What’s the recipe for getting Southern Living readers to vote you the best garden shop in Bama? Start with a carefully curated mixture of plants and hard goods that satisfy your customers’ needs. Blend in a friendly staff who become familiar faces to people who shop there. Add a spacious and attractive greenhouse that can double as an event space. Make visiting an extended experience by convincing two restaurants to set up shop nearby. Finally, choose a great location. Voila— Leaf & Petal .
Actually, Leaf & Petal has three great locations in the Birmingham area each with its own personality tailored to the clientele. The first store, located on Cahaba Road in Mountain Brook Village, opened in 1974 and specialized in houseplants, says Leaf & Petal’s head honcho, Jamie Pursell. His family bought it in 2005 and expanded its offerings to outdoor plants, seasonal color, pottery, gifts, found objects, and books. In 2007, Leaf & Petal opened a garden gift shop at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. “A lot of the plants we sell there are collector’s items, such as Japanese maples, unusual conifers, and topiaries,” Pursell explains. This makes perfect sense, as folks who spy a special plant in the Gardens just might want to take one home. The shop also sells gift items, jewelry, books, antiques, and home décor.
The new main store at the Summit in Cahaba Heights is Pursell’s pride and joy. In the midst of tidy rows and benches of annuals, perennials, veggies, herbs, shrubs, roses, and trees stands a beautiful 4,000 square-feet greenhouse with a distinctively Old World vibe provided by reclaimed wood and antique doors and glass. It was inspired by a visit to Petersham Nurseries in London—a favorite of the Royals—that included a tea house. “You get a cup of tea and a little cake and sit among the plants and it’s a real experience,” he recalls. Returning home, he convinced the Crestline Bagel Company and El ZunZun , a Latin-themed restaurant, to open up next door. Leaf & Petal welcomes diners to wander plant-lined aisles with a bagel, cup of coffee, or an adult beverage in hand.
More than anything, Pursell credits the company’s success to an experienced, long-tenured staff, one of whom has been on board since the 1970s. “They’re the core of the business, the keepers of the culture, and the wealth of knowledge,” he says. “Some employees have such close relationships with their customers that they exchange Christmas presents.”
Explaining the simplicity of gardening to beginners is key as well. “A lot of people think they have black thumbs,” he notes, “but when you boil it down, plant care comes down to two variables—providing the right amounts light and water. This is what we tell customers, because the more success they have growing things, the more they’ll keep doing it. Having someone spend $200 and all the plants die is how you lose a customer forever.”
leafnpetal.com , 205-871-3832, 2817 Cahaba Rd. #2322, Mountain Brook, AL 35223 (multiple locations)