CORVALLIS, Ore. — Esther Gruber McIvoy’s Willamette Gardens is a nursery specializing in native plants.
Her efforts to propagate native trees and shrubs, perennials, grasses, vines, sedges and ferns on her small plot near central Corvallis, Ore., has resulted in a niche nursery business that recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.
She terms the nursery “more of a labor of love” with the only major investment being a small tractor.
She has also spent her life working on rare plants, soil invertebrates and other topics.
“I’ve always been more of a conservationist than an environmentalist,” McIvoy said, who helped work toward getting California’s Point Reyes designated a national seashore, which now “offers visitors over 1,500 species of plants and animals to discover.”
Her plants are grown in raised beds and planters, or she does cuttings, McIvoy said. She currently sells the plants “on a retail basis at a wholesale price,” saying it’s the only way to keep a steady business without having to match the prices of larger wholesalers.
She used to mix all of her potting soils on her own in a wheelbarrow until a friend urged her to avoid “wrecking her shoulders” by getting the tractor. Now, it’s used by her son to mix the soils and do the tilling for her garden.
“I don’t buy pre-made potting soils because I don’t use any pesticides or herbicides,” she said. She purchases PRC — “publicly recycled compost” — from the city’s residential recycling pickup service. It contains garden and woody debris that she mixes with bark and pumice to make the compost she uses for her plants.
“Each plant has its own specifications and qualifications for starting them,” she said. “Some are really easy — from cuttings — and some take more work. Some I get bare-root if I don’t have them. And natives need to be put in the right part of a habitat.”
Willamette Gardens also produces plants for the Benton County Soil and Water Conservation Service on a year-ahead basis, she said.
Those who purchase plants from her are specific about what they want, she said, including color preferences, evergreen or deciduous trees, watering needs and sun exposure.
But the gardens are a sanctuary for McIvoy, who does the work to make it possible.
“I love coming out here; it’s my escape,” she said.