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Love plant shopping? A fun new nursery (and older reader favorites)

I can find almost anything online, but some things — plants and blue jeans in particular — should be fondled before buying. We need to fuss over the selection, try 'em on, ask questions. (Does this kalanchoe make my pot look too big?) • I love the variety at plant festivals — Green Thumb is April 26-27 in St. Petersburg — and club and master gardener sales (check the garden calendar Sundays in the HomeLink section). • But if you're on a gotta-have-it-now tear (been there!), you need a brick-and-mortar nursery.

So it's exciting to welcome a fun new one. Very Rarely Gardens, at 4005 S MacDill Ave. in Tampa, aims to be both shop and experience. It has affordable Florida-friendly favorites and the rare varieties that really fire up co-owner Johnnie Jones.

"This is white ixora oderata. It took me two years to find this dude. It's the most fragrant flower!" Johnnie says, guiding me on a fast-moving tour that includes lots of Latin names and extolled virtues.

"Check this out. Milky Way. The flower looks like outer space! It's so cool! ... Lignum Vitae has the hardest wood known to man. It grows 6 inches a year. They used it for the wooden gears on ships and they harvested it almost to extinction!"

There's a lot to see in this 10,000-square-foot space, including vintage yard art, birdbaths, containers and Johnnie's special recipe soil amendments. At some point, you just gotta sit down and breathe. Johnnie and his wife and co-owner, Teresa, thought of that, too. Very Rarely feels like a small park, with plenty of shade, chairs and burbling fountains.

"We want this to be a place where the community can come, where groups can meet or have events," Johnnie says. "We're hosting a fundraiser April 19 for a young lady who needs to raise money for college. We plan to have Friday evening happy hours. We'll rent it out for kids' birthday parties."

"More than anything else, we want this to be a place they can come and have fun learning," Teresa says.

So they (and you) can slip inside a magical butterfly tent. They can pet the Penelopes — three chickens currently working hard on social skills — and they can get their hands dirty with activities like a potting party to make gifts for Mother's Day. ("We'll have beer in here for Dad," Johnnie promises.)

I met Johnnie and Teresa a few years ago on a garden tour. We've been friends ever since. He's high-octane, gives back-cracking hugs and knows a thing or three about plant obsession. She's just nutty enough to be his perfect partner. (That's a compliment, Teresa!)

Together they own Sunset Beach Lawn Care and Landscaping. Before Teresa, Johnnie started the popular Bloom plant shop with his ex-wife. And before Bloom was Bloom, it was Johnnie's Southside Nursery.

"This is my last call," Johnnie says. "I'm going all out."

He is. They did.

Very Rarely Gardens is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday (casual day — bring your coffee and newspaper!) A second, smaller shop is located at Summer House Furniture, at 3620 S Manhattan Ave. in Tampa.)

Penny Carnathan can be reached at pcarnathan49@gmail.com. Visit her blog, digginfloridadirt.com; chat with gardeners on Facebook at Diggin Florida Dirt; follow her on Twitter @DigginPenny.

Readers' favorite nurseries

Where do veteran gardeners love to plant shop? Many of them give high-fives to Lowe's and our local "Farmer Rick's plants" (Riverview Flower Farms) at Home Depot. Here are their recommendations for independents:

Bloom, 3005 S MacDill Ave., Tampa, (813) 805-2151

"Unique plants and garden art. Fun to walk through." Ann Meinking, East Hillsborough

Dolins, 801 62nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg, (727) 525-3434

"Always surprise plants I just must try in my garden." Bill Carr, Plant City

Duncheon's, 2720 Land O'Lakes Blvd., Land O'Lakes, (813) 948-1890

"A pleasant place to shop (and) they have is worm castings!" Darlene Raudabaugh, Lutz

Earl's, 4328 W Pearl Ave., Tampa, (813) 839-6383

"The selection is ever-changing." Carol Ferguson, South Tampa

Green Thumb, 6913 N Sheldon Ave., Tampa, (813) 618-5342

"High on customer service." Katy Carlsen, Westchase

Hardin's Roses, 6011 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa, (813) 839-6151

"Quality and amazing variety of roses." Peggy Sherman, Forest Hills

Hollie's, 20545 W County Line Road, Lutz, (813) 949-6735

"They specialize in providing a lot of Florida plants." Lavinia Krufka, North Hillsborough

Kerby's, 2311 S Parsons Ave., Seffner, (813) 685-3265

"I always think I should take my camera to show my friends up North … but I forget." Teddi DeVita, Valrico

Kessler's Cacti & Things, 1220 LaBrad Lane, Tampa, (813) 601-5047 (by appointment, open house sale 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday)

"One of the coolest places I know to get standard and rare cactus and succulents." Barry Lawrence, North Tampa

Louis Del Favero Orchids, 6601 Gant Road, Citrus Park, (813) 961-8277

"Our absolute FAVE source of orchids." Sue Kirchner, Seminole Heights

Maintain-A-Plant, 13009 U.S. 92, Dover, (813) 659-2164

"She goes the extra mile to get what you want." Eileen Reed, Plant City Garden Club

Manny's on the Bay, 600 W Hillsborough Ave., Tampa, (813) 231-9681

"Often has a plant that I can't find

elsewhere." Patricia McGehee, Town 'N Country

Mitch Armstrong Nursery, plant fairs, heyplantman.blogspot.com

"I can always find the right plant for the right spot with their guidance." Linda Roderick, Weeki Wachee

Whitwam Organics, 7409 N Highland Ave., Tampa, (813) 215-3876

"The best for annual veggie plants!" Tanja Vidovic, North Tampa

Love plant shopping? A fun new nursery (and older reader favorites) 04/16/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 1:33pm]

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