Jim Gulley grew up in his Dad’s greenhouse. Starting around 7 years old, he and his four brothers worked after school, two hours a day. He’d stir the bucket of fertilizer mix while his brothers sprayed the plants. They’d walk row by row, a cart tied to his belt, cutting the ready carnations. Graded as “fancy”, they were worth a nickel each.
By the early 1970’s, property values in Denver were soaring. Raymond Gulley sold the property, but set aside a couple things for Jim. Two 20×100’ greenhouse frames and a sign that read “Gulley Greenhouse”.
For the Love of Plants
Jan met Jim at Colorado State University in 1975. Following an old-fashioned notion, she decided to learn about his family’s business. She took a horticulture class and loved it. That class turned into a horticulture degree. Nearing graduation she asked her professor what to do. He suggested she grow plants – perennials specifically. Bounding with excitement, she told her parents her plan. Her dad said, “You’ll never make any money.” and that was all Jan needed to hear. “The challenge was on!”
In 1975, while Jim worked full-time at UPS, Jan planted their backyard with perennials. Come Spring, they’d dig ‘em up and transplant them into 1-gallon cans they salvaged from the trash at CSU. Before long there was barely enough grass left for their dog. They planted their neighbor’s yard. They planted a friend’s property a couple miles away. Plants were selling and it was time to grow for real.
Growing a Greenhouse
Jan’s Dad came to help scout property. He rejected their idea to look north of town. Instead he found a property way down south, past the four-way stop at Harmony Road. “There was nothing on it but a coyote skull and this little house.” There wasn’t even telephone service. The widow who owned the farm agreed to sell them 3 acres … to start. They got on an 8 party line (hey kids… what’s a “party line”??) and finally dedicated phone service.
Jim set up the two greenhouses his Dad had saved for him. He bought a used boiler to heat them. Every couple years, they bought another couple acres. As he built each new greenhouse frame, he fit it with an alarm. If the temperature approached freezing, the alarm went off. Jim would wake up to give the boiler more gas or adjust a regulator, sometimes four times in a week, always in the middle of the night.
Our big break was getting the contract to grow all the hanging baskets at Keystone Ski Resort.
Growing Up in a Greenhouse
Soon Jim and Jan were growing more than plants. Beth was born in May, along with the rest of that year’s crop. Beth went straight from a bassinet to a wheelbarrow, following Mom around the property as she worked. Jamie followed a couple years later. The girls would ride around in the golf cart with Jim, helping out where they could, pulling plants for orders and trimming asparagus ferns. Payment came in the form of pop cans out of the machine.
“Dad knows how to fix it – where the switch is.” If equipment broke, he’d search online and spend 5-bucks on a part instead of buying a whole new air compressor. That used boiler Jim bought in 1980 is still running today. I hear it’s more reliable than the newer one.
Meet the Gulleys
Come in and meet us, we’re around! Beth is in charge of Wholesale. Jamie runs Retail. Jan leads the dozen or so growers on the team and can diagnose any plants that are looking sad. Jim remains the resident “Mister Wizard” – fixing whatever breaks and keeping this family operation ship-shape.
Gulley Greenhouse is now 45 acres with 180,000 sq. ft. of cold frames and 90,000 sq. ft of heated greenhouses, out of which they produce over 200,000 gallon perennials, 25,000 roses, 500,000 2.5” perennials and herbs, and 5 million plugs. Just recently the widow’s daughters sold the last of the original farm property to our maintenance manager. Now he lives “on property” and gets the first call from the temperature alarms.