The nursery industry is big business in Oregon, but most members of the general public will never get to see what goes on behind their gates. Many of the nurseries in the Willamette Valley are huge wholesale operations that sell their plants all across the country, but they don’t sell to the public.
My old buddy Don Blocker, who reps for the distributor McHutchison, was in town this week with some clients and generously invited me to tag along.
Here’s a little of what we saw…
We started at Bountiful Farms, an amazing 550-acre nursery located in Woodburn. We didn’t even have to get out of the car to see the first cool item. These birch tree “umbrellas” were planted in the parking lot island.
We had bought from Bountiful when I worked at Ammon Nursery in Northern Kentucky, but I truly was not prepared for what I would see.
BUT NO CATS OR DOGS!
Our tour guide, Jay, explained that too many times, clients had commissioned a topiary rendition of a dear departed pet, only to be disappointed when the result didn’t look exactly like their beloved Mr. Whiskers. And, as you can imagine, a LOT of time and work goes into each topiary they do.
But topiary is what they’re known for. Jay said that Bountiful Farms doesn’t have any of their own introductions. Rather, their niche is to take everyday plants, and grow and shape them into unique forms that can’t be found anywhere else.
This menagerie of their work near the office reminded me of an actual landscape I saw on my friend Tamara’s Chickadee Gardens blog.
Hey, can you make out the thing near the top left corner? What is that?
As we got closer, our wonderful tour guide Kathy (the “K” of KG Farms, the equally wonderful “G” of KG, Greg, bought us lunch after the tour!) explained that it was an osprey nest. She said there were a couple of chicks in the nest, and that the parents didn’t take kindly to people walking underneath it.
We kept our distance.
The third nursery we visited was A & R Spada Farms. They are probably best known for cranking out ‘Emerald’ arborvitae by the hundreds of thousands, though they do lots of other stuff, too—spruce, cedar, pine, Japanese maples, hollies, boxwood, peonies.
I was sitting in the middle seat on this tour, so I didn’t take many pictures, but our great tour guide Vinny made sure to stop so I could get this shot:
Vinny told us about a new cherry laurel they grow called ‘Chestnut Hill’ that doesn’t get the shothole problem that ‘Otto Luyken’ does. He also clued us in that ‘Stowe Pillar’ columnar white pine will replace Pinus strobus ‘Fastigiata.’ And that Picea abies ‘Repens’ is way better than ‘Nidiformis.’ Who knew?
I don’t know how this guy shapes these free-form, without any guide. I’ve tried to make a spiral and it ain’t as easy as it looks.
The fourth nursery we tackled on another day. It was out in Dayton, Oregon, in wine country: KCK Farms.
Our tour guide, Ralph, was awesome, and as he pointed things out along the way, I realized that KCK was a different kind of nursery.
Here’s a whole mess of oak seedlings they had in a greenhouse. But there were all kinds of other things: fruit trees, trees that would be barerooted, shade trees in 15 gallons, newly grafted Japanese maple liners, grass seed, peonies for cut flowers, even filbert orchards. KCK figured out that diversity is how they would ride out economic ups and downs.
Ralph pointed out these cute dappled willow standards they had just potted. See how they twisted two trunks together? They also do that with two different varieties of apples, and, Voila! You get cross-pollination and only have to dig one hole. I thought that was pretty clever.
Anyone who’s ever worked at a nursery can appreciate this… Here are some little 3-gallon arbs. Normally pot-in-pot is reserved for 7-gallon trees or bigger, but here they created a section for threes. The roots stay cool, and they never blow over!
They did have lots of bigger pot-in-pot trees, and they were absolutely perfect. The grass in between the pots is a nice touch, too, and makes for a cooler, more pleasant working area. Gravel gets hot!
I had another shot of these Canada Red chokecherries that I wasn’t allowed to use.
A worker had left an empty Gatorade bottle in one of the trees. Ralph and Kevin, the owner, who we also met, were actually very upset about it. I only point it out to show what high standards they try to maintain. It shows! Their plants were immaculate.
I really hope I didn’t get anyone fired.