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A home-grown business

(ran CI, HT editions)

Out along U.S. 41 N in Inverness, about a mile past Kmart, you can see an older man lounging on his Cub Cadet lawn tractor, selling roses.

The gardener has two large beach umbrellas shading the vases full of roses. He also has a two-way radio at his disposal so he can reach his wife if he needs a special order arranged quickly.

The gardener and his wife, who he says is the real green thumb behind their successful rose garden, are Elwood "Woody" and Merle Faltinowski, 72 and 67.

The couple have grown roses in their front yard and sold them for more than 30 years. One of their first customers, who still buys the roses faithfully, just celebrated his 36th wedding anniversary.

"He started buying roses from me when he was just a young man courting his wife," Mrs. Faltinowski said.

She started her original rose garden in the 1960s with three bushes for 50 cents and three cereal box tops. Her garden now has 150 bushes, fewer than in the past few years.

Standing at her work table, which her husband built for her years ago, she said, "When we started out with those few bushes, we had no intention of ever selling any roses. But I would keep seeing another variety that I liked, and as I got more bushes my husband started complaining that it was costing more to feed the roses than it cost to feed us!

"People started asking to buy them, so we decided to and that is how it all got started."

Mrs. Faltinowski said she recalls selling a dozen roses for 75 cents in 1965; her price now is $12 a dozen. The vase arrangements her husband sells by the road go for $5.

Because of their one-on-one contact, personality, quality of roses, reasonable price and the wonderful smell that permeates the air around the rose garden, the Faltinowskis have established quite a customer base.

Though tending their garden may seem like a bed of roses, Mrs. Faltinowski said it actually is a great deal of work.

There's the spraying, pruning, picking and fertilizing and those ornery pests such as thrips, aphids and spider mites.

"Sometimes, after three days of spraying," Mrs. Faltinowski said, "he will say to me, didn't you say we were going to retire? And sometimes I get aggravated when the bugs are getting ahead of us, and I think about how nice it would be just to stay indoors in the AC.

"But you know what makes it worth it all, is when someone drops by or I get a letter in the mail from someone talking about how much their bouquet of roses that they received lifted their spirits and how they appreciated them."