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Roadtrips #3  (Cistus)

Cistus Design Nursery

22711 NW Gillihan Road.

Sauvie Island, Oregon   503-282-7706


First of all, the drive alone is enough to make your heart sing.  You’ve got a stunning view of Mt. St. Helens, Adams and Rainer as you travel north along Sauvie Island on your way to Cistus Design Nursery.  About 5 miles down Gillihan Road you find Cistus on your left… a nursery that is ahead of the curve in plant culture and acumen. That’s why Bob Hackney of Southeast Portland keeps coming back, “In a nutshell, I can find plants here that I can’t find anywhere else. I love the drive, plus there’s a wealth of knowledge.” If you are a plant person, there is a magnetic pull to the nursery. You can’t wait to get inside and see what’s new. If you’re a weekend gardener….what a treat you have in store for you! Although the ambiance might seem rather overwhelming for a new comer, Hackney says you need to approach shopping at this nursery a little differently.  Hackney says “The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time” and that’s the approach needed for the huge plant collections at Cistus.  You take ‘um one at a time, as your comfort level and confidence grows.

As you walk in the big new front entry, you gotta remember, the rare plants they sell are not “new” they’re just “new to us”.  Oh, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the “digs” are brand new and improved… upwards of  $200,000 dollars worth of renovations are now open for you to peruse. Cistus grows most of their own and have “road tested” the plants for years by the time they sell them. The nursery’s mission is to “make rare but beautiful plants common”.  Growers and hybridizers know they’ve got a winner if Cistus Nursery puts the plant on its list.

The owners will be the first to tell you “not to be overwhelmed” by the two words “rare plants”. Many of these plants are a lot simpler than you think.  The owners, Parker Sanderson and Sean Hogan travel the world to find different plants that grow in climates similar to ours. The difference today is, instead of keeping the unusual plants for themselves or a couple of “clients” in their design business, they sell the rest at Cistus. Parker is hot on trees this year; Olives, Figs and Pomegranates.  Sean is harder to pin down, he’s been plant collecting forever.  Heck, Sean had his own Cactus collection at 3 years old!

Cistus Nursery is a niche market and yes, it definitely has snob appeal, but Sean Hogan says there’s nothing more rewarding than helping new gardeners get hooked “I walk into the auto shop and feel totally overwhelmed… so I know what some people must think, but we steer people to plants they’ll be successful with.” How’s it done? With a knowledge of plants that goes light years beyond anything we’ll learn here in the next 10 minutes. Parker and Hogan call themselves “Plant Geeks” from the git-go. Parker explains it this way “We both come from University backgrounds where it’s common place to openly share information.  This is a way to earn a living at it.” Granted, their backgrounds make them pretty well connected. Hogan was curator of the University of California at Berkley Botanic Garden while Sanderson was at the University of California Davis Arboretum. To say the two are “plugged into” the garden world is an understatement.  The garden world often comes to them.  Together they have popularized some of the funniest phrases known today in local gardening circles.  For instance, they have a name for the insecurity some of us have about wishing we knew more than we do about a particular plant family, they call it “Genus Envy”.  (If you don’t get it, that means you have it.)  But don’t let that put you off.  There are a couple of things you should look for while you’re there. Take a gander at my favorite selection of  Flowering Maples (Abutilon) which aren’t really maples at all but they do have great flowers. (I’ve got one that bloomed all winter.) Then, search out all the different varieties of Eucalyptus trees that will survive our winters.  So go on… hop in the wagon and take a “wee” road trip. You’ll find Cistus Design Nursery on Sauvie Island is world class and in a class of its own in the nursery business.


(****Editors Note: Kyle has pictures of Ceanothus and Olive arbequena)


Hogan’s Hero:

Ceanothus:  “Ray” Native to West.  4 foot shrub with sky blue flowers.

Olive Tree: arbequena.



(Phrases created or made familiar by Hogan/Sanderson)

“Zonal Denial” 1996 Hogan’s term for growing plants that aren’t supposed to be able to survive in our garden zone.  And knowing the plant’s needs well enough to accommodate the weather.

“Cram-scaping”  Leave no bare earth! Like “landscaping” only crowded, this explains the propensity to over plant.



Anne Jaeger’s Clippings:

Pacific Coast Iris

‘Little Toby’

Why I love this plant:

*The flower is a dark burgundy with white in the center and a gold mark down the throat.

*It is native to Oregon and won’t grow all that well outside the Northwest.

*Vigorous and tough.

*Green leaves all year.

*Very disease free.


How to Grow:

*Choose a sunny site, which drains easily.

*Loosen soil 6-8 inches down.

*Mix in compost.

*Rhizome (roots) need to touch the soil, but leave the top exposed.

*Dig, divide or plant Iris about a month after it blooms.

*Add fertilizer now and then again a month after bloom (Use bone meal, superphosphate or good general fertilizer with 6-10-10 on the label.)