When my husband and I moved to our current house, one of my goals was to become an expert gardener. I was going to take the 4-acres we lived on and turn it into this masterpiece full of birds, flowers, butterflies. You know, the kind of yard you see in magazines like Southern Living.
But unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. Who knew you had to test the soil to ensure it contained the proper nutrients? Or that oak trees and an abundance of shade would definitely not work for many of the full-sun plants found in Lowes. Then there’s the watering. Too much, not enough… what’s the right balance? It’s enough to drive you mad trying to figure it out! The lesson? Outdoor gardening in Florida is not as easy as I thought!
When the pandemic hit last year, I decided to move indoors. I focused on redecorating a few rooms in our house to simplify things. Less “stuff” and more natural.
I’ve never been a lover of faux plants. Most of the time, they look very unrealistic, and in my opinion, all they do is collect dust. Lord knows I have enough of that around here without fake plants!
So, I decided to try houseplants. A search on Pinterest led me to believe numerous plants thrive in low light conditions. Ones that you hardly had to water and required very little care. They were speaking my language! Pretty soon, my home would be filled with all kinds of unique plants like the beautiful boho living spaces I admired online.
However, as the great Lee Corso says on College GameDay on ESPN, “Not so fast, my friend!”
Indoor plants were finicky too! Grrr.
So I researched and found a plant shop about 15 minutes from where I live called Full Grown Girl. Located in the bustling shopping center, Winthrop Plaza in Riverview, I decided to visit the store to see what they offered. I also wanted to chat with the owner to see if they could help turn my brown thumb into a more greenish color.
I discovered a wonderful family-owned business in a beautifully decorated store. The owners are so lovely and forthcoming with tips and tricks; even the brownest of the brown thumbs will leave feeling confident their plant babies will now thrive and survive!
Scroll down for my interview with Lauren Felker of Full Grown Girl…
Lauren, tell me about yourself. Are you a Tampa native?
My family and I are originally from Ohio. However, when I was young, I moved to the Tampa area – so I pretty much grew up here. I went to Bloomingdale High School.
Why did Full Grown Girl get started?
My mom, Cynthia, has always been the creative one in our family. She was always involved with DIY projects around the house. Or, if you stop into the store and see an elaborate display, it’s typically something she has designed. She’s got an imaginative mind. She wanted to start a boutique gift shop as an outlet for her creativity and love for merchandising and displays. So she opened the business in August 2019 in an Airstream located in the back of Winthrop Plaza. Things went so well that we outgrew the space, and in February 2020 (right before COVID), we moved into the area we’re in now.
How did the business get to a point where you focused solely on plants, and when did you personally join the business?
Before COVID, we focused on selling home accessories, gifts, and plants. But once COVID hit, people were all of a sudden crazy for plants! We couldn’t keep them in stock so we added even more. With people now working from home, they wanted them all over their house, for their desks, bathrooms, everywhere. I think plants gave people in isolation something to take care of and even talk to if they got lonely.
My mom has always had a green thumb. Her landscape is beautifully maintained. And even though outdoor gardening is entirely different from indoor, she was able to research and learn what was necessary to run the shop effectively. So it was an easy transition for her.
For me, pre-COVID, I was a preschool director. I loved working with kids, but when the pandemic happened, my career suddenly changed, and I had to find alternative work. My mom needed help in the store, so I started developing ideas to keep the business active during quarantine. We created an online ordering system where we would stock certain plants and list them on our website. Customers would purchase the items online, then pick them through our contactless system. We set up a purple bench outside the store and put their plant there with the customer’s name on it. Then when it was convenient for them, they would stop by to pick it up. It was really successful.
I believe everything happens for a reason. The pandemic has been difficult, but I’m thankful for the changes that have taken place. Now, I have a new career that I absolutely love and a more flexible schedule where I can be at home when my boys (who are 6 and 9) come home from school.
Do your boys love plants as much as you do?
Oh yes! They love to come in and help around the store. They will water plants or ask to sweep. My 9-year-old has a great eye and offers suggestions on which pot he thinks goes best with certain plants. It’s truly a family business.
What is your favorite part about being a business owner?
One the flexibility. Working when my boys are in school and being at the house when they get home is priceless. Between myself, my mom, and my sister, we can barter and arrange our schedules, so it accommodates us all.
I also enjoy our customers. Many of them are regulars. And, because of the growth of our Instagram page, we have seen many new faces recently. I could talk to them all day about plants. Or, just in general. Maybe it’s the serene environment, but sometimes our customers will come in, and it’s like a therapy session. Our customers vary from plant newbies to experts. So my days are never the same. Sometimes I’m the teacher, and other times I’m the one being taught. It’s a fantastic feeling to do something you thoroughly enjoy.
What advice do you have for anyone who may be thinking about starting their own business?
I highly recommend doing all you can to get your numbers straight and your books in order before opening your doors. It’s exciting to start a business, and it’s easy to hit the ground running then organize later. However, you’ll likely get busy once you launch, so you’ll save time and stress being prepared from the start. Being organized might seem insignificant when you’re making empty spreadsheets, but it’s such a lifesaver once you’re established.
I would also say you need to be adaptable. Just like many businesses, when COVID hit, we had to pivot. Our customers still wanted plants. Even more so as things shut down. So, if we wanted to remain open and profitable, we needed to provide alternative solutions. By setting up the purple bench pickup, we could provide a way for our customers to still purchase the plants they were longing for. And we were able to remain profitable during an otherwise challenging situation. Talk to your customers and listen to their questions, comments, and requests. If you’re feeling confused, lost, or as if something isn’t clicking – they may help you find your answer.
