For 40 years the Olivers have tended their nursery, growing plants from cuttings and seeds. It all began with advice from Mom's backyard garden.
By LETITIA STEIN
Published March 12, 2004
RIVERVIEW - Forty years ago, Warner Oliver's mother shared the secret to her garden.
Cut a branch - about "half the size of a used pencil" - from a grown azalea plant. "Slant the top of the the stem," said daughter-in-law Gloria Oliver, snapping scissors at an azalea.
"Pull off all the leaves on top but two."
She nudged the cutting into soil. Water liberally, snip judiciously. Most plants like a mixture of peat and perlite, but hibiscus and pittosporum thrive in white builder's sand.
In an hour, Oliver could fill several trays with more than 70 rootings. From there, it would take the azaleas several years to mature into the flowering plant that sells for $6 to $8.
Patience was among the many discoveries that Warner's mother, Carita Oliver, made in her backyard garden in Orient Park. Her lessons on growing plants continue to inspire her son, Warner, and his wife, Gloria, at Warner's Nursery in Riverview.
Warner's Nursery grows almost everything from scratch - or rootings, as the Olivers call them. Their azalea, ligustrum, viburnum, hibiscus, pittosporum and purple famosa plants start as rootings. The palms, oaks and maple trees are planted from seeds.
"It's fun to look at all this stuff and say, "I did that with my own two hands,' " she said. "Been here 40 years, so it's kind of grown with me and my husband."
Both raised in Tampa, Gloria and Warner met in junior high. The couple opened their farm, Plant Time Nursery, soon after the birth of their first child, Bryan, who now is 42.
Business flourished with the rootings.
"We raised three children on it," Gloria said. Over the years, little but the name has changed at the 3.2-acre nursery behind their one-story family home. A rusted sign asks drivers to "blow your car horn. Thank you."
To make ends meet, the Olivers juggled other jobs. She drove school buses for a time; he worked for the Anheuser-Busch plant for 13 years. Warner now runs a small irrigation and landscaping business out of the nursery.
Times changed around Warner's Nursery. Bloomingdale Avenue sported just two lanes when the newly wed Olivers arrived, the same month as President John F. Kennedy's assassination.
Now Gloria blames traffic speeding along a four-lane artery for slowing business.
"The have to go so fast, they can't take their eyes off the road to see the nursery," she said.
Competition from super stores has not helped. "It's not so much retail now as there used to be, with the Lowe's and the Home Depots and the Wal-Marts," she said.
Since Warner's Nursery sells mostly perennials, which do not require replanting each year, the Olivers have few regular customers. So only a few people noticed when the couple placed a tiny for-sale sign in their front yard several weeks ago. After 40 years, the Olivers are considering retirement.
No developer has nibbled yet, but a Walgreens is opening soon about a block away at Bloomingdale Avenue and Providence Road.
The Olivers predict that it's only a matter of time.
Warner will continue the sprinkler business. Gloria would like to move near the Alafia River, if they can afford a house there. With a backyard garden, like Warner's mother.