With more than two decades at the Farm under his belt, Mike Pipkin is someone you might recognize from our early years. Although he primarily works behind the scenes growing seasonal favorites for our Patio, we tracked him down in our greenhouses to talk about his history here and his passion for wildflowers.
How long have you worked at Cornell Farm, exactly? And have you worked in production the whole time?
I started here in May of 2000. I think for the first three years, I was up in retail as the Patio manager, and after that, I came to Production. I've been down here ever since!
Do you have any favorite memories over the years that you’d like to share?
Oh gosh, I've just been excited to see how we've grown and changed over the years — that's been the big thing! When I first started here, the Patio was completely different; it was all hand-built and much smaller. Now we have the new building, which is of course way nicer, but I still have great memories of the original Patio and the people there. There's some customers who've been coming here longer than I've even been at the Farm!
Back then, everything from the Kitchen Garden Greenhouse on down was Production. That was our first Greenhouse that Ed and Deby originally bought for Ed's dad Ted to grow geraniums, and everything from there to where our current greenhouses start was all perennial beds.
We only had a few much smaller greenhouses back then, and they stopped at the one we're standing in, which is currently our fifth. Below that is where Ted, Ed's father, had a vegetable garden. And there used to be a drop off, which has now been filled in. So one of the things I'm most excited by is to see how everything has changed.
Do you think most people realize that we grow many of our own plants here at the Farm? Is there anything you think they should know about that process?
I don't interact with too many customers these days, but when I do, some people seem really surprised that we grow anything ourselves! Of course, we ship in plenty of things, because we could never keep up with demand, but we do actually grow a lot of our own plants.
Of course, the big thing right now is pansies. Pansies, violas, cabbages, kale, and heucheras would be the major things this time of year, but we're starting to wind down on everything for the winter as far as growing goes, so there won't be a lot until next spring.
You put a lot of energy into growing plants here at the Farm. Do you garden much at home?
I don't really do much gardening these days. I used to keep up with everything — and I do still keep a few pots around — but it's hard when you have a tiny, nothing yard.
Now I mostly do hiking. I'm really into wildflowers. That's the big thing for me — I follow the seasons with the wildflowers. Starting in January and February, I go to places like Coyote Wall and Columbia Hills State Park and Cottonwood Canyon, and some things are starting to bloom even that early. Of course, it's also nice and dry over there, too, so it's a good place to go to get out of the rain. And then, as it warms up, I move up to higher and higher elevations — Mount Hood, Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens. There are a lot of cool places to go. Indian Heaven Wilderness is one of my favorites, but if I were to recommend one place to anybody who's new here looking for easily accessible wildflowers, it would be Silver Star Mountain. It probably has the single best 360° view I've ever seen in the entire Northwest, with absolutely incredible views and wildflowers galore!
Do you have a favorite wildflower or plant in general?
My favorite type of native wildflower would probably be the paintbrushes — the castillejas — but they're kind of in competition with orchids. There's a lot of the native orchids that are pretty close for me.
If I had to pick my favorite ornamental plant, I really like bamboos, and there's a lot of them out there.
How did you first get into plants?
I kind of fell into it, truthfully. I had a landscaping job one summer, and I was like "Oh, I like this! This is kind of fun." And I moved on from there and got more and more into horticulture. So I kind of just moved into it.
It's nice when life takes you on a journey like that! Any final parting words for gardeners back home?
Oh gosh, what's going on this time of year? Plant more pansies — lots of them! They're beautiful, and some of them are really coming to their peak.