BROOKSVILLE — Among the detritus common to flea markets everywhere, horticulturist Jerry Wetherington has created a refreshing enclave of natural beauty at the Airport Farmers and Flea Market, near the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport. Under the leafy canopy resides Wetherington’s Rainforest Botanicals.
From sleek cypress knees to slabs of pecan trunks, stoic cedar branches, knotted mangrove roots and native Florida driftwood, the retired college professor offers the forest bounty as works of art. The shop features the widest selection of species and unadorned wood pieces in the area.
"Nature’s the artist," said the 82-year-old outdoorsman, who has been travelling and collecting design specimens for five years.
As for launching a retail shop, Wetherington said, "I just enjoy keeping busy. I like the wood. I enjoy meeting people." He admitted that his collected bounty was "sort of" overflowing his Floral City home, garage and yard.
Retired from his college career since 1994, Wetherington said he wanted a full-time job "not at all." The two-day-a-week flea market commitment fits his elder lifestyle.
By default, he’s still a teacher, suggesting how customers can use naked wood in their home décor. For instance, a 6-foot-plus cedar trunk serves as the foundation for a waterfall fountain. A cypress gnarl nesting a trio of air plants becomes a tabletop curio.
A woodworker on a recent weekend eyed Wetherington’s slab slices of bark-edged sawmill waste and envisioned a mantle piece. Wetherington nodded agreement.
Diane Burmann, owner of Transformed Treasures in Brooksville, specializes in shabby chic furnishings. She said she’s unsure if wood au naturel fits in the same category, but said, "I can envision a décor with those materials in it."
Pricing the wood pieces is difficult, Wetherington said. "Pricing is almost all labor, the time to make it beautiful."
Sculpture-size woods sell for as much as $1,000, and frequently are purchased by professional decorators who stage business showrooms, professional offices and stately residences. Homeowners with moderate budgets can find pieces from $40 to $100. Crafters snatch up smoothly weathered bits of wood, $1 to $3 each.
While the unusual woods first attract customers to Rainforest Botanicals, most sales are of plants: tropical ferns, bromeliads and carnivores. Individual exotics are priced as low as $5.
After a long career teaching horticulture at Tri-County College in western North Carolina, the Wetheringtons returned to his native Florida. He launched his hobby-business two years ago at the flea market. He called it "the natural thing when you like woods and plants."
He never wants to retire.
Contact Beth Gray at [email protected]