Mikel Covey

Come home to the tropics in this greenhouse complex

Hilary Groutage Smith,  – November 9, 2004

In 1975, with only $1,000, Lorraine Miller opened a tiny plant shop in Salt Lake City. Plunging into a horticultural career represented a major shift for Miller, who holds a degree in history and once worked as a medical technician. But cultivating cactus to sell seemed like a good idea, since they weren’t widely available in northern Utah at that time. Eventually, her investment grew into Cactus & Tropicals, a complex of nine greenhouses that contains a balmy slice of paradise at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains.

Today, visitors can find cactus ranging in price from $2 to $2,000, and in size from specimens of Frailea no bigger than a thumb to a 40-inch-diameter golden barrel cactus that’s 100 years old. Miller also offers a variety of tropical plants, including bromeliads, bougainvillea, citrus, hibiscus, and orchids. For the less adventurous, there is a selection of low-maintenance houseplants such as ficus and pothos.

Outside the greenhouses, hardy perennials, native trees, and shrubs are displayed and sold during summer.

By mid-November, Miller and her staff plant more than 6,000 amaryllis and paper white narcissus bulbs in terra-cotta pots decorated with moss, ribbons, and small ornaments. A shop sells gifts with a garden motif, including candles, patio lights, and picture frames. In December, parents roam the outdoor lot looking for Christmas trees, both living and cut, while their children roast marshmallows.

9-7 Mon-Fri, 9-6 Sat, 11-5 Sun. 2735 South 2000 East; (801) 485-2542 or www.cactusandtropicals.com.