Plant obsession is practically a job requirement at Pistils, and so when a few of us were invited to visit Steve’s nursery earlier this spring, we (literally) jumped at the opportunity. We interviewed Steve in the greenhouse where he both works and lives, a vast glassed in enclosure nestled on several acres dotted with fruit tress and permaculture beds. This is a veritable cornucopia of plantlife – it explodes from the floors and ceilings, from tiny succulents to immense tropicals. A warm, humid room full of light and greenery.
And so, in this month’s meet the maker series, we’re doing something a bit different; rather than interviewing a crafter in the traditional sense, we’ve interviewed the maker of many of the plants we feature in our shop, a man who, with decades of experience in propagation, cultivation and care, has created an almost utopian greenhouse in Oregon City.
Pistils Nursery: How did you get your start with plants and propagation?
Steve Buckee: Years and years ago, I worked at a nursery out in the sales yard, Cassious, it was called. I was having fun, they liked my work, and so they let me start taking care of their houseplants in their store. I got interested in those, so then i started bringing sick plants home and put them in my window. They grew. That’s how I got started with plants.
That nursery I worked for bought this greenhouse and brought plants up from California to propagate. When I realized they weren’t using it any more, that it was empty, I asked if I could rent it. I asked every year for several years and the owner said no. And so then I went and talked my mother into building a greenhouse out in Beaverton and worked that for a while.
We threw my Mother’s greenhouse together. My tables were bales of hay and I started out growing herbs. Grew about 60 varieties of herbs. I started selling plants to that nursery and also started selling to Saturday Market. I think our first day at the Saturday Market we sold $38 worth of plants and I thought that was really cool. $38 was a lot more back then. Then I was hooked on Saturday market because that was a funky thing to do, lots of old hippies. You’d get there as early as you could, get the place you wanted. I sold down there for about 25 years and it just got better and better.
Finally, I called one year and he agreed to rent it to me. He said they’d rent it to me for his taxes. It was $138 per month. After about 25 years they finally raised the rent.
PN: Why do you call your nursery Betty’s Bloomers?
SB: My mom’s name is Betty. When I first got this place she’d come out and work almost every day. She’d bring me lunch, and the leftovers from their dinner the night before so I’d have food. She worked here maybe 5-6 years, and even down at saturday market. She’d help me for free. My step father built my booth for me and would set it up, and then I’d whip in with my plants and my mother would help me sell all day long.
PN: Do you have a favorite plant?
SB: Aloe aristata. It has wonderful, soothing gel. It’s a great plant. I used to take aloe leaves down to the river in the summer and give them away to people who were getting really sun burned.
I learned you can actually put aloe vera your eyes – It makes your eyes feel really rested and clean. I learned that by putting plastic up on the greenhouse. It had all this powder on it and I got some in my eye. We flushed it with water but it just burned and burned and I was just about ready to go to the hospital, when I thought, I’ll try aloe vera. It was a burning sensation after all. It worked – took the pain right away.
PN: Do the plants teach you anything? Do they surprise you?
SB: They teach you to be humble.
People just love plants. They don’t know why. They just love them.