photography by Michael Nielsen
During my tenure as Shelter editor for The Lakelander, there was one obvious recurring theme: an unabashed love of plants. In nearly every spread styled by our Shelter team, green things were tucked throughout, bringing each scene — both interior and exterior — to life with plucky vivacity.
Turn off South Florida Avenue onto Easton Drive (across from Southgate Shopping Center), and you’ll see the Green House Garden Store, a shop on a little plot of land in the heart of Lakeland. With its handmade sign, orchids in the window, and vines overgrowing the building, the whole place looks as though it sprung from the ground in a magical burst of tropicalia. This shop has been both muse and resource time and time again for The Lakelander, whether styling the Usonian house at Florida Southern as a dreamy residence or writing a houseplant guide for the brown-thumbed of Polk County. Owner Jarman Peacock and his wife, Sara, have created an enclave of tropical paradise in their store. Customers come from miles around to query Jarman’s expertise as they build their own oasis, specimen by specimen.
The Lakelander: Jarman, as you say on your website, you left a career in landscape design in Miami to move back to Lakeland and open the Green House Store. Some folks would say you’re nuts for doing that. What brought you back home?
Jarman Peacock: I did practice as a landscape architect in Miami for many years, and I lived on Miami Beach, which was pretty awesome. Every 20-something in Florida really ought to live there for a few years just to experience it. But starting a business in Miami is a very expensive process. The cost for renting or buying space is breathtakingly high; you are basically competing with Prada for retail space. Finding something with an outdoor area or easy parking is even harder. I did have a small indoor version of my store in Coral Gables for a few years, but a garden store needs to have a garden. When my wife, Sara, and I decided to start a family, the thought of spending the next few decades in a condo or a zero-lot-line house just wasn’t that appealing. Miami is Florida’s global city, and the energy and culture is truly unbelievable, but at the end of the day, Lakeland is a much easier place to run a business and raise a family.
TL: With the rise of big-box home-improvement chains like Lowe’s and Home Depot, an independent garden store has become a rare thing indeed. What would you say not only differentiates you from those places but also keeps your customers coming back year after year?
JP: The big-box store question: I get that a lot. You know, homeimprovement stores are great for drywall or 2x4s, but they just don’t do plants very well. I liken it to buying your groceries at a gas station. You’re not going to find the same things at a Racetrac as you would at a Publix. So, if you want plants actually grown in Florida and not trucked in from a greenhouse in Ohio, shop at a local garden center. You’ll be much happier with the results.
If you want plants actually grown in Florida and not trucked in from a greenhouse in Ohio, shop at a local garden center. You’ll be much happier with the results.
TL: In my case, the Green House has definitely been habit-forming. I love that I can come in, latte in hand, and meander around while my kids stare into the pond hoping to see a koi fish, and eat those tiny fruits off the ginger we call “Jolly Rancher Ginger.” It’s not a place to visit in a hurry. It’s a place you can come, hang out while you shop, and possibly even make a new acquaintance or two while you’re there. What experiences prepared you most for what you do now — opening a shop that is not only a shopping destination but a community in and of itself?
JP: Well, I worked at Disney World all through high school and college. I think every teenager in Lakeland would be wise to get a summer job at Disney. As a teenager it can be daunting to be friendly to someone who wears a full burka, or who only speaks Japanese, or someone with severe disabilities. That, however, is the only way you get to see that we are all amazing people. We just look or sound a little different, or need a little extra help. I have carried that with me my whole life, and I have tried to make the Green House an oasis business, in the spirit of Walt Disney, where everyone is welcomed with a smile and respect, no matter what. Equally important, however, is that my parents, John and Virginia, owned a gift and antique store downtown for about 20 years. That’s where I learned the practical side of the business, like keeping a tight mailing list, understanding profit margins, and smart merchandise purchasing. I talk with them about the business every week, and I always learn something I could be doing better. They could really teach a workshop for small business owners; they are such a wealth of knowledge.
TL: What have you enjoyed about working with The Lakelander over the last two-plus years?
JP: I love working with The Lakelander. Really, for a city of our size to have a locally published and designed magazine of this caliber is outstanding. It seems like it’s really starting to function sort of like how newspapers once did, reporting on all that is good with Lakeland, the things that are going right, the people that make it such a wonderful place to live. I really can’t even read the paper much anymore. It’s just crime and violence and not much else. The paper makes you want to run in your house and lock your door and never come out. The Lakelander makes you want to be outside and go to the Polk Museum, stroll around Lake Morton, stop for lunch or coffee in Dixieland, and maybe enjoy a glass of wine alfresco before heading home. To be a part of the city — that’s really what it’s all about.
TL: How much of a Floridian are you?
JP: I’m a pretty serious native. I live with my wife and two little girls in the home my grandparents built here in the 1930s. I go back to great-grandparent Floridians on both sides on my family. My two favorite stories about them: My father’s grandparents lived on Reddington Beach, and in the 1940s there was a tsunami, actually a set of three with the third being the biggest. It washed through the house up to the second floor. I have never seen anything written about it, but in the ’40s hardly anyone lived on the barrier islands. Maybe it was an earthquake or undersea landslide in Mexico, but they sure don’t ever mention tsunamis to homeowners on the Gulf very often! My mother’s grandparents lived in Jacksonville and had a garage apartment they rented out. One of their renters in the 1920s was Charles Ponzi — the Ponzi scheme guy. Of course, he could only pay them in land deeds, so they ended up with lots of his land parcels in North Florida. His scam was that they were only a few feet wide, so if you only bought one or two there wasn’t much you could do with it. He was eventually arrested again and deported back to Italy, but the land is still in the family.