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Do you kill plants, Tampa Bay? This business offers a safe, ‘groovy’ plant space

A Tampa couple runs their plant business with a vintage camper named Flora and laid-back vibe.
Plante La Vie co-owner Monet Izquierdo arranges the plant pop-up shop at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park's Winter Village in Tampa.
Plante La Vie co-owner Monet Izquierdo arranges the plant pop-up shop at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park's Winter Village in Tampa. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Dec. 6, 2022|Updated Dec. 10, 2022

TAMPA - Monet Izquierdo and Matthew Wolmer have this card they hand out at their business called Plante La Vie. It’s meant to reassure the kind of plant-buying customer who claims to have a black thumb or the ability to make a plant’s leaves droop just by standing near it.

“Here’s how to keep me alive,” reads the instructive card featuring a specific plant.

With their website slogan “groovy plants guaranteed,” the millennial couple’s burgeoning Tampa plant business has a distinct retro-hippie feel. They operate from an awning-covered outdoor retail space at 2301B S MacDill Ave., and from a 1967 retro camper-turned-mobile-greenhouse named Flora, which they trailer around town. Through January, they’re selling plants from one of the pop-up shops in downtown Tampa’s Winter Village by the ice rink at Curtis Hixon Park. Begonias to peperomia, their wares range generally from $5 to $65.

“It’s such a fun business,” said Izquierdo, 30. “No one’s mad when they’re buying a plant.”

Recently engaged, the two live in an Ybor City bungalow with rescue pit bulls Poleia and Meelo. She has a bachelor’s degree in biology and teaches Pilates; Wolmer, 32, came from a New York sales job in search of a more tropical life.

At the beginning, he bought fake plants at Ikea to decorate his place and impress her. Fake? Never again, he said.

So how did you meet?

Both: Online.

Wolmer: Funny story. I moved down here without a job. That January I thought: I need to go back. A week after that I met Monet, and it was game over.

We have the same birthday. She’s two years younger. We matched on Hinge. After the first date I texted her: Okay, what are we going to do today?

How did you both land in Tampa?

Izquierdo: I grew up in Alabama. Went to college there. Honestly, I stuck my finger on a map. By myself, didn’t know a single person, just me and my dog.

Wolmer: I got really kind of exhausted from that city life. I knew I wanted a tropical life. One visit, that’s all it took.

Did you know you wanted to start a small business?

Izquierdo: I think that was from our second date — we both were clear we wanted to be entrepreneurs.

Wolmer: Monet handles all the marketing and content. I can do the strategy.

Izquierdo: I do TikTok, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram. He has a really good eye for picking out really different, unique plants.

So why plants?

Izquierdo: It was a passion project of mine. The accumulation of them was just enriching. There was something about waking up on a weekend and going to a market or plant show ... something nurturing in the chaos.

Wolmer: We did a van-life trip (for ten days in California during COVID.) We rented a camper van.

Izquierdo: I think what that trip really showed us was being immersed in the woods where you don’t have to worry about anything but food and taking nature in.

Wolmer: It just was a fresh perspective for us.

How did Flora the mobile plant camper come about?

Wolmer: (In California) we would drive down the coast and see the line of camper vans ... We thought, let’s get a camper and have a mobile greenhouse. (But the pandemic made them pricey and hard to get, he said.)

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We wanted to find a shell camper so we could build inside it. Finally I found one. It was sitting on someone’s property in South Carolina for 30 years ... no flooring whatsoever. It was missing half a roof.

Izquierdo: And we were like: “This is it!”

Plante La Vie owners Matthew Wolmer and Monet Izquierdo with their mobile greenhouse named Flora, created from the shell of an old camper.
Plante La Vie owners Matthew Wolmer and Monet Izquierdo with their mobile greenhouse named Flora, created from the shell of an old camper. [ Courtesy of Matthew Wolmer ]

Your website says “groovy plants guaranteed” and you emphasize educating customers. What do people who are uncertain say when they come to you?

Izquierdo: I think the No. 1 is “I kill everything.” People send us pictures: “My fiddle is dying.” Whether you’ve purchased from us or not, we support you in the journey.

Wolmer: We find a lot of people overthink it when it comes to plant care. We mess up, too. We kill plants, too. We don’t kill as many as we used to.

Izquierdo: We have plant loss.

Wolmer: Every plant has a different way to be taken care of.

Izquierdo: Normally, I like to know their lifestyle. Are they the kind of person that waters everyday? Are they they kind of person that travels a lot?

Somebody bought a snake plant today. She said “I kill everything.” I said “Well, this one you can’t.”

What are the hot plants? What do you like?

Izquierdo: There’s a philodendron called Florida Beauty. It’s a climber. That’s my favorite.

Wolmer: I’m a big Hoya fan. They’re really nice, full trailing plants.

We also have rare collector plants — a philodendron, Pink Princess. The other would be the Monstera Thai Constellation.

What is it with our fascination with succulents?

Izquierdo: They’re very airy and beautiful. They’re so many colors. They’re not like flowers that die in a week.

Is business going well?

Wolmer: Especially this year. (Besides farmers markets with Flora) one thing that came kind of organically was apartment complexes. They can purchase a plant and then walk back to their place.

We’ve had opportunities to do interior plant design. We don’t ever see Flora going away, but we definitely see interior as part of the business.

We’re getting into plant walls, too, like in office spaces.

Izquierdo: I don’t do anything in the ground (such as landscaping), but anything in pots, I got you.

Wolmer: Our whole goal comes back to creating a fun, loving, safe space where you can ask questions without judgement.

Will there be plants at your wedding?

Izquierdo: Oh yes.

Wolmer: And everyone will be going home with one or two.