Growing Annuals, Perennials and Gardeners
Brandywine and celebrity tomatoes, lemon cucumbers and pimiento peppers, zinnias, cosmos, hollyhocks and nasturtiums: when it comes to procuring the very best seedlings, savvy home gardeners in the lower Roaring Fork Valley have a secret up their sleeves. That secret? The Colorado Rocky Mountain School (CRMS) annual plant sale, held every May for over a decade at the school’s organic garden learning center in Carbondale.
Featuring plants specially selected to thrive in our local environment, the sale boasts roughly 300 varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowering annuals and perennials. With local gardeners often regarding Mother’s Day as the marker to safely plant outdoors, the sale is always right on time—and for many it has come to signify the unofficial beginning of sweet, sweet summertime.
“The plant sale is a huge fundraiser for us every year,” says Heather McDermott, CRMS garden program director. “All of the proceeds go back to helping the program. The team of students and I have been working for months to prepare.”
McDermott brings a wealth of experience and know-how to her position. After studying agriculture at Green Mountain College in Vermont and running a farm there for 10 years, McDermott and her husband Jared relocated to Colorado to work at Osage Gardens in New Castle. After five years with Osage, McDermott seized the opportunity to head up the esteemed CRMS garden program in December 2015.
“Since then, I’ve just been preparing for the upcoming growing season,” she says. “I’ve got about 12 kids helping this quarter, and they come to work in the garden in small groups throughout the week. A lot of our work has been focused around the plant sale—seeding, transplanting, and potting.”
Colorado Rocky Mountain School’s garden program began in the 1990s, and today it’s stronger and more vital than ever. Students have a choice of joining “service crews” each quarter—doing service that ranges from gardening or recycling to ranching or even helping in the on-campus bike shop—so the garden program is just one area where they are able to gain real-world experience after classes have ended for the day.
Senior CRMS student Mary O’Sullivan is working in the garden for a second quarter this year. “I’m from Chicago, where I lived in a townhouse,” she says. “We had a few flowers outside at home, but nothing close to this. I had always been interested in gardening but had never really done it before coming to school here.”
Freshman Lily Saubestre, a Carbondale resident, is working in the garden program for the first time this spring. “I have always loved plants and gardening—and right now I’m thinking I might want to go into botany someday. Plus it’s just a good life skill to have,” she says.
“CRMS is founded on the idea that building a strong work ethic helps build stronger personalities,” McDermott notes. “In turn this helps create a better community for all.”
McDermott reports that in addition to providing invaluable learning experiences for the students, the garden program also supplies roughly one third of the produce utilized in the school’s kitchen. For CRMS, the trendy farm-to-table movement has been a way of life for decades; every autumn, students and staff harvest vegetables and fruits from the school’s 1.75-acre garden that they bring inside and could be eating within a matter of hours.
“Storage crops like onions, carrots, winter squash, potatoes, plus fresh early-season vegetables like salad greens, asparagus and radishes—all of these things are grown here, plus so much more,” she says. “All of it goes right to the school’s kitchen.”
It’s no wonder that local gardeners flock to the CRMS plant sale every spring. The school has demonstrated an inspiring commitment to high-quality homegrown produce for years—and the sale is an extension of that promise. This year local gardeners can look forward to choosing from 50 varieties of tomatoes, 40 different herbs, over 100 types of flowers, and more than 80 vegetable plants, from arugula to zucchini.
Arrive early—the secret might just now be out.
The CRMS plant sale will start Saturday, May 14 at 9 a.m. and continue Sunday May 15. Watch for updates at Facebook.com/CRMSOysters