This article originally was featured in the December issue of Garden Center Magazine
Pomarius Nursery is nestled at the convergence of three of Portland, Oregon’s, most lively neighborhoods, where the Northwest Industrial District squeezes in between The Pearl and Slabtown. These areas of Portland are known for their art galleries, indie boutiques, locally-owned restaurants and the famous Powell’s City of Books.
It was here that Peter Lynn, Pomarius’ owner, saw something in a space that other people dismissed. The long, narrow lot is a scant 50 feet wide, but nearly 300 feet long. Complicating development of the land is an underground storm sewer bisecting the property length-wise, which the City of Portland has a permanent easement to.
“The property owner was intending to place storage units on the parcel when I discovered it, but I had another vision for it,” Lynn says. Despite the obstacles, during the past 15 years, Lynn has created a boutique nursery destination for gardeners from around the Portland metro area and beyond, specializing in unusual plants like giant variegated agaves, a fern collection that includes rare genera like Pyrrosia, and boxwood topiaries.
The nursery has a distinct European vibe, and the décor and displays are inspired by Lynn’s experience living there.
“I was born in Belgium, went to school in England, and worked for 15 years in the south of France where my wife and I raised strawberries,” Lynn says, adding that Pomarius means “fruit seller” in Latin. “We want to help people visualize and design gardens that they will use in everyday life, to eat in and entertain in.”
There is a plethora of interesting garden centers in the Portland area, but what sets Pomarius apart is the symbiotic relationship it has developed with Castaway Portland, an 10,000-square-foot event venue specializing in weddings and fundraisers.
Casey Murry and his wife, Sara Rosenbaum-Murry, own Castaway, which is in a historic building adjacent to the nursery that has been artfully re-purposed for its new post-industrial role.
“With original old growth beams, 14-foot ceilings, and wrap around steel sash pane windows, it has perfect bones that date back to 1929,” Rosenbaum-Murry says. “It seems as if it were destined to be a space for the community to gather and celebrate.”
Pomarius and Castaway have collaborated for a decade and are connected physically — Castaway uses the nursery’s outdoor space for wedding ceremonies and other large events — and philosophically, as both businesses prioritize creating worthwhile experiences for their customers.
“Connecting the two businesses is as easy as opening a gate, which we do when Castaway needs our space for large weddings or corporate events,” Lynn says. In fact, the gate is open most of the time during business hours to make it easy for staff and customers to walk between the two.
The planning and setup for an event is done primarily by the partner hosting the event, so little extra work is required from Pomarius, other than ensuring the garden center is clean and beautifully decorated. But, as Lynn pointed out, “No garden center will thrive if it’s dirty and in disarray.”
Castaway gives Pomarius a space rental fee for large events that use all or part of the nursery. The garden center also can rent or sell plants that are used in the decorations and centerpieces for many of the events.
“We’ve taken the nursery beyond the traditional retail space and encourage people to engage with classes and events,” says Wesley Younie, who is part of the management team at Pomarius Nursery.
Recently, the Murrys opened a second smaller, more intimate venue, Blockhouse, which is right in the middle of Pomarius Nursery and surrounded by the garden center’s verdant displays.
Pomarius hosts classes and seminars in the Blockhouse space with catering help from the Blockhouse staff. In turn, when Blockhouse has an event, it spills over into the nursery’s outdoor rooms, exposing potential customers to their plants and products.
Blockhouse can accommodate up to 125 guests, and Castaway can accommodate 1,000 people if they utilize their main event venue, the Blockhouse venue, and the entire Pomarius Nursery space.
“Blockhouse made it possible to have a professional chef cook world class food in the nursery,” Younie says. “We love having weddings and parties at Pomarius, and our décor is designed to encourage visitors to imagine ways that they can create intimate, beautiful garden spaces at their own home.”
Murry reflected on the unique collaboration he’s had with Lynn.
“I always made a point to walk into our friendly neighbor’s beautiful nursery to talk business with Peter Lynn,” Murry says. “We shared our future visions and ideas for our families’ growing operations as well as our struggles with wearing many hats to get things up and running. It did not take long before I gained trust, respect and a common bond with Peter and his family.”