Spreading the Joy

Joy Creek Nursery is all about people, plants, and a strong sense of place. Knowledgeable and friendly nursery employees welcome customers with a map of the site, a current catalog, a clipboard, and an exhortation to have fun exploring the six acres of gardens, trial beds, and retail offerings.

Nestled amid Oregon’s rolling hills and pastoral farmland, the nursery rambles down a sloped site, paying homage to distant views of the mighty Columbia River and majestic Mt. Hood. Lush beds line the driveway. Seasonal displays frame the retail area. A picturesque old barn serves as the centerpiece of the property and the jumping-off point for a shopping extravaganza or a quiet stroll down a garden path.

For owners Maurice Horn and Mike Smith, the nursery was a late-life calling. Mutual friends who knew they shared a passion for plants introduced them in 1986. Seeds of their shared vision for a mail-order nursery were sown in countless conversations about being unable to find local sources for plants they wanted to grow. Their vision became real when Mike took early retirement, sold his house in the city, and purchased 38 acres alongside Joy Creek in rural Scappoose, a 30-minute drive from downtown Portland. The property was the perfect site to realize their dream. Maurice left his stressful position as a paralegal, and Scott Christie, who had years of experience in greenhouse operations, joined them as a silent partner. (He eventually moved on to other opportunities.) The nursery’s motto reflects its inception: “We are creating the nursery we always wanted to find.”

In the early years, all three men worked full-time at the nursery and moonlighted at other jobs to pay the bills. Maurice recounts that they had been in business for seven years before any of them had a real day off. Small ads placed in select gardening publications advertised the release of the first Joy Creek catalog in May 1992. With 200 entries, it was more pamphlet than catalog. The current catalog lists 1,000 plants; the Joy Creek Nursery Web site, 2,500. In the early days, on-site sales were the farthest thing from their minds. As their reputation grew, however, local customers who wanted to see plants before ordering began to seek them out. Up the driveway they came, eager to purchase plants from the stock beds. Maurice says he didn’t know what to do or how to handle the exchange of currency—they weren’t set up for it. He remembers finally saying to Mike, “I think that we are a retail nursery.” Mike concedes that, having left the hustle of the city for a rural retreat, it took him some time to get used to daily walk-in customers—but who really needs privacy?

Working Displays

The stunning display gardens, which amount to four acres, are working beds that provide stock plants and cutting material for propagation. A framework of architectural conifers and evergreen and deciduous shrubs ground the garden. Interesting foliage colors, textures, and forms abound, with over 8,500 plants vying for attention.

The plant collections for which the nursery is revered appear throughout the gardens rather than in their own sections. Clematis, Maurice’s first love, clamber up and down tuteurs, over arbors, and through the woody scaffolds of shrubs and trees. Penstemons, both species and hybrids, populate the dry garden. Hydrangeas commingle with hellebores, lungworts, epimediums, hosta, and other shady characters in the woodland garden. The fuchsia walk buzzes with hummingbirds from June through autumn.
Latent in the display gardens are anecdotes of the nursery’s history. Scott Christie’s hosta collection kicked off the colorful plant combinations in the farmhouse garden, nestled under the high canopy of shade trees and venerable rhododendrons. A visit from the county water master precipitated the development of the dryland garden, which grows along the driveway. He informed them that they didn’t yet have water rights for that part of the property. Plants that don’t require supplemental summer water—rock roses, pinks, hebes, salvias, sedums, and grasses—thrive in this sunny sloped bed.

Sharing information and educating customers about all aspects of horticulture is part of the Joy Creek mission. A rectangular stone terrace in the middle of the Four Seasons garden, with plants for walls and a tented ceiling, frequently acts as a classroom. Mike and Maurice believe that their classes help gardeners at all levels improve their skills and confidence. Their speaker list has grown over the years to include regional as well as national and international experts. Topics range from practical pruning to design. The men view the free classes as a way to both educate and thank the gardening community. Generous catalog descriptions similarly serve mail-order customers.

Visiting Joy Creek Nursery is a happy experience. How better to spend a day than to wander gorgeous gardens, sit in on a class, and shop for plants? On the weekends they even serve homemade cookies. That’s a full-service nursery!

Joy Creek Introductions

Miscanthus sinensis
‘Gold Bar’
Joy Creek struck gold with its 2005 introduction of this compact maidengrass. Vertical gold stripes contrast with the burgundy inflorescences that appear in late October. It works in gardens of all sizes and in containers. USDA Zones 5–8.

