Pistils Nursery sits on North Mississippi Avenue in Portland, Oregon. The locally-owned plant nursery and gift boutique is surrounded by other successful small businesses in the well-known, art-centric capital city of the Beaver State.
Despite the revitalized fascination with houseplants, Pistils Nursery is hardly new to the game. Founded in 2001 by Megan Twilegar, an Idaho native, the shop began as a landscaping company with a vision for greener homes and a greater connection with nature long before social platforms made it “fashionable.” In recent years, Pistillis has garnered an impressive following on social media, largely because of its stunning photography and array of products.
Pistils was founded “at a time when kind of the urban gardening movement was just getting started,” Jesse Waldman, director of eCommerce and marketing tells me in an interview for Consensus Digital Media. “Moving to Portland [she] kind of wanted to bring a little bit of that country life into the city — that was the original tagline of the business.” And that she did.
The company began focusing on “urban homesteading,” says Waldman. Its focus has been on vegetable gardening and sustainable agriculture. “Every year, [we would] sell chicks,” Waldman recalls, “it was kind of one of the first businesses to do that sort of thing and became kind of a destination for urban gardeners in Portland.”
Pistils flaunts its American Western roots with pride, even down to the shop’s name; Pistils is a play on “pistol,” evoking imagery of cowboys in the Wild West. It’s a double entendre though, also referring to the “pistil,” the reproductive hub of a flower.
Pistils Nursery’s tall, clapboard structure stands stately on the quaint avenue in downtown Portland. A whimsically colored store sign hangs from an industrial steel sign hook on the facade above the wide sidewalk, reminiscent of a saloon placard in the Wild West.
Twilegar has a knack for design, layout, and aesthetics. She even designed the storefront of their flagship property. “The aesthetic of the building itself — the facade — was designed by Megan..and that’s supposed to kind of harken back to like a Western storefront,” says Waldman.
Inside the store, Pistils turns away from the traditional shop experience, fostering a conservatory-like atmosphere, with naturally intertwining and richly colored foliage throughout.
When customers step off the main street feeling of North Mississippi Avenue into Pistils Nursery, the foliage-filled hideaway unfolds at their feet. Repurposed wood shelves, characteristic of the Pacific Northwest’s sustainable heritage, line the walls as floor plants from fiddle leaf figs to monstera and giant variegated ficus elasticas spring from the floor. Hand-crafted pottery and locally-sourced artisan goods are delicately placed amongst neatly stacked home decor books whose sharp white pages contrast the slate-colored floor. Warm lights shine above alongside glass orbs holding gracefully unfurling air plants.
Like many small businesses, Pistils supports other local businesses and artists. “We’re always trying to bring out as much local products as possible and be able to support local communities,” Jesse remarks, “and also to reduce the burden on the environment for shipping.”
Pistils has seen an economic boom of sorts in recent years, and one for the books on the small business front. Some of this has been the industry-wide uptick in houseplant demand, but a huge component has been Jesse’s work on the eCommerce front. By building out its online store and social media presence, Pistils has become the crown jewel of independently-owned houseplant boutiques that ship nationwide. “In the last two years, especially, that’s been a lot of [our] focus,” he says, “just getting more of our plants online so that people from around the country have access…depending on where you live, your access to interesting [and] unique houseplants can vary quite widely.”
While the market for its products and the green goods themselves continue to grow, the mission has remained the same: keeping patrons grounded through the greenery. “Connecting people with plants is at the center of the original mission, and it’s still at the center of what we’re doing today,” the seasoned employee said.
Pistils has garnered a community around its ever-blooming shop. Success has been earned through the online sales of its offerings, but more powerful are the customers who find solace and rejuvenation in the calming atmosphere of the shop. That’s what keeps them coming back for more.
Although the last year and a half has dealt a challenging blow to small businesses across the nation, Waldman said it’s not all bad — particularly on the connection front. Pistils has always offered in-house seminars and workshops that allow patrons to connect with other residents with similar interests. In the wake of COVID’s wrath, those workshops dissolved. Waldman says there’s a silver lining, though: new faces are able to connect online for these classes for the first time. “Being able to connect with people from around the country or world, wherever they’re able to hop on a Zoom call [in these seminars], that’s awesome,” explains Waldman.
Despite its rise to fame, Pistils Nursery hasn’t forgotten the Earth that has brought these plants to life, and it takes continued conservation and sustainability to heart. The boutique is part of 1% For The Planet, an organization that mobilizes support for environmental nonprofits through financial contributions paired with social initiatives worldwide.
“Last year, we donated to a whole broad swath of different environmental organizations, trying to hit international, national, regional, and local organizations,” Waldman says. Specifically, it has focused much of its give-back efforts on rainforest conservation projects. “We picked them and put our money towards one of their funds where the donation would specifically go to conserving habitat where we think that houseplants grow natively,” he says. Locally, it supports a nature conservancy just outside of Portland, Oregon called Columbia River Gorge, in addition to Portland-based gardening nonprofits.
Moreover, it pays for carbon offsets from all its shipping (which already went plastic-free two years ago, other than plastic items that are upcycled from wholesale shipments they receive).
Pistils’ growth may seem like one in a million, but Jesse says they’re not done yet. The team continues to lean into market-disrupting innovation and business strategies, leveraging the new online markets and communities that are emerging.