A Climate-Change-Friendly Plot

Check out these stellar nurseries to learn how to build a sustainable garden.

Gardening - Xera Plants (Allison Barr)

Ice storms, heat domes—these are uncertain times, to say the least. While it’s tricky enough navigating it all as a human, plants are struggling with the ups and downs as well. There’s no perfect solution here, but there are some pretty darn cool nurseries trying to offer more educational guidance with low-maintenance climate-adaptive plants to endure whatever’s ahead. That sounds grim, but these nurseries are anything but. ROBIN BACIOR.

Xera Plants

1114 SE Clay St., 503-236-8563, xeraplants.com. 10 am–6 pm Thursday–Saturday.

As climate change continues to wreak havoc on our lives, we are going to need businesses like Xera around. This humble no-nonsense nursery on Southeast Clay Street between 11th and 12th Avenues specializes in climate-adaptive native plants that, with the right care, will thrive here in the Portland metro area.

Since opening its gates in 2000, Xera has grown its business considerably. While it began by bringing in starts from retailers around the area, Xera now grows everything it sells in a large greenhouse near Sherwood. Xera has also started developing its own plants, using cuttings from natives found in the wild, or in the case of one small prickly orange shrub, a plant that just popped up in co-owner Paul Bonine’s home garden.

What makes Xera inviting, especially for novice gardeners, is how much of the guesswork it takes out of the process. Each plant in its space is accompanied by a small placard that spells out the truly important details about what the plant should look like when it is flourishing, how much sun it requires, and how much space it’s likely to take up. “It helps a lot,” Bonine says. “Just a little more reinforcement. It says something similar to what the tag says, and there’s the website. That’s three opportunities to learn.”

The one thing you can’t rely on is whether or not they’ll have a particular plant available. There’s a constantly rotating stock, and the savvy folks tend to keep an eye on Xera’s website to put in pre-orders. You’d do well to do the same. ROBERT HAM.

Cistus Nursery

22711 NW Gillihan Road, 503-621-2233, cistus.com. 10 am–5 pm daily.

When owner Sean B. Hogan was starting Cistus, he was told that people can easily get intimidated by plants. “It can be daunting,” Hogan says. “For us, everything’s an exploration.”

Cistus, which began as a couple of greenhouses off North Mississippi Avenue and has been rooted on Sauvie Island since 2002, feels like just that—exploration, curiosity unfurling in native pale-yellow irises, silk tassel, and manzanitas with smooth maroon trunks (over 600 are planted on the property). The nursery grows more than 20,000 different plants, with an emphasis on climate-adaptive and climate-resilient ones, offering native and Mediterranean flora that require less water. Cistus is divided up by geographic regions (including the “Zonal Denial” section), with tags that give fairly in-depth information to guide the gardener. “We’re just really trying to be about solid information,” Hogan says.

And he’s offering just that. Hogan’s spent his entire life devoted to plants (he rooted his first cuttings in a sandbox at age 3), traveling around the world to gather seedpods, lecturing throughout the U.S. and Europe, and has written and consulted on several books, like Trees for All Seasons: Broadleaved Evergreens for Temperate Climates. (He also designs for big-name clients like Jackson Browne, the Apple campus and Amazon.) But his heart is at Cistus. He might walk you around the property (even after a recent hip and leg injury) just to talk plants. “It’s been so much fun to have plant geeks come out of the woodwork,” he says.

For the timid plant novices, this place is for you, too. And don’t let the chandelier hanging in that first greenhouse intimidate you—just start exploring. RB.

Portland Nursery

Two locations, portlandnursery.com. 8 am–6 pm Monday–Thursday, 8 am–7 pm Friday–Sunday.

Most Portland gardeners worth their weight in mulch have lost themselves in the atmospheric Elysium that is Portland Nursery. Founded in 1907 by Albert Brownell, Portland Wholesale Nursery changed the gardening game for an entire generation of green-thumbed hobbyists by shipping hundreds of thousands of plants to gardeners across the country. Then in the early 1920s, Avery Steinmetz purchased Portland Wholesale Nursery, developing, over a few decades, the Portland Nursery we know and love today: a dreamy utopia of indoor greenery, decorative and functional outdoor frippery, and a substantial selection of fruit/veg/herb starts designed for both the container-bound beginner and the seasoned acreage cultivator.

It naturally stands to reason that our beloved Portland Nursery would be on the forefront of climate-friendly gardening at all levels, from vast yards to small patios. “The quickest way to offset carbon,” one employee advised us, “is with big trees like evergreens: Doug firs, hemlocks and red cedars, or even a big oak or big ash tree.” Jarid Kroes at the store’s Southeast Division location (the shop’s other location is on Southeast Stark Street) also advised us on low-water and drought-tolerant plants like the native red flowering currant, or yucca, agave or even succulent shrubbery. “Consider things like yard size, size limitations, the yard’s direction, as in whether it’s south-facing west-facing, east-facing, etc., and come on in,” Kroes says. “We always have people in the nursery who are ready to guide you.” BRIANNA WHEELER.

See more of Willamette Week’s 2024 Garden Guide here!

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