Joy Creek Nursery - A Small Tribute

An education of a lifetime. That's how I describe my six years of employment at Joy Creek Nursery. In that time, I estimate I took 200,000 photos of the gardens and nursery. It was my job, once a week, year-round, to photograph whatever I wished to for our social media accounts and website. It was also my job for a couple of days a week to be in our retail area to help customers with their gardening dreams. Now that Joy Creek Nursery is closed forever, the treasure trove of memories and photographs feel even more special. 

Joy Creek Nursery, for those of you who don't know, is a retail and mail order nursery in Scappoose, Oregon, a half an hour or so drive north of Portland. They rocked it for 30 years, growing many hard to find perennials, shrubs, grasses, clematis - in other words, hardy plants for a year-round garden. It was a destination for experts and beginners alike. Martha Stewart magazine featured Joy Creek a couple of times years ago. The nursery was kind of a big deal. The time has now come for the owners of the nursery to hang up their clippers and retire. After being a vital resource of information, amazing plants and for helping us grow our gardens, they deserve to enjoy the fruits of their labors in their personal gardens.

My education - it was an education in learning plant names as this is a nursery that refers to plants by their proper Latin names. Six years ago I knew what I thought was a lot of Latin, but this was a couple of thousand kinds of plants to learn. Jump right in. It was also an education about how plants grow, much of that by intimately observing the four-acre gardens at Joy Creek every week. Finally, it was an education about photography. Joy Creek, namely Maurice and Mike the two owners, allowed me freedom to get out there and document this 40+ year old garden. With many mature trees and shrubs as well as the unusual, unexpected and sometimes common plants there was something of interest every single time I headed out into the garden with my camera in hand. I was the one lucky enough to call it my office. As I posted each photograph on our social media accounts I had to accurately label and describe every plant I posted a photograph of. That was humbling and frankly a crash course in learning what we grew. Friends ask me how I remember so many plant names; this is the exercise that cemented it for me.

My goal now, after the smoke has cleared, is to share much of what I have observed these past six years. How do you do that with so many photos to sort through? To begin with I thought a tour of the gardens in general throughout the seasons would be helpful. Perhaps a trip back to sort out specific genera or other themes will manifest in the future but for now, this is what seems right.

A scene I know well, as do many of you. This is the checkout area in our retail barn with a beautiful bouquet made by my friend and colleague Ricki Grady. Every week she created otherworldly bouquets of amazing plant material gathered in the gardens at Joy Creek Nursery just to beautify the barn.

The nursery opened by the first week of March every year. While spring can feel sparse, this garden had many surprises, especially spring woodland ephemerals. New emerging foliage of deciduous woody shrubs caught in the low light of March always set my heart on fire.

Some of the several large magnolia trees in the garden.

The northern edge of the gardens as seen from the employee parking lot with surrounding forest in the background.  

Cornus kousa 'Satomi' - a pair flanks the pathway to Mike's front door. He does live there in the white house in the middle of it all, co-owner of the nursery and head of the landscape department.

Erythronium oregonum, our native fawn lily. Because it blooms so early and is in an out-of-the-way area, most people never get to see this.

When Mike bought the property some 40 years ago it came with mature rhododendrons. He has artfully limbed them up to be able to garden below, creating a canopy. A perfect environment for the many hostas grown at Joy Creek, especially paired with pink rhodie snow.

Magolia 'Ann', a familiar sight to many as this is the top of the driveway and parking area for customers. The yellow flowering tree to the right is Corylopsis sinensis var. calvescens f. veitchiana. A mouthfull, but a very cool small tree if late frost doesn't zap the blooms.

Primula 'Cowichan Red'

A second area with limbed rhodies.

There are many philadelphus or mock orange cultivars in the gardens, this one is Philadelphus 'Innocence' with variegated leaves. 

A view up the very familiar driveway with the retail area barn just visible at the top.

A wider view of Cornus k. 'Satomi' and the steps up to the house.

My favorite hosta in the gardens, Hosta 'Sagae'.

Joy Creek grew many saxifrages, and in spring when the ones in the garden are in full bloom, it's pretty magical.

I show this same shot of the driveway to point out the spectacular Kolkwitzia amabilis on the left. Fountains of soft pink flowers last a good while and in autumn there is some lovely foliage color.

Hakonechloa macra, just the straight species. This is probably 4 - 5' tall.

Dierama dracomontanum backed by hot colors of day lilies and crocosmia.

Bearded iris and Crambe cordifolia in the background left getting ready to bloom.

Summer in my favorite border, the Texture Border.

Rudbeckia 'Joy Creek Select' field - every year this reliable patch produces a blaze of orange, brown and red toned flowers that last for weeks.

