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Shop owner well versed in the poetry of orchids

A Hyde Park Village nook caters to lovers of sensuous petals and to everyone who digs the gardening life.

By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 21, 2003


HYDE PARK -- Christy Shivel lives her dream daily in the most unusual of places: a tiny, tucked-away home and garden shop in Old Hyde Park Village.

A former biologist for the Florida Aquarium, Shivel, 31, is an ardent cultivator of orchids. One day she was trying to figure out what to do with the rest of her life when it hit her: Why not open a store all about orchids?

"It was a blast at the Aquarium, but there was nowhere really for me to go," she recalls. "I had been growing orchids for about 12 years, just pretty ones. I loved them. I also loved the idea of combining orchids into a theme for a business."

But first, a biologist, no matter how good, needs an MBA to open anything, Shivel reasoned. She spent two years getting her master's before opening her shop, the Wild Orchid, in 2001.

Customers browse amid lilting steel drum music and the occasional dissonant squawks of her cockatiel, Buddy. A zany pink flamingo -- human scale and made by an artist -- peers out the window. Children are treated to a handful of fish flakes they can toss into a pool beneath a waterfall where African cichlids swim.

The cash register sits beneath a chickee, and an enormous sculptural tree seems to grow from the wood floors. Amid the fragrant and standard denodriums, phalaenopsis and cymbidium (yes, she can spell the names of all of her orchids) items like glass-topped plant tables and ornate wood and glass terrariums are also for sale.

Tables made of wood salvaged from an old barn on her husband's family farm in Virginia were custom built and sell for $600 to $2,000.

Smaller, less expensive items include colorful Haitian metal art in the shapes of alligators, geckos, dragonflies and palm trees. Delicate toucan and parrot lanterns are imports from Indonesia.

Other items include scented candles; seeds for window box gardens; and strings of decorative interior lights including frogs and, of course, pink orchids.

Customers wandering in to browse linger the longest in front of Shivel's two dozen or so orchids. Prices start at $21.95 for a dainty lady slipper and climb to over $100 for something more exotic. Even if you have a black thumb, an orchid, when in bloom, is a wonderful alternative to fresh flowers on a cocktail table or as a centerpiece.

"A lot of people come in here and start talking to me about an orchid they have," Shivel says. "I always ask them if they got it to bloom a second time. If they did, I know they're hooked."

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