What is the company’s history?
The story of Dōnath Lake Greenhouses goes back many years to my desire to open a retail greenhouse in Colorado Springs. Getting that done took a back seat to pursuing my graduate education at CSU, where I worked as the floriculture greenhouse foreman and pursued research that eventually led to my doctoral degree in 1969. Subsequently I became a professor at CSU, designed and created the Plant Environmental Research Center and organized the Colorado Bedding and Pot (container) Plant Association. At my son Jeff’s encouragement, my retail greenhouse dreams came to life in 1991, when we purchased 54 acres of a horse hay farm near Dōnath Lake reservoir. We opened our greenhouse the following year. We initially had a five-acre nursery, but dropped that operation in 2005, as the big-box stores came to town.
What’s unique about the company?
In 2009, we started the Dōnath Lake Container Vegetable Village. It was designed to help us identify and evaluate the best performing vegetables for our region. Volunteers from our container vegetable workshops and Master Gardeners plant and maintain the village, while keeping a close watch for pests, diseases, and any other plant problems. Volunteers can use any of the produce in their own gardens and report on its performance. People are encouraged to visit the Village throughout the summer. Spring vegetable transplant sales are good and people always see what is in the greenhouses; thus, the veggie test program opens customer doors in all phases of our business. We have a motto: “We have the largest selection of proven vegetable transplants in Northern Colorado for sale in the spring.”
What markets do you serve?
We grow and sell bedding plants, herbs, some key perennials, and small fruit plants. We seed or propagate most of what is sold, but ship in the restricted items. No poinsettias or Easter lilies are grown. Our retail operation is seasonal; we’re open just from April through June. Recently we’ve been ‘discovered’ by a growing number of landscape maintenance companies that like our quality bedding plants.
Is labor a challenge for you?
Fortunately, it’s not. We’re a very small operation. Jeff does all the propagation and growing, and uses one additional employee for transplanting and retail operations. I assist when and where needed.
How do you keep customers coming back?
Jeff watches the industry very closely and carefully selects new varieties that he can propagate or purchase and grow successfully in our area. As a result customers have great confidence in our plants, both the tried and true as well as the new and different varieties. Several customers know we desire to have new species or varieties of plants, so they often tell us the results they have had or seen, and we will consider having the item available next year. Their observations help us avoid selling poor performers and give our customers added confidence and more reasons to come back! In fact, on opening day, some customers visit just to see new or different plant materials. Also, each spring we hold workshops on container vegetable gardening, flower containers, and home greenhouse planning, design, construction, and operation.