Surrounded by lush plants, Leah Boston picks up a green snip of Swedish ivy.
Slowly and carefully, she presses its end into a plastic cell of potting mix.
"I'm on my fourth tray," the 49-year-old Glen Burnie woman says.
Boston is among about two dozen people propagating and nurturing plants in the greenhouses of the nonprofit Providence Center. The Millersville-based center operates programs for developmentally disabled adults in Anne Arundel County.
Tucked down a slope in Arnold, the horticulture workshop is not widely known, though it is one of the 43-year-old Providence Center's oldest and sells plants to the public, said Leslie B. Mathieson, horticulture production manager.
She estimated that the center moves more than 100,000 plants a year, many of them grasses for shoreline restoration programs as part of an agreement with Anne Arundel Community College.
In the center's horticulture program, clients learn basic plant care skills and develop work habits, she said. They learn to grow plants from seed and small plugs, to root foliage tips, to repot seedlings in larger pots, and to grow them to retail size - and they clean up the inevitable spilled dirt and brown leaves. Most of the clients come by every day.
"I think it is a nurturing medium. People can see the progress from beginning to end," Mathieson said.
The center will sell its poinsettias, houseplants and other greenery at a "Gathering of the Greens" Saturday, with proceeds benefiting the horticulture program.
Items made by the Providence Center's clients in its pottery, crafts and woodworking studios will be for sale. Local vendors will offer a variety of holiday products and food.
The center has four greenhouses, two of which have ever-changing seasonal offerings. These days, one greenhouse is filled with scarlet, pink and cream-colored poinsettias, ranging from tabletop minis to shrub size. In another, houseplants in 8-inch round pots hang overhead from seven long rows of pipes. Tables hold delicate ferns, chunky jades, textured Pilea, striped spider plants and more, in addition to the 20-cell packs where clients root more foliage.
Fall mums, grown in a plot behind the greenhouses, have sold out. Only a few purple pansies still nod in their pots out front.
Spring and summer feature bright impatiens and other bedding annuals, perennials, herbs and vegetables.
Two other greenhouses are devoted mostly to wetland plants. Besides the community college, the center's customers have included landscapers, homeowners, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Sales vary with the seasons. Some weeks, the program brings in a couple of hundred dollars, other weeks a few thousand, Mathieson said, with proceeds poured back into the horticulture center.
"They look nice," said Shannon Hunt, 39, of Annapolis, showing off a tray of ivies she started from plant tips.
Clients in the half-day horticulture program take home an average of $30 every two weeks.
While some clients graduate to jobs in the community, others, such as Hunt, continue in the center's program, which provides other services and training.
Businesspeople George and Kathryn Harmon of Pasadena have used the center's plants for prizes on their wheels of chance games for more than five years, returning some of the proceeds to the Providence Center, where George Harmon also works as a driver.
"People like the plants," Kathryn Harmon says. The wheels are used as fund-raisers by local organizations.
A small leaf-raking operation began this fall, putting some clients and their supervisors into the community. Mathieson, the workshop manager, hopes she can expand that into year-round work to include lawn maintenance.
"It's good to be outside in the fresh air," Mathieson said. "It's good for people as well as plants."
The "Gathering of the Greens" will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the horticulture center, 370 Shore Acres Road in Arnold. Information: 410-757-7800.