#GBFling14: Cistus Nursery, Sauvie Island

Time to rewind a couple of months to the 2014 Garden Bloggers Fling in Portland, OR. One of my personal highlights was a visit to Cistus Nursery located on picturesque Sauvie Island, a 26,000 acre island in the Columbia River north of Portland. 


Run by plant guru, explorer and evangelist Sean Hogan, this self-described “retail micro-nursery” is known all over the country for its unique collection of exotics, rarities and oddities. Many of them are available via mail order (I’d drooled over their catalog more times than I can count). But perusing a PDF online paled in comparison to experiencing Cistus first hand.


We had less than two hours at the nursery during the official Fling visit on Friday, July 11, but since I knew was going back on Monday, I wasn’t in as much of a hurry as some of the others.


No matter what your poison is, botanically speaking, chances are Cistus has something to make you happy. My passion being succulents, I was in awe of the trunking yuccas found throughout the 2-acre nursery.


Most of them are Yucca rostrata (as in the photos above and below), but there also were Yucca linearifolia and others.


Check out the Radio Flyer wagon for scale!


Not succulents but just as spiky and interesting: monkey puzzle trees from South America (Araucaria araucana):


Essentially a large greenhouse, the Big Top is home to less hardy plants ranging from large-leaved exotics to—you guessed it—more succulents.




Gaz (left) and Mark, the creative geniuses behind Alternative Eden. They had come all the way from the UK to attend the Fling.

Here are some of the many droolworthy plants in the succulents corner of the Big Top.



And even more Yucca rostrata. Many people gasped at the price, but considering how slow-growing this species is (a specimen with a 4-ft. trunk might be 15 years old), I thought they were fairly priced.


I’ve started to put money in a piggy bank so I can pick out my very own Yucca rostrata the next time I come to Portland by car.



Even though the Big Top is the plant lovers’ equivalent of a candy store, it was hot in there and I eventually exited through the back to find some fresh air.


Right outside that exit is a strategically placed bench next to a stunning agave (nobody seemed to know what species it might be).


There I ran into Mark and Gaz of Alternative Eden—these guy were everywhere!—and Loree of Danger Garden, one of the incredibly organized and hardworking masterminds behind the 2014 Garden Bloggers Fling. They needed a break too.


Brodie, the resident canine at Cistus, was seeking refuge in the shade as well.


The plantings along the path to the parking area are varied and full of surprises. Here are some that jumped out at me.



Spiny bear’s breeches (Acanthus spinosus)


Beautiful foliage contrast


Eucalyptus, bamboo and grasses




Monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana). I can never get enough of this outlandishly weird conifer native to central Chile and western Argentina. I have a small specimen in a 1-gallon pot that has been developing so slowly that its annual growth would have to be measured in millimeters.

When Loree, Mark, Gaz and I went back to Cistus the Monday after the Fling, we were able to walk through the propagation greenhouses—the inner sanctum of any production nursery and typically off limits to the public. Unfortunately, it was so hot in there that I didn’t linger long. Someday I hope to go back in the fall or spring when temperatures are more conducive to exploration.


I did photograph two agaves that were true standouts:


Agave ‘Blue Glow’, the bluest coloration I’ve ever seen on a ‘Blue Glow’


Filiferous agave (not sure of species) with an unusual and very attractive orange-red coloration induced by high heat. Truly outstanding!

Since I had flown to Portland I was very limited in what I could bring back. I did manage to cram quite a few plants into my suitcase, all but one of which came from Cistus. Here’s a photo of my haul (and here is the associated post):


Just the other day Loree, who lives in Portland and visits Cistus regularly, bought a few more plants for me. It’s great having your personal on-site shopper who is only too eager to feed your obsession!


× Fatshedera 'Angyo Star', × Fatshedera 'Gold Heart', Echium russicum × wildpretii, Tagetes lemmonii 'Martins Mutant', Yucca baccata var. vespertina 'Hualampai Blue'


Yucca baccata var. vespertina 'Hualampai Blue', a particularly blue form of the banana yucca collected on the south side of the Colorado River in Mojave County, Arizona

Cistus is the perfect antidote to sterile garden centers. Instead of offering endless rows of run-of-the-mill plants engineered on an industrial scale, Cistus lets you explore a variety of garden rooms as well as hidden nooks and crannies where you just might find that botanical wonder you never knew existed. I love it when a nursery allows me to experience this sense of discovery. If I lived in the Portland area, I’d be at Cistus all the time.


  • This 2007 article from Horticulture Magazine talks about the history of Cistus Nursery. It’s a great read.
  • This post was written by Lisa Calle from Spain (now Peru), the blogger who had traveled the furthest to attend the 2014 Garden Bloggers Fling. Lisa took many more photos at Cistus than I did. (Click here to read an English translation provided by Google Translate.)
  • Peter Herpst, the Outlaw Gardener, has written several fantastic posts about Cistus, replete with beautiful photos: 1 2.
  • Loree Bohl aka Danger Garden has written more posts about Cistus than anyone else I can think of. Go to her blog and enter “Cistus” in the search box in the right side bar to display a list.
  • Plant Lust has an extensive catalog of plants available at Cistus (1908 entries as of today). Check it out! 


  1. You may not have realized that Sean's late partner, Parker Sanderson worked at U.C. Davis Arboretum in the 90's before they emigrated to Portland, so Sean is familiar with our town of Davis. You'll have to ask him about it the next time you're up in Portland. Sue

    1. I did know that. Sean has a standing invitation to stay at our place whenever he's in the area. I hope he'll visit soon :-)

  2. How is it that I was just there yesterday but reading this makes me what to jump in the car and drive back out there? Heaven on earth, right here in Portland.

    1. Reading that makes me happy! I was hoping my post would make people want to visit Cistus :-).

    2. It does (make me want to visit). Stop posting about it!

  3. Great pictures!!! What a great help to have Loree picking the plants for you!! It would be fun to do that but she would have to keep my plants and plant them in her garden, hehehe. I´ve read the translation of my blog post...it is too funny...google needs badly to improve translations...maybe I should translate it...
    Oh no, now I want to go back...

    1. Google Translate isn't great and makes weird mistakes but most of the time it gets the gist across. You would definitely do a better job translating, but you can't be expected to write posts both in Spanish AND English. That would be way too much work.

    2. You are right...it would take me a lot of time :)

    3. Lisa, Google translate is far from perfect but it is good enough to help me read your posts and for that I am thankful (and oh how I wish I knew Spanish!).

  4. Two months ago already?? Time flies so fast! We still have vivid memories of our visit there, it was such good fun!

    Going back to Portland and Cistus in a car, you're in for a shopping treat and I can imagine a space in the boot is already reserved for a Yucca. We so want to go back again now. And great pics btw especially with Loree standing at the front and us on the background, brilliant!

    1. I thought the photos I took of all of you turned out great. Wonderful memories!

  5. Great photo tour! I have not been able to get this nursery out of my mind! Thank you for naming more of the plants. I enjoyed talking to Sean and he suggested I wait till it is cooler to put in a mail order. I found a local nursery Zone 9 Tropical very near me that grows some of the plants I saw at Cistus. They have a Madagascar Palm (Pachypodium lamerei) on hold for me. And Cistus is on my list of places to visit next time I fly into Portland to visit family in Eugene.

    1. Laurin, I was amazed by the sheer breadth of what Cistus carries. It seems like no matter what your gardening style is, you'll find what you want at Cistus.


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