I love opening e-mails that tip me off to new nurseries. Landscape architect Larry Ferar alerted me about Pomarius Nursery, 1920 N.W. 18th Ave., just short of the railroad tracks, with a view of the Fremont Bridge.
'This was a train yard at one time, with tracks and gravel,' owner Peter Lynn told me.
As I crunched across the floor of the nursery, still topped with gravel, I heard an occasional Amtrak train roaring by right outside the fence, a bit startling, as the nursery itself felt very tranquil. The orderliness of healthy plants, staged on tables like still life paintings, put me in a serene mood.
The situation reminded me of strolling inside the Classical Chinese Garden, where the interior is so artfully designed that it cloaks you in peacefulness. Yet despite the garden's sheltering stucco walls, you catch glimpses of the city's tall buildings and hear sounds of teeming city life, reminding you that the outer world is humming along just outside.
Perhaps it's this similar gift of relaxation that Pomarius offers, in contrast to the busy urban life around it, that makes it such an appealing haven. Peter Lynn has created a quiet plant gallery, filled with inspiring examples for gardening in small spaces. Many of his offerings are particularly suited for city gardens with balconies, patios or terraces. Although they can be grown equally well in the ground, these specimens are perfect in big containers, and they're displayed beautifully.
On myriad table tops and benches, trees, shrubs and ground covers are grouped in arrangements you can copy at home. Lynn is a charming host who enjoys educating customers about his plants and how to tend them. Born in Flanders, near Bruges and Lisle, Lynn's accent still lingers.
'I grew up around nature, and liked to dig things up in the woods. I caught butterflies and bugs and I used to keep bees,' he said.
He continues to bring nature close to home, even in the city. One of the first things I spotted in the nursery was a handsome chicken house topped by a green roof, planted with sedums and low-growing ornamental grasses. It's home to a flock of chickens, including white silkies, but that hot afternoon only tiny chicks were inside, cheeping. The grownup chickens were lounging in the damp shade beneath a plant bench. After clucking for a few minutes, I lured a couple of the silkies out so I could admire their fluffy white feathers. As we toured the nursery, Lynn pointed out a few leaves they'd grazed, but he seemed unruffled - the foliage would soon grow back.
Having plenty of fresh food for himself and friends is also important to him. At the back of the nursery he built several long wooden planters, the equivalent of raised beds, for growing vegetables. In one big box, dark green kale contrasted with red-ribbed chard. Lynn prepares lunch for friends on Thursdays, harvesting fresh veggies from his garden.
'A garden has to have food,' he said. 'When I get depressed I go work over there.'
In that same area are bins of potting mix ingredients: bark, lava rock, pumice, sand and cocoa bark. He mixes several supplements for fertilizer: cottonseed meal, kelp, feather meal, lonfosco rock phosphate, bone meal and green sand. Compost piles were covered with burlap to keep them damp. Lynn attributes the gleaming health of his plants to good potting soil amended with nourishing supplements.
Although his plants looked wonderful when I visited, many of them started out in trouble.
'I rescue plants in distress that aren't healthy,' he said. Some didn't have strong enough root systems, others had been fertilized too much. He repots them in better soil, with just a little fertilizer and supplements mixed in, and tends them until they regain vigor.
Unusual plants are his specialty, like dove trees, ginkgos, Japanese maples and perfectly clipped boxwood topiaries. Flats of small ground covers - bright red sedums, Aceana 'Blue Haze,' New Zealand brass buttons (Leptinella) - were situated close to compatible shrubs and trees. Lynn has pulled them together artfully so that you can match them up with ease.
I went home happily with a weeping white pine that was winking at me, and a small pot of red sedums that I couldn't resist.
Pomarius is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, and closed on Monday. To inquire about Thursday lunch in the nursery, call 503-490-6866.