A Visit with Roger Gossler of Gossler Farms Nursery

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gossler-farms-nursery-katsura-cercidiphyllum-magnificum-414
Cercidiphyllum magnificum

“That’s my favorite tree in the garden,” said Roger Gossler, as we gazed at a dazzling katsura tree in peak fall color at Gossler Farms Nursery in Springfield, Oregon. He said it was a Cercidiphyllum magnificum, not a Cercidiphyllum japonicum, as I had thought. I asked him what the difference was, and he said that C. magnificum stays smaller and has a more arching, oval shape.

I’d been vaguely aware that there were two species of katsuras, but had never had it spelled out to me. This is the kind of knowledge that Roger has in spades—knowledge that comes from a lifetime of working in the nursery business and being a passionate plantsman.

Despite his vast stores of knowledge, though, Roger is humble and unassuming. He is held in the highest regard by his fellow nurserypeople, and it was really a treat for me last month to visit him at Gossler Farms, the nursery that he runs with his mother, Marjory (“Marj”), and his brother, Eric.


The Gossler Farms Nursery display garden in fall. The beautiful evergreen on the right is wheel tree, Trochodendron aralioides.
The Gossler Farms Nursery display garden in fall. The beautiful evergreen on the right is wheel tree, Trochodendron aralioides.

Springfield, besides being home to the Simpsons, is a stone’s throw from Eugene and is two hours south of Portland. I got to Gossler Farms in late morning on a cool, cloudy, late October day and was greeted at the office by Marj. Marj, 88 years young and an avid golfer and bowler, runs the bustling mail order part of the business. Her son Eric takes care of physical operations (irrigation, etc.), while Roger is more involved with the growing. A neighbor helps out, but basically this tiny family unit is what keeps this renowned specialty nursery running. Amazing.


Roger Gossler in front of one of his favorite witch hazels, 'Jelena'.
Roger Gossler in front of one of his favorite witch hazels, ‘Jelena’.

Roger soon pulled up on a zippy nursery cart to give me a tour, his attendants swarming around him: a Corgi named Benny, a golden retriever named Sophie, and two black cats named George and Fred. “This is my day,” said Roger, feigning exasperation as his “helpers” ran in circles around us. In truth, it was pretty obvious that he appreciated their company and that Roger is the kind of guy who has a fondness for all living creatures, whether they’re covered in fur or chlorophyll. (He probably wouldn’t admit to playing favorites, but he seemed to have a special place in his heart for the sweet polydactyl cat, George.)


This place must be incredible in spring when the magnolias are in bloom. No magnolias flowering on this trip - though there were some interesting magnolia fruits.
This place must be incredible in spring when the magnolias are in bloom. No magnolias flowering on this trip – though there were some interesting magnolia fruits.

As for plants, one of Roger’s favorite groups is magnolias, and indeed, Gossler Farms Nursery is synonymous with magnolias. If you’re hunting for a hard-to-find variety, this is the place to look. The Gossler Farms catalog lists 65 varieties!


'Diane' witch hazel
‘Diane’ witch hazel

Witch hazels (Hamamelis) are another specialty, with 43 varieties on offer. Many of these shrubs add not only interesting winter flowers to the landscape, but colorful fall foliage as well, which was on display during my visit.


Disanthus cercidifolius looks like a redbud until it turns rainbow colors in fall. The pale yellow-green foliage belongs to Styrax japonicus, the medium green below to Rodgersia.
Disanthus cercidifolius looks like a redbud until it turns rainbow colors in fall. The pale yellow-green foliage belongs to Styrax japonicus, the medium green below to Rodgersia.

Another uncommon but exquisite member of the witch hazel family that Gossler Farms sells is Disanthus cercidifolius, an arching shrub for shady borders with redbud-like (heart-shaped) leaves that turn red, pink, peach, yellow, and lavender tones in fall.


'Jane Platt' fothergilla one week later at Hoyt Arboretum in Portland.
‘Jane Platt’ fothergilla one week later at Hoyt Arboretum in Portland.

Also in the witch hazel family is fothergilla, and Fothergilla gardenii ‘Jane Platt’ is a signature plant of Gossler Farms Nursery. Jane Platt was an amateur gardener in Portland and a good friend of the Gosslers. They swapped plants, and this one, the Gosslers decided, needed to be made available to the public, so they propagated it and introduced it. ‘Jane Platt’ reaches only 2 ft. by 2 ft. and fits in any garden (I got one for mine).


