One of my favorite pastimes is visiting nurseries. I consider there to be two broad categories, and while I enjoy them both, it is for different reasons.
The first type I call garden centers. These are places that source the majority of their plants from the big growers. This is where you will find all of the new introductions, the new hybrids and cultivars – many of which are quite amazing.
The second type I call the boutique nurseries. These places grow almost all of their own plants, do their own propagation and in some cases do have some of their own introductions. While some of their plants may not be as big and bold as those offered in the garden centers, they are almost, by definition, plants that are well suited to the local climate and conditions. That is why they selected them. They are also the places where you can find plants that you may have no previous experience with, and that makes them a new challenge.
One such nursery in our area (I use the term loosely, because it is about 100 miles away, but it is still one of the closest to us) is Dancing Oaks in Monmouth, Oregon. They are a retail and mail-order nursery tucked in the foothills of the Coast Range of the Willamette Valley in Northern Oregon. Everything they do is on site.
The mother plants form a display garden, so you can often see what plants will look like when they are mature. They propagate these plants in the same poly tunnels and greenhouses in which they have their items for sale – meaning you often get to see what is coming up for next season or next year. Their website is also good enough that you can do your homework before you arrive and, as I usually do, start with a shopping list of about 30 plants.
What also makes the nursery stand out is the staff. They really believe that their primary role is to help you. On this latest visit one guy, who had done a lot of research into Orchids, was telling us all about ones that would do well in our local conditions – not just for the plants that we were buying, but for those he suggested we look out for. Other staff members were searching around to help us locate some of the plants that we knew they had only 1 or 2 in stock.
But the co-owners, Leonard and even more so Fred, are the stars of the show. Fred is willing to spend hours with you to talk about plants that may do well for us, to make suggestions, to talk about plants.
Their love of plants means they are always looking for new plants that will grow well in our cool Mediterranean climate – a market which is highly under-served because it is different from most of the rest of the U.S. That makes Leonard and Fred go off on plant hunting expeditions around the World, to find new plants to bring home and trial. They have gone to India, Tasmania and most recently England. Plants and seeds return with them (well through the legal channels for import, which is quite a story itself) and then they grow them on and assess their suitability.
On this last trip, Fred decided that he wanted to show us some of the plants they had grown from seed that they collected in Tasmania. He was about to plant some of them out in their display gardens. He also felt that they would like to know how well they would do on the coast and so ushered us into one of the off-limit areas of the nursery to show what he had.
What we came home with
We selected two plants to trial in our garden. The first was Notelaea ligustrum. In Eastern Tasmania it is called the native Olive or Silkwood. It is a small tree that occurs in undisturbed forest. It will have greenish-yellow flowers that form racemes extending from the leaf axils. If pollinated, relatively large fruit form that are a shade of pink, varying from white to a dark purple. Though edible and often heavy yielding, the fruit have a large pip and a strong, bitter taste which gives them little food value. We will have to see if the local birds enjoy them.
The second plant was Leptospermum glaucescum. We do have several Leptospermums growing in the garden, so we know that this one should do well. What sets it apart from the others is the bluish leaves. This again is a large shrub or small tree with flaky bark and will have white flowers, probably during summer.
Wrapping it up
We ended up acquiring 22 new plants for our collection ranging from trees, to perennials, the Orchids, to Ferns – Many of these were specifically selected for Nature Island, a plot of land in the middle of the garden that we are leaving to natives, and plants that are selected for the particular benefit to birds, bees, and all the critters in the area. This is part of our attempts to build a balanced ecosystem that does not use any chemicals.
If you find yourself in the area of Monmouth, pay Dancing Oaks a visit – just be prepared to wash your car afterwards, because it does require a two miles drive along a gravel road, but it is so worth it.