Celebrating 20 Years: A Conversation with our Founder
Plants have the power to inspire, connect, and transform – they’re our reason for being, and a gift to be shared.
We founded Pistils Nursery in 2001, and for the last 20 years, we've been on a mission to share this gift with our neighbors and a growing community of plant lovers here in Portland and around the world.
As we celebrate the milestone of 20 years in Portland, we always go back to the seed of it all: a passion for plants, and a deep belief that there is a plant for every person, an inner green just waiting to be discovered.
This seed sprouted into the Pistils Nursery that we know today, and to reflect upon the milestone of 20 years of growth, we decided to sit down with our founder, Mégan Twilegar, to learn about her original vision for Pistils, how she got started, and where she sees us heading in the future.
Bee: The original Pistils storefront on Mississippi Avenue has become somewhat iconic. When you first found the location, it was just an empty lot, and the structure you ultimately built looks nothing like the other buildings on the street. Where did you find inspiration for the design of "The Mothership"?
Mégan: The inspiration for the Pistils building harkens back to my Idaho roots, where there are a surfeit of old mining towns with shoe box structures and false fronts - also called Western false front architecture. My childhood was spent in the Rocky Mountains and I so often frequented these towns, much of them bordering on ghost towns.
I love the simplicity of these structures. I feel there is a timelessness to them, and that they truly embody the classic architecture of the old West.
B: Pistils officially opened its doors in 2001. As you reflect on 20 years in business, I imagine you might do a few things differently. If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself for starting the business?
M: I would say: It’s wouldn't be a bad idea to get a business degree! Having a vision can only carry one so far. Hire people that know more than you. Treat and pay them well. Emotional intelligence is key to keeping employees happy and fulfilled, which is essential to any business’ success.
B: How has Pistils Nursery shifted and evolved in the last 20 years?
M: The business has evolved dramatically! My original dream was to start an outdoor plant nursery. Honestly, that’s why the Mothership building is so small. We wanted to have as much outdoor space as possible to share outdoor plant material and garden supplies.
We first started as an urban farm store that sold chickens along with plants and were known for spearheading the chicken movement that pulsed through Portland for several years. We didn't know that, over time, the plants and product inside the building would end up being Pistils' focus.
Then I had two kids, and withdrew from Pistils to be with my family. The business started to suffer, and I decided I either needed to sell it or infuse it with talent that I didn’t have in order to grow it – which is ultimately what we did. We began to really curate the shop, and found a staff passionate about keeping plants inside the home, as well as outside. We built the solarium and dove head first into the world of indoor plants. Little did we know that we were on the forefront of a plant renaissance that has blossomed over the last few years!
About 7 or 8 years ago, we launched our online shop. It started with just eight products -- our handmade pieces like terrariums and kokedama. From these humble beginnings, it's grown into what it is today. We began to share on social media with wild abandon. My husband, Glenn, changed careers and began to develop PLD – the landscape design-build division of the business. And now today we have this really diverse business with several legs.
It is this diversity coupled with the surge in plant love that has afforded us to, in essence, not only survive the Coronavirus Pandemic, but grow as a business. We feel so blessed.
B: What areas of Pistils are you most excited to grow in the future?
M: If I were to be really ambitious I would open a shop in another state or even abroad – maybe Europe. I’ve lived abroad before and reaped so much from the experience. It’s on my bucket list to do this again. This would provide an opportunity to grow the business on an international level.
Early in 2020 we joined 1% for the Planet, and really honed in on social, cultural and environmental justice efforts. We defined our business' core values, with Environmental Advocacy, Sustainability and Community Consciousness front and center. As we grow larger, I look forward to being able to support more organizations whose missions are focused on tending the earth and its inhabitants, both here and Portland and around the world.
B: What have been your biggest challenges in the past 20 years?
M: The biggest challenges the business has faced over the years is the constant need to pivot to consumer demands, to stay abreast of industry trends and strive to be a trendsetter or influencer in the industry. I think we have been able to do this whether that was through leading the chicken movement, reintroducing the terrarium and all the living art we produce, or embracing the Nuevo plant movement at its incipient stage years ago.
B: What have been your biggest successes?
M: My biggest success after 20 years in business is that it can run without me.
It’s kind of scary because sometimes I wonder, "where do I fit into the picture today"? But I also think it’s a sign of success that I can focus on other things – my kids, personal interests, and growing the business in other areas. I have had to trust talented people – pass the reins and letWe their talent shine and grow.
B: What wisdom can you share with us from being a central part of the Portland plant community all these years?
M: You must do what you love. Those of us who have been afforded the gift to understand how important it is to get your hands in the dirt, to tend plants, to be in touch with nature and its many cycles have been bestowed one of the greatest riches life can offer. I want to be able to continue to share this with others.
As plants need healthy roots in order to grow, reflecting on our past allows us to look into our future. Coming out of the pandemic, the collective dreaming and re-imagining of the future after a time of such harsh uncertainty is especially necessary.
Looking back on 20 years, we are overwhelmingly grateful to our customers and strong community plant lovers here in Portland and around the world. You've allowed us to get where we are today. From an online shop, to a second storefront, to design services and beyond, we've grown many new leaves over these 20 years – thank you for helping us grow.
We hope you'll join us from wherever you are during our weeklong anniversary celebration from 7/26-8/1, as each day we find a new way to say thank you and give back, with sales, fundraisers, raffles, giveaways, community events and more.
To read more about Pistils Nursery and Mégan’s vision, check out: The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants by Jennifer Jewell; Aesthetica Botanica: A Life with Plants, Sandu Publications; Gardenista's A Love Affair with Houseplants and Architecture Digest's The Most Beautiful Independent Store in Every State in America.
Interview by Bee Oxford