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Into the Woods: Wild crafting with Garden Spot Nursery

Dec 2nd, 2015 | Category: Growing

Annual tree sale to benefit Boys & Girls Club on now

by Mary Vermillion

Marcy Plattner’s Garden Spot nursery has deep, wild roots in a family tradition of foraging for greenery at the holidays. The final months of the year are a special time at the 30-year-old Bellingham nursery where that legacy lives on in wild-crafted holiday décor, a popular Christmas tree fundraiser and the staff’s genuine belief in the magic of the season.

Growing up, Plattner recalls her mother filling their Lopez Island home with the fresh-cut fragrance of evergreen branches gathered from the surrounding forest. Her parents also harvested Christmas trees and sold them in Seattle. When she was 12, the family – Marcy, her parents and six siblings – moved to a farm on the Smith Road in Whatcom County. There, the tradition of natural holiday décor continued.

“We were a big family without a lot of money,” she said. In addition to what they could gather from the woods, holiday decorations involved “a lot of popcorn.” These happy memories are one reason why the holiday season is Plattner’s favorite time of year. When her own children were young, Plattner teamed up with her mother and sister Karol to make and sell wreaths at the original Allied Arts holiday festival at the Roeder Home.

Garden Spot owner Marcy Plattner gathers rose hips at her Smith Road farm. COURTESY PHOTO

Garden Spot owner Marcy Plattner gathers rose hips at her Smith Road farm. COURTESY PHOTO

The tradition of bringing the outside in for the holidays continues today. On a recent late November day, Plattner spent a crisp, blue-sky afternoon looking for seasonal treasures on the six acres she now owns of the family’s Smith Road farm. “Gleaning, gathering and cutting greens and branches – especially on a sunny, dry day – is my favorite part of the season,” she said.

At this time of year, she’s gathering plump, crimson rose hips from huge bushes of old, overgrown rugosa roses and branches of red twig willow, noble fir and variegated cedar. Plattner brings the harvest to the nursery where Garden Spot designers may add the branches to arrangements or weave the rose hips into wreaths. Customers can also purchase bundles for their own holiday projects. Soon, Plattner will gather the holly crop. Later in the winter, red-branched pussy willow trees and curly willow branches will be cut and bundled for sale.

“Much of what I use is from what we have been growing at the Smith Road Farm, but I reach out to family and friends for other twiggery as well,” she said. “I prune my brother Alex’s grape vines every year. We have woodland property on Lopez Island where I gather truckloads of mossy cones and branches. I enjoy the fun of finding the unusual. I enjoy the exercise. I enjoy coming back to the Garden Spot with a truck load and seeing what the designers do with what was gathered. I am especially thrilled when customers notice the effort.”

Plattner and her staff encourage anyone seeking holiday décor inspiration to explore outside. Experiment with textures and colors, unusual greens, twigs, berries or other unexpected accents. Plattner has added bark from white birch or cedar trees, oyster shells or chunks of twisted recycled copper wire to wreaths and holiday arrangements.

In addition to the unexpected, the Garden Spot offers a Christmas tradition with its fresh-cut tree lot that benefits the Boys & Girls Club of Whatcom County. Started by Plattner a dozen years ago, the fund-raiser annually raises between $2,700 and $3,000 for Boys & Girls Club programs, including gardening and nutrition courses. Plattner is happy to support the club. “There’s a library. A place where they can do their homework. Food. It’s so great. And the staff is so dedicated,” she said.

She works with a family-owned Oregon tree farm to bring in freshly cut noble and Fraser firs for the fundraiser that starts in late November and continues while supplies last. The Boys & Girls Club teenage volunteers and adult staff work with customers and market the trees for a percentage of sales.

For Plattner, the tree sale was a chance to teach the young volunteers about customer service. “It’s fun to sell a tree and to help people,” she said. “They can talk about the tree and get out of their shy zone.”

