ISSUE 22  |  Outside and In

Shopper’s Diary: A Love Affair with Houseplants at Pistils Nursery in Portland

June 01, 2016 4:00 AM

BY Gillian Carson

While Portland, Oregon is still the creative hub of the Northwest, it also is experiencing a housing boom that can only be rivaled by San Francisco’s. Apartment blocks are emerging seemingly overnight and small plant retailers such as Pistils Nursery are reinventing themselves to keep pace with the changing landscape. 

Mégan Twilegar founded Pistils in 2001 when the focus of her shop and landscape company was on growing outdoor plants and homesteading (they had chickens roaming the yard!). Nowadays four-, five-, and even six-story apartment blocks are being built on all sides, and the nursery has evolved to cater to those with a windowsill but not necessarily a garden. 

Photography by Jesse Waldman courtesy of Pistils Nursery.

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Above: The new solarium at Pistils, a space where indoor plants and living art thrives.

“I didn’t want to have anything to do with an indoor plant when I opened this shop,” reveals Mégan. “It was all about the outside. We have evolved just like all businesses need to evolve to stay current, ahead of trends and in business. Now I have a love affair with all this indoor material.”

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Above: The solarium took two years to build from conception to completion and houses beautiful examples of rare indoor plants, mounted staghorn ferns, curated terrariums, kokedamas, and wabi kusa (multiple, semi-aquatic plants  bound together into a kokedama and housed in a glass vessel). The area is a light-filled, horticultural haven for plant nerds. It’s also the place where Mégan with her nine-strong retail team regularly host plant workshops.

A local architect designed the solarium and reclaimed materials (local where possible) were used for the interior decor.

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Above: The floor is made of 3,000 bricks salvaged from a house in southeast Portland.

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Above: The sink is from the Rebuilding Center, a reclamation yard just a few blocks from the shop and the central table, where all the terrariums are planted, is a single piece of tropical hardwood bought from a local wood reclamation shop.

“I looked at that sink for like six weeks. I would visit it and think ‘that could work.’ Then I was looking for something online but everything was so expensive with the shipping added. In the end I just went down there and bought it and we made it work,” says Mégan.

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Above: The new solarium brings sunlight into the dark retail area.

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Above: The light in the new solarium has also meant that new plants can be grown at the nursery. Cacti abound while there is a huge fiddle leaf fig standing tall in the corner. Carnivorous plants sit on the table. All of them bask in the sunlight.

“We’re very interested in some of the more unusual indoor plants, but we were always lamenting that we didn’t have a space light enough to bring them on. Now we’re able to grow a lot more things that need the sun,” says Mégan.

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Above: Mégan’s favorite plant in the new solarium is an asparagus fern (Asparagus retrofractus) that she remembers from her childhood.

“This is the plant that I remember watering for my mother when I was growing up, and I just love it. My mother’s plant was large and in a terra-cotta pot but there were these fleshy roots all over the base that I thought were fascinating,” said Mégan. “I think it’s very common for people, when they think about plants, to think of their first childhood plant. After being in business for over 15 years, we just got this plant in and I realized how much I loved it.”

Even though Pistils has embraced the new indoor plant movement the shop hasn’t forgotten its roots. The chickens are still there, housed in a coop in the outdoor plant nursery.

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Above: The chickens are allowed to roam when their coop is being cleaned. “We can’t teach them not to ravage things!” says Mégan.

For more of our favorite Portland destinations, see Farmers’ Market: Portland and Shopper’s Diary: Portland Apothecary.