Portland Nursery Visit: The Natives

Having a focus on native plants, my eyes are always keen observers when I recognize such, especially at nurseries. I have been visiting Portland Nursery for years and have bought many of my natives (and countless other) plants from them, for they always seem to have something even if the offerings are slim. This is a fairly large nursery, and I understand that natives aren't really a big money maker (maybe), so it was nice to see an expansion of the natives area on a recent visit. I thought I would share that visit with you.

They are categorically grouped by shade, sun, ground covers and trees & shrubs. That makes it easy to shop for what you're after if you're looking for a place to start adding natives to your landscape.

Here's a look inside the shade greenhouse. It was fuller than I've seen it, maybe ever. A great variety of salal, ferns and Mahonia species. There were ground covers, trees, shrubs and perennials everywhere.

Nice selection of ground-covers and a few ferns in there, including deer fern on the bottom row and maidenhair fern on the top right.

A variety of native Acer circinatum or vine maple also made its way to the native section, even though this particular one is a variety and not the straight species.

Sword and maidenhair ferns all looking in fine shape. The photo looks blurry as this day there was a massive wind storm, so I could not take any photos without some movement.

Western red cedar trees among other conifers. 

Lovely Mahonia nervosa or Cascade Oregon grape that gets to be only a couple of feet high and has great foliage color. Maidenhair ferns on the left, one of my