Olga See said she turned her brown thumb green and transformed a hobby into a booming business. Her company, O. See-Em-Bloom offers full-service landscaping and includes a nursery. See, 64, said her fascination with gardening began when she lived in Southern California.
"It really started in Long Beach," she said. "Take a twig and stick it in the ground, and it will sprout there."
Hailing from Namibia, South Africa, See's retained a subtle British accent, though she's been in the U.S. for almost 40 years. She called Louisiana and Missippi home for three years before heading west to Bakersfield.
The trilingual entrepreneur attended the International Business College in Cape Town, South Africa, and worked for Tenneco Oil in Bakersfield. But See, the consummate nurturer, sought certified nursing assistant training at Bakersfield Adult School and went to work at Memorial Hospital; she had planned to pursue an RN degree but a back injury ended that career.
"I was really disappointed," she said.
A couple of years later, See moved to Long Beach where she started an African import business, selling gifts and decorative items. When she moved back to Bakersfield a decade later, she brought the business. Thereafter, an economic downturn put the kabbash on the company.
"In 2000, the whole gift industry declined," she said. "I closed the business."
Unbeknownst to See, the seeds of her new venture had already taken root years before, when she tackled her own landscaping. She did the research and managed the projects with success; by the time she got to Bakersfield and was faced with yet another landscaping project, she acted with authority and folks began to catch on.
"People started asking for my help (with landscaping)," she said.
See continued to increase her horticultural knowledge through research, training and querying other nurseries. She's developed a wide variety of expertise, including xeriscaping, which focuses on drought-resistant plants and flowers.
"We can show people the way they can have an attractive, flowing garden without cacti and lava rock," she said. "There are a lot of plants that have low water usage."
Client Kristin Varner, 51, says she can attest to See's expertise and attention to detail; See has done colorscaping for the Varners over the last six years.
"She'll go the extra mile," said Varner.
See is an active member of the local Trinity Anglican Church. Her longtime friend Dorothy Fitzgerald, 86, who also attends Trinity, says See is a fixture at the church, taking on multiple roles on an as-needed basis. Fitzgerald says See is a wonderful, dedicated friend, and she is in awe of her energy and devotion.
"She's working around the clock," Fitzgerald said of See. "She finds the word 'no' unacceptable."
The big-hearted See is also involved with Shared Blessings, a ministry that supports African orphans. She journeys to Africa every few years on mission trips and corresponds regularly with her pledge, Sam Gidudu, 15; she also co-sponsors another Ugandan student, Isaac Tabu, 15.
"Through Shared Blessings, we sponsor them to go to boarding school," she said. "It's a way for them to get the best education."
The landscaper said public schools in Uganda have 100-plus students in their classes, and they still use antiquated black boards. She's sponsored the boys for almost 10 years and she's watched Sam develop into an enterprising and industrious young man.
"I bought him a goat one year, and it had kids. He sold three goats and bought a cow," she said. "He's very entrepreneurial, growing and selling vegetables since he was 7 or 8 -- probably before that even."
The business owner says she keeps in touch with Sam by snail mail since they have no Internet. But much of her time is devoted to clients, many of whom she works with individually. See offers plenty of options, such as colorscaping; hardscaping, which involves sod installation, patios and paths, rock and concrete, as well as garden structures; and waterscaping -- including koi.
See enjoys puttering in her own yard when she can, but says she gets as much joy from working in other gardens. She attributes her achievements to hard work and the grace of God, along with a love of the business.
"I'm a plantaholic," she said grinning.