She tried art and she tried teaching, but gardening was Pat Thompson’s first love. In pursuing her passion, her previous experiences have served her well.
Thompson owns and operates Secret Garden Growers near Canby, Ore., a retail and mail-order nursery specializing in rare, unusual and heirloom plants, shrubs and trees.
She is an arborist, garden designer and consultant whose other services include specialty maintenance and installation. She combs the country for new plants and travels the world in search of seeds.
“The biggest reason I started growing plants is that I couldn’t get the plants I wanted for my designs, just the same 15-25 over and over again,” Thompson said. “I wanted my own plants for my own customers and it grew into this.”
“This” is 8 peaceful acres off the beaten path in Clackamas County, Ore., where the nursery and display gardens spread over 3 acres. There’s a 30-person yurt for indoor events and many places to sit, picnic or just watch the world go by, including chickens, dogs, cats and an intriguing flock of Indian Runner ducks.
“It’s quiet; it’s peaceful; it’s beautiful,” Thompson said. “It’s a little piece of heaven that we like to share.”
The display gardens offer solutions for extra dry, shady or sunny areas and a resident herd of deer make it easy for Thompson to recommend varieties they don’t like.
Lately, Thompson has made it a priority to help millennials get started in gardening.
“It’s important for me to figure out how to reach these young people; it’s not the easiest thing to do,” Thompson said. “I’m introducing them to the houseplant mode, which is how I started out.
“They’re trying to find everything on their phone and that doesn’t necessarily work with gardening,” Thompson said. “Most of us gardeners are old and if we don’t get some young people into gardening it’s just going to die out.”
Secret Garden is part of the Cascade Nursery Trail, a collection of small, family-owned specialty nurseries that hold four tour-based events a year and help each other stay abreast of social media marketing opportunities.
“One little specialty nursery can’t do much but seven of us combined together can do a lot,” Thompson said.
The nursery is also a member of Plant Lust, a plant referral website started a few years ago by two Portland women. When people search for a plant, plantlust.com appears near the top of the page, providing multiple pictures, descriptions and where they’re available. Instead of ordering from five different nurseries, customers can place one order and Plant Lust sends the orders to the individual vendors.
“We’re way out here,” Thompson said. “But once people find out where we are they always come back and so do our mail order customers so we’ve got to be doing something right. We sell tens of thousands of plants a year and have had a really steady stream of traffic the last few years.”