Fall Sales/Nursery Review: Portland Avenue Nursery

Located on the fast and furious street for which Portland Ave. is named after, blink once and you’ll miss this 4-acre oasis located on the East side of Tacoma.

Yes, the neighborhood that has grown up around Portland Ave. is a little rough around the edges, but don’t let that stop you from discovering one of the last big nurseries left in the city.  Portland Ave. is huge and it’s well stocked and it’s neat!

Color combos from PAN.

Full disclosure: I worked at this nursery for a couple of years.  Back in the “the good ol’ days,” when I dreamed of opening up my very own nursery, I thought I had better get some experience working in a garden center before I even thinking of opening up a place of my own.  I learned about customer service, plant care, plant scheduling, and I also learned that it is nearly impossible to make any money owning a nursery these days.  With big box stores and rich kids working on mummy and daddy’s income, unless you own your own land and you have a small fortune tucked in your mattress, you’re going to have a very tough time competing in this industry and making any money at it.

Fortunately Portland Ave. has been around for 30 years or so, and they have what it takes to compete and survive.

I will always love this nursery.  It is immaculate!  Look across the yard and you’ll see perfect rows of clean and healthy plants.  Even in the fall when the leaves are shedding, you’ll have a hard time finding any leaves cluttering around the merchandise or even hiding under the displays.  That’s because an army of nursery elves are constantly raking, weeding, watering, and rearranging.  Diseased plants are simply not tolerated here.  The nursery is a model of perfection.  Yeah, I said that… perfection!

What Portland Avenue does well is specialty conifers, Japanese maples, trees, shrubs, a big variety of perennials, and a great selection of annuals and vegetables at really good prices.  This is my favorite place to find fat pots filled with plump blooming annuals for a price that is hard to beat.  Plus, they keep bringing those beefy bloomers in well after the normal planting season has ended.  It’s nice to find that color when it feels out of season to the rest of the nurseries.


Plump pots of annual color.

Did I mention the vegetables?  This place carries a ton of tomato varieties.  You’ll find the basic beefsteak to a growing selection of heirlooms.  They have a big showing of peppers, lettuce, cucumbers, and herbs.  Plus, potato starts in every color and right now they have at least 10 varieties of garlic.  The overall food crops at Portland Ave. are stellar; fruit trees, berries, grapes, and veggies.  You’ll find the same locals coming back year after year only shopping for food crops.

What I don’t like about this nursery (insert double-edged compliment): a few of those staffers and you don’t have to shop there often to know whom I’m talking about.  Most of the employees are awesome.  Phenomenal!  They’ll help you pick your plants, design your garden, pack your car, and have a friendly chat along the way.  It’s only a couple of bad eggs that can really tarnish your view of this nursery.  I’ll always come back for the friendly staff and the amazing plants.

My only other complaint about Portland Ave.:  I really wish they had an espresso stand, dang it!

The fall sale, going on now until October 20th: Almost every single thing in the nursery is 25% off.  Plants, soil, gifts, and pottery.

Black Mondo and Golden Club Moss

Shade lovers look perfect during this hot dry summer.

Will you find me shopping there?  Yes.  I like to support my local spots and since I am located in Tacoma, this is a good fit.  Portland Ave. is my favorite place for pot stuffers and trees.

Should you be shopping there? Yes.  If you can’t find the plant you’re looking for, ask one of the staff, because they probably have it.  Or, they’ll order for you and call you when the plant comes in, at no extra cost.  Don’t miss the very back end of the nursery with a big selection of large trees, a whole bunch of different kinds of conifers, birdbaths, statuary, and the shade houses stuffed full of Hosta, Hydrangea, Camellia, and vines.

Portland Avenue Nursery

1409 East 59th Street

Tacoma, WA 98404



An Ode To Pinterest


From the moment I clicked onto Pinterest I was hooked.  Yes, me.  A Virgo stumbling upon this virtual organizing system where I can make lists (boards) and place things (pins) neatly into their categories.  My online filing cabinet of magazine clippings.  I love you Pinterest.

I’ve also been begging for a tiny break in my schedule so I could try out the chalk-board paint revolution.  I found these vintage 60’s TV trays for a steal and I’ve been wanting to paint them up and draw lovely garden quotes on each tray.

There they are.  Before, paint drying, and doodled on.  I like them.  Hope you do too.

Find me on Pinterest: The Urban Gardener



Vintage 60’s TV trays cleaned-up and waiting.


Primer dried and first coat of chalk-board paint on.


Finished. Old TV trays chalked-up with some garden love.

Fall Sales/Nursery Review: Vassey Nursery

Local gardeners will tell you that Vassey is “Puyallup’s best kept secret.”  It’s the truth.


Puyallup’s Best Kept Secret

Vassey Nursery sits almost back-to-back the larger “rock star” nursery mentioned earlier, but many green thumb growers have never even heard of it.  Why?  Well, for starters, this nursery is located way back at the end of a dead-end street in the middle of a suburban neighborhood.

