Monday, May 9, 2011

a Mother's Day nursery visit

After I hung up from talking with my mom I started to feel a little sad that I (once again) wasn’t with her on Mother’s Day. So of course I did what any one would do and got in the car and went off to visit a nursery! I’ve blogged about Marbott’s in NE Portland a time or two in the past. It’s a charming, if a little rough around the edges place, and it reminds me of a couple nurseries back in Spokane. Nurseries I would have dragged my mom to if I were there visiting her. Besides the sentimental pull it’s also about time to buy my annual Papyrus and Marbott’s is where I’ve always gotten them. As luck would have it they still had a few. You can barely make out four gallon sized containers between the big leafy green stuff on the left and the purple "festival" grass on the right. Actually I’m pretty sure I’m still buying from the same inventory as that first one 4 years ago, the plants just keep getting older and knarlier! It’s nice that they keep them tucked away just for me. I was also tempted by some very large Umbrella Palms, or Cyperus involucratus. Unfortunately this is where the “rough around the edges” part rears its ugly head. There was no price on them…it’s about a 50/50 chance at Marbott’s that something will be priced. Later when I saw one of the owners I asked and was told $9.95. Great! Only to be told $19.95 by his mother (it’s a family affair) when I went to buy it. She “kindly” offered to split the difference with me at $15.95 (even though actually splitting the difference would have been 14.95 right?). This kind of thing is frustrating and you have to be ready to deal with it if you shop here.

Last week I mentioned my trip to Joy Creek Nursery to buy Saxifraga macnabiana. Turns out I could have gotten it here! Bigger plants than Joy Creek and also more expensive. While most would probably grow this Rock Rose (Helianthemum hybrid, Henfield Brilliant) for the flower… I liked it for its foliage… I love the way they display their Hostas, not lined up in rows according to type but all grouped together. Every time I see it I want to buy them all and replicate this at home. There were several gorgeous Abutilons. But the black Petunias seemed to be getting all the Mother’s Day attention. I am a sucker for rich dark colored grasses. One of my favorite Ceanothus (I’ve bought two of them here), Pt. Reyes Ceanothus. You can look, but you cannot buy! Here’s another one of those frustrating bits. They reuse old pots and don’t always change the label. At least the old name got crossed out here…it would be nice to have the right name on there too! Hopefully nobody will mistake this Olive for a Japanese Maple. A similar issue has happened to me when I’ve went to buy something thinking it was the price marked ($9.95), only to be told no that’s an old pot, this plant is actually $11.95. You are probably wondering why I keep going back with stories like this? It’s the old time charm. This place is seriously old school. They aren’t slick, they are a family run business and they are working hard. They may have issues with their pricing and their container maintenance but they know their plants.

One of my favorite memories of this place was the day "the old guy" (as I hear everyone call him) was so excited about a new plant that he almost dragged me over to see it. Once we were standing in front of it all that there was to see were 6 or 8 plastic pots filled with soil and a sign they had made with a photo on it. No plant to be seen and they wanted $14.95 for them! Crazy. Well I love seeing someone so excited about a plant so I took a leap of faith and bought one. It was a Rodgersia pinnata 'Chocolate Wings'...the first time I'd ever heard of a Rodgersia and it wasn't until I got home and started researching it that I realized what a treasure I had been shown. I like visiting this nursery and I want them to stick around! Warts and all.

Ponytail Grass…I’ve never heard it called that, but it certainly seems to fit. Maybe even better than it’s more common common name Mexican Feather Grass! Besides my two Cyperus purchases (Cyperus papyrus and Cyperus involucratus) I seemed to be in a fire-dancing mood. Who knew? Both the rich dark grass (Uncinia, actually a sedge) which I bought a pair of… And the little Kniphofia hirsuta (at $2.95 I bought 3) were called Fire Dance. I didn’t realize this until I got home. What is the universe trying to tell me? Do I need to go fire dancing? Happy Mother’s Day mom, I wish we could have spent the day visiting nurseries together! Maybe next year?


