As long as Kifumi Keppler can remember, she has had a love and respect for nature. In her childhood home in Kyoto, Japan, she grew up among her family’s many bonsai trees — pine, elm, azalea and cherries. The gardens of her city were meticulously cared for, and homes had flower arrangements prepared weekly, enlivening their living spaces.
When she was 7 years old, she begin learning ikebana, the careful art of Japanese flower arrangement. Her uncles taught her every week, sometimes painting the arrangements and sending them home with her, a practice and a test to see if she could arrange her flowers correctly.
Though Keppler, the owner of Exotic Plants LTD., ended up in Sacramento when she was 23 years old on a scholarship at Sacramento State, she couldn’t stay away from plants for long. After graduation and a couple of years as a film editor and producer for KCRA, she started a family and began working with the owner of a local plant business. She became fascinated by the spiritual aspect of plants and their awareness of the world, launching her own business shortly after.
“I chose plants over the hustle and bustle of daily, hard news,” she said. “Gardening, bonsai, treating plants and growing them and nurturing them is therapeutic. … It’s just nice to provide plants that not only environmentally enhance the atmosphere but also bring spirituality” into people’s homes.
Exotic Plants opened in 1972 on Broadway and moved a few times before settling into its current space 10 years ago at 1833 Howe Ave.
For 46 years, it has been a premiere location in the Sacramento region for indoor exotics — orchids, succulents, bonsai and tropical plants — as well as decor and services, such as plant rental and plant care, arrangements, weddings and workshops.
But changes are afoot: Keppler is excited to get a new showroom open at 1525 Fulton Ave, a 10,000-square-foot space on 1 acre. That’s more than double the size of her current 2,500-square-foot storefront.
With the new spot, everything will be expanded: Keppler will be able to set up a patio with succulents and bonsai. She’ll have a larger selection, and more room for her latest artistic venture into preserved, living moss walls.
Keppler plans on increasing her workshop offerings as well, with more plant clinics and hands-on teaching about the creation and care of succulents, orchids, bonsais, tropical plants and terrariums.
Over the years, Keppler has been driven by the aesthetic and the enlivening aspect of working creatively with what she calls “a living sculpture, and living art.”
“I have a lot of creative staff including myself who create a lot of different arrangements and moss walls,” she said. “That’s the fun part.”
Keppler expressed gratitude for her “dedicated, reliable team,” which is made up of several employees who have been with her more than 10 years. Her staff is knowledgeable and serviceable, Keppler said, and she’s told them the most important thing is to “make sure people are happy with what they’ve got.”
In Keppler’s view, anybody can cultivate the skills needed to nurture plants. People who adopt an attitude of not being plant savvy “may not be successful.”
“If we love and care about the plants, they do thrive,” she said. “You know the basics, and you just go from there.”
When she first launched her business, she met Linda Kleeman, an interior designer. Kleeman hired Keppler to assist her with her work on freshening up model homes, outfitting them with oversize palms, like rhapis, fiddle-leaf figs and, during the holidays, 15-foot tall Christmas trees and festive wreaths.
Keppler and Kleeman became close friends while working together the past 30 years, attending church and even surviving a car accident while shopping for plants in Indonesia. Kleeman called Keppler an “entrepreneur of the highest level.”
“She’s a creative artist, an astute business woman, a caring plant conservateur, and her ethics and honesty are beyond reproach,” she said. “She is a woman with a big heart and soul and I have considered it an honor to be her client, collaborator and friend.”
Kleeman said Keppler has created a notebook for her to use with her clients that can help them see what different plants look like in a room setting. She will also consult with them to find out what works for their particular indoor environment, and is very thorough.
“It’s not the same as going to Home Depot and seeing what they have,” Kleeman said. “She will say, ‘This is what works in this lighting, and this is how much water (to use).’ It’s a big help. She’s very trustworthy.”
Plants enhance life, energy and aesthetic, much like art, Keppler said. They are very intuitive and are aware when they are treated well and when they are treated poorly.
“We owe a lot to plants. They feed us, they give us oxygen, they clothe us. We use them a lot in building materials, paper goods, you name it. We take it for granted because they don’t talk back,” she said. “We should return the favor by taking care of them.”