This area I refer to as the heart of the garden. Behind this bed is the terrace where many classes, demonstrations, musical events and Twilight in the Gardens happened.

The borders on either side of the driveway have so much to take in. I used to see customers drive very slowly looking out their windows.

The very rustic retail barn. Years ago this land was a dairy farm. The barn, seen here, has a special hidey-hole where rumor has it some bootlegging went on. 

Behind the scenes in the backstock area with thousands of hydrangeas on the left and mixed perennials for sun on the right, it looks like penstemons - one of the many genera we specialized in. Maurice and his team of propagators did the whole lot.

Summer in the hydrangea stock fields with one of several bamboo groves visible in the background.

Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold' really brightens up the garden.

Shrubs, the backbone of the Joy Creek Gardens, are plentiful and varied.

The patch of Persicaria affinis spilling down a short rock wall backed by Itea v. 'Henry's Garnet'. 

Also near the center of the garden.

Every year Mike plants a veggie plot for all of us to enjoy. The raspberries on the right have been a regular source of bliss for many of the employees over the years.

The iris patch at the edge of the gardens. Iris were always a mystery to me, that is identifying any as they are so mixed up. Pretty, though.

Some of the hundreds of hydrangeas in the gardens. Hydrangea 'Eve' is closest while Hydrangea 'Oregon Pride' with the dark stems is behind. There were good and bad years for hydrangeas here, 2021 was a bad year due to the intensely hot and dry spring and summer.

A mighty patch of Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing' in the center.

Penstemon 'Kissed Series' - Joy Creek introductions - in the stock fields.

Amsonia hubrichtii blooming a little earlier in the season.

Same scene a few weeks later. Amsonia hubrichtii glowing in the early summer sun, Teucrium chamaedrys is the pink flowering shrub in the background, right.

 Clematis 'Alionushka' 

One of the many roses in the garden, Rosa 'Westerland'

Vitex agnus-castus, chaste tree, in full bloom along the driveway. This is actually a late summer bloomer and a favorite of bumble bees.

The summertime view of the barn and gardens.

A bit of an ominous sky with wildfire smoke in the air.

Verbascum chaixii along a gravel path.

Hydrangea stock fields a little later in the season.

In a shady corner, Hakonechloa macra on the left with Aruncus dioicus spilling out onto the path on the right.

The same heart of the garden with autumnal tones.

A beautiful grass, Molinia c. 'Skyracer' with Sedum 'Autumn Joy' in front.

There are so many large and wonderful grasses in the gardens of Joy Creek Nursery. This photo I suppose represents all of them.

Under the snakebark maple, Acer davidii.
Aster 'Septemberrubin' 

Looking down the driveway in late October

Cotoneaster nitida that has been pruned to reach up and be a canopy. This has the orangest, most brilliant autumn color.

Zauschneria and agastache in the newest bed near the office, still blooming in October.

Edge of the gardens as seen from the fields.

Cornus k. 'Satomi' in autumn

In the hills surrounding Joy Creek Nursery. Do you spot the two chairs?

Late summer to autumn is the time of year when large, heat-loving grasses thrive. Here Miscanthus 'Malepartus' adds such character to the garden, while Hamamelis v. adds more yellows to the scene.

The barn and nursery in the background as seen from the surrounding fields.

Amsonia hubrichtii in autumn.

Fothergilla 'Mt. Airy' backed by some form of miscanthus.

Amsonia illustris paired with Persicaria affinis.

Winter is very quiet in the garden. Hardly a soul around save for birds, squirrels and the like. This is when the small moments take on special meaning.

Pale winter light against the barn

Along the driveway, the garden beds look much different. Here, mosses, wrought iron fences and lichen become the stars.

The gardens as seen from the surrounding fields mid winter. Mike's home is barely visible.

Branch structure and color along with evergreen shrubs and trees are highlights of the winter garden.

Camperdown elm 

A light frost, redtwig dogwood and Yucca 'Color Guard'.

The well-known Agave neomexicana by the office door seen in a different light.

Nursery tables

The gardens of Joy Creek Nursery after a snowstorm

Melting snow in the customer parking lot.

I leave you with this sign that has been in the retail barn for years - a sentiment that pretty much sums up how each of us, the employees of Joy Creek Nursery, feel about not only this gem of an institution but of the world in general. Thank you, Maurice and Mike, for the years of service you have given to the gardening community. May the memories be sweet for us all. Here's to all the trees we have collectively planted over the years, may they thrive.

It has been an honor and a hell of an education, both of which I will take with me until the end.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always thank you so much for reading and commenting, we love hearing from you. 


