Celebrating women’s work with plants: Christie Mackison
“The single most essential element in any garden is not some particular object, plant or tool. What’s vital is a gardener who loves it.”
— Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden, “Plant-Driven Design: Creating Gardens That Honor Plants, Place and Spirit,” 2008
This is the second column and podcast in a new series called “Women’s Work with Plants,” featuring diverse local women whose work increases community access to gardens, gardening, locally grown plants and/or healthful, locally grown food.
I was inspired to initiate the series after reading Jennifer Jewel’s book “The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants” (2020).
This week I’m excited to share the story of Christie Mackison, who owns and operates Shooting Star Nursery in Central Point with her husband, Scott. Shooting Star is well known in the gardening community as one of the best places in the valley to find native plants and other locally grown plants that will thrive in our climate. Did you know that Shooting Star is named after a pretty, native wildflower (Dodecatheon meadia) in the primula family?
Christie is also a landscape designer and does consultation work across the valley. When I came up with the idea of growing a Shakespeare-inspired botanical garden at Hanley Farm five years ago, I asked Christie to sketch out some design ideas for the project, which seemed overwhelming to me at first. In fact, that’s Christie’s specialty.
“I like to think that we offer a niche to people who need help getting going with their garden and don't have something so large or elaborate to need a landscape architect or full-on contractor,” Christie said. “I love being able to help the average customer with small to medium projects and help them make their world a better place.”
Although Christie said she gets a lot of joy from helping people imagine their future garden, her favorite part is to “deliver a beautiful array of plants and get them laid out just right” for planting. “Nothing makes me happier than to help someone add beauty, greenery and usefulness to their space,” Christie said.
Christie’s plant recommendations for the Rogue Valley focus on drought-tolerant, regionally appropriate herbaceous perennials, shrubs, grasses and trees.
“We also focus on plants that attract pollinators, have a long bloom time or multiple seasons of interest, and as many natives as we can,” Christie said. “We like to think we have curated plants that gardeners will be successful with, knowing there are so many choices out there.”
Christie brings her garden knowledge and plants to her work with Direct Involvement Recreation Teaching (DIRT), a local nonprofit organization that supports school and community gardens. DIRT has helped install/maintain gardens at Mae Richardson Elementary, Jewett Elementary, Hanby Middle School and the Skyrman Arboretum in Central Point.
“Working on the various school gardens we have helped with has been very rewarding,” Christie said. “At Mae Richardson Elementary we used plants that were edible, kid friendly and pollinator friendly, and have some interest during the school year. It has been so fun to see the kids get outside and working in the garden.”
Christie said she’s always loved plants, no doubt handed down by her dad, a landscape contractor. However, her first career as an architect had her designing buildings, not gardens. Then she decided to take a break from architecture, and she started volunteering in greenhouses and nurseries in Portland where she was living. Eventually, she got a job at Joy Creek Nursery outside of Portland, which “really inspired me with its elaborate display garden, retail plant sales, and landscape design and installation business.”
She started her own landscape design business in Portland before moving to the Rogue Valley in 2004. She and Scott opened Shooting Star Nursery in 2005, starting out small and growing larger every year until now they have 7-plus acres of plants.
To lead off this week’s column, I chose a quote by the authors of one of Christie’s inspirational garden books, “Plant-Driven Design,” in which Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden advocate for naturalistic garden design. I’ll end with another passage from the book, which seems to sum up Christie’s work to increase access to gardens and plants.
The authors write: “When we allow plants rather than architecture to run the show, and when we learn about choice and placement to honor them, unlimited possibilities emerge for reconnection with the natural world…”
“It's so hard to pick a favorite, but manzanitas and the salvia family are two of my favorites. Manzanitas are one of the reasons we fell in love with this area. They truly are all-season interest plants: provide nectar for pollinators early in the spring, beautiful red bark, and tough as nails. Salvias come in so many forms, and their vibrant colors get me every time. I mean, salvia 'Black & Blue’ — how can you not love that cobalt blue? The hummingbirds agree with me.”
“Anne Lovejoy was an early influence in my early plant days. Lorene Edwards Forkner is my latest inspiration — her color studies are a beautiful way to look at plants and nature. I know so many great plant people — most of our staff is a great resource and inspiration — the combined knowledge of the group is astounding. I love going on the annual nursery hike with our group to learn about more natives and ooh and ahh over our finds.”
“Plant Driven Design” (2008) by Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Odgen. I’m reading “The Overstory” (2018) by Richard Powers right now, which is truly mind changing. Any book that gets into trees and plants I love.” (Rhonda’s note: I checked this book out and it sounds fascinating — it won the 2019 Pulitzer for fiction.)
For more about Christie and her work with gardens and plants, check out this week’s Literary Gardener podcast at: https://mailtribune.com/podcasts/the-literary-gardener.
Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at Rnowak39@gmail.com.