You’ve talked a lot about how COVID impacted the business. How did the community support you during that initial transition?
The community was amazing and supported us by placing orders through both our website and our Instagram account. They appreciated the porch pickup as an alternative when face-to-face contact was not recommended. We were thrilled to give comfort and support back to them (in the form of plants) during what may have been difficult and isolating at times. We truly appreciate everyone who supported us then and continues to support our business now!
Ok, let’s switch directions and get into some indoor plant advice for this National Indoor Plant Week! I’m sure you have a lot to pass along, which I desperately need! Lately, I’ve seen a ton of articles relating to the health benefits of having indoor plants. What are your thoughts?
Oh yes, I definitely agree. NASA studied the top 10 air purifying plants when they were looking to research ways to clean the air in the space stations. So I definitely think there are some benefits. I also think having plants brings people closer to nature. It’s good for the soul and relaxing. Seeing something growing and thriving can be a gratifying experience and give people connection and purpose. Especially now more than ever.
Do you have any advice for having indoor plants around pets or children?
There are plenty of plant-friendly options for both. Most plants are safe for children as long as they don’t eat the leaves or touch a plant then rub their eyes. There are definitely ones to avoid for pets. I would recommend doing some research or a quick Google search on non-toxic plants for pets and children to be safe before purchasing.
Do you have some advice about picking an indoor plant?
Yes, first and foremost, carefully consider where you will be putting your plant and make a note of the kind of light it receives. Is it morning sunlight? Late afternoon? No light at all? About how long does that area get sunlight? Is it direct light or indirect? All of these factors can help you work with someone to pick a plant that will thrive in your specific conditions.
Also, do your research on where your indoor plant was raised. If you buy a plant, even if it says it’s a “houseplant” from a nursery or home improvement center where it was grown outside first, it may not do well inside. Plants that are grown inside tend to adapt to indoor environments more effortlessly. At Full Grown Girl, most of our plants have been raised inside and in low light conditions ensuring a more successful indoor houseplant.
Do you have any advice on caring for an indoor plant?
Every plant is different since it may require different amounts of water and sunlight. However, here are some general rules to follow:
First tip: Start by watering the minimum amount needed for a plant. Most of the time, besides neglecting it completely, the number one cause of something not doing well is overwatering. Even though the potting soil may look or feel dry, the roots may still be damp. So if you water too frequently, you can be adding additional water, which can cause problems. Wait until the soil is pretty much dry before watering again. Typically around once a week. We can help you figure out a watering schedule if you purchase your plant here.
Pro tip: If you see gnats around your plant, that usually means you’re overwatering it. You can put sand on top of the soil to prevent this. However, sand acts as a barrier and traps moisture. Which means overwatering is more likely. Always check the soil to see if it feels dry before watering. Then add just a tiny bit of water as needed.
Second tip: Consider the size of the pot for your new plant and when you replace it as it grows. Most plants do not need a large pot initially. Find something that’s around the same size as the plant base. Then as the plant and roots grow, you can transfer into something bigger. Too much soil around the plant’s roots can result in longer drying times. This can lead to overwatering, and the plant will die as a result of root rot. Instead, start small. As the plant grows, squeeze the plant’s container (if you can) and see if the roots feel hard as you press. If so, it’s time to transfer it to a larger pot. Sometimes this can take up to a year, depending on the original plant size.
You’ve got some amazing pots here in the shop. Not all of them have holes. Do you have to drill holes in them or can you plant something into a pot without holes?
You do not have to have holes in your pot to plant something in it. However, here are a couple of things to keep in mind. Make sure the plant isn’t too big for the pot and water less than you would with one with holes (since the water will accumulate at the bottom). You can add rock or gravel to the bottom of a pot to help drainage and prevent root rot from standing water. The plus to having a pot with a hole is it provides airflow. So if you don’t have a hole, loosely place the soil in the container to allow for air instead of packing it down. Add the soil, then gently shake it, so it fills the pot to the desired height. Lightly water weekly or as your plant needs it.
Are there any misconceptions concerning indoor house plants?
Yes! Usually, when someone new to houseplants shops with us, they have two trains of thought: 1) I need to buy a succulent, they’re easy, and 2) I need to buy a small plant… it’s easier to take care of.
Succulents are prone to overwatering so they aren’t always the easiest. To help with this, when you purchase a succulent we give you a free dropper to help regulate the water.
With tiny or young plants, the roots usually haven’t had time to grow and mature. Also, the soil dries much quicker because of the plant’s size, making it common to overwater… or not water enough. Small plants are very finicky. So, opt for a larger plant with more mature roots. The likelihood of keeping it alive is much higher.
Finally, what are some gifting ideas for plants?
Plants make fantastic gifts! Place one on a tray with a candle for a housewarming present. Birthdays, anniversaries, or weddings – they offer something unique. We have even had customers stop into the store on the way to meet someone for lunch to take with them as a present. If you pick both a plant and a pot, we transplant it while you wait. We always are on the lookout for unique pots and vessels for house plants. You’re sure to find something special for the person you’re buying for.
To learn more about Full Grown Girl, please visit their Instagram, Facebook, or their website. As a special “thank you” to our readers, if you visit their store and mention this article, they will give you 10% off your purchase! (one discount, per customer).
Lauren Felker, Full Grown Girl
11292 Sullivan Street, Riverview, FL 33578
Hours: OPEN Tues-Thurs 10am – 6pm, Friday-Saturday 10am-7pm, Sun 12pm-3pm / MONDAY CLOSED
Questions, comments or feedback on this article? Comment below or contact us! We would love to hear from you. Curious why we love our local revivalists and support small businesses so much? Read 6 Reasons We Love Supporting Small Business.