Penstemon ‘Wine Kissed’
This is the fourth in the nursery’s Kissed Sisters series of penstemons. The tubular flowers’ white throats offset their wine red lips. ‘Wine Kissed’ combines well with tawny grasses for a late-summer and autumn focal point. Zones 7-9.

Agapanthus ‘Joyful Blue’
The globular lavender-blue flower heads and strappy foliage of A. ‘Joyful Blue’ are exotic additions to dry gardens and Mediterranean style borders. The attractive seed heads lengthen the season of interest. Zones 7–9.

Kniphofia ‘Orange Crush’
Mike Smith selected this plant for its huge flower spikes, whose color reminds him of a certain tonic. Unlike most other kniphofias, this one produces blooms from June through August and has broad, semi-evergreen foliage. Zones 7–9.

Knautia macedonia ‘Ruby Star’
Only half the height of the species, K. m. ‘Ruby Star’ is an 18-inch workhorse. It blooms nonstop from May through September. The small pincushion flowers are ruby red with a hint of white in their centers. Zones 5–10.

Joy Creek Favorites Clematis

Clematis ‘Rooguchi’
Friend and mentor Kazushige Ozawa
gifted Joy Creek with what has become
a best-selling plant. Dark purple bells ornament this short climber or scrambler all summer. Hard prune in late winter. Hardy in USDA Zones 4–9.

C. viticella ‘Alba Luxurians’
Flowers with small white recurved tepals tipped in lime green cover this classic climber throughout the summer. In cool weather they may be pale blue. A vigorous grower that easily reaches 12 feet. Hard prune at winter’s end. Zones 6–9.

C. ‘Betty Corning’
Down-facing silver-blue bells have a honeylike fragrance. This delicate-looking but resilient climber was discovered by Betty Corning in Albany, New York. Botanists speculate that it is a cross between C. viticella and C. crispa. Prune hard at the end of winter. Zones 6–9.

C. ‘Mikelite’
(Shown here on trellis over Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Dart’s Gold’.) This easy climber, a cross between Clematis ‘Madame Julia Correvon’ and C. ‘Valge Daam’, blooms from mid- to late summer. The flowers’ reddish purple sepals have a red stripe. Prune hard at winter’s end. Zones 3–9.

C. ‘Princess Diana’
English clematarian Barry Fretwell bred this hybrid as a tribute to the late Diana, Princess of Wales. Raspberry flowers are displayed from summer into early autumn. Let it weave its way through purple-leaved shrubs. Cut back hard at the end of winter. Zones 5–9.

C. xdurandii
Regular deadheading ensures that open-faced indigo flowers decorate the lax stems of this nonclimbing perennial from late May until September. Allow it to ramble around the bases of roses and other shrubs. Tolerates drought. Cut back in late winter. Zones 5–8.

Joy Creek Favorites Hydrangea

Hydrangea serrata ‘Preziosa’
Small mophead inflorescences appear lavender or pink early in the season then change to burgundy. The green foliage matures to merlot in autumn. Branches, leaf petioles, and leaf veins are red. Five feet by four feet. USDA Zones 5–9.

H. macrophylla
‘Ayesha’
This cultivar is unmistakable, with its petals that resemble partially popped popcorn. The flowers start out a very pale blue and become darker blue with age. ‘Ayesha’ repeats its bloom over the season. Five feet by five feet. Zones 5–9.

H. macrophylla ‘Pia’
More diminuitive than most, H. m. ‘Pia’ is perfect for containers and small gardens. The flowers are usually red, but with the correct acidity they can be purple. Its foliage is smaller than its larger brethren’s.  Three feet by three feet. Zones 5–9.

H. macrophylla ‘Mariesii Variegata’
Delicate blue lacecap inflorescences stand out against a background of vanilla-edged green foliage—a showstopper in the shade garden. It is remontant, producing flowers throughout the summer. Five feet by five feet. Zones 5–9.

H. serrata ‘Miyama Yae-murasaki’
This lovely Japanese cultivar is best suited to the dappled shade of the woodland garden. The double sterile flowers, which develop on long petioles, start out soft pink and darken in hue as the foliage turns an autumnal red. Five feet by five feet. Zones 5–9.

H. ‘Shirobana-gaku’
Immense green leaves are a good foil for white lacecap flowers. ‘Shirobana-gaku’ can fit perfectly into an all-white garden
or brighten a corner of a shady bed. It is unusual in that both the sterile and fertile florets are white. With the onset of fall, the sterile florets show off their pale green reverses. Six feet by six feet. Zones 5–8.

Getting in Touch

 Joy Creek Nursery, 503-543-7474, www.joycreek.com.

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