Dennis: Over the years, whenever we’ve asked a grower to name their favorite hydrangea or iris or whatever it is they grow, the answer inevitably is “I can’t pick a favorite. I love them all.”
And now I understand their conundrum, because when we sat down to choose our five must-see nurseries in this neck of the woods, the list wound up running 16 deep instead, and it could easily have been longer.
Because nobody grows nurseries like Oregon.
Each year, retail and wholesale growers generate approximately $1 billion in revenue while selling plants here and shipping them nationwide and in some cases, around the world.
There are massive tree nurseries and ones that specialize in hostas and hydrangeas and heucheras (Dennis: I so wanted to write “oh my!” at the end of this.).
There are nurseries that feature enchanting display gardens worth the trip whether you buy any plants or not (trust me, you will) and the large-scale operations that carry everything from gardening tools to gerbera daisies.
And there are others with curated botanical collections you can’t find anywhere else and one with a genuine, tapas-and-cocktails happy hour, although any time gardeners spend at these nurseries will qualify as a happy hour.
Marcia: This is by far the hardest column I’ve ever written. Picking just a handful of retail nurseries to feature in our column, when we live in Oregon, known throughout the U.S. for its wholesale nursery plant production, has caused me to have more than a few sleepless nights.
There are so many stellar nurseries, large and small, that we can’t possibly name them all.
We have visited most of these, and a few we know from their reputations. Some are small neighborhood nurseries, others have a regional presence or are known for their unusual selections. Many you can take the whole family to, while others maybe just your geeky plant friends.
Now that we seem to have a break from COVID-19, what better way to spend a few hours, or plan a day trip to visit several of these nurseries?
Check out their websites; some even have world-class display gardens.
You have an excuse, after all, to buy some new plants to replace all those fried ones you lost in that record-breaking 116-degree heat wave we just had.
How we chose them
We’d love to tell you we selected each of these by using an objective, analytical, points-based system reflecting an unbreakable list of criteria.
We’d love to, but we can’t.
Instead, this is a very subjective list, reflecting our favorites. There could very well be one you love that we left off, but we only wanted to include nurseries open regularly to the public that we had been to ourselves (with two exceptions, both based on recommendations from several horticultural professionals who know their plants).
So, keeping in mind these are — almost — all nurseries we have visited, here’s a sense of how we chose the ones we did:
- If a nursery we visited offers an incredible selection of a plants, a certain genus or plants you simply can’t get anywhere else, it’s on the list.
- If a nursery we visited includes lush display gardens — we’re suckers for display gardens and think you should be, too — it’s on the list.
- We also felt it was important to acknowledge the large garden centers people flock to every spring and summer day, whether it’s for fertilizer or outdoor furniture or fountain grass.
- And we tried to combine some into road trips to help you make the most efficient use of a day spent visiting these horticultural nirvanas.
If you want a full list of nurseries in the state, the Oregon Association of Nurseries offers a very informative — and very free — map. You can order yours at https:bit.ly/3h9ytec.
But enough throat clearing. Here are the 16 nurseries (and one to keep an eye on) you simply must visit, unless it’s 116 degrees outside.
Hughes Water Gardens in Tualatin: The first thing you notice when you’re in Eamonn Hughes’ nursery is the sound of water. Everywhere. It’s both soothing and exciting at the same time. Soothing because it transports you to a babbling brook deep in nature. And it’s exciting because you can feel confident you can find everything you need for your water feature/pot/pond and a lot of things you didn’t know you “needed” until you saw them at Hughes. Don’t miss the extraordinary selection of water plants and water lilies.
25289 SW Stafford Road, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, hugheswatergardens.com
Secret Garden Growers in Canby: This is one of the few nurseries we haven’t been to yet, but it is certainly on our intend-to-soon list. It has a great reputation among hortheads, and its website says it features thousands of varieties of rare, unusual, heirloom and hard-to-find plants. Just perusing their A-Z plant list makes us want to B-U-Y.
