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In 1929, Hazelhurst, MS. became a more vibrant, alive and just a tad more controversial with the birth of Harold. Even at a young age, people who knew him always said the twinkle in his eye was there early and his mischievous ways blossomed at a young age. He landed a degree in Biology that led him to his love for plants way back when. After his run in the US Air Force, he opened an Air Conditioning Business. The last remaining relic from that period is an old metal wall thermometer hanging in the shop now. He simultaneously started Transplants, a plant store in Pascagoula that kickstarted his weekend sales in the historic New Orleans French Market in the early 80’s and at one point it was open 24/7.
When Harold first moved to NOLA, he quickly befriended some of the liveliest characters that matched his own personality and wit. One of those trailblazers was Miss Dixie, who opened one the first gay bars in NOLA called Dixie’s Bar of Music in 1939. Miss Dixie took Harold in as a roommate on Bourbon Street until he could find a place of his own. They were buddies and hell raisers and they had parties weekly that mimicked the crowds Miss Dixie’s bar would attract. Gay, straight, business men and women, homemakers, prostitutes, politicians, musicians, writers, and artists all could be found within their walls, porches and courtyard. This is when Harold decided New Orleans would be his home.
From that little spot in the Quarter, he opened the place where we are now and eventually the name changed to Harold’s Indoor/Outdoor Plants. It wasn’t a glamorous location. It was seedy. It was rough. When he first occupied the space, there was a used car lot in the front and side of an old house facing St. Claude Avenue. There was an upholstery shop under a lean-to facing the rail road tracks. Our current main building was a mechanics shop still being used for cars back then. He set up a register in our large greenhouse. The greenhouse flooded during major rains so he used old pallets to walk above the waterline. The greenhouse still floods today. We considered raising the floor with new concrete but it would cover up old sets of tracks that used to carry coal bins to and from the rail road next to Press Street. Years ago and before the upholstery shop, the old mechanics shop and our current garden center, it was an old coal yard. Horse drawn carts would deliver coal to local homes. Some things here tell a unique story and those tracks remind us of what it was. There was an old 18 wheeler trailer with a huge sign that said “Plants” on it. We used to keep pine mulch dry in the early 90’s.
He made do with what was around him. He wasn’t fancy and occasionally he used common sense. Of course there is always room for improvement and the rusty, raggedy trailer wasn’t particularly sentimental. We had it hauled away and it opened up the space where our herbs, veggies and water lily ponds are now. Since the 90’s, there’s been a few changes to our little oasis we call Harold’s. Marais Street, behind the block we are on, was abandoned. It was littered with stolen and burned out cars. There was massive trash dumps by uncaring folks. Huge piles of tires, and trees growing in the middle of what was once a road didn’t lend beauty to the area by any means. Harold’s took on the task of cleaning and leveling the 2900 Block of Marais Street because that’s just what you do. You see something in your neighborhood that needs help/fixing, and you fix it.
It’s a similar mindset that Harold himself had years ago when he moved to Old Arabi. He lived on Mehle Street that runs into the levee flanking the mighty Mississippi River. He thought it was terrible that his street had no trees lining it, so he mustered up enough people, and help from local authorities and planted 100 white crepe myrtles all the way down Mehle St. to the river. Every time I drive down Mehle and see the trees growing on each side, I think of that old curmudgeon that had a vision. Now, Harold’s is a fixture of the St. Claude/Bywater neighborhood and a part of the fabric of this wonderful city. Progress doesn’t happen overnight. Many moons revolve around the world and every day we’re given is an opportunity to make life better for everyone around us.
Now the next wave of stewards have taken the reins and the once unwanted and unrecognizable space between the rail road tracks and Montegut Street is slowly becoming a small sanctuary. It’s a sanctuary for a local business that may not have had a chance without a little vision from plant and animal lovers. Recently we’ve started planting large clumps of bamboo for natural shade in the Summer. Surprisingly, those clumps have become a haven for birds that are most noticeable in the early mornings and late evenings. Soon we’ll have large live oaks planted to add to the city canopy and to add to the garden/park feel instead of just a regular garden center which it has evolved into over the past years. A pergola with wisteria seems simple, but as Harold’s evolves organically, ideas seem to rise from the brick filled ground through ideas from others who pass through the gates.
There isn’t just one fingerprint that can be found here. Many, many hands have left their marks here and will continue to do so as time goes on. We are excited to see the next transformations and the future of this tiny little patch of ground that New Orleanians and friends from all over have embraced as their own.
Plant Lovers for Plant Lovers.
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