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  • Rod Haenni

Uncommon Plants – Ordering From Specialist Nurseries

By Rod Haenni:

At some point, skilled gardeners exhaust local nurseries for different desirable plants for their gardens. We’re fortunate to have so many good nurseries along the Front Range, but even the large ones get many of their plants from just a few wholesale growers, leaving consummate gardeners hungry for more variety. La Porte Avenue Nursery in Fort Collins, a specialist nursery for rock gardeners, Harlequin’s Gardens Nursery in Boulder, with a wide selection of xeric and native plants, and Sunscapes Nursery, a combination rock garden/hardy succulents/xeric plants nursery in Pueblo are exceptions. Not solely dependent on what is available from large wholesalers, they grow and propagate many of their own plants.

The DBG plant sale offers an opportunity to purchase choice garden plants grown and propagated by the Gardens’, and the Rock Garden and Cactus societies’ spring sales at DBG provide many plants ideal for our gardens and not found anywhere else. The Native Plant Society and High Plains Environmental Center in Loveland now offer a native plant sale too.

Three regional nurseries that don’t do mail order provide native and xeric plants not easily found elsewhere. Chelsea Nursery in Clifton, CO has a wide selection of xeric perennials (Amsonias, columbines and eriogonum to name a few) as well as hardy cacti and iceplants, all wonderfully grown in gallon pots. They list most with clear color images at Agua Fria Nursery, in Santa Fe, has long been a serious grower of natives, including large selections of species cacti and penstemons. They don’t have a plant list on their website but are well worth visiting next time you’re in Santa Fe. If you live in the high country, check out CO Alpines and Wildflower Farm in Edwards, CO. Owner Marty Jones originally designed Betty Ford Alpine gardens in Vail. continues to offer very special plant selections by former owner David Salman.

Once all these resources are exhausted, gardeners must search out of state for gems not found locally to add to their gardens. Here is an alphabetical guide to some of the best specialist nurseries.

Gentiana acaulis 'Krebs', Far Reaches Farm
Gentiana acaulis 'Krebs', Far Reaches Farm

Arrowhead Alpines -

Arrowhead, located near Ann Arbor, MI in a cold climate that mostly guarantees their plants are hardy in Denver, has a very large selection of rock garden plants, shade garden plants, dwarf conifers, species peonies and species/hybrid daphnes. I‘ve ordered daphnes, peonies and alpine plants from them for years. Plants are always shipped promptly, well-packed and correctly labeled.

Brent & Becky’s Bulbs -

Best prices on bulbs of all kinds, including Calochortus, Colchicum, reticulate iris (many varieties) and many small species bulbs suitable for naturalizing. Colchium speciosum ‘Atrorubens’, a deep pink stunner that I haven’t seen elsewhere, was still blooming in November, long after my other Colchicums were finished. Plants are properly packed and promptly shipped.

Maihueniopsis darwinii from Chelsea Nursery in Clifton, CO Photos: Rod Haenni
Maihueniopsis darwinii from Chelsea Nursery in Clifton, CO Photos: Rod Haenni

Cistus Nursery -

An eclectic nursery based near Portland, OR with unusual plants from all over the world, Cistus has a great selection of unusual hardy opuntias, some harder to find delospermas, yuccas, and agaves. A Nolina nelsonii x Dasylirion wheelerii they sell is growing well for me despite its 7B estimated hardiness.

Far Reaches Farm -

I can’t say enough good things about Far Reaches. Owned by two very knowledgeable plantswomen and located in Port Townsend, WA, this nursery has exquisite gentians, peonies, lilies and many other choice perennials, and they add new plants all through the growing year. My new crevice garden is home to many of their choice gentians, all well-grown and thriving.

Gossler Farms -

Larger plants from this Oregon nursery are very affordable. I have gotten very nice daphnes (D. odora ‘Zuko Nishiki’, D. genkwa), dogwoods and Cytisus battandieri from them. They also offer many choice evergreens for our climate.

Mesa Garden -

A world famous New Mexico cactus and succulent nursery that sells seed, but also a large list of hardy cacti and succulents, including rare ones (Pediocactus and Sclerocactus, for example) not found anywhere else. New plant list comes out in January each year and shipping begins as soon as weather permits. Original owners, Steve and Linda Brack, just retired so the nursery is under new ownership.

Miles’ To Go -

Miles provides a very large selection of well grown cacti and other succulents at extremely reasonable prices. Most plants are described with an image, often in flower. He issues Spring, Summer and Fall lists that include new species each time. He grows many plants from seed and frequently lists plants unavailable elsewhere. Large selection of hardy Echinocereus species, Escobarias, some Gymnocalyciums, Coryphanthas, as well as several mesembs.

Plant Delights -

Probably the largest perennial plant mail-order nursery in the U.S., Plant Delights propagates its own stock and offers thousands of different species, many hardy in the Denver metro area, including some exclusives. You’ll find gentians, lilies, agaves, yuccas, rare hardy perennials such as Spigelia maritime, Orostachys ‘Crazy Eddie’ and much more. The website is an excellent reference for any perennial plant enthusiast, plus their large color catalogs (2X/year) with new introductions.

Sequim Rare Plants-

I just ‘discovered’ this excellent mail order nursery in Washington state last summer and got some hard to find Lewisias (rupicola and wallowensis), Manfreda maculosa ‘Spot’ and a hardy Calceolaria arochnoidea. Big lists of Campanulas and Knifhofias, plus many other unusual perennials.

Stony Creek -

A new mail order only nursery in Pueblo specializes in hardy cacti for our area. The owners grow from seed and have many Echinocereus species available nowhere else, plus large lists of hardy Opuntias, yuccas, and other hardy cacti.

Wrightman Alpines -

This New Brunswick based alpine nursery ships to the U.S., and has a huge list of choice alpine plants, most not available elsewhere. New list comes out the end of December, shipping in the Spring.

Rod Haenni begin xeric gardening in the late 1970’s, inspired by plants and landscapes discovered while working as a geologist in the western U.S. His 1-acre lot includes a rock/crevice garden, cactus and succulent gardens, and rare perennials from around the world.



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