In the small southwestern Wyoming town of Eden, Cheryl Burke can be found most days — weather permitting — selling her meticulously trimmed and groomed bonsai trees from the side of the road.
She has no official name for her business beyond calling it a “honey and bonsai stand,” where she also sells small jars of honey from her home and the roadside stand along state Highway 191.
Burke’s career in sales has been as twisting as the little gnarled trees she sells. Her entrepreneurial sense and constant drive to make the best of situations is the one constant, a classic example of the Wyoming spirit to prosper in all conditions.
“Sales is my forte,” she said, pursing her lips.
There aren't many places in Wyoming to find a bonsai tree seller, and Eden likely isn’t the first place many people would look.
Burke previously lived in Rock Springs and sold advertisements for the Green River Star newspaper in the 1990s. She also was one of the first people in Wyoming to sell cellphones at the Union Wireless store in Rock Springs, setting up customers at the time with phones as big as their head.
She also sold bonsai trees, honey and fruit from a roadside stand in Southern California.
It was in the San Bernardino Valley of California where her bonsai business began when she came across a man selling the little trees along a road near her home. She knew the man to be very successful with his efforts and instantly spotted a business opportunity, as the man only sold his trees on weekends.
she sold every day.
“I said, ‘I’m going to get in on this because I’m good with plants,’” Burke recalled. “And the market demanded my involvement.”
The man quickly agreed to partner with Burke and the two struck an arrangement where they wouldn’t infringe on each other’s efforts.
“He was very easy to work with and would stock me up with quite a few bonsai,” she said.
Burke may have got the sales bug from her mother, who sold tomato plants from a roadside stand.
Her mother encouraged her to get involved by selling persimmons, a sweet and plump bright orange fruit that grows on trees in warm climates. Because the fruit is hard to find, it sells for about a $1 each, making it a hot commodity for the lucky soul who has access to a bulk quantity of the squishy fruit.
From persimmons she moved on to lemons, and after that success people started bringing her guavas to sell.
Soon, Burke became a known resource to help people to get rid of their surplus fruit, which tends to grow in large quantities in the mild Southern California climate.
“People would bring me their extra food, or they’d tell me where they lived and say I could come over and pick the grapefruit, pick the lemons or pick the sweet limes,” she said.
It was from there that honey and then bonsai finally entered the fold.
Back Home With Bonsai
Burke moved back to Wyoming last fall and said the bonsai were an instant hit. She quickly sold out the stock she had brought with her from California.
Helping her efforts last year was an unusually mild and extended fall, leading to tourists stopping by her roadside stand well into November.
“I did way better than I expected,” she said.
Her home sits immediately off Highway 191, a main thoroughfare where tourists travel on their way Jackson from the south. During the summer and fall months, Burke sells her goods from a red pole barn located off the side of the highway. A colorful yellow sign greets all who pass by.
Most customers only buy a bonsai or choose from the many flavors of honey, but sometimes Burke barters for a package of tasty honey and tiny trees.
“We can make a deal,” she said with a coy smile.
Burke’s oldest bonsai is about 20 years old. The gnarled specimen sits about 2-and-a-half feet high and beyond its roughhewed bark, hardly gives any clue to its age.
But as far as bonsai trees go, the plant is still a young pup. In the right conditions, a bonsai can easily live more than 100 years, and some have been documented to live as long as 1,000 years.
Burke’s customer base is mostly tourists looking for a keepsake they can remember their trips to Wyoming by, a goal particularly well served by getting an item from somewhere fairly off the beaten path.
Although Wyoming may not be known for bonsai or other natural vegetation, when one stops and gets a bonsai in Eden, they may be getting a memento from a time when they can look back and say they were just a step away from Heaven.
“They want something different; they want something from here,” Burke said. “A souvenir.”
Buying a bonsai from a remote roadside stand in Eden, Wyoming, is about as different as it gets.
Contact Leo Wolfson at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com