaks Avenue and Mission Street, she knew she had found the right place.

“This used to be an antique shop, and before that a used bookstore,” says Mi. “I went to school on the East Coast, so this place has a very familiar feel to it. You feel like you’re in someone’s home.”

Upon securing the location, Mi decided to name her business Mission Gardens after the street it was located on. It opened just before Easter, and they celebrated with a grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony that the Chamber of Commerce attended.

Mission Gardens’ staff includes Jesus Sanchez, a skilled nursery designer who worked at Mission Nursery for 25 years.

“Jesus is the true inspiration for our small, community-based shop,” Mi points out. “His resilience and perseverance after his stroke is particularly admirable.” Sanchez is particularly skilled at topiary designs, creating a variety of animal shapes out of plants. In addition to Sanchez, Mi has several part-time employees working in the shop, and she also hired a recent South Pasadena High School graduate to help with her website.

Mi and her team have created countless flower and plant arrangements, as well as done landscape design and yard work for various homes and businesses across town, including Julienne Fine Foods and Serafina. They are also known for their beautiful centerpieces, flower wreaths, potted plants and succulent displays. Mission Gardens also showcases a lot of their work on their Instagram account (@missiongardens).

“We make so many different types of things,” Mi points out. “Most of the things you see outside are our own designs and creations. Our motto is “Create your own garden.”

Another unique aspect of Mission Gardens are the classes and private events that they host. Groups can bring their own wine and reserve one of the back rooms, where they can create succulent wreaths and other floral arrangements with friends. Mi also organizes children’s parties, where kids learn how to plant mini succulents and paint pots. She has two-session handmade pottery classes, where participants create designs, then return a week later to paint them after Mi has fired the items at her house.

Mi, who was formerly the PTA of Monterey Hills Elementary School in South Pasadena, loves sharing her passion for plants with everyone, including the younger generation, and hopes that by doing so she is encouraging them to develop green thumbs of their own.

“I love plants, and to me the greatest reward is meeting other people who love plants just as much as I do,” says Mi. “I originally thought I’d have the opportunity to carry on the legacy of Mission Nursery after 45 years of establishment, but now I’m happy to have my own place with my creations that I can share with the community.”

Mission Gardens is located at 1026 Fair Oaks Avenue. It is open Tues. – Sat. 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and by appointment on Sunday and Monday. For more information call (626) 427-2922 or visit missiongardens.org.

The Mission Gardens Business Spotlight appeared in the print edition of the South Pasadena Review on 7.27.18.

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Kamala Kirk is a contributing writer for the South Pasadena Review, San Marino Tribune and The Quarterly Magazine. Kamala formerly served as Managing Editor of Beauty Launchpad Magazine, West Coast Editor of American Salon Magazine, and Digital Editor for E! Online. A native of Hermosa Beach, California, she is a proud USC Trojan and pug mom to Wrigley the Pug (@pugofpasadena).