  1. I hope you are sticking to your design concept with getting all those new plants! (my design preching coming out) Seriously, you got some cool plants, and it looks like an adventure at such a nursery; many like that in ABQ.

    One here based unmarked prices on the type of car driven...their ancestry was Naples, Italy:-) (I gotta deal you CANT refuse...) Another has small qtys of many different, cool plants not for sale or unmarked - he'll sell them for an outrageously high price if he thinks you want them bad.

    Such places are OK for us plant nerds when we can part w/ more $, but does little to turn the public on to using more cool plants.

  2. AnonymousMay 09, 2011

    I don't remember Marbott's being around when we left PDX ten years ago. Where in NE is it?

  3. ssshhhhh....Marbotts is a secret to most Portlanders!

  4. DD, I love that you said that! Why? Well because I can point out that my design concept is different depending on which part of the garden you are in. The back garden (which is where these are all destined for) is a much more lush environment. Lots of green...a small stock tank pond, bamboo, etc. I also love your story about the Neapolitan. I know places like that for sure. This one is interesting for it's random cool things (which yes are usually the not marked ones), but all in all though it's for the petunia and hanging basket set.

    Patricia, I guess this is a secret (see LeLo's comment) so don't tell anyone but it's on Columbia Blvd...I'm guessing about at 20th.

    LeLo, I am surprised how many people have never been there!!!

  5. Depending on my mood, I think I'd like to visit Marbott's. If I really wanted to poke around and see what was there--warts and all--then I'd probably find it charming. If I needed a little more retail professionalism, I'd probably get a bit tweaked. But I reaaaaaallly love wandering around nurseries (and bookstores), so my guess is I'll be making my way to Marabott's.

    But knowing what you're getting into is the key. It's not Joy Creek, or Cistus, and that's OK.

  6. I have a real soft spot for Marbotts. I guess you just have to take the rough edges with the golden scores. After seeing (and not buying, darn it!) that Loquat earlier this year, I'm a firm fan. Helianthemum 'Henfield Brilliant' has done a fine job of covering my sunny front garden bed with foliage over winter, but count me in the camp that enjoys the flowers, too.

  7. oh, i just got homesick for Portland and Marbotts and the wealth of nursery hopping! I found many treasures there - mislabeled and probably not priced. Ernie (the old guy) was always ready to give a tour and show you his latest plants he propagated from seed! He is a true plantsman and that nursery is the cleanest and tidiest around. Lets all the support the little guys when we can!

  8. i totally love marbotts. everyone that works retail there also works in the production houses, hence the customer service can be both great (people know their sh*t) and odd (people aren't people people).

    their herb section has some great values. Plectranthus amboinicus is sold as a herb for $2.50 or so. elsewhere you see it sold as a houseplant for $9. they also sell Prostanthera rotundifolia as an herb for the same herb price.

    also, they have quart and gallon sized tomatoes for very cheap.

    they are one of few places to get nice uncinia uncinata. i talked with old man marbott about that plant for a while, and he convinced me to just buy seed over the internet and grow it. thats a great sign. now i have four tiny plants in 4" pots that i paid about $2 for.

    oh, and obviously their annuals are pretty cheap and they have a nice selection of stuff you can't find elsewhere.

    i am a fan.

  9. Van, you should plan a visit when you're here for the study weekend! Gosh I hope you've got a large vehicle. All the nurseries you'll be stopping at...danger!

    MulchMaid, that Loquat is still there...waiting for you.

    Garden Coach, so you've moved away from Portland? Gosh. I would be going through nursery withdrawal too! You are right, that lace is incredibly clean. And there are so many picturesque little corners.

    eeldip, there were so many people swarming the tomato section I couldn't get near it. I think I'll go back in a couple of weeks and see what they've got left. Your story about the Uncinia uncinata says it all doesn't it. Yes that place is indeed a treasure.

  10. Rodgersia pinnata 'Chocolate Wings' - nice find!

    Can't wait to see it come up for you.

  11. My Mom's Day trip was to Bovee's (found with your help). I'm just about to write it up. Now I'm going to have to pay a visit to this one.


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