Alfresco dining takes place among the plants that supply much of the food at the Garden Cafe. /photo by Chris Felker




Lolly McLane turned her nursery into an eat-among-the-plants cafe. /photo by Chris Felker

by Chris Felker

Lolly McLane says gardening is her first love, but she and husband Scott easily shifted into full-time restaurateurs when the opportunity presented itself in the wake of the recent recession.

Business at their 20-something-year-old McLane’s Country Garden, a landscape/garden-supply business in the heart of Sebring, had sputtered.

But on hearing from customers hungering for good outdoor dining downtown, and realizing they already had a ready supply of food from their own garden, the McLanes cultivated what became the Garden Café.

Their bistro fare, featuring homemade quiches, sandwiches, soups, salads, and desserts – made with ingredients plucked from the surrounding garden – has proven popular since Lolly and Scott opened their venture in 2011.

Using a Community Redevelopment Agency grant, they erected a roomy, wooden-truss, open-air pavilion with roll-up vinyl sides. The result has become a local hit and magnet for visitors, and it’s No. 1 for the area on a popular travel website.

Still producing, their peppers go into the cafe's dishes. /photo by Chris Felker

Still producing, their peppers go into the cafe’s dishes. /photo by Chris Felker

Until recently, the McLanes still were selling plants, produce, and colorful hanging baskets out of their garden. Lately, though, they’ve used all the produce in the cafe. What they don’t grow, local farmers supply. “I’m just looking for quality, and they know it, so I get the pick of what I want,” Lolly says.

Their greenhouse is now a hothouse for ripening fruits and vegetables, and they lease space two doors down to an aquaculture/aquaponics operation that supplies fresh greens, herbs, and veggies in season.

“I always thought the restaurant was going to be secondary, that the flowers were going to be the main thing,” explains Lolly, a 57-year-old Salvadoran-American whose bubbly personality is a plus for the cafe’s hospitality. “But,” she adds happily, “a lot of the people love the ambience, they love the food, and they come because of the menu.”

Now, though, patrons are starting to clamor for the McLanes’ hanging baskets again. So Lolly knows – if she didn’t already, from the busy café – that the economy is coming back, and her business is blooming.

If you go:

  • The Garden Café at McLane’s Country Garden
  • 420 N. Ridgewood Drive, Sebring
  • 863-471-0204
  • Open 10:30 am-7 pm Monday-Wednesday; 10:30 am-8 pm Thursday-Saturday. Available for private party rentals.