Savage Plants & Landscape in Kingston is a family-owned nursery that does more than just sell plants. Jim and Joan Savage started the nursery in 1993. Jim Savage runs the landscape division, and his daughter, Hollie Savage, is the nursery manager.
“My mom is the one who does all the paperwork and bookwork from home, so everybody’s involved,” Hollie Savage says.
Jim Savage learned landscape and design through hands-on training while on the landscape crew at Wights Home and Garden in Lynnwood and by working with high-end landscape architects in the greater Seattle area. With that experience, Savage started his own landscape design and installation firm, which has been in operation for 48 years.
In college, she majored in fine arts. “I was in college and was working for the family, so I think it’s nice to bring that side to the business,” she says.
She works closely with the other members of the sales team, which include Diram Hamley, Allie Nordnes and Zayre Wossene, along with some more recently hired employees. Each person on the team has a specific expertise and specialty. Whether helping customers, ordering inventory, tending plants, arranging displays, handling sales, planning special sales events or marketing on social media sites, they share the nursery’s day-to-day operations and collaborate on nearly everything.
The entire nursery covers about 5 acres, but its retail space was relatively small in the beginning. From the road, it’s hard to detect the actual size of the nursery.
“People are always surprised to see that when they come in, it’s totally different than what they expect,” Hollie Savage says.
“(They) are always shocked at how large it actually is once they get in here,” Nordnes adds.
As the business has grown, it has undergone changes and improvements. Since the nursery’s early years, Savage has been installing hardscape features to make the nursery a more relaxing and visually interesting place to shop for plants.
Hamley has been with the nursery since 2007.
“Over the years, we added more permanent structures like the greenhouses, gazebo, pergola, paved paths and a wall,” he says. They continue to fine-tune the nursery’s aesthetic.
Nordnes explains that every winter, Savage’s landscape crew does a new install at the nursery to show customers design ideas to help them decide what they want, such as a free-standing wall that shows how to use texture and color in a garden landscape and a patio by the greenhouses that was put in last winter. Next to the patio is a garden under construction, made up of rectangular beds lined with hedges and divided by a path. An espalier apple tree grows along a fence in one of the beds. Displays like these give the nursery its unique character.
Most of Savage’s landscape design clients are in Kitsap County, but his crew has done installs on the other side of Puget Sound, including hauling a large maple onto the ferry.
Savage mainly designs residential landscapes and gives a lot of attention to detail. In 2015, the nursery’s landscape division was voted “best landscaper” in the “Best of Kitsap” Reader’s Choice Awards published by the North Kitsap Herald.
At Savage Plants & Landscape, you won’t see plants lined up in rows, but rather in groupings.
For the most part, similar plants are grouped together, such as vegetables and herbs, conifers and topiary, ground covers and ornamental grasses, ornamental trees and vines, fruit trees and berries, annuals and perennials, and larger trees.
The two greenhouses display the nursery’s stock of annuals and perennials. In spring, the greenhouses are filled with bright blooms of Asiatic lilies, dianthus, delphiniums, pansies, fragrant Star Jasmines, Goldfingers Mexican Orange, daisies, colorful hanging baskets and a plethora of other plants. The nursery also sells a variety of native plants and plants from all over the world.
This is the place to look for unusual, unique and hard-to-find plants, such as the mounding shrub Acacia cognato ‘Cousin Itt,’ the tender shrub Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon,’ weeping conifers and Corokia cotoneaster shrubs with branches that have a zigzag growth pattern.
“There are also a handful of unique annuals that customers always look for,” Hollie Savage says.
“One thing I’m really happy about is how my dad kept as many of the trees as he could to incorporate the natural (elements),” she adds, pointing out how Savage designed the sales building between existing cedars rather than just clearing everything first.
The nursery’s shade area is another example of that, designed with a pond and waterfall encircled by a Japanese maple, weeping Katsura, Japanese Stewartia and other mature trees, as well as shade plants and ground covers.
In keeping with Savage’s desire to preserve nature, his crew is currently installing a couple of clover and wildflower meadows on the nursery grounds to provide a food source for pollinators and help bees flourish.
The sales team is continually finding creative ways to group plants together with hardscape features, with the goal of inspiring their customers. With the help of the landscape crew’s installations, the nursery team creates vignettes, gardens and interesting displays. No matter how plants are arranged, the purpose is always to show examples of how combinations can work with design elements to personalize outdoor spaces.
The area in front of the sales building is reserved for seasonal-interest displays. The space is adorned with ornamental grasses, unique conifers, outdoor art, a water feature made from a boulder and a rockery designed by Savage himself.
“My dad is a guy who loves rocks,” Hollie Savage says. “All of the big rocks in the displays, and the big pines and huge maples, that’s definitely my dad. He can place rocks and design with big boulders really well.”
Art and More
“One of the latest features we started was incorporating garden art from local artists,” Hamley says.
The nursery sells both indoor and outdoor art on consignment. Sculptures made of metal, glass, pottery and other materials are tucked among plants, adding even more appeal to the displays. From a giant metal sphere with a rusted patina, to whimsical characters made from mechanical parts, to paintings and metal flowers, there is art for a variety of tastes. You can also find other unique items such as firepits and grills, decorative fountains and arbors, stone and concrete benches, and large ceramic planters in the plant displays.
A charming gallery is housed in the nursery’s original sales building. The gallery exhibits handcrafted wooden tables and benches made by a local woodworker and features the vibrant, abstract paintings of Karen Gerstenberger, a painter, mixed media artist and author who is also Hollie’s aunt. The gallery is open during nursery hours.
The Gift Shop
Savage designed the building that contains the nursery’s offices and gift shop. The gift shop is mainly stocked with garden and home goods that are made locally and have a natural element to them.
Nordnes, the gift shop merchandiser, has been working at the nursery since 2006 and is skilled at finding an interesting assortment of items to add to the inventory.
“We try to carry unique things from local artists,” Nordnes says.
Rain chains, fountains, unique lighting, zinc plant markers, wooden furniture, a small selection of gardening tools, succulents, air plants, baskets and art are just a sample of treasures you can find there. Colorful bamboo bowls and house plants are some of the gift shop’s newest additions. It’s a fun place to shop regardless of whether you are buying plants. During the nursery’s annual Holiday Open House, the gift shop is adorned with decorations, holiday lights and a festive Christmas tree.
The nursery’s friendly, knowledgeable sales team is readily available to greet customers, offer design advice and help them choose plants.
“At the nursery, we help with do-it-yourselfers. For someone who doesn’t want a complete design and install, if they just come in, we give them ideas,” Hamley says. Customers are also encouraged to bring in photos of the area in question to get advice on appropriate plants for their space.
“We would rather people get the right plant for the right place, rather than try to push whatever on them,” Hollie Savage says.
It’s not surprising that many of their customers have been coming to the nursery since it opened. “We get people who just want to wander,” she says. “We love people to come and have a nice experience, relax and wander the paths, and shop. We’re not always about the sales.”
Customers are welcome to amble through the plant areas, take time to enjoy the art and gardens, visit the gallery and gift shop and bring a lunch to eat at one of the outdoor tables. Many people who stop by have just gotten off the ferry and are wanting to relax.
“We feel that we provide a bit of sanctuary from the hectic world,” Hamley says.
The nursery is open year-round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, except for Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and the week before Christmas. There are special sales events a few times each year, when customers can get deals on a wide range of plants. Visit the nursery’s Facebook and Instagram pages for photos of plants in stock and information on the nursery’s special events and winter hours.