This Lutz shop helps gardeners grow
By B.C. Manion
Motorists buzzing down US 41 are likely to notice the bright teal blue lean-to, which houses Annie’s Garden Shed. It’s the kind of building that sort of just shouts for attention. But its bold color is only an over-the-top introduction to a subtler visual feast that awaits anyone who takes time to stop at the garden shop, at 100 Fourth Ave., NW, just off US 41 in Lutz. The shop originally opened in November 2007, on the other side of the highway, just about a mile to the south. But owner Patti Schaefer decided to relocate – opening at her new spot on Dec. 1 — in an effort to gain a more solid foothold.
“I needed a more permanent home — or something I could see as a more permanent home,” Schaefer said, explaining she wasn’t sure of the owner’s long-term plans for the land she had leased for her original location. The shop has moved, but it hasn’t changed its focus: “We’re trying to turn people into gardeners.” The idea is to find out enough about a customer’s personal situation – in terms of their yards light exposure and their watering habits, to help them choose plants that will thrive after they take them home. The shop gets its name from Schaefer’s grandmother, whom the Lutz woman characterized as being a source of inspiration — “more in life, than in the garden.” Schaefer fondly describes her grandmother as being fun, a risk taker and a crazy gardener. “It wasn’t unusual to see a rose bush next to an avocado plant that she stuck in the ground.” When it comes to taking risks, Schaefer, it seems, inherited a strain of that trait from her grandmother. She began planning her business well before the recession began, but the shop opened just as the economy slumped. Managing a new business through a recession has been scary, Schaefer said. There were times when it was truly touch and go. “When I was planning this move, I was very frightened about whether I was going to make it or not,” she said. “There was a period of time there, I was crying every day.’’ Even now, it’s a challenge. “There has been no easy money. We still work very hard for every single dollar,” said Schaefer, who has two employees, Karyn Ademek and Helen Cantrell. From the beginning, though, she has tried to position her shop as an alternative to garden centers at major retail centers. “I have to really make myself the complete opposite of the big box stores,” Schaefer said. “There’s no competing with them on their terms. “We’re really all about service. We carry stuff out to people’s cars. We’ll talk about plants until their (customers’) eyes glaze over.” The shop offers a wide selection of plants, pots and garden décor – with items ranging from plaques with inspiring quotations for gardeners to metal sculptures of garden art.
Herb gardeners can choose oregano, chives, lavendula, tarragon, pineapple sage, thyme and different varieties of basil for $2.49 each. Other plant choices include antherium for $9.99, blue daze for $1.99, allamanda for $4.50, cat whiskers for $4.25, emerald lace for $1.99, Joseph’s coat for $1.99 and Platycodon for $1.99. The shop also offers container classes every Saturday, at 9:30 a.m., ranging in price from $18 to $38 per class, depending on the type of container used. The classes attract as many as two dozen gardeners at a time, and has been a crucial part of the business’ ability to weather the tough economic times. Her regular patrons have helped immensely, too. Experts continue to express doubts about the economy, but Schaefer is sensing some glimmers of hope. “The recession is easing up,” she said. “The fear has lifted.” She is proceeding on that basis, with long-range plans to create an inspiration garden – where she hopes people will want to meet for special gatherings. To learn more about Annie’s Garden Shed call (813) 949-2600 or go to www.AnniesGardenShed.com.