Olathe & Southwest Joco

Larry and the Fan-girl: A tale of horticultural wonder

Susan meets her horticultural crush, Larry Tsevis.
Susan meets her horticultural crush, Larry Tsevis. Courtesy photo

It began with a mystery plant.

It was my annual pilgrimage to the best garden center. Locally owned, every surface covered in plants. There’s nothing fancy about this place, so if you prefer your plant shopping experiences with good lighting, well-marked shelves and music…go someplace else.

I love everything about this nursery, from the huge, healthy selection to the humid air and skinny aisles.

“Not sure what this is, but they look maple leaves.”

The plant I was showing my daughter had variegated leaves, several salmon-colored, bell-shaped flowers drooping on two skinny stalks and no tag. I was smitten. I didn’t care how big or small it got, I just needed to know what kind of sun it needed, if it was an annual, or hey, how about a name? It didn’t matter, I was going to buy it and figure out how to grow it. No tags, no problem: into my cart it went.

My daughter pointed to a man working over a big pot of Burro’s Tail. “Ask him.”

I grabbed my mystery love from the cart. “Do you know what this is?” I asked the man who was dividing the big succulent into smaller pots.

“Yes,” he answered. “A house plant.”

I gave him a look that said, “And…”

“It’s a flowering maple.”

I’m one of those people who will give short answers to anything until someone gives me a conversational cue to gush forth my knowledge. I felt like Burro’s Tail Guy was one of my people.

“So, it has to be inside?”

“No, no,” he said with a smile. “You can grow it outside, but bring it in in the fall.”

“How big will it get?” I asked.

“Big.”

“Tree big?”

I had crossed the knowledge-gush line and in return I got a master class on flowering maple care and keeping. I learned that if I thought it was beautiful in June, it was going to blow my mind when it bloomed again in the middle of the winter.

I went beyond puppy love with the flowering maple – I was planning a beautiful future with it.

I shook the man’s hand and thanked him.

“I’m Larry” he said

“Susan,” but then I paused. “Not Larry of Larry’s Nursery? I joked.

It wasn’t a joke. It was Larry. We were in his nursery.

Larry was famous to me. I was thrilled, no – I was fan-girling, pure and simple. I had my daughter take our picture. To me this was a very big deal and I couldn’t wait to share brag about meeting the man, the myth, the Larry.

I posted the photo on social media and…crickets.

That evening I asked the baseball parents, “Do you know Larry’s Nursery?”

More crickets. I’ll spare you the speech about supporting local businesses that the team parents heard, but I was shocked that no one knew.

I was also bummed. Did they not know what it takes to be in business for 46 years? Did they not appreciate the wealth of horticultural knowledge he possessed and that he had shared some of it with me? It seems the answer to both was, “no.”

The next day I stopped at another (locally owned) nursery looking for a pot to put my new houseplant in. I struck up a conversation with a man who worked there, managed to slip my brush with Larry in…and I finally had my bragadocious moment. I even took out my phone to show him the picture.

While it felt nice to share space with someone who shared a nerdiness with me, it didn’t match the feeling of the encounter captured in that photo. That’s when I realized that the giddy moment doesn’t come with bragging, the electric thrill comes from crossing the timeline of a person who I admired.

It may have begun with a mystery plant but ended with a houseplant, a lovely memory and a valuable lesson learned.

And, yes, I named the plant “Larry.”

Susan is a Kansas City based writer and podcaster. To listen to her women’s history based podcasts or read more of her writing visit www.thehistorychicks.com or www.susanvollenweider.com.

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