Friday, February 16, 2018
Business

Sayonara for Eve's Garden, landmark bonsai business in Land O'Lakes

LAND O'LAKES

Evie Lynn's business survived a house fire, extensive road construction that interrupted traffic, her divorce and the Great Recession.

What Eve's Garden couldn't overcome, however, was its own growth, the return of escalating real estate values and the onset of redevelopment along Land O'Lakes Boulevard (U.S. 41).

So Lynn is packing it in. Her bonsai nursery, warehouse, retail gift store, koi pond stock — even her own house — are going on the auction block today. She is moving her operations to 55 acres in Groveland, where she and her husband of two years, Michael Stuckenberger, will grow bonsai, raise beefalo, breed Rottweilers and open an agritourism venture.

It brings to a close to one of Land O'Lakes' most recognizable businesses. The marble foo dog statues and an ornamental gate beckon passers-by to an enterprise that got its start nearly four decades ago in Lynn's Lake Padgett Estates home.

"I don't know why I have a green thumb,'' she admitted.

Regardless, she has 30 varieties of bonsai plants, including a few from China that are almost 100 years old. She also grows lucky bamboo and palms. Her plants — about 90 percent of her business is wholesale — have decorated Disney World, and her customer list has included Publix, Winn-Dixie, Walgreens, CVS and 30 shopping malls during holiday seasons. The gift store inventory includes everything from six-piece Buddha sets to Zen garden kits, sun catchers and ancient Chinese coins.

It is all up for grabs. Higgenbotham Auctioneers is handling the sale of nearly 7 acres that fronts on U.S. 41 and abuts Lake Helen on the east. Also being sold is the remaining inventory and Lynn's personal residence, which she rebuilt after the original was destroyed by fire in the early 1990s. The auction begins at 10 a.m. today at 5602 Land O'Lakes Blvd.

Lynn, who turned 57 last week, started growing bonsais as a child. Prior to moving to Land O'Lakes at age 10, she and her mom picked up the skill during their frequent visits to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. It was a hobby, then a way to earn money while attending the University of South Florida. She eventually formalized the business, and in 1983 bought a patch of dead citrus trees on two-lane U.S. 41, cleared the property and opened Eve's Garden. The gift store in front came later to take advantage of the drive-by traffic.

Now, there are six lanes of vehicles zipping by her property. It's one of the reasons for her move.

"It's not out in the country anymore,'' she lamented.

Using commercially zoned land for an agricultural operation also made less sense, she said. "It's just too valuable for what we're doing on it.''

This isn't the first time the property has been on the market. She had a $3 million deal circa 2000, but then came two orders for more than $3 million worth of business, "so we couldn't leave.''

She tried again in 2007. She planned to partner with a developer, and the idea called for a six-story building of town homes overlooking the lake, with commercial space available and a restaurant next door. But the Great Recession hit, and nothing ever materialized.

This time, she's bypassing a traditional real estate agent and heading right to auction in hopes of selling the property more quickly. If all goes according to plan, closing will be within 45 days. The business employs 12, she said, and all plan to continue working at the Groveland location.

Lynn said she is not melancholy about leaving her community of the past 47 years.

"It's not the way it was,'' she said. "It's so busy. It's so developed. I don't know anybody in this town anymore. I mean, listen to those cars (on U.S. 41). It's unbelievable.''

Later, however, on the shore of the lake, she recalled a childhood of playing on a rope swing above the water and being pulled on a flat board behind a motorboat.

"This,'' she said, "is 37 years of business and life on this property.''

   
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