If starting the day with fresh-picked exotic fruits harvested at their peak of ripeness appeals to you, it might be time to start packing for that Polynesian vacation. Otherwise, simply reimagine your own yard as a lush, leafy tropical paradise that is not only attractive, but creates an appealing year-round pipeline of fresh produce.
That is exactly the sort of dream that Jené VanButsel can bring to fruition by helping homeowners to bypass traditional ornamental greenery in favor of substituting more fruitful trees, shrubs, and vines.
“You can fill your yard with fruit trees that ripen at different seasons. You’ll have fruits all throughout the year,” says the owner of Jené’s Tropicals. Based in St. Petersburg, the business specializes in citrus and tropical fruit trees and also offers hard-to-find fruit plants and select herbs. This is where to go to grow everything from mulberries to coffee beans or lemongrass to lychees.
Whether installing trees in a spacious lot or designing a garden to make the most of a few square feet, VanButsel stocks plants of all maturities and multiple varieties. That allows your tastes to run towards non-native plants like Brazilian cherries, cashew trees, or passionfruit, or align with Florida mainstays like mangos, avocados, and citrus fruits. Novices as well as experienced gardeners can create a customized palate-pleasing mix that may be yielding homegrown, handpicked fruits for years to come.
VanButsel’s knack for running a successful plant-based retail business comes naturally. Her mother, Joan Henniger, owned and operated Log Cabin Garden Center, a booming blooming business based in St. Petersburg for 36 years.
In 1987, VanButsel branched out to launch her namesake landscaping and installation operation. From that initial inventory primarily of citrus trees and rare tropical and exotic plants she acquired on road trips to South Florida nurseries, the business has grown to include a variety of garden plants, whimsical yard art, and nourishing products used to help plants flourish.
During the COVID quarantines, demand for fruit-bearing plants soared. That trend continues as customers from across the Tampa Bay area, and even throughout the state, arrive at the less-than-an-acre lot, to purchase plants in anticipation of enjoying the freshest possible bananas, figs, starfruit, and more.
“With these trees, you have a landscape that is lovely to look at and you are able to enjoy the fruits of your labors,” VanButsel says. To the extent that they can, she says, “people like to live off of their land.”
The St. Petersburg native hosts a Saturday-morning broadcast on local AM radio, featuring everything from gardening tips for controlling plant pests to dishing the dirt on inferior soil. She says she tries to buy from other mom-and-pop businesses, avoids using pesticides, and is adamant about abstaining from genetically modified plants.
But her true passion lies in helping others discover new fruits, or reuniting international clients with familiar flavors of their homeland.
VanButsel says that with such a rich variety of tropicals to choose from—including hundreds of varieties of mangos alone—“there is more to life than apples and oranges.”
6831 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; (727) 344-1668