A Peek Inside Four Nurseries That Are Closed to the Public

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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…


bountiful farms birch umbrellaWe 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.


bountiful farms star topiaryThere were stars…


bountiful farms elephant topiaryand elephants…


bountiful farms topiary deerand deer, all carved out of arborvitae in intricate detail.


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.


bountiful farms grafted pinesThey also grow some more familiar meat-and-potatoes nursery stock:  pines, spruces, Japanese maples, and way too much more to list.

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.


bountiful farms menagerieThis menagerie of their work near the office reminded me of an actual landscape I saw on my friend Tamara’s Chickadee Gardens blog.


bountiful farms topiary lettersAs we pulled away to visit the next nursery, I glanced back again at the BOUNTIFUL FARMS spelled out in topiary.


kg farms spiral arborvitae specimensAt our next stop, KG Farms, the topiary wasn’t too shabby, either.

Hey, can you make out the thing near the top left corner?  What is that?


kg farms osprey nestAs 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.


kg farms picea sitchensis papooseThese roly poly evergreens were adorable.  Kathy said it’s a spruce, Picea sitchensis ‘Papoose.’  I didn’t ask, but I have a feeling they take that form without any pruning, or very little.


kg farms spruce and cedarsI just love touring a big nursery and being surrounded by beautiful plants.  It fills me with such a profound sense of peace.


kg farms hops countryKG Farms is in hops country, and this is one of many neighboring farms.  This is how the vines are grown.  They are allowed to scramble up these tall posts and wires.


KG farms ospreyAs we turned around and went back towards the office, the other osprey parent eyeballed us the whole way.

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:


spada farms colorful patchworkThey use a similar shot on their website.  Isn’t that gorgeous?  The purple-red stripes were barberries and I think the yellow ones were spirea.

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?


spada farms worker making a spiralWhen we passed this worker shaping an Alberta spruce into a spiral, he also quipped that they “cut off half the plant and double the price.”  Ha!  How true.

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.


kck farms propagation house oaksHere’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.



kck farms dappled willow trunk twistRalph 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.

kck farms 3 gallon arbs pot in potAnyone 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!


kck farms canada red chokecherryThey 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.


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8 Responses

  1. Tamara Paulat - Chickadee Gardens
    Tamara Paulat - Chickadee Gardens at | | Reply

    Oh my…this is impressive, those topiaries are crazy! I’ve often wondered what happens behind the scenes at nurseries, thanks for sharing. Love the pics!

  2. Loree / danger garden
    Loree / danger garden at | | Reply

    On a visit to Bizon Nursery I drive by Bountiful and their sign in topiary caught my eye. I doubled back to get some photos and and spotted many amazing shapes in the fields. I was short on time and have wondered what fabulous things were beyond, thanks for the bigger tour!

  3. gail
    gail at | | Reply

    What a fun adventure…

  4. Nancy Zimmer
    Nancy Zimmer at | | Reply

    Great to see these specialty nurseries that are closed to the public.

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