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