Spadefoot Grand Opening
A New Native Plant Nursery is opening in Tucson
Spadefoot Nursery Grand Opening
Saturday, July 6, 2019
2831 E Broadway Blvd, Tucson, AZ 85716
Grand Opening Details
Spadefoot Nursery has been opening up shop for what they call “soft opening” dates during the month of June. Starting in July they will be open 5 days a week, Wednesday through Sunday.
On Saturday, July 6 Spadefoot will be open for regular hours (8am-4pm), and then, starting at 7:30pm, will celebrate the grand opening with a small party, open to the public. Founder of Spadefoot Nursery, Petey Mesquitey will do what Petey Mesquitey does. Owners of Katy Gierlach and Jared McKinley will talk about the intentions and goals of the new nursery. During this evening, attendees will have a chance to chat with Judy Mielke, author of Native Plants for Southwestern Landscapes, and get their books signed. Carianne Campbell of Strategic Habitat Enhancements will talk about biodiversity and the work being done in urban areas to support pollinators. Robert Anthony Villa will entertain us with his violin.
Mostly we want to have a nice shindig to thank our supporters who helped us, in one year, begin to realize our vision.
Spadefoot Nursery won’t have oleanders, pansies or petunias. They will be focussed on providing plants native to the Southwest USA and Mexico. “We will make a few exceptions” says Jared, “namely vegetable garden plants, fruit trees, and a few botanical curiosities here and there. But our goal is to get people to pledge to grow 80-90% regionally native plants, which is what we do at our own home.”
Native plants are important to the local fauna. They provide shelter and food. And while humans take up more and more space on the planet, there is less room for the wild things. Katy says, “We want people to see their backyards as corridors for the butterflies and birds that travel through our communities.”
The folks as Spadefoot Nursery believe that human needs and the needs of nature don’t need to be in conflict. “Most of it is just education”, says Jared, “we’ve been taught to see insects and immediately try to kill them. But our plants need insects too. They are pollinated by them. And that means WE need insects. So much of our concern with pollinators usually concerns non-native honey bees, which are important for many crops. But the importance of the other pollinators has barely been looked at. Those insects are suffering and nobody is paying attention. Well, some of us are. And we’re trying to help people see their yards as one place they can actually have a positive effect on the planet.”
Spadefoot Nursery encourages their customers to never use pesticides. They practice what they preach and don’t ever use them in the nursery. Jared says, “Even if we have a problem, instead of trying to battle some insect with chemical warfare, we just accept failure. It’s actually a good economical decision too, because once you go down that road, using pesticides opens up more problems, which causes the need for more pesticides. We have few problems at our nursery. We use organic plant foods, inoculate our plants with compost tea (full of beneficial organisms), and focus on meeting the needs of the plants since stressed plants are the ones that often succumb to disease.”
Katy says, “After going through cancer, we’ve tried to limit our exposure to the things that feeds cancer, especially plastic and pesticides. It’s not easy, especially with plastic. That stuff is everywhere and difficult for the consumer to avoid.” Spadefoot Nursery will soon sell compost, potting soil, and organic fertilizers in bulk, not in plastic containers. They will encourage customers to bring their own containers, or put a deposit on reusable containers to be returned to the nursery when transport of materials is done.
Most of all Spadefoot Nursery wants people to celebrate the region. Starting with our landscape, using native plants is not only better for the environment, it’s more appropriate design. Jared says, “Native landscapes don’t look like attempts at self-deception. And maybe this is why Tucson is the best place for Spadefoot Nursery. Tucson loves its palo verdes, creosote bushes, ocotillos, and saguaros. There are less grass lawns to be seen here. People live here BECAUSE it’s the desert, not DESPITE. We also encourage people to allow plants to have their off seasons. People don’t always look their best and the same is true for plants. They sleep, take breaks, have messy hair days, and we need to allow them to do that, not assume something is wrong or yank them out when they look less than verdant.”
Spadefoot will be open full time starting this July, summer hours being 8am-4pm. In addition to selling native plants and horticultural/landscape needs, they will be providing classes to teach people about the natural history of our region and how to garden and landscape considering that natural history.
