By Shelley Widhalm for At Home
Fossil Creek Nursery started 50 years ago on an old apple orchard and today is known for its woody plants and carrying the oddities.
“The big thing for us is having a selection of odd varieties that you might not otherwise be able to get your hands on,” said Nate Fetig, vice-president and co-owner of Fossil Creek Nursery, 7029 S. College Ave. in Fort Collins. “Because we’re plant lovers and plant nerds, we like to see different varieties and how they perform in Colorado. … Pretty much if it will grow here, we will sell it.”
Fossil Creek Nursery is a multi-generational, family-run landscape and garden center serving Northern Colorado as a one-stop shop for everything that goes with plants, flowers, shrubs and trees.
“We strive to have the best quality,” Fetig said. “We have high quality plants that are reasonably priced.”
The nursery offers variety in annuals, perennials, houseplants, conifers, trees, shrubs, fruits and ornamental grasses for commercial landscapers, gardeners and residents wanting to improve their outdoor living spaces.
Located on 15 acres overlooking Benson Reservoir, the nursery features a garden center that offers plant food and fertilizer and an assortment of gardening tools, garden art and fountains. There also is a greenhouse with tropical and other types of plants, plus multiple plant displays and demonstration gardens around the nursery, office and ponds for a park-like feel.
“We think it’s helpful to show what a mature plant looks like of certain varieties, so we have a good amount of display plants around the nursery,” Fetig said. “It’s an idealistic nursery in a park-like setting that is a gardener’s paradise.”
The bulk of the property is reserved for outdoor plants with six acres dedicated to trees, another six acres to shrubs and one-and-a-half to two acres to perennials, where at any one time there are 500 to 1,000 varieties.
“We pride ourselves on having one of the largest selections of woody plants in Colorado,” Fetig said. “We may not have a large quantity of any one variety, but we have more varieties than anywhere else. … We draw a lot of nerd gardeners from around the area that are looking for unique plants that they can’t find anywhere else.”
The nursery offers a long list of services to improve the look and performance of the plants, shrubs and trees it sells. Through on-site landscape design and planting consultations, the nursery helps identify the best plants and trees for a home or other site and suggests layouts of planting beds, walkways and other areas. It also provides planting installations and testing, pest and soil problem identifications, and garden feature setups and installs.
Historically, Fossil Creek Nursery was on a one-acre site of the former McClelland Fruit Orchard, started in the 1800s on College Avenue south of Harmony Road. The original homesteaders sold the orchard to Tom Haney, who operated the nursery from 1969 to 1990, when he sold it to Fetig’s parents, Jack and Christine, who kept some of the original apple trees. They primarily wanted a way to supply their landscape contracting business, Alpine Gardens, which they started in 1978 to design, build and maintain residential and commercial landscapes. Today, the business is one of the nursery’s largest customers.
“We think that the businesses go hand in hand pretty well,” Fetig said. “We like to be able to promote the nursery to our landscape customers, and if people come to the nursery, if they want to do more than buy plants, we can help them design and install. It’s a pretty good marriage.”
In 1997, Jack and Christine moved the nursery to its current location to be able to own instead of lease and to expand to a larger site with access to an agricultural ditch for watering the nursery’s plants, shrubs and trees. Jack serves as the nursery’s chief operating officer and Alpine Gardens’ head landscape designer, while Christine is the controller for both businesses.
“We’ve been on a long journey,” Fetig said. “Tom was a one-man show. Our size has fluctuated through the years.”
Currently, the nursery operates with a staff of 30 and the landscaping company with 100.
“We’ve grown quite a lot up to the Great Recession. That really did a number on our business. The last five to 10 years, we had to rebuild back up to what we were,” Fetig said. “We’re stronger and leaner for having made it through that. We’re positioned well to continue serving the community for years to come.”
Fetig originally didn’t plan to work for the nursery, though he worked there as a youth. He earned a bachelor’s degree in international affairs from University of Colorado and decided to not enter the field, returning to the nursery full time in 2007. He got a second degree in horticulture from Colorado State University. His wife, Heidi, joined the business in 2009 and serves as a co-owner and office manager.
“Jack and Christine, first of all they added a lot of energy and passion over the years. They created a sense of community. People wanted to work for them and buy from them,” Fetig said. “We’re members of the community. We have a family atmosphere with our employees as well as our customers. They set that culture that has given us a big springboard for the future.”