29100 S. Needy Road, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, secretgardengrowers.com
Bosky Dell Natives in West Linn: We wrote about Lory Duralia’s magical nursery last year, but if for some reason that wasn’t enough to motivate you to make the trip, perhaps the loosening mask regulations will help. This nursery is all about natives, and every square foot not devoted to the plants themselves is filled with art and creativity and whimsy in a very woodsy, natural setting only minutes off Interstate 205.
23311 S.W. Bosky Dell Lane, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, boskydellnatives.com
A FULL DAY’S TRIP
Sebright Gardens in Brooks: Come for the unbelievable selection of hostas — roughly 1,000 different cultivars — and stay for a leisurely stroll through four acres of some of the most beautifully maintained display gardens you’ll ever see. And Thomas Johnson and Kirk Hansen’s Sebright Gardens is about more than hostas, offering 150 different varieties of hardy ferns and 120 epimediums as well as many other shade-loving plants, most of them displayed in a greenhouse the length of a football field.
7185 Lakeside Drive N.E., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, through Oct. 25, sebrightgardens.com
Dancing Oaks Nursery and Gardens in Monmouth: Fred Weisensee and Leonard Foltz’s nursery has a simply amazing selection of plants, so much so that other nursery owners have been known to make the trek south because they know they’ll find offerings there they can’t find anywhere else. And the relaxed display gardens are a lush, colorful delight (and that includes the huge, wild, natural dry meadow).
17900 Priem Road, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, March-October, dancingoaks.com
Blooming Junction Farm & Garden in Cornelius: No one, in our humble opinion, produces plants any more desirable than those grown by owner Grace Dinsdale, who is behind the Blooming Advantage plants sought after by many other nurseries. And while the fact this is a great place to find many of the Blooming Advantage line of plants is more than enough reason to make the trip, don’t forget to check out the beautiful setting, complete with picture perfect rustic barn, and the farm goods store while you’re there. There often are u-pick options as well.
35105 N.W. Zion Church Road, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, bloomingjunction.com
Cistus Nursery on Sauvie Island: We guarantee you will see plants here you have never seen before (unless you’ve already been to Cistus). Sean Hogan delights in offering the unusual and pushing the zonal envelope. His unique nursery is filled with plants from around the world, with an emphasis on those that thrive in our Mediterranean climate. Do yourself a favor and read as many of the plant tags as you can, each telling an interesting, informative story. It also doesn’t hurt that you’re on Sauvie Island, which is a pretty nice place to visit even for those who don’t love plants.
22711 N.W. Gillihan Road, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, cistus.com
Joy Creek Nursery in Scappoose: About 10 minutes west on U.S. 30 from Cistus, Maurice Horn and Mike Smith created “the nursery we always wanted to find.” Perched on a picturesque hill, Joy Creek is known for its large selection of unusual perennials, shrubs, hydrangeas and Northwest native plants. And if you’re wondering what those hydrangeas might look like in a decade or so, walk the wondrous display garden. In fact, even if you’re not wondering, walk it.
20300 N.W. Watson Road, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through Nov. 7, joycreek.com
ONE DAY, ONE NURSERY
Gossler Farms Nursery in Springfield: Anyone who is anyone in the horticultural world knows and admires plant person Roger Gossler. You could build a garden from the ground up with the nursery’s amazing plants, or just pick one jewel to shine from the carefully curated plant selection. Check out its website plant list and, if chlorophyll runs through your veins instead of blood, you’ll be headed down Interstate 5 to Springfield with a trailer hitched to the back of your car before you finish reading this column!
1200 Weaver Road, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, gosslerfarms.com
DON’T MISS THESE
Xera Plants in Southeast Portland: Sure, it’s an average-sized city lot in Southeast Portland, but those in the horticultural know flock to this nursery for the highest quality plants that can’t be found elsewhere, with a strong emphasis on those climate-adapted to our region’s wet winter/dry summer cycle. And owners Paul Bonine and Greg Shepherd are both dedicated to visitors at their nursery having an exceptional experience (reading the plant tags is a good place to start).
