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Out of the pot, into the nursery

Joy Creek Nursery is famous for its clematis, penstemon, hydrangea and butterfly bushes, among other things.

Here, you can actually see everything growing in the display garden, instead of just looking at a 4-inch pot and trying to visualize what it will be someday.

It might seem obvious, growing a garden with the plants you are selling, but historically, it just wasn't done. When the nursery opened 11 years ago, it was a novel approach in the Northwest, so effective that many have followed suit.

These reasons keep Marilou Harms of Southwest Portland coming back.

'I'm just obsessed now. I enjoy the work, I love the color and I want unusual plants my neighbors won't have,' Harms says.

Joy Creek started after Mike Smith's retirement from Freightliner and subsequent move to a house in the Joy Creek Canyon, off U.S. Highway 30 outside of Scappoose. Smith and Maurice (pronounced 'Morris') Horn were frustrated when they couldn't find the plants they wanted to grow and decided to round them up, play with them and sell them in a catalog.

In 1992, when the catalog had been out six months, 'We had all these plants (for the catalog), and all these people started just driving up the driveway,' Horn says. 'That's when reality set in. If we were going to do this, we were going to do it our way.'

Doing it their way attracts a lot of attention. This nursery is on the national, if not the world, radar. It is featured frequently in magazines such as Fine Gardening, Sunset, Horticulture, Organic Gardening and Better Homes & Gardens.

Martha Stewart Living was out last June shooting campanula and penstemon growing in the 4-acre garden. Martha knows a good thing when she sees it: Issues of the magazine have featured Joy Creek's 70 varieties of lavender, as well its hosta and dianthus.

The display gardens have somewhere around 5,000 plants, nearly all of them labeled for quick reference.

So what are the nursery's top sellers? They include Clematis 'Rooguchi,' an uncommon vine that doesn't climb but spreads up to 8 feet with 3-inch plum-colored flowers. The nursery also has a hard time keeping shrubs such as hebe 'Caledonia' and hydrangea 'Boitstein' in stock. English delphiniums and speedwell 'Veronica Georgia Blue' fly out as well.

Most plants sell for $5 to $20, and you get a 10 percent discount if you buy at the nursery instead of by catalog. A visit will get you something else: Smith says he and Horn don't sell just plants but information.

After all, somebody has to tell us how to grow all this stuff.

Contact Anne Jaeger through her Web site: www.gardengal.tv.