A story about gardening, love, antiques, and years of building a dream destination spot in the beautiful Skagit Valley of Washington state.
On March 1, 1990 Toni & John Christianson embarked on an adventure that I am sure they never imaged would become one of the dreamiest places to visit here in the Pacific Northwest.
Christianson’s is a beautiful old world Nursery located in Skagit Valley, Washington…built over 30 plus years, with expertise and a lot of love! This award-winning nursery specializes in a variety of common and uncommon plants, garden accessories, antiques, gifts, and offers the largest selection of roses and perennials in the Northwest. Much of their staff consists of certified professional horticulturists, who are eager to answer customer inquiries.
The property is rich with history throughout, including that of local origin. There are nine different attractions within the nursery that bring in a variety of avid gardeners, photographers, plant enthusiasts, and the venue even hosts weddings and special events.
When visiting Christianson’s be sure to visit the Garden Store, the Main Green House, Conservatory, Propagation House, Potting Shed, the old School House (just don’t crash a wedding), Primrose Gift Shop, the Garden, and their newest addition, the Vinery where they host the local Skagit Valley Farmer’s Market and other larger events.
(Trillium Finch, Local Farmer Florist at the Skagit Valley Farmer's Market)
While Christianson’s is highly regarded for their selection of quality plants, beautifully constructed architecture and achievements in gardening excellence, it holds a very special place in our hearts. When you walk the grounds, you get a sense for the history, as well as the contributions by the Christianson’s over the thirty plus years they have owned the land. Every corner tells a story, and if you pause long enough you can capture a glimpse into the creative genius of Toni Christianson and her husband John.
When I asked these two love birds to share more of their story, here is what Toni shared with me, “Of course, we had to meet in a Nursery! John grew up in a family with a long history of farming and gardening, His Great Grandfather was the first white man to live and homestead in Moses Coulee, Washington. He introduced apple orchards to the region in the mid 1800s… his Grandfather and Father were avid gardeners as were most of his cousins with one cousin owning an organic apple orchard on Lopez, Island. My Great Grandfather was a cherry orchardist in Michigan, and his progeny are mostly gardeners with two of my cousins having advanced degrees in plant pathology, one garden designer, three landscapers with the rest of us happy with small ornamental fruit and vegetable home gardens. So, I guess you could say, plants, gardens, and designing must be in our DNA.”
I think anyone who has met the Christianson's would agree with that statement! Everything they touch, turns to green! While Toni is gifted with loads of creativity, design, and vision, John is an absolute wealth of knowledge in the gardening world. These two are also very generous and lovingly share their knowledge and beautiful creations with locals and anyone who happens to follow their blog https://www.christiansonsnursery.com/events/journal/ or social media @christiansonsnursery on Instagram. You can find a collection of gardening how to videos and much more via those resources.
When asked about business and family relations, Toni shares, “Most of our business and personal lives are filled with a controlled excitement about our families first and then the continual dynamic of running a Nursery that is situated in the most beautiful Valley in the country as far as we are concerned…Our oldest daughter is our bookkeeper, our middle daughter is our assistant bookkeeper and manager of schedules, our youngest daughter is in charge of our on-line presence, weddings and events and our grandson-in-law works in the Nursery.” You really do get the sense that this is not just a business but a lifestyle.
On our recent visit with Toni & John, we walked the grounds as Toni shared how much she wanted the place to become a destination spot for people since it was a little ways off the beaten path.
"The challenge has been to keep it fitting seamlessly with the farmland surrounding it by adding old granaries and out buildings whenever we needed more indoor space. Since 1994 we’ve added one 1888 schoolhouse, two granaries, one nanny’s quarters/pantry along with keeping the other existing buildings rather than tearing them down and starting over. Those buildings were filled with history as they were built by the Harts (who the property was purchased from) somewhere during the years starting in 1946 and ending in 1985. They include the Front Greenhouse, the Garden Store, Primrose (which was a tractor garage), House Five, the Shade House and the Propagation House. Any changes that have been added or restored have been constructed with old, salvaged glass and wood from buildings in the Valley that were to be torn down. This would include our newest old building, the Vinery. It is constructed of old barn wood, rusted metal roofing and windows from an old gymnasium. This is the best part of working together, all so interesting and all so fun when you have the same vision and the same goals. The worst part of working together was trying to sort out our individual and sometimes colliding decisions between the business side and the visual side of owning a Nursery. It took us a while to understand that because John likes the business side and I like the design side we needed to consider that as a strength. So we decided to do what each of us likes best; with me doing the details like light fixtures and cabinets and John having the final say when it came to important business decisions and both of us working together on finding and moving old
buildings”, Toni shared.
