Where is……?


“Where is what I’m looking for?” These are words I first uttered years ago in the midst of a spring rush at the nursery. It’s funny, but not too surprising, given the intensity of the ramp up which happens each spring here when the place goes from bare ground and empty greenhouses to a riot of color in pretty short order. It’s stressful, yes, but fun in many ways and certainly there are many moments of satisfaction as the transformation evolves.

I love setting up the outdoor sales area; trying to build it to look like a garden but with an underlying order that enables employees and customers alike to sort through the hundreds of plant varieties in a myriad of categories. Add to this the multiple sizes of nearly every selection, the daily maintenance and external challenges (weather, pests) and there’s a lot to manage.

Sometimes I long for a simpler “widget” type profession but, ultimately, I’m a plant nut and the seemingly limitless subject matter that constitutes “plant knowledge” still stimulates me.

The indoor sales area consists of our garden store and a pretty significant square footage of greenhouses. In the greenhouses the rules are a little different than the outdoors. An artificial climate is created and “crops” are grown based on the anticipated time it will take to bring seeds/seedlings to a finished, saleable size.

Further, the “finished” time needs to match up with an appropriate planting outside date. Thus, a geranium which takes three months to grow and should be planted in the yard around the third week of May needs to be started in the greenhouse about the third week of February.

Like gardening, greenhouse growing can be very challenging with the vagaries of plant nutrition, pH, daily maintenance and pest control all factored in. The end game, however, is exciting-benches of healthy, colorful plants ready for placement in the landscape.

Missoula’s gardeners do face many challenges but, hopefully, find the rewards far outweigh any setbacks. Indeed, the occasional failure usually leads to greater future success in the yard as long as one sticks with it. Everyone, absolutely everyone, can succeed with plants and the choices of what types of gardening to specialize in are numerous- from simple but effective container gardens to entire outdoor lifestyle spaces.

There are vegetable gardens, rose gardens, rock gardens, water gardens, cutting (flowers) gardens and a very long list of other types of gardens all of which are enjoyable, interesting, therapeutic and, definitely, rewarding. Too busy? Low maintenance yet high aesthetic is easy to accomplish. Want to make gardening a central feature of your lifestyle? There’s really no better avocation.

So here I stand, mid spring, observing daffodils and forsythia making their annual statement. Leaves are emerging, seeds are germinating. The nursery is set up but, none the less, requires constant revision to keep time with western Montana’s spring progression.

The weather, so far, has been pretty dreadful but there have been rays of hope. When the sun does show for a few days in a row, look out. People and plants are more than ready for the upcoming season. The one thing is……..aw, dang it, what is that I was thinking of?

Photos by Bob Pettit.

Back to Grow It home page.

Click here to see Grow It archive.



Bill Caras is a lifelong Missoulian whose family has been here over a century.  The family business, Caras Nursery and Landscape, has operated from the same location on S. 3rd W. since 1896. Bill is a plant nut and draws from many years observation of all things related to gardening in western Montana. Still, he says, he learns something new every day.