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At the intersection of St. Claude Avenue and Press Street, an unlikely green space flourishes, adding the sounds of gurgling fountains and chirping lovebirds to an urban soundtrack otherwise punctuated mostly by car horns and approaching trains. After opening Harold's Indoor Outdoor Plants (1135 Press St., 947-7554) nine years ago, owner Harold Applewhite says the nursery's verdant stock now covers most of a city block. The shop is also home to three dogs and seven cats, and Applewhite says his customers appreciate the animal attention.
"People walk around with a cat in their arms," Applewhite says. "You know, people who love plants are really a different breed. There's a warmth to them. You never have an irate person in here. You have happy people in here doing business."
Applewhite says his wide variety of affordable plants draws customers from as far as Harahan and Laplace. The nursery is a one-stop shop for all things hortensial, including bedding plants, citrus trees, seeds, fertilizers, tropical plants, garden accessories and pottery.
"We sell tons of herbs. Every herb you can think of," Applewhite says. "I had a nursery in Moss Point, Miss., and there you would probably never sell them. It's amazing, the difference in things people like here."
Applewhite credits his selection of orchids ("We sell 150 orchids a week") for drawing Uptown customers to the store. Between that and the warmer weather, the shop has been busy lately. To his customers, many of whom lost plants to the cold weather, Applewhite recommends bottlebrush tree and Japanese blueberry, both hardy plants that offer attractive blooms.
"We've had a lot of cold weather, and people lose hibiscus and things like that and say they won't plant anything tropical again," says Applewhite, who includes foxtail palms and birds of paradise in the garden of his Old Arabi home. "You can't have a pretty yard if you don't plant tropicals."
Though he has been in the plant business for 27 years and is at the nursery during most business hours (8 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week), Applewhite says he still loves his job with a passion.
"I'm 82 years old, and for an old man like me, nothing in the world is more wonderful," Applewhite says. "In fact, I look forward every morning to waking up and going to work."