Along the borders, trees overhang the perennial beds, draping the plants in cool shadows. Around the perimeter, flowers of all colors bob quietly in the canyon breeze.
The idea is to browse the Secrist’s yard until you spot exactly what you like. Forego the guesswork you’ll know exactly what to expect when the plant reaches maturity. For the novice landscaper knowing what you’re really buying is always a challenge.
“We don’t advertise,” says Nedra Secrist, “it’s all word of mouth. It blows our mind that every year we sell everything we grow. It’s amazing!”
Every growing thing you see can be purchased; it’s a true ‘Yard Sale.’
The Secrists’ business started back in the newspaper days when yard sale ads were sprinkled throughout the classified section. Advertising a ‘real yard sale,’ Nedra says that people showed up expecting something completely different. Visitors arrived and strolled into a beautiful yard full of budding and blooming perennials.
Back then, if a shopper spotted a particular plant growing in the Secrists’ yard, Donrey or Nedra would dig it up right then and there and sell it.
“We’d dig starts, and put them in pots,” says Donrey, “and that’s what we were selling."
Many of the shoppers ended up leaving with their arms full of flowers. The experiment was so successful that a tradition was born: Secrist Gardens.
Pretty quickly, the Secrists realized that they were giving away too much. Every time a plant was sold, it went out the door with a valuable shovel full of soil from their garden. That set the Secrists on a search for the perfect soil for growing in Utah.
Sourcing the Perfect Soil (for Utah)
“That’s where we came up with this peat from Downey, Idaho that we use exclusively,” Donrey says.
Nedra explains that when Lake Bonneville drained into the Snake River Gorge through a place called Red Rock Pass, what it left behind became the rich Downey soil. Red Rock pass was a chokepoint for the drainage, and the lake deposited a large portion of its vast flora in that spot. After many millennia, we are left with an excellent local source of nutrient-rich soil.
“They’re just discovering those wonderful peat fields,” says Nedra. “It’s virgin sphagnum peat.” Every year they head up to Idaho and load a trailer with that ancient soil. On the way south from Downey, the Secrists stop in Malad, Idaho to load up on perlite from the Hess Hummus Company. They finalize their perfect mix with extra peat moss.
The perlite aerates the soil, the peat moss helps it hold moisture, but the Downey soil is the Secrist’s secret sauce.
Nedra urges perennial shoppers to be careful. She explains that a close inspection of the roots is incredibly important before you buy a plant. She tells us that often the plants have been fed a continual diet of fertilizer to give them the best possible appearance on the shelf. However, once they’re in the soil the shock can often be too much. Plants that are over-fertilized often don’t develop the root structure below ground that is required to support the above-ground portion that we see.
“It takes three years before a perennial will reach its prime,” says Nedra, which is why when the Secrists sell a plant it’s already in its second season.
She repeats some old perennial wisdom, “The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year they leap.”
A Healthy Amount of Tough Love
One last secret of the Secrist’s hardy perennials is the location where they raise their young plants. Escaping the heat of the summer, the duo retreat to the cooler climes of Bear Lake where they relocate their summer sales operations for the high-altitude homeowners.
But it’s at 5,700 feet, at the tip-top of Utah, where the Secrists winter their young plants in a cold-frame setting.
Their mantra is simple, if a perennial can survive over-wintering on the shores of the frozen Bear Lake, they can survive the worst of Utah’s climate.
Nedra says that their plants only receive a tiny amount of fertilization when they’re very young and when they’re waking up from the long Bear Lake winter. She says that extra help only seems fair.
When spring returns to the valleys, the Secrists bring their tough little perennials down to Brigham City for their annual ‘Yard Sale.’
With a lifetime of experience and deep knowledge of the local growing conditions, the Secrist’s are now turning their attention to education. Nedra was a schoolteacher for decades, she knows the importance of passing on all they’ve learned, so she wrote and published an exhaustive guide, "Powerful Perennials." Given Utah’s unique conditions and the vast array of climate zones, it’s rare to find a repository of perennial growing information that is targeted directly at Utah’s landscapes.
Every spring, when the snow and ice retreat from Bear Lake the Secrists, will bring their rugged perennials down to Brigham City and put on the best ‘yard sale’ in the state. The plants are tough and the knowledge is free. So much love and care have gone into the work they do, the Secrists truly are a local treasure.
Don’t forget to follow Modern Gardener on Instagram and Facebook to see more information about gardening, and chime in with your own tips or stories!
If you live in Utah and have a garden or garden project that you'd like to be featured on Modern Gardener, click here!