You might recognize Jared & Katy from other ventures: from their work with Edible Baja Arizona, to their pop culture events at places like the Rialto, Club Congress, or La Cocina, or at least you’ve seen their wacky promo videos for said events.
But over the course of the past year they’ve been “going back to their roots”. Jared R. McKinley came to Arizona because of the plants, “I wanted to live where saguaros and agaves were native”. Back in the 1990s he actually owned a small plant nursery while doing research with Drylands Institute, learning much from one of the greatest botanist of the southwest USA, Richard Felger. At the time he was also president of the Tucson Chapter of the Arizona Native Plant Society. But when the early 00’s came along, Jared decided he needed to take a break from plants, and pursued other interests: booking clubs, event planning, acting as associate publisher of Edible Baja Arizona, he even went to massage school.
Katy Gierlach grew up with plant nerds. Her father is the famous Petey Mesquitey of KXCI’s growing native (and also singer of the honkey tonk band The Dusty Chaps). He was the nursery manager of Desert Survivors for many years, and was instrumental in getting them to focus on native plants. Katy remembers helping dad make lots of cuttings in their home in Cochise County, the famed Ol’ Guajolote. She is accustomed to making several roadside stops to ID plants (a habit which she now possesses)
Katy and Jared met and became enamored of each other in 2013. Jared had been in the midst of launching Edible Baja Arizona and Katy was soon roped into the project. As a team they helped bring in the funding that made eBA the biggest Edible magazine in the country (there were more than 80 edibles, and eBA was twice the size of the next largest which was Edible Manhattan).
In 2017 they had planned to start a new publication (Meow Magazine) and were in the throes of launching when Katy was diagnosed with breast cancer. All plans were put on hold for the publication, and all efforts went toward helping Katy overcome that terrible disease. To make things worse, some time after that, their main co-conspirator, Mark Garity (in charge of design and web programming) passed away. This final push made them decide to put aside the magazine idea (publishing is a very stressful industry) and go back to their roots.
Jared says, “It was sort of an accident. We were talking to Petey and I asked him what he thought if we helped him retire by selling some plants on the weekends from his nursery. I made a few phone calls to some friends and suddenly we were planning more pop-up sales. We launched with Cultivate in the spring of 2018 and were surprised at the positive feedback.”
Katy was just finishing with chemotherapy and the two talked it over. Growing native plants, and doing their part to help restore the local flora (and thus the fauna) seemed much less stressful and something the world needed a whole lot more than another publication. And they could still use their marketing and promotional skills but apply them toward educating new audiences to the importance of native plants.
Over the past year since the spring of 2018 they’ve been selling plants at farmers markets, at their own pop-ups throughout Tucson and southern Arizona, and at events like Cultivate, and the spring and fall bazaar at Mercado. Jared says, “It’s been a lot of work, having 4 sales a week--you load and unload the car several times a day, driving all over the place. At these sales we can only showcase a very small percentage of what we have at the nursery. To date we have over 300 species of plants, and you certainly can’t bring that to a farmers’ market sale.”
This spring they were approached by their friend Jennifer Bauman Ollman, owner of Jen’s Organic Home on Broadway. She had a space they might be interested in for a nursery location--the land right behind their retail shop. This turned out to be the perfect size and location for them--something they could grow into, but wasn’t too large and expensive.
“We’ve started this business from scratch” says Katy, “and we don’t want to get into a bunch of debt before we even get started. We want to own our own business and not get desperate and look for investors who often take over the idea, or let you do all the work and then claim ownership. We’ve been down that road and are trying to learn from our mistakes.”
This summer, Katy and Jared will be transitioning from doing the nursery part time to doing it full time. Jared works at Obon Sushi, Bar + Ramen and Katy works at Tap & Bottle.
Katy reflects, “Both Jared and I have had wonderful support from our employers. We love our jobs, and the people we work for are community-oriented; they’ve been encouraging of our transition to doing our own thing full time. This year we hope to make the jump and transition to doing this full time. But we need to be cautious about the transition because it's summer and because Broadway will be under construction and we aren’t sure how much that will affect us.”