North End Metro caught up with Ciscoe Morris on a chilly Christmas Eve morning. For those rare few who don’t know him, Ciscoe is a local gardening personality well on his way into the annals of Seattle history. His presence immediately warmed the coffee shop, his laugh is head-turning and infectious. He lives up to his hype—friendly, humble, cheerful, and warm. He also has a passion for gardening and caring for plants and landscape in the earth-friendliest way possible. In fact, he was dedicated to sustainable practices well before the rest of us even knew what integrated pest management (IPM) was.
Ciscoe started as a lawn boy, caring for large, green expanses. His boss at the time had a thing about poisons—a residual enmity left over from his time at war. He taught Ciscoe about using tea on weeds, dealing with bugs using sticky cardboard—anything to avoid poisons. His aversion to pesticides sparked an awareness, one that Ciscoe would carry with him throughout his career.
Seattle University played a huge role in Ciscoe’s life. It was the place where he became a master gardener and earned a degree after the encouragement of one of the priests who said, “They love letters after your name.” He met many people who would influence him, he gained a passion for bugs, and he remembers it as the place where he learned to write better.
Ciscoe recalled the campus landscape when he first started there—it was full of weeds. “We would make holes in the weeds to put over-the-hill annuals.” He laughed at the memory. At first, he didn’t have much control over the campus—there was someone else in charge. However, after a small hiatus from Seattle University where he worked a job he ended up disliking, Ciscoe wanted his old job back, and got it. He was grateful for the opportunity and saw hard work as a way to pay them back for the second chance. “I wanted to pull the campus back together and do a good job for them.”
He ended up in charge. Ciscoe took on work-study students, and inherited the spray program. Something about spraying during school hours didn’t sit right with him. “I didn’t like the thought of putting poison on a college campus around all those young people,” he said. He made it a mission to find alternatives. Some of his ideas didn’t impress the administration—but he knew that one way a more natural approach would work is if balance was restored to the environment. At the time, in the early 1980s, there wasn’t a lot of information out there about non-poisonous weed and pest control. Ciscoe gathered what information he could find and put together his own strategies. He often had to present
his ideas to a doubtful audience.
All his “crazy” schemes and hard work paid off. Seattle University became the first institution in the state designated a wildlife sanctuary. As Ciscoe sees it, “we built a balance in nature.”
Becoming a Northwest Garden Guru
Many of Ciscoe’s experiences have been happy happenstance. He has stumbled into careers. There was never a goal to become the voice of gardening in the NW, and yet that is what he is. It started with garden talks on the radio. His first didn’t go very well, but he got to try again. Before he knew it people were engaged and saying things like, “Have that garden guy on again.” He ended up working with KIRO.
TV was just as accidental, beginning with a letter in the mail asking him to try out for the new Ernst Home and Garden Show hosted by Survivor’s Jeff Probst. He was late for his interview and unable to try out. Watching some of the tryouts he felt it was for the best. Seeing others read lines he thought, “I’m dead. I don’t have a chance.” Yet somehow, he still managed to land a spot on the first episode. It was a success, and led to a weekly appearance. And the rest, they say, is history.
Dogs, Travel and a Lust for Life
This article could easily stretch into chapters. Ciscoe Morris has a buoyant love of living life. He is passionate about his dogs and travel. He has trekked all over the world with his wife Mary. We touched on his father’s unique Vaudevillian background and his mother’s talent for dance. There was talk of walks across the English countryside and a crazy trip to India. And then there are the dogs—rescues that have enriched his life.
The conversation ran long—it’s easy to linger and listen about an amazing life through hilarious stories. The only Interruption came from a fan’s daughter. Her mother, also from Wisconsin, will get a huge thrill out of the picture. Ciscoe happily posed with her.
It’s hard to say if Ciscoe was destined to become a wellknown personality, but it’s impossible to believe that anyone else could take his place.