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Oasis in the Marigny 

First-time visitors might think they've been given the wrong directions until they actually enter Harold's Indoor Outdoor Plants (1135 Press St., 947-7554), tucked beside a railroad track on a dirt driveway off busy St. Claude Avenue. Once they step out of their car, however, they'll feel like they've been transported to a Garden of Eden in the middle of the Marigny.

Harold's is packed with lovely fresh plants of all types, from blooming begonias to towering palms, lots of citrus trees, tropical flora of all types, orchids, poinsettias, bamboo and more. Walking through the expansive selections in the mostly fresh-air nursery is more like walking through a lush garden than shopping at a retail business.

"I wanted the ambience of this place to have a garden feel -- not a garden center feel," says owner Harold Applewhite, who started his business selling plants in the French Market in the 1980s. He later founded The Plant Gallery with businessman Kenny Rabalais, and two years ago left that firm to operate his own business. "I'm a good buyer and I have a good cross-section of merchandise," he says. "We probably have the healthiest plants [around]; we're good mothers here."

The truth of that statement is evident when you walk through Harold's, which is home to four dogs, two cats and dozens of wild birds that peck around the walkways and perch in the plants, adding a sense of serenity. In addition to the flora, Harold's also carries a full range of garden accessories, including watering instruments, fertilizers, moisture testing kits, a range of decorative pots, fountains, water balls, arches and more.

"People will come out here and say, 'You just have everything,'" he says. His reputation for filling people's needs brings him customers from all over the metro area, LaPlace and even farther away. Harold's also rents plants for conventions, parties and other functions, and sells plants to other local nurseries. He also will add a full-service florist to his business soon.

One of the draws to his business, Applewhite says, is the knowledgeable and attentive service of his workers, whom he considers more than just employees. "The people who work here are interested and helpful," he says. "This is part of their life. They're part of my family."

Applewhite says he also wants to be an asset to the community around his shop and hopes to acquire property behind the nursery that currently is undeveloped and often is used as an illegal dump site. Expanding his operation not only would help get rid of an eyesore, he says, it also would help him develop his garden center into one of the biggest and best in the city.

Great Decorating Resource
In the almost five years since she opened The Great Room (2330 Lapalco Blvd., Harvey, 368-2552; www.greatroominc.com), interior designer Racheal Apken has made the 2,500-square-foot store a testament to her philosophies about how people can get the largest impact for their design dollars.

Just 15 minutes from downtown New Orleans, the West Bank shop draws customers from all over the city who are seeking unique furniture, window treatments and accessories for their homes at prices that won't require a second mortgage.

"You don't have to have a gazillion dollars to come in here," says Apken. "And you never know what you're going to find. We try a lot of different things (including original artworks, fanciful lamps and even handbags) and see what people like."

Much of her merchandise reflects the tastes she has found that her interior design clients have liked or unusual items she has found along the way. The showroom also boasts lots of options for custom-ordered furniture, a wide variety of fabrics that can be used for upholstery and, one of her specialties, custom draperies and window treatments.

"I do residential and commercial projects ranging from one-room to million-dollar houses," she says, adding that she can just place accessories or do the entire interior design for renovations or new constructions. "We specialize in custom drapery and very unique home furnishings. In the store we have mostly accessories Š and a few reproductions of French antiques, unusual things you couldn't find at normal retail stores." Apken also carries well-known brands such as Trapp Candles and Lampe Berger fragrance burners as well as silk cord covers and custom bedding and linens.

As word about her store spreads, Apken has attracted customers from all over the city, including the lakefront, Lakeview, St. Charles Avenue and elsewhere. She hopes more people will learn about the products and services she offers when she participates in a design program on the new Diva radio station (WDVW-FM 92.3).

Getting the Word Out
In January, Gambit Weekly will expand this section to include news about special sales, trunk shows, store events and expansions. To submit information for the weekly column, please fax Kandace Graves at 483-3116 or email her at kandaceg@gambitweekly.com. Information should be submitted at least 10 days before publication date.

click to enlarge There is always something blooming at Harold's, a surprising floral oasis hidden among railroad tracks and the bustle of St. Claude Avenue in the Marigny.
  • There is always something blooming at Harold's, a surprising floral oasis hidden among railroad tracks and the bustle of St. Claude Avenue in the Marigny.
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