Longtime, family-owned nursery continues to bloom

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Billie and Joan Harding still live on the property of the nursery they started in 1957.

“We grew up in that house,” one of the Hardings’ two daughters, Debbie Bradley, said.

Her sister, Sharon Harding-Shaw, added, “Our parents are getting older, of course, but that’s why we like that we are all just right here — they get to see us every day.”

After she and Terry Shaw married in 1979, the couple began working at Harding Nursery Inc. off Powers Boulevard.

“I’ve worked here basically my entire life,” Harding-Shaw said.

Meanwhile, Bradley joined the family-owned and -operated business full-time in 1990.

“I love it,” she said. “I think it’s fun to be with all the family every day, and it allows us to easily bounce ideas off of each other.”

Over the past 60 years, the nursery has quadrupled in size from its original 3 acres.

“What we are is a retail/wholesale nursery,” Harding-Shaw said. “We supply trees and shrubs, perennial and annual flowers, ground covers. Anything that a customer would want to put outside in a yard, we carry it, including decorative items, bird baths, fountains and some really beautiful pottery.”

The family expanded the business about 30 years ago by adding a 150-acre growing farm near Calhan, where Terry and Sharon live.

“We actually start plants from seeds and cuttings and grow them up,” Harding-Shaw said. “We also ship in a lot of plants as well.”

Bradley says they are “very selective” when it comes to what nurseries they purchase plants from.

“The things we do buy and bring in come from nurseries that have been around for ages,” she said. “We also try to give a lot of customer service and answer people’s questions.”

The nursery’s busiest time of year is the spring; however, it is open year-round with pumpkins for sale in October and Christmas supplies such as trees and freshly made wreaths available in late November and most of December.

“We actually transform our office out in the nursery and make it like a Christmas workshop,” Bradley said, adding they normally kick off the festivities the day after Thanksgiving with Santa Claus for the children.

“Then, January is really quiet,” Harding-Shaw said. “February, we start planting seeds for the tomatoes and peppers, perennial flowers, and we pot up roses, which is really something that our customers have come to love and appreciate.”

One of the biggest challenges for the family is having to manipulate and grow their plant stock.

“A lot of times, with the younger customers, they have a smaller space to work with, which is something different for us from the past and has caused us to change and add to the varieties that we carry,” Terry Shaw said.

For instance, the nursery bred a dwarf version of the Colorado blue spruce, which only grows 8 to 10 feet tall compared to the species’ traditional 50- to 75-foot height.

“We strive for our customers to have the best success in their landscaping,” Harding-Shaw said. “We try to grow things we know can have success here in Colorado because it can be difficult to grow here because of the weather. The hail can be so devastating and the dry winters. Plants also don’t love temperature fluctuation.”

Harding Nursery is a member of Plant Select, which is a nonprofit collaboration among horticulturists, Colorado State University and Denver Botanic Gardens.

The partnership’s mission is to “seek out and distribute the very best plants for landscapes and gardens from the intermountain region to the high plains and beyond.”

“They plant test trees out here [in Calhan] because they figure if they grow here and in Cheyenne, Wyo., they will live about anywhere,” Terry Shaw said. “We are considered one of the harshest conditions.”

The nursery’s involvement in the project also allows staff to find better plant products for customers.

“We actually help our customers design the area they are wanting to plant their purchases in, including helping them sketch it out,” Harding-Shaw said. “If someone wants to be taken around and shown every plant, our sales staff goes with them and shows them whatever they want to see. They take them out and tell them about the plant, so the customer doesn’t just have to find it and go to a register. That’s probably what separates us the most from box stores.”