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TINY TREES BLOSSOM INTO BUSINESS

Decades ago, a couple discovered not only each other, but a shared love of growing bonsai trees.

When Eve and Manson Johnson first opened their bonsai business on Land O'Lakes Boulevard, the street ran through not much more than cow pastures.

"(There) was absolutely nothing in Land O'Lakes," said Eve Johnson, recalling her business' early days. "It was a very small, little town. They didn't even have a McDonald's."

Now, almost three decades later, Land O'Lakes Boulevard is fast becoming a bustling thoroughfare lined with restaurants and strip malls. Shingled rooftops of new homes can be seen from the roadway, too.

And Eve's Garden Gifts is still there.

In fact the couple actually live on their 7 acre bonsai farm, where they grow and sell thousands of the tiny trees. Over the years the business has swelled from a small, home-based operation to a top bonsai retailer, making Eve's one of the leading bonsai distributors of its size in the United States, the owners say.

Eve's Garden Gifts ships the bonsai to Orlando for display at Disney's Epcot Center. Drug store giant Walgreens and Publix Super Markets carry Eve's "lucky bamboo" stalks, too.

But, it seems the folks in central Pasco just aren't hip to bonsai, said Eve Johnson, 48.

"Very few (of my) customers are in Pasco County," she said. "They don't understand the concept (of bonsai). People drive far and wide for the beautiful bonsai."

And Eve can recall her first encounter with bonsai, when she was a teen in New York, volunteering at the local botanical gardens.

"I thought it was the most spectacular thing I've ever seen," she said. "They look like real little trees and you can envision yourself sitting under the tree."

So, as a girl, she started collecting the little trees. Years later, as a student at the University of South Florida, Eve a long-haired, mini-skirt wearing hippy, earned cash by selling her hand-painted clay pots.

That's how Eve met her husband, Manson. He was a USF student and an avid Bonsai collector, too. But, he needed some cool pots to put them in. So, a friend introduced them.

"We just looked at each other and it was just love," Eve Johnson said.

And today, they are partners in their bonsai and bamboo business.

Bonsai are a unique item. With a little care, they can live for decades, Eve Johnson says.

The trees range in price from $10 to $10,000 for the rare, century-old trees. At Eve's there are mini elm, Japanese juniper and Chinese Fringe Flower, and the ponytail palm. There are tiny lemon trees, too.

Recently, a couple whose son had died in a plane crash bought a bonsai instead of flowers.

One Chinese couple ordered dozens of tiny bamboo stalks from Eve's to give as gifts to guests at their wedding.

"Flowers die. Once you cut a flower it starts its death process, whereas bonsai live forever." Eve said.

IF YOU GO

Eve's garden

Eve's Garden Gifts is at 5602 Land O'Lakes Blvd. in Land O'Lakes.For information, call (813) 996-5012 or visit www.evesgarden gifts.com.

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