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Meet Maurice Horn

Maurice Horn HPSO Blog Profile
Meet Maurice Horn, soon-to-be-retired co-owner of Joy Creek Nursery, Scappoose, Oregon. He gardens in Sauvie Island, USDA Zone 8 (7B) and has contributed articles to Horticulture, The International Clematis Journal, and the like. Maurice generously shared his knowledge and experience with HPSO in this profile. Enjoy!

My favorite book or garden writer:

Over the last ten years, I have not had much time to read garden books. Instead, I have concentrated on plant monographs and publications that keep me up to date on plant nomenclature and new introductions.

I also subscribe to The Garden magazine which is published by the Royal Horticultural Society. Over the last few years, I have followed the essays written by Sally Nex on low carbon gardening. I have long thought that many common gardening practices are unhealthy to our environment but the task of dismantling our dependence on plastic and chemicals in the garden, for example, has seemed daunting. I have enjoyed the challenges that she has given the gardening public. Now that I am retiring, I look forward to reading her new book How to Garden the Low Carbon Way.

We try to keep organic matter on-site. Here we stacked rounds of 5 dead poplars to make a 200-foot berm

We try to keep organic matter on-site. Here we stacked rounds of 5 dead poplars to make a 200-foot berm. Photo provided by Maurice Horn.

How did I become interested in gardening?

As an army brat, I moved repeatedly throughout my childhood. My family never settled in one place long enough for me to garden nor was there anyone to mentor me in gardening. However, I was an avid seed collector at a very young age and have continued to be fascinated by seeds throughout my life. One of the benefits of such a peripatetic childhood is that among the many places we moved, I was able to play in bamboo groves in Taiwan, in deciduous forests outside of Philadelphia, around farm fields in Minnesota and Wisconsin, on the beaches of Okinawa, and in the desert outside the once tiny town of Scottsdale, Arizona.

It was not until I spent a year abroad in Japan as an undergraduate and then returned to Japan to do graduate studies that I realized that the most frequent question I asked in Japanese was “What is the name of this plant?” It took another decade for me to recognize this abiding interest as a viable way to make a living.

We always try to frame views and give a sense of depth to our garden.

We always try to frame views and give a sense of depth to our garden. Photo provided by Maurice Horn.

What’s my next garden project?

My partner George and I have recently begun carving away the dense lower branches from a massive, mature Arbutus unedo hedge to make a hidden path to a new dry border. Once we had broken into the interior of the hedge, we realized that the space we had created would make a shady seating area in the summer. We began to shape this space, taking out dead wood and irregular growth, creating a ceiling, and revealing the beautiful architecture of the Arbutus branches. We also opened views looking outward to the sun-lit exterior. Every bed or garden room we create is designed to open out to the oak savannah and parkland that surround our property.

We design our garden to open out to views like this.

We design our garden to open out to views like this. Photo provided by Maurice Horn.

Which garden has most influenced me?

I am not a good garden tourist. I like to sit – and, of course, contemplate a garden. I want to understand why and how it was created. I like to track the movement of the sun, study the circulation of paths, check the soil, look at the health of the plantings.

One garden that moved me greatly is the zen garden at Kōtō-in which is one of the temples within the large Zen complex of Daitoku-ji in Kyoto, Japan. We arrived in early autumn while the weather was still slightly warm. The entry gate was at the end of an extensive, formal, cobbled walkway set in a frame of long rectangular blocks of grey granite. Green bamboo railings ran along either side of the path. This is a walk-way that is certainly designed to lead the visitor to a special place.

The entrance to Kōtō-in, Kyoto, Japan

The entrance to Kōtō-in, Kyoto, Japan. Photo provided by Maurice Horn.

The wooden gate itself was modest. Inside, we climbed a short flight of steps into the temple and soon entered the meditation hall. There, a sliding screen had been left wide open to allow visitors to sit in the dark interior and face the bright exterior.

As I sat on the wooden verandah looking out at the garden in front of me, I wondered what I was supposed to see? Bamboo, gravel, moss and a few young Japanese maples, a carved stone lantern – these made up the contents of the panoramic view. Yet as I sat there, I sensed the intentionality of the plantings. Even though the maples leaves were just starting to turn, I understood that seeing their fall color was not the point of the garden. The maples were there to help experience time. Soon their leaves would turn fiery red and then fall. In spring, they would show their bright green foliage which would darken in the summer. The cycle would repeat. I did not need to see what we might ordinarily regard as the “climax” of the yearly cycle to appreciate the beauty before me. At the same time, that “climax” was the focus of the garden. I was aware of the irony of this.