I curiously asked how they discovered the nursery, and Toni replied, “John and I would take day trips to Skagit Valley and we, of course, had to stop at all the nurseries along the way. We had signed up for Hart’s Nursery’s newsletter and read that they were going to sell their nursery. We came up to tour with the consideration of buying it and the following spring we were the owners on March 1, 1990. Whenever we heard that an old building was going to be torn down or burned, we looked into moving it. The Schoolhouse was different in that we bought it in an auction. It was the one and only time I’ve ever bid on anything at an auction and John could not be with me because he needed to be at work. We had decided we wouldn’t go over a certain amount of $500 and that was my final bid. And that was exactly what it sold for so we’ve always figured it was meant to be. Of course then there were all the added costs to move it from south Mount Vernon to Best Road.”
The Schoolhouse is likely one of the most photographed buildings at Christianson’s along with the Propagation House. They have done a beautiful job of restoring and caring for this old building while retaining much of its original character and charm. “My favorite place in the Nursery is the Schoolhouse display garden. Especially when John and I, or our children and grandchildren have time for a picnic lunch on a sunny day”, says Toni. One of my first experiences at the nursery was selling antiques in the old School House at their annual Mid Summer Antique Fair & Vintage Market...a must visit event for the vintage lover!
When asked about her favorite season in the nursery, Toni shared, “Springtime is my favorite time of year. We are all so happy for warmer days and the mix of people and plants and comradery.”
As a small business, we found ourselves all too curious about their history in building a successful and thriving business community. I asked Toni & John to share a bit about their successes and perceived failures that they learned from over the years.
“Our biggest mistake was in setting our goals too high in the beginning and getting too far out in labor costs. John (always the business man) found the recommended labor costs based on income in the nursery industry and has kept to that percentage since we’ve owned the Nursery. Our biggest triumph was our first Northwest Flower and Garden Show display in 1993. It was called ‘Mole’s End’ and it won almost all the medals that the Show gave out, including a gold medal and The People’s Choice Award’. We had a few people come to the Nursery on the same day they visited the show and our following increased not only by Washingtonians but by visitors from all our surrounding states and Canada and Alaska. We have continued designing and planting show gardens at the Seattle Convention Center over the years and it never ceases to increase our customer base. Our main goal has always been to become a destination nursery because we are located out in the middle of nowhere compared to other nurseries that are in the center of populated areas.”
Christianson’s is absolutely a destination, it is far worth the trip out and even more so if planned on a day they host local events, such as the upcoming Skagit Valley Giant Pumpkin Festival Saturday September 18th, and the Sunday Skagit Valley Famer’s Market. Plan a day trip out and include a visit to the nearby Snow Goose Produce Country Market which is open seven days a week, or perhaps venture out during the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival which occurs every Spring. To learn more about local events hosted by Christianson’s see their Events page located on their website.
(Swanson Farm at the Skagit Valley Farmer's Market)
We asked Toni & John to share any advice they had for those just beginning to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. “John’s advice is to first master your field of interest. Expertise in what your dream is, it’s all important if you want to stand out in what you do. Hard work, energy and enthusiasm all come in second. My advice is to follow your dream and listen to your intuition. Much of our success has come from my insistence on making certain choices and taking on certain risks.”
Thank you so much Toni & John Christianson for sharing a little more intimately your story and experience creating one of the most beautiful must see places in the Pacific Northwest. We are honored to know you, and to learn from you. We know there are many good things in store from these two creative minds!
See a glimpse of the nursery in episode Episode 3 “Community” of the new Magnolia Network’s “Growing Floret”.
We were blessed to have taken our maternity photos at Christianson's in the Spring of 2020. I remember feeling so cooped up, as did many of us during that time... visiting this place was like a deep breath of fresh air. It was lush, green, raining and glorious. While my husband got soaked taking my picture, we both savored this sweet little adventure in the midst of adversity and unknown. It felt like we had the Nursery all to ourselves that day. We will forever cherish these photos of me and our sweet little Eloise before she made her debut later that Summer.
The Vinery is Christianson's newest structure, which was once a stationary pea vining site from the 1940s to the 1960s. This large stunning building is now open as an event venue. It is available for weddings and other celebrations and is offered on a complimentary basis for garden club and agricultural conferences and gatherings.
Visit Christianson’s Nursery & Greenhouse
Daily Hours, 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.
15806 Best Road
Mount Vernon, WA 98273
Images by Phoebe Elliott