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These trees are a growth industry

This lawman gave up his badge for gardening. Former Multnomah County Sheriff Bob Skipper and his wife, Ilona, had dabbled in growing acres of trees since 1970. And when it came time to retire from the sheriff's office in 1994 after 34 years, Bob Skipper hit the ground running in the nursery business. Today, it's a $1 million a year-plus operation.

The nursery itself is nothing fancy. It doesn't need to be. Sure, you can find annuals, perennials and baskets, but the house specialty is trees, bigger trees at reasonable prices.

Skipper & Jordan Nursery found a niche, planting 110 acres with thousands upon thousands of trees.

Bob Skipper says he started the garden center, on the corner of Orient Drive and Short Road in Gresham, at the urging of his business partner and son-in-law, Brent Jordan. Jordan is a shift commander who works graveyard at Inverness Jail and is married to Skipper's daughter, Teresa.

Skipper says the success of the garden center surprised them; the business has grown sevenfold since he left the sheriff's office.

It was a surprise for Peggy Knapp of Southeast Portland, too. Knapp just happened to see the sign for $10 hanging baskets and made a beeline to do a little garden therapy. By the time I caught up with her, she had the $10 basket in her shopping cart and was perusing the strawberries.

'I've never been here, but I was visiting a girlfriend and saw the sign,' she says. 'I needed another basket to go with the others hanging outside my house. This is perfect, and the prices are less than I paid' for the other two.

That's not the meal ticket, though, at Skipper & Jordan. Seventy percent of its business is selling semi-truck loads of trees to out-of-state nurseries and garden centers.

Skipper's most popular trees are laceleaf maples; 'Crimson King,' an upright maple; 'Thundercloud Plum,' a shade and flowering tree; and 'Jacque Monti' birch. But there are scads of others.

The biggest sellers of all, however, are arborvitae and other hedges.

How is the former sheriff enjoying his 'retirement' adventure? Just fine, thank you.

Skipper remembers the time he was looking out the living room window and commented to Ilona (they just celebrated their 42nd anniversary, by the way): 'Wow, did you see those trees? The colors are so beautiful.' They were more beautiful than he could remember.

Ilona told him, gently, 'They're that way every year, you just haven't had time to see them.'

He knew she was right, and now Bob Skipper takes time to see things differently.

'Your Northwest Garden With Anne Jaeger' airs at 7 p.m. Saturday on KGW (8). Contact Jaeger via her Web site, www.gardengal.tv.