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Garden to go

For weddings, an entrepreneur offers an alternative to "crummy plastic flowers'' and expensive fresh ones.

By SHERYL KAY

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 14, 2001


NEW TAMPA -- Most experienced gardeners would find it hard to believe that Rebecca Elles has found success in growing her garden in a 10-by-20-foot space, in the dark, with no fertilizer and no water.

But for Elles, growth does not mean an increase in height or new budding.

As the owner of the English Garden, Elles, 50, of Thonotosassa, is watching her garden grow every time she adds silk flora to her collection, which she then rents out to the public for any occasion. All of her items are stored at Space Plus Self Storage on Dona Michelle Drive.

Elles had spent five years running a trucking company.

"I knew the next business I owned would probably be the last, so I wanted to do something creative, something I wanted to do," she said.

Then she attended the wedding of a friend's daughter, where the decorations included an arch covered with silk flowers, and a few candles.

"I thought to myself, "What a nifty way to make a living, and I can do so much better than that,' " Elles said.

Although she had no business experience with gardening, Elles drew upon a trip to England, where she had visited Sissinghurst Castle in Kent. There, she saw magnificent white gardens planted in the early 1930s by renowned horticulturist Vita Sackville-West.

"It's not only very beautiful, but it's very dramatic, very unique and very bridal," Elles said.

With the motivation, and the picture set in her mind, Elles spent the past eight months scouring the Internet and local retail shops, looking for the finest silk flora.

Today her garden includes fountains, lights, topiaries and dozens of flowers including roses, daises, violets and lilies of the valley -- mostly all white. She says she has spent about $20,000 on the flora alone.

Elles feels that brides in particular will be attracted to her concept.

"All brides have a fantasy about the kind of environment that will surround them when they get married, but with the cost of live flowers, sometimes that is unattainable.

"Well, the bar is not part of that dream. The caterer is not part of that dream. The bride envisions herself surrounded by beauty, and that's what I can provide, and I can amortize the cost of my goods over many events."

Should a customer wish to add certain colors, Elles says she will customize. "I can reinvent it every time," she said. "I put it together as it is needed."

Prices vary. Elles currently offers packages that range from $395 to $1,800 per occasion. Setup time can vary from event to event, depending upon the size of the garden that she will create. Aside from the cost effectiveness, Elles believes that her business will catch on for two reasons: the current superior look of silk flora, and the weather-resistant nature of her product.

"Till now, who wanted crummy plastic flowers at their wedding?" she said. "Silk flora has gained acceptance because the quality has dramatically improved. And in this climate, on a hot day, nothing wilts. Everything looks great 24/7."

Down the road, Elles envisions expansion.

"My ultimate goal is to be able to create a walk-through garden with a maze, park benches and fences," she said. "I want to do this not only for people's parties, but I want to do this in the center of the convention center, where it will rent out for $10,000.

"This is a garden that is definitely growing."

- Elles can be reached at (813) 968-8058. To reach Sheryl Kay, e-mail

skreporter@hotmail.com.

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