A lifetime of loving plants has led this enterprising entrepreneur to grow a dedicated following.
Laura Perdomo’s love of plants first was nurtured as she was growing up in an extended family (one of her grandmothers had 14 brothers and sisters) in the Ocala National Forest, which is well known for its biodiversity.
Although she adopted the family profession of teaching for a while, Perdomo eventually gave in to her gift for growing plants and now has a thriving business, the Peacock Cottage, on East Silver Springs Boulevard.
She says she owes a lot of her current success to being deprived of plants when she left her home in Marion County and started college at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
“My family had a lot of plants growing up,” she explains. “When I went to college at FSU, I was in a fifth-story dorm and I was like, ‘Where are all the plants in my life?’ So, I went to Winn-Dixie and got a little African violet that I put on my windowsill. And I loved it.
“Then, I noticed there were two African violets inside that pot,” she continues with enthusiasm. “So I went online to see if I could divide it. That’s when I saw there are thousands of named varieties and that people will pay hundreds of dollars for certain named varieties. So, I was like, ‘Well, well, well!’”
After college, Perdomo returned to Marion County, happy to be back among her large and close family.
Her mother, father, grandmother, sister and husband Frank are all teachers so, with an education degree, it was natural that she also would go into the “family business.” She taught American history at Marion Technical Institute for 10 years and “loved it.”
While she was still teaching full time, she and Frank spent many of their weekends selling plants at shows around the state.
“We started with the Master Gardener’s spring show here in town and each year we’d add on a couple of shows—Leu Gardens, Kanapaha, Fort Myers… After 10 years teaching and 10 years of doing shows, the business was getting big. Also, we’d purchased the company that created Dandy Pots, a product we’d been selling for years. The company founder, based in Tampa, retired in 2013, and we purchased the business from her.”
It wasn’t long before Laura started thinking about opening a store.
Today, African violets are a centerpiece in the shop, along with the Dandy Pots, which allow water to be wicked up into the soil and are especially good for plants that prefer not to get their leaves wet, like the beautiful violets.
“The plant shows absolutely created the foundation for the shop. Without them, I wouldn’t have had the market and know-how to do this,” she offers. “I’d originally thought I’d do an online business, maybe wholesale the Dandy Pots, and then I thought it could work to have a shop instead of me doing all the work at the house.”
In 2015, the couple rented a corner space at Chelsea Square, on East Silver Springs Boulevard. They painted the walls a vivid purple, installed display spaces, rigged up grow lights and installed plants, along with accessories and items to create their popular whimsical fairy gardens.
She says she made the decision based on hard data and her gut.
“I’m very much a ‘let’s not get too big too fast’ mindset,” she notes. “In 2015, most people wouldn’t necessarily think having a brick and mortar store was a solid decision, but I felt secure with my suppliers and knew the market enough to make it real. You’re never going to be completely ready for it, but make it happen.”
In catering to clients, the niche business offers a vast array of houseplants for home, office or porch as well as terrariums and fairy gardens.
Perdomo says research shows there are many benefits to adding indoor plants to your home or workspace, including happier moods, better job satisfaction and stronger relationships.
Indoor plants can not only make our homes more visually pleasing, but are actually good for your health. They release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide, which not only cleans the air but also eliminates harmful toxins. NASA has done extensive research that shows that houseplants can remove as much as 87 percent of airborne toxins in 24 hours. Further studies have proven that indoor plants can improve concentration and productivity, reduce stress and also boost your mood—which makes them a great addition to either your home or business.
When it comes to business, Perdomo says her favorite part of running hers is “being able to wear all of the different hats. Being able to plan, do the budget, do the finances. I’ve always loved money and budgeting.
“And I love the therapeutic aspects of working in the greenhouse and with plants,” she adds.
She also likes purchasing and stocking inventory, selecting products she hopes will delight customers.
“I can look at a wholesale catalog and think 99 percent of it doesn’t match what my market wants, but that 1 percent that does, it’s like, ‘Oh yes!’ I really love matching up the stuff with customers. Sometimes a customer comes in and I can just see the joy on their face as they see the shop. That’s what makes it really fun.”
She says she has noticed that a lot of millennials and Generation Z’ers are getting excited about houseplants.
“They like that 1970s sort of look, making your house look like a jungle inside with the macramé,” she notes. “That’s really coming back.”
Whether customers are looking for lush foliage plants, vining plants or even plants without flowers, she likes to start them off with something they’re going to be successful with and then build off of that.
“We have everything from a huge plant you can start out with or a little starter size you can nurse and watch grow over a couple of years to get to that larger size,” she explains. “It’s exciting whatever part of the spectrum you are on. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, you can still have an experience.”
And, as you might imagine, her own experience remains rooted in her love of African violets.
“With African violets you create a whole new life just from a leaf. It’s amazing to create and watch,” she remarks. “You don’t have to pay for seeds; you just grow your own. I love the collector’s mentality, finding cool things, propagating new varieties. Since African violets have no season, I enjoy seeing the flowers year-round. I also love them because they are so symmetrical. It’s almost like they have a Fibonacci sequence of beauty.”