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Making Tehachapi beautiful for 38 years

Grassroots Tehachapi


Rick Gillies has owned and operated Mountain Gardens Nursery and Pet for nearly 38 years.

Most students from Tehachapi High School are familiar with the leaf project.

Each year, science students are asked to complete a special nature assignment. In my day, depending on the time of year that you took the class, you'd either complete a leaf or bug project. Our goal was to locate samples of various leaf varieties or creepy crawlies. I was thankful to fall in leaf season. Both because the idea of catching, killing and then pinning bugs to a board completely repulsed me and because I'm very much a plant and tree girl.

My dad's love of things that grow influenced me, so I knew I had a good partner for this project. I had another partner for this assignment, and he's been helping students distinguish between palmates and pinnates for nearly 38 years.

Rick Gillies, owner of Mountain Gardens Nursery and Pet, educates the students of THS about different leaf varieties every year. Some of the required samples aren't naturally found in Tehachapi, but Gillies makes sure to order trees that specifically fit the assignment.

"A lot of them are really hard to find so they usually come here when they can't find the gingko ... or a compound palmate, which is really rare here," he said. "I order those just to make sure we have them for the kids."

When talking to Gillies, you can tell this project means a lot to him. Evidence on the wall of his office (thank you cards and notes) shows his expertise means a lot to the students, too.

"I have a blast doing that because I never learned that in school," he said. "Almost everyone comes back to thank us after."

Mountain Gardens Nursery has always been one of my favorite places in Tehachapi, and for good reason. It's home to well over 500 varieties of plants and trees during the year. Spring is the busiest for Gillies, but annually, inventory adjusts with the changing seasons. In time for Christmas, there are live and ready to plant Christmas trees, as well as a variety of holiday-themed gifts and ornaments. Gillies said the nursery used to sell precut trees and poinsettias for the holidays, but found the demand went down once larger chain stores, like The Home Depot were introduced to the town.

"There's been a lot of tough times because we opened back when it was a small town. One of the reasons I got into it was because the city council at the time wouldn't allow any large chain stores. The city council has changed. Now we have Home Depot, Kmart and Wal-Mart coming. There's just not as much room for a small business, but I'm still going to try to make it," Gillies said.

When it comes to personalized and quality customer service, Gillies can't be beat. He's always had a passion for plants and landscaping. He and his father-in-law opened their Tehachapi nursery together in February 1980. Along with the storefront business, they took landscaping jobs around the city and throughout Southern California.

Some of his favorite memories are the moments where he and other members of the community donated their time and resources to make Tehachapi more colorful. Some of his favorite moments fall under the aptly named, "Make Something Beautiful Happen" slogan.

The daffodil project was one of these special memories. Gillies donated 10,000 daffodils that were then passed out to volunteers to plant throughout the city. Pockets of bright yellow made the city look extra special that year.

"I had a blast with the daffodils project," he said. "That would be one of my favorite things over the years."

Although the changing business climate of the town and harsh droughts make the nursery business a rough one, Gillies continues to take joy in making Tehachapi a more vibrant place.

"It always feels good to know we're helping to make the city more beautiful," he said.

Do you know an inspirational group, individual or program that should be featured in an upcoming Grassroots Tehachapi? Email me at

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