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A lover of orchids nurtures business

Residential development provides a rich environment for Keep It Green, which also sells plants and pottery.

Published October 3, 2003

APOLLO BEACH - Brian Grieves figures it's only a matter of time before Home Depot or Lowe's plops down a store in this booming corner of southern Hillsborough, where hundreds of families are buying into new developments like MiraBay.

But for now, the owner of Keep it Green is making the most of his prime location. Being on the southeast corner of Big Bend Road and U.S. 41 makes Grieves' 2 year old business a convenient place for area residents to buy orchids, hanging plants and pottery to fill their new living rooms and back yards.

"With all these new homes, I decided I needed to get a foot in the door before the big guys do," said Grieves, of Culbreath Bayou, whose business sits on 2.5 acres of family land.

"Every day, there's somebody coming in from Tampa Palms or out of state who has moved here, or is considering moving here, and is looking for plants."

There's plenty to choose from at Keep It Green, where a recently built showroom features pottery from Italy, Vietnam and Mexico in eye-catching colors. Planters and wall hangings in the shapes of monkeys, lizards and frogs sell from about $20 to nearly $400 each.

The showroom is next door to the greenhouse where his business started. Grieves and his manager, Ted Menard, built both from scratch.

Row upon row offers orchids in about a dozen varieties including vanda, catalaya and cymbidium. Grieves gets his orchid stock fresh from local growers every week. Bromeliads, banana trees, ferns, ivy, impatiens and lipstick plants round out the inventory.

A few of the orchids are marked with red tags - those are the ones that Grieves isn't willing to sell.

"You get hooked on some of these," he admitted, "and they become like your babies."

Grieves is married, with three children 9 and younger.

His love of garden life started when he was a boy growing up in Tampa. His mother spent hours in their yard, and he recalls being right there with her, planting pansies under the hot Florida sun.

Before Grieves started Keep It Green, he sold equipment to electrical companies. But a few years ago, the 250 orchids in his back yard called out to him.

He bought 5,000 orchids from orchid grower Lin Cook of Wimauma and soon after got the go-ahead from his wife's father and grandfather to start his new career on part of their land.

Grieves estimates he's put more than $75,000 into Keep It Green, including $15,000 to build the pottery showroom. But two years in, he is starting to see profits. Not enough yet to pay himself, but plenty to cover the salaries of manager Denham and one part-time employee, he said.

The business has grown by word of mouth and with attention from the thousands of cars that pass by each day.

Grieves works about 70 hours a week to keep up with the steady flow of customers.

"But I don't really consider this work," he said. "I enjoy it too much."

- For more information and hours call 741-3974.

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