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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her blog, digginfloridadirt.com; chat with gardeners on Facebook at Diggin Florida Dirt; follow her on Twitter @DigginPenny.