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Garden with the big boys

It's spring, and you've got some landscaping to do. Not just some flowers and shrubs Ñ you need something to fill that empty space pronto, and you can't wait a decade for a tree to grow into it.

Without a landscaper, it's not easy to find a tree that big, but do-it-yourselfers have more choices than they once did. A nursery on Northwest Barnes Road in Portland specializes in mature trees as well as flowers and shrubs.

For more than 100 years Teufel Nursery made its money on commercial landscape construction. Until recently, you couldn't get in. Teufel had its hands full with marquee clients such as Microsoft Corp. and Boeing Co. in Seattle. Customers needed a password to enter, the secret handshake: a wholesaler's license.

But not anymore.

Today, Judy Van Gasse is buying three trees: a 'Royal Star' magnolia, viburnum and 'Yoshino' cherry. She's been gardening for 30 years, but lately she's been 'planting like crazy.' Which makes perfect sense, because the family just bought a new house in Northwest Portland and wanted more than the standard landscaping.

A newcomer to Oregon, Van Gasse says she drove clear out of town 'thinking the trees and shrubs would be bigger, cheaper and there would be more variety.'

She says she was disappointed. Then she heard about Teufel Nursery.

'This is exactly what I wanted,' Van Gasse says as she gazes off, seemingly mesmerized by 106 acres of trees and shrubs nestled on the edge of the city limits between Portland and Beaverton.

Pick up a Sunset Western Garden Book and open it to Ilex aquifolium (the fancy name for holly), and you'll find the Teufel name all over the place. 'Teufel's Deluxe' and 'Teufel's Zero' are among 15 varieties the reference book names.

The story behind the business is one of my all-time favorites.

In 1885, a well-to-do Portland family brought Gustav Teufel over from Germany. To repay his sponsors, Gustav tended the gardens of Portland's wealthy citizens.

During that golden age of botany, these estate owners imported and planted unusual trees and plants from around the world to show their wealth. Teufel pruned everything on those large estates, conscientiously cleaned up after himself and removed the trimmings. Anybody else would have turned the scraps into compost. Teufel took them home and rooted the cuttings.

By 1890, Great-Granddad's clippings had grown into a nursery business next to his home (the Holly Farm, 160 S.W. Miller Road in Portland, opens for the Christmas season).

Today, the company owns 500 acres and sells trees from $15 to more than $600.

Larry Teufel and his sisters, Linda and Tina, are the fourth generation to operate the business. Teufel and his sisters are continuing a tradition that for 112 years has cut an impressive swath through Oregon's horticultural history, but they've also diversified by adding the retail store.

Like the rest of his family, Larry Teufel was learning how to propagate plants before he knew his multiplication tables.

'I came home every day from Cedar Mill grade school and was told to report to the propagation manager to make cuttings at the greenhouse' behind their home, he says.

The same way his great-grandfather started.

'Anne Jaeger's Gardening Tips' airs at 9:56 a.m. Saturday and Sundays on KGW (8). Contact Jaeger at her Web site, www.gardengal.tv.