The simplicity and the intentionality of this garden has stayed with me. I think of Kōtō-in when I plan a new garden bed.

Maurice Horn Blog Profile: The Zen garden at Kōtō-in, Kyoto, Japan

The Zen garden at Kōtō-in, Kyoto, Japan. Photo provided by Maurice Horn.

What’s my most memorable plant collecting experience?

Although I have collected plants in the wild in the past, an experience I had a couple of decades ago shows my interest in the history of garden plants. During the last decade of the previous century, I had heard about clematis hybridization that was taking place behind the Iron Curtain. This included work that was being done in Ukraine, Latvia, Poland, and Estonia. Very few Western gardeners had had the opportunity to see, much less grow, clematis from this area of the world.

In 1996, I first met Uno Kvistik, the legendary, Estonian clematis hybridizer, at an International Clematis Society Conference in Cambridge. I had the pleasure of translating from Japanese to English for Kozo Sugimoto, a Japanese clematis hybridizer, to Uno’s translator, who in turn translated my words into Estonian. With four parties involved, the exchange was long but remained lively despite the time lapses necessary for translation. Many hand-drawings on paper napkins were sketched to further the conversation.

Later, at the Society business meeting, the council decided to add a visit to Estonia in the agenda for the 1998 conference scheduled to take place in Sweden.

Estonia had just been opened to tourism after the withdrawal of Soviet forces. It was still a poor, agricultural country without much industry. Food was limited; accommodations were not easy to come by. Yet Uno Kvistik worked diligently in the background to assure that our upcoming visit would be comfortable and successful.

Tragically, right before the society was to visit Estonia, Uno died.

Uno’s wife, Aili, and his son and daughter-in-law, Taavi and Aime, agreed to proceed with the conference despite their loss. The gardens at their nursery Roogoja were in full bloom when we arrived. We were amazed at the beauty and extraordinary vigor of the clematis in the display beds. I had rarely seen clematis grown so well. (Later, we found out that the nursery is next door to a dairy farm which provides ample compost and run-off to feed their garden. We all learned a great lesson that day.) In the pond at the entry to the nursery, the Kvistiks had floated dozens of freshly cut clematis as a sign of welcome.

I was so stimulated by the display that I wanted to visit Roogoja again before I left Estonia. I was able to join Ruth and John Gooch, owners of Thorncroft Nursery in England, and we skipped the next day’s tours to return. Taavi and Aime spent the day with us as we examined each plant in their display beds and wrote descriptions of them for the upcoming Clematis International journal. We did not have a translator. Somehow, we were able to communicate by using dictionaries, sign language and a hodge-podge of internationally known English words.

After our evaluation, Taavi and Ani invited us to join them for a simple lunch of home-baked bread, cheese, and milk fresh from their cow. Their generosity and their kindness despite their busy schedules made this day unforgettable. I do not think I had ever sat in a farmyard surrounded by an amazing display of flowers developed on-site and eaten the produce from that garden.

I was able to buy Clematis ‘Viola’ and ‘Romantika’ that day. We still grow those plants in the garden at Joy Creek Nursery. All plants have stories behind them, and every garden is filled with history.

Thanks so much for sharing your garden stories, Maurice!

Readers – how has Maurice influenced your gardening over the years? Share your stories in the comments below.

Happy gardening from all of us at HPSO!

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Categories: Expert Advice, Garden Travel, Plant Showcase, Profile
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2 responses to “Meet Maurice Horn”

  1. Jo Ellen Pachelbel says:

    I live only a few miles from Joy Creek. It is safe to say that the influence of Maurice (along with many others) is evident in any direction in my garden. I think of him as my dear garden companion, as I can see plants he selected for me everywhere. They each have a story. And I’m glad to now know the story of Clem Romantika & Viola, both of which are quite vigorous in my garden. I cherish all the wonderful enriching garden treasures that Maurice shared with me. And his sweet giggle. Such a lovely & patient disposition!

    • Hayden Brown says:

      Wow, what wonderful memories, thank you so much for sharing! It is incredible how personal our gardens become over the years.

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