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Business Happenings - May 2006

The Plant Geek

High Desert Gardens
2771 S. Hwy. 191
(435) 259-4531

Janis Adkins
Janis Adkins and Joey

The future of the American Southwest depends on water, or the lack of it. Water is a subject that brings out the passion in Janis Adkins, self-admitted plant geek and owner of High Desert Gardens. Janis is a woman with a mission: she wants to convince people of the beauty of native and low-water plant permaculture.

Janis was born and raised in Santa Barbara, CA. When she was 18, she got a job in a flower shop, taking charge of the houseplants, and selling cut flower bouquets. Very soon, she found that she wanted to grow the flowers rather than just pick them out of a cooler. Janis found a job at a nursery and ran their greenhouses for about 5 years. She moved on to another nursery that sold hard-to-find plants and “That was when I started getting interested in unusual plants.” Janis says.

But, like many other Moab’s residents, Janis’ career path took a couple of hiccups along the way. Tiring of the nursery business, in 1986, she quit California and moved to Colorado where she became a river guide, notably on the Arkansas River and Dinosaur Canyons. After 6 years, Janis moved to Moab to work for Canyonlands Field Institute as a river guide. She soon became known as their plant geek because she was always lecturing clients on native plants.

Back into Plants
From CFI, Janis turned to working on the gardens at Pack Creek Ranch. There she built a reputation that got her a job for Sharon Brussels at the Moab Information Center, xeriscaping the property. The MIC got a grant to create an educational garden and Janis made sure that all plants were labeled. At the time, there was some objection from people who pictured a traditional, meaning high-water, lawn and flowers. Janis says, “I was determined to show that you can grow something other than Kentucky Bluegrass and still have a lot of shade trees. We turned it around in one season from waist-high weeds to Buffalo grass and low-water plants. It’s lush.” Today, many visitors compliment the MIC on its desert vegetation.

High Desert Gardens’ reputation extends beyond Moab. Janis has regular customers who come from Denver, Salt Lake City, Grand Junction, and Arizona to fill up their trailers with her plants because of their quality and low price.

In 2002, High Desert Gardens was chosen as the star nursery to visit on the National Penstemon Tour.

This project taught Janis about irrigation and how to put an educational garden together. And a strange thing happened: people were stopping to try to buy plants off her truck. Janis recalls, “One of the Utah Water Conservation folks said ‘Janis, you should really think about starting a nursery’. Other people urged me to do that, and I kept saying no, no, no. It’s too much work. I don’t want to do that. No! Finally I ended up saying OK, I’d better start selling some plants.”

Janis opened High Desert Gardens in next to the Branding Iron. Janis’ business ethic demands that she sell only healthy stock with the customer’s best interests in mind. She says, “If somebody just has to have that Lombardy Poplar that’s going to die, I’ll get it for them, but I won’t sell Navajo Willow, Russian Olive, or Pampas Grass; there’s too much non-native intrusion already.”

The first couple of years were hard, but the business grew and grew and kept growing to the point Janis needed more room. In 2005, Janis bought property and moved her business to 2771 S. Hwy. 191, across from the Stagecoach Grill.

This larger property will enable Janis to follow her passion. The land is bisected by a dry wash, which Janis plans to turn into educational gardens.

Peace Gardens
“My mission for the gardens is multiple. I want many types of gardens out there to show the many different things you can do: dry gardens, wet gardens, tree gardens, butterfly gardens, rock gardens. The whole feeling I want to have is a garden of peace.” The gardens will have shade, rock paths, and benches where people can hang out and enjoy the serenity. Eventually, the plan calls for drinks and sandwiches in a little tea garden. “Selling plants is my job, but everyone has a true path, and I feel very strongly that mine is helping people through adverse times by giving people a beautiful to heal, a compassionate spot.”

And as a businesswoman, Janis knows that a beautiful garden sells itself.

Future Plans
Janis plans to promote educational garden tours and feels that these events could draw a different type of tourist to the area. She also plans to give classes on gardening in the high desert.

One of Janis’ plans “may cause people to keel over,” Janis says with a laugh. High Desert Gardens has always sold trees, shrubs and groundcover, all hardy species acclimated to the desert. This year she will begin selling annual flowers, such as petunias, that can take the heat.

Janis plans to have her Grand Opening at the new location on May 20th at 5:00pm.

The Mission
Turning serious, Janis says, “Utah is the second driest state in the nation, and the second highest in water consumption. Seventy-five percent of that water goes on lawns. Those facts alone make my blood curdle. I’ve always felt that a water war is coming and I’m very concerned about that. If we run out of drinking water, people are still going to want to water their lawns - which one is going to come first? If I can plant a seed (pun intended) of the idea of doing conservation and permaculture, I’ll feel like I did a good job.”

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