Walker Smith (left) and Tyler Swenson (right) help set up the Christmas Tree fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club. PHOTO BY MARY VERMILLION

Walker Smith (left) and Tyler Swenson (right) help set up the Christmas Tree fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club. COURTESY PHOTO

Christine Destry with the Boys & Girls Club said community service projects such as this are an important part of the organization’s mission because they teach club members to give back and to be civic minded. “It’s fun for them because they meet people and learn to talk to people differently,” she said. “They engage in a conversation that’s different from their normal day-to-day. And they develop confidence and a strong voice.”

Destry, who buys her family’s Christmas tree each year from the Garden Spot, says Plattner’s fundraising partnership is commendable. “Marcy is doing something very unique. She is giving back to the community in a way that is completely aligned with who she is and her business goals. She’s connecting what’s important to her – family farms, a local non-profit and her business. It’s truly progressive and a win-win for both of us. She is bridging the business and non-profit world in a really creative way. And we so appreciate her big, big, big heart.”

The Boys & Girls Club tree sale also makes the Garden Spot staff happy. When long-time staff member Nancy arrives for work, she deliberately chooses a winding path through the Christmas tree patch and inhales the fresh-cut, forest fragrance. “That smell will make you happy,” she says. “It makes me think of hope. It’s the constancy of the season, knowing it will happen again and being able to react to it as if it was the first time.”


Tips of the Trade: Amaryllis

This holiday season gardeners are being tempted with stacks of fist-sized bare root amaryllis. Forget the varieties sold in green plastic pots, these amaryllis are exotic beauties that thrive in a variety of head-turning plantings.

Fist-sized, bare root amaryllis bulbs. PHOTO BY MARY VERMILLION

Fist-sized, bare root amaryllis bulbs. PHOTO BY MARY VERMILLION

“There is something about the actual size of amaryllis bulbs,” Garden Spot owner Marcy Plattner said. “While most amaryllis are big, there are some varieties that are just plain huge. Maybe it’s that size novelty that just makes them seem exotic.”

Another selling point is that when every other bulb is going dormant, amaryllis are waking up. “The whole amaryllis industry seems to be waking up as well,” Platnner added. “There are so many new varieties coming to the marketplace. Amaryllis with double flowers. Amaryllis with miniature flowers. New color blends.”

Plattner, who gets many of her gardening ideas when she travels, recalls a trip to Amsterdam last fall. “The airports, the flower stalls on the floating canals, the shops and markets had tables piled high with bare root amaryllis bulbs,” she said.

If treated correctly, amaryllis will bloom again, justifying (if necessary) what can be a $20 holiday splurge. Plattner knows gardeners who have kept dozens of amaryllis re-blooming for years. Here are her tips to get an amaryllis bulb to re-bloom the following year.

First, plant the bulb correctly. The No. 1 mistake gardeners make when they plant amaryllis is burying it too deep and overwatering the bulb.

When the amaryllis bulb is done blooming, keep watering the leaves in the container indoors until the danger of frost has past. In May, remove the bulb and plant it outside in the garden.

Garden Spot owner Marcy Plattner says the amaryllis industry is "waking up" with waves of new varieties. PHOTO BY MARY VERMILLION

Garden Spot owner Marcy Plattner says the amaryllis industry is “waking up” with waves of new varieties. PHOTO BY MARY VERMILLION

Water and fertilize the leaves and bulb all summer.

Stop watering the bulb mid-August and let the leaves dry down totally.

Leave the amaryllis in the ground until the first week of September. Then, dig up the bulb. The dried leaves should fall off naturally, leaving a bare root bulb with lots of roots.

Put the bulb into a dark, dry spot to “rest” during September and October.

In mid-November, bring it out and do a light prune on the roots before planting it again in a container of choice. When choosing a container, keep in mind that amaryllis prefer to be a bit crowded in the pot.

The key to this technique is feeding the bulb through the leaves during the summer.  When the bulb is allowed to dry, all the nutrients from the leaves are sent into the bulb for next seasons bloom.  Placing the bulb in a dark, dry location to rest is what sets the bloom.

Check out the Garden Spot’s website for a list of upcoming events at 

Published in the December 2015 issue of Grow Northwest

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