Mesa Garden began in the 1970s as a passion that grew into a nursery. After years of collecting and cataloging many cacti and succulents in the wild, Steven Brack built a nursery that allowed him to share his passion with people all over the world.
More than 40 years later, we are dedicated to continuing Steven’s legacy by growing seed stock plants from material that was originally collected in the wild. We share those seeds with other people around the world who appreciate the unique beauty and symmetry that first sparked our passion for these plants.
Mesa Garden's History
The Beginning of Mesa Garden – Steven Brack’s Story
I grew up on a small family dairy farm in Wisconsin and from a very young age was interested in growing plants. A family relative had some cacti and succulents on her windowsill that captured my curiosity. I finished my college education with a B.S. in physics in 1970, but at this same time my interest in plants was growing rapidly.
The idea for a nursery started forming in my mind in the early 1970s. I had been interested in cacti and succulents, I think primarily because of the odd shapes and symmetry. The first serious contact with the plants was in college libraries, and I borrowed and read all the books on the topic there were.
In the libraries I also found journals from Europe that specialized in the plants. I wrote away and subscribed to a couple of them. In the journals, small specialist nurseries offered seeds for sale. Sometimes the seeds, which always were offered only by Latin name, had the geographical origin of the seeds. This was fascinating to me. I could look up the locations in atlases and learn about the climate too. At this point, I was very enthusiastic about finding seeds that were accurately named with known origin data.
I dove headfirst into growing plants from seed and found out that it was interesting, challenging and not that difficult. Yes, it took some time, but when one is in their early twenties, one has a lot of time ahead of them. My wife Linda was very supportive in all of this and gave me a lot of assistance.
I also found sources of specialist books, again from Europe. The book with the greatest impact was by Schwantes, called Flowering Stones and Midday Flowers. This book was about the huge mesemb family. It is quite a large book with a few black and white photos, but the text was just fascinating. They were recounting travels in South Africa and Namibia by early explorers searching for all the odd plants to be found. The idea of travelling to explore for plants was overwhelming.
At about this same time there was an article by Doug Rowland of the U.K. about his visit to New Mexico in the African Succulent Plant Society. This was a homemade journal done on a mimeo machine, but the travelogue by Doug describing all the wonders of the deserts and mountains of New Mexico was equally intriguing. So as soon as we completed our obligations, Linda and I set off for New Mexico to scout it out, leaving our young daughter at home with her grandparents. After being in New Mexico for about a week, we managed to find a job and a place to live and returned to Wisconsin to gather up our belongings and daughter, and we moved to New Mexico in the spring of 1973.
On many weekends, we as a family went off on camping trips all over the region to hike and explore for plants. The focus was to build a collection of plants that had a known origin. We collected seeds to exchange with other enthusiasts, mostly in Europe. At this point it was just a matter of time. We started a lot of seeds each year and over time expanded the collection. In 1975 we took the first trip to Mexico with my brother Bob. What an eye-opener, to see so many incredible plants in nature. So, in the next few years, many more trips to Mexico took place.
Then in 1980, we took our first trip to South Africa with Steven Hammer. Another totally overwhelming experience, which led to many more trips over the years. By this time the basic plan was underway, and the collection just kept expanding from material found on the trips.
Linda was always a big part of the nursery; she gave steady support and helped with all the work. For the first few years we did all the work as a family. Eventually there was enough orders and work that we started hiring students to work part-time. As things grew, we took on full-time employees who became essential and just like family to us.
In the early years, all the information on the plants was kept on index cards. In 1985 we bought our first computer, and all the records were entered into a database. With the help of Chris Nelson, the first programs were written to deal with all the tasks needed, and eventually I learned to program and wrote about 50 more programs to perform needed functions.
In the early years, the catalogs were done on a typewriter and copied on a mimeo machine, which could make up to 100 copies from each hand-typed page. The family helped collate these lists by hand which we sent out by mail. The first list contained seedlings and was sent out in spring of 1977. By 1980 the task of making the catalogs at home was turned over to a commercial printer that made the sheets for the catalogs. For many years, we continued to hand collate the catalogs, but eventually printing companies did the entire catalog.
Somewhere around 2005, we found we just could not handle stuffing all the envelopes to send out catalogs, and out of necessity we stopped printing a paper catalog and instead, made the catalog available on our website. This worked out very well. People all over the world could see the catalog quickly and not wait the two weeks for it to arrive by post.
Eventually, 14 greenhouses were built and filled with plants, and a loyal customer base established. Long-term, full-time employees were now very close to us. After more than 40 years of working on this project, with our backs and bodies tiring, we had a very capable young couple wishing to take the reins and keep the nursery going. This was Aaron and Tarah Morerod.
Linda and I never imagined that what we worked to build would ever grow to such size with so many customers. Many customers came to be good and close friends as well. So, it was with great sadness, yet satisfaction, that Linda and I turned over the nursery and entered retirement.
– Steven and Linda Brack
Continuing the Legacy – Aaron and Tarah's Story
Tarah and I worked under Steven Brack for six years in high school and college. We enjoyed the company of Steven Hammer and Chris Barnhill during our time at Mesa while we picked cactus fruits, cleaned seeds, repotted seedlings and pollinated flowers. Every spring, we would take the plastic off the greenhouses and replace them in the fall to prep for winter.
Tarah and I were dating and working together at that time. We married in 1998, and our boss and friend, Steven Brack, attended our wedding.
We increased our knowledge of growing cacti and succulents as we pursued our college degrees at the University of New Mexico (UNM). I earned a Bachelors degree in business and left Mesa in 2001. I went to work for a packaging company in Albuquerque. Tarah left in 2002 to start nursing school and graduated with a BSN, RN from UNM.
During our time away, we thought often about Mesa Garden and missed our time working for Steven. So, in October of 2013 I decide to visit Steven and Linda with my 4-year-old daughter, Gillian. After a brief visit, Steven offered me my old job filling seed packets. I was still working part-time at my job in Albuquerque and came in on Tuesdays to help out Steven.
After working for Steven for a few months, the conversations about taking over the business happened frequently. About a year later, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to run Mesa Garden on my own. I needed Tarah’s help.
Tarah came back to work at Mesa again and quit her nursing job. And in 2014, I quit my packaging job at Ethicon and began to work full-time for Steven.
After 13 years, Tarah and I were finally able to reacquaint ourselves with all the amazing plants at Mesa Garden. We worked with Steven for two more years, absorbing as much of Steven’s lifetime of knowledge and wisdom as we could.
In October of 2016, we signed our lives away to become the new owners of Mesa Garden. Since then we have made some major technology upgrades. The new database allows us to email customers a professional invoice. Barcodes now help us ensure accuracy in our orders, and printed packing slips allow our customers to see more information about the seeds they bought.
This sleek shopping website (with photos!) is the newest phase in Mesa Garden’s development. We are so excited that our customers can finally see pictures of the plants their little sprouts came from.
As of this year (2019), Tarah and I have 13 years of experience and we are continuing the work of Steven Brack, by making all of these treasures available to our customers. We truly hope all of our customers will enjoy the new site – and the convenience of a shopping cart!
Thank you so much for your business!
– Aaron and Tarah Morerod