1114 S.E. Clay St., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, xeraplants.com
Pomarius Nursery in Northwest Portland: This little gem of a nursery is hidden within shouting distance of the Pearl District. The nursery reflects owner Peter Lynn’s European roots (both France and Belgium) and is rich with inspiration. Art, pots, topiary and a curated plant selection, along with special events announced on their website, make this a fun and unique day visit.
1920 N.W. 18th Ave., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, pomariusnursery.com
Cornell Farm Nursery & Café in Southwest Portland: Come for the extensive plant offerings and numerous artistic touches at the go-to nursery for those in the West Hills and stay for the … wait for it … happy hour. Even if we weren’t already big fans of the nursery, any place that sells both plants and Hemingway daiquiris deserves a mention. The nursery’s cafe is open for tapas and cocktails from 4-7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.
8212 S.W. Barnes Road, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. daily, cornellfarms.com
Farmington Gardens near Beaverton: This great Washington County nursery is known for its large selection of plants, pots, statuary, tools and just about everything else garden-related. Linda Hockersmith Eshraghi’s nursery is also an ideal place in the spring to find veggie starts.
21815 S.W. Farmington Road, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, farmingtongardens.com
GARDEN CENTERS WORTH ATTENTION
We felt it was important to include the nurseries/garden centers where a large number of gardeners get their plants and inspiration, not to mention tools and pots and garden furniture. And in the case of the two Oregon garden centers, we listed the location with which we’re most familiar, since each have more than one.
Portland Nursery: The packed parking lot just off Southeast Stark Street every weekend speaks to the popularity of this institution, which began as the Portland Wholesale Nursery in 1907. The nursery features everything you might need for your garden, including a large selection of both outdoor and indoor plants, as well as some unique garden statuary.
5050 S.E. Stark St., 9 a.m.-7 p.m. daily, portlandnursery.com
Al’s Garden & Home in Sherwood: There are more than 10 acres of plants, patio furniture, tools, grills and outdoor decor as well as a selection of indoor plants. And a whole lot of purple (if you’ve been there, you know what we mean).
16920 S.W. Roy Rogers Road, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, (open 8 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday), als-gardencenter.com
Tsugawa Nursery in Woodland, Wash: Where many gardeners go in southwest Washington, the 40-year-old family-run nursery has an exceptional selection of water plants and fish for home ponds as well as a wide selection of Japanese maples, perennials, dwarf conifers, bamboo and grasses.
410 E. Scott Ave., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, tsugawanursery.com
One to watch
All our selections are nurseries that have stood the test of time. A nursery to keep an eye on in the future though, would be Lux Perennials Nursery (luxperennials.com), the not quite one-year-old brainchild of owner Lisa Graff nestled in the hills at 13610 NW Skyline Blvd. While you can buy Lux’s plants each Saturday at the Beaverton Farmers Market, the real treat is to visit Graff’s greenhouse at her home, which features a large, English-style garden with a view to die for. Open Saturdays through Aug. 7, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sundays through Aug. 8. Closed July 24-25.
Worthy of a mention
This column wouldn’t be complete without mentioning these outstanding smaller, specialty, regional, seasonal and neighborhood nurseries that could tempt us to whip out a charge card.
To name a few: Garden Fever! In Northeast Portland, Bamboo Garden in North Plains, Tony’s Garden Center (three locations, in Damascus, Southeast Portland and Happy Valley), Garland Nurser in Corvallis, Bauman’s Farm and Garden in Gervais, and Thicket and Marbott’s Greenhouse & Nursery, both in Northeast Portland.
For those wondering how on earth we could have left off One Green World, the Southeast Portland nursery well known for all things edible, rest easy. The family-owned nursery will be the focus of our August column.
— Marcia Westcott Peck is a landscape designer (mwplandscape.com or find her on Instagram at @pecklandscape or on Facebook by searching for “The Pecks”), and Dennis Peck is a former senior editor at The Oregonian/OregonLive.