  1. Such a lovely tribute, Tamara! I was reminiscing with every picture through the whole post. So many wonderful memories. I thoroughly enjoyed my 3 years working there and also learned a tremendous amount that I will have with me always. SO special. There will never be another place quite like it.

    1. Thank you, Gina. Aaah, so many memories for sure. We were so lucky to have you for the time we did, you enriched our experiences too.

      So special, no other like it, indeed. xo

  2. Well done. You do the plot of land and its place in your life honor. Bittersweet, but beautiful and beautifully told.

  3. What a beautiful tribute. I can't remember the last time I spent over a half hour enjoying a blog post. Thank you, Tamara for sharing your passion for photography and plant knowledge and the joys of Joy Creek. What an honor it must be to have shared in the legacy.

    1. Oh, Grace, thank you. Thank you for reading along, always commenting and offering your expertise over the years. We were a long distance apart - but a tight knit garden community. Hell, we still are! xo

  4. Your tribute is beautiful, Tamara. Your photos would make a wonderful book. I regret that I didn't manage to make it to Portland when Joy Creek was open. Plant nurseries staffed by people who really know plants are a relative rarity in my experience. The use of Latin names seems to be dying out, leaving buyers fumbling to find the plants they want using clumsy and confusing common names.

    My best wishes to Joy Creek's owners on their retirement.

    1. Thank you, Kris. Ah, a book. Who knows.

      Well, that's ok - we can't get to every place we want. Too bad about Latin names - they are so helpful and really not THAT hard, don't you agree? I mean they are descriptive - macrophylla - large leaf?? Makes sense to me.

      I'll let Mike and Maurice know you wish them well and thank you a gain, Kris. xo

  5. you indeed had a dream job. Great photos too.

  6. Jo Ellen P12:27 PM PDT

    Thank you!! 😭 I have to find some words of gratitude that can be spoken without me losing it too badly. Hoping for that on Sunday. 🤞🤞💜💜

    1. Oh, Jo Ellen, Thank you....oxoxo

      I know.. Hugs from all of us at Joy Creek. xoxo

  7. I left Portland in 2007 but lived on the SE side near Foster and 82nd. I don't remember hearing about Joy Creek until I was gone, probably courtesy of some of the wonder blogs by Pacific Northwest people. I appreciate this small tour that I know only gives a small taste of what Joy Creek Nursery is, simply because it is too big to contain in words and pictures. And of course that is the wonderful thing about gardens - they are so much more than the sum of the plants and the land. Gifts of light, grace, butterflies, hummingbirds - wonderful interactions with visitors even if it is just a small, personal garden. Thank you sharing. What a wonderful "job" you had, Tamara

    1. Thank you, Barbara. Oh, yes, too big to contain. So many critters, leaf color, flowers, people, garden art, lighting, insects. It all adds up to the magic that is/was Joy Creek Nursery. Well said. It was indeed a wonderful job. xoxo

  8. Thanks for pulling this lovely tribute together! I can't help wondering if in the future the gardens might be open occasionally for touring through plant societies or Open Days...

    1. Thank you Denise! Oh, the gardens might be open? It's really up to Mike at this point. We can hope!

  9. Wonderful photos Tamara, I was surprised that I enjoyed the winter ones most of all, maybe because that was the one season I rarely saw the nursery and gardens in? Well and of course that's where you finally snuck in the agaves. I wonder if you feel your photography skills have changed over the years?

    1. Thank you Danger. That's interesting, about winter. Of course the agave was for you ;)

      My skills have completely changed over the years thanks to a rigorous routine of weekly photographing in good and bad weather, all light conditions and changing subject matter. It's just like anything creative, it takes practice. I have a lot more to learn but I feel that what inspires me now in the garden I can hopefully make come alive through the camera.

  10. HI Tamara, unfortunately I was unable to get any of your photos

    1. Oh no! Hmm.....they are loading fine for me - are they still giving you trouble? Maybe try again?

  11. Thank you for this wonderful tribute to a wonderful place. Surely one of the most beautiful workplaces in the US of A. Splendid photos, too.

    1. Thank you Hoover is one of the more beautiful offices in the US of A indeed. xo

  12. About time I read this... What a sweet love letter, T! You took some amazing photos over the year. I really like Kris's idea of a book!! Wouldn't that be something?? It was a wonderful place to spend a few years for sure, and yes - I too learned so much. It was the kind of magical place where it never felt like you were going to work. It is an honor to have been even a small part of it. xoxo

    1. Thank you Anna! A book? Hmmm....maybe I'll look into that. I mean I have the photos.

      It was an honor and a privilege to work there and work with you my friend. xo


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