You have to drive down a long narrow road, turn left onto an even longer narrower road lined with perfectly manicured gardens of some fairly impressive homes.  When you see the rhubarb farm on the right, you know you’re close.  The entrance to Vassey’s reveals itself with a large and beautifully planted landscape.  You may drive right by it, at first.  Don’t be surprised if the view of the driveway is blocked by the next-door-neighbor’s large “bubba truck.”  It is Puyallup after all, but once you see the nursery, you’ll find yourself salivating to explore.


Vassey Display

I love this nursery’s perfectly kept yard.  It’s as clean as any place that sells dirt could be.  The displays are smart and thoughtful combinations of plants and garden decor.  I’ve found some of the color combos so interesting that I’ve used those hues in my own designs (shhh, let’s not tell them that).

What Vassey Nursery does really well is perennials, shrubs, and trees at fair prices.  They have a great variety and the plants are always in perfect condition.  They also have the same good solid staff that have been the regular working crew for years.  These guys and gals are all super friendly and quick to offer advice along with plant selections.

What I don’t like about this nursery is it ‘s hard to find.  I’ve been to this place 500 times and every time I’m driving down that road, I’m wondering if I made a wrong turn before I find it. I also think the annuals are overpriced.  Vassey’s carries the same growers that all of those other nurseries stock, but the prices are sometimes more than double.  Of course, those plants are still kept in prime condition.

Up to 50% off at Vassy Nursery

On to the fall sale going on now until the end of September: 25% off most of the plant material and 50% off selected items.  Vassey is also offering 25% off of the non-living items (pots, trellises, statuary, etc.).  Did I mention that the plants look really good?

Will you find me shopping there?  Maybe.  They don’t offer wholesale discounts that I need to keep my landscape installations under budget.  Occasionally, you will find me shopping for that one last specialty tree or Japanese maple.  You might see me there just to steal their ideas for plant combos.

Should you shop there?  Yes, you should already be shopping there.  Vassey Nursery is one of the very best spots in our region.  It’s genuinely worthy of your time.  Don’t forget to check out the planted landscape and super cool koi pond.  Plus, the little gift shop that you’ll find near the register is full of sweet little garden nick-knacks.

Vassey Nursery

2424 Tacoma Road East

Puyallup, WA 98371

Fall Sales/Nursery Review: Watson’s Greenhouse and Nursery

They say you should always start big and no other nursery in south Puget Sound is as big or as well known as Watson’s.

Know for being a destination nursery, you can find this giant greenhouse after winding through the rural roads along the backside of Puyallup in Pierce County.


Watson’s Greenhouse and Nursery

What I love about this place is the beautiful plant material and the general layout of the nursery.  Shade plants are easy to find, shrubs are obvious, even houseplants have a central home.

The 2012 annual fall sale goes from September 6th through October 10th.  Every year the sale starts with The Puyallup Fair and end around 30-days later.  This year, enjoy 40% off of nursery stock and perennials.

The sale is always well-stocked and the plant material is in prime condition.  My favorite thing is that they aren’t shy about bringing in more plants during the sale and in massive quantities.  If I want 6 Heuchera ‘Marmalade’ they’ll have 20 in-stock.


40% Off On Perennials

What I don’t like:  We all know Watson’s is expensive.  In some cases, I don’t think the fall sale price would beat many of the other local nurseries at full retail price.  The “pro” in this situation, again, is the selection.  Fall sales are meant to clear our nursery stock before winter to most nurseries, but not to Watson’s, they keep bringing plenty of fresh plants in.

Watson’s also carries more of the newer varieties you read about in magazines, but you can’t find anywhere else.  You can shop for the latest trends or wait a year or two for the other nurseries to catch-up.


So many Heuchera choices…

I don’t like the staff either.   I’m not a fan of “snooty” behavior and I don’t understand the draw.  You’ll have a hard time finding staff for any advice and they’ll offer some good ol’ fashioned mental abuse when you get to the register, but the parking lot is packed with luxury cars.  Go figure.

On the bright side: The folks running the cafe are all great people.  You can find a nice latte, a pastry, and smile.  That little cafe is a charming oasis in the greenhouse located at the back of the gift area.


Beautiful shopping.

Will you find me shopping there?  No.  I can’t afford those prices for a garden installation and they don’t discount to wholesalers.  You may occasionally find me browsing and getting some fresh ideas with a latte in my hand.

Should you shop there?  Are you a plant collector?  Do you love to keep-up with plant trends?  Do you like to shop in groups as a social outing?  Then yes, you should absolutely shop there.  It is the nicest nursery in our area and it’s a lovely destination.

Watson’s Greenhouse and Nursery

6211 Pioneer Way East

Puyallup, WA 98371