Callicarpa Plump & Plentiful Purple Giant
Callicarpa Plump & Plentiful Purple Giant

I also got one of these fascinating Plump & Plentiful Purple Giant beautyberry plants. The only fall color I’ve ever seen on beautyberry (Callicarpa) has been yellow. I’ve never seen this intense hot pink! Plus it has the usual metallic purple berries to boot.


Cotinus 'Grace'
Cotinus ‘Grace’

But I digress. Back on my personal tour of the three-plus-acre display garden at Gossler Farms Nursery, Roger and I paused to marvel at a ‘Grace’ smokebush, blazing like a bonfire. This hybrid of the American Cotinus obovatus and the European/Asian Cotinus coggygria ‘Velvet Cloak’ was developed in England, and Gossler Farms was the first to “discover” it for American gardeners and bring it to our shores.

The Gosslers cut theirs back hard every year, which eliminates the gauzy (smoky) flowers, but keeps the foliage fresh and healthy looking and the habit relatively dense and symmetrical. This is one of my favorite plants of all time.


Stewartias are another Gossler Farms specialty.
Stewartias are another Gossler Farms specialty.

Stewartias were in abundance, another of Gossler Farms’ specialties (they sell eight different selections). These first-class trees generally have lovely summer flowers, radiant fall color, and sculpted, multicolored trunks.

The Gosslers have had impeccable taste in plants since they first started growing nursery stock in the 1960s. Roger showed me their very first mail order listing (a single page), from 1968, and even then it had all of the connoisseurs’ favorites: Franklinia, Eucryphia, Davidia, Magnolia sieboldii, and four species of Stewartia, to name a few.


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Fun fact: Roger’s grandparents bought Gossler Farms in 1948 as an actual farm. The family raised two crops until 1985: sweet corn, which was processed by Agri Pack into canned corn, and peppermint, which was used to flavor Wrigley’s gum.


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Marj, Eric, and Roger have written a fantastic book based on their 40-plus years of experience in the nursery business. It’s called The Gossler Guide to the Best Hardy Shrubs and was published by Timber Press in 2009. I bought a signed copy on my visit, and I highly recommend it.


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The Gosslers love to have visitors, but you’re wise to call ahead first at 541-746-3922 to make sure that someone will be around to help you. Roger is also for hire as a “garden coach” if you’re in the Springfield/Eugene area if you need some garden inspiration. You might also catch him giving talks, attending plant sales, or leading garden tours around the Pacific Northwest—if so, don’t pass up the opportunity to say hello and chat a while with one of the most knowledgeable and friendliest plantsmen you will ever have the pleasure to meet.

 


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18 Responses

  1. rickii
    rickii at | | Reply

    Roger can take a plant that has flown under your radar and by the force of his enthusiasm it suddenly becomes the most desirable plant you have ever seen. I have many of his plants in my garden to prove it.

  2. Lois Moss
    Lois Moss at | | Reply

    Thanks for a great article, Amy! I was thinking of getting a group of HPSO members together to make a pilgrimage to Gosslers in the spring and your article has inspired me to work on it

  3. Kym
    Kym at | | Reply

    Nice article Amy. Roger is the real deal.

  4. danger garden
    danger garden at | | Reply

    Yes! You’ve captured the magic and mystique that is Gossler Farms and Roger Gossler. Hands down one of the very best and we’re lucky to have him here!

  5. Barbara Blossom
    Barbara Blossom at | | Reply

    A fine article about one of my favourite growers and one of the best gardens in the northwest! Thanks, Amy.
    Barbara Blossom

  6. Mary Mee
    Mary Mee at | | Reply

    I am always impressed. My massage therapist wants me to put in an additional order for your book. When will we see it on the shelves?
    Love, Mom

  7. Lisa Fuller
    Lisa Fuller at | | Reply

    Great article, Amy! Going to Gossler’s is a pilgrimage I look forward to every spring, mostly for the magnolias. You article inspires a must-do fall visit as well!

  8. Alyse Lansing
    Alyse Lansing at | | Reply

    Great writing, Amy. What a lead! REALLY want a Cercidiphyllum magnificum now. Holy smokes. Who knew? Well, obviously, Roger Gossler.

    1. Amy Campion
      Amy Campion at | | Reply

      I know, right? I love when they get that little bit of apricot color instead of just plain yellow.

  9. Casa Mariposa
    Casa Mariposa at | | Reply

    Fabulous! They’re sponsoring the Fling and starting in January we’re posting weekly articles about each sponsor on the Fling webpage. Can I use this article if you’re given credit for writing it? Are you coming? Come have fun with us in the Capital Region! 🙂

  10. Yuri
    Yuri at | | Reply

    Thank you very much Amy, awesome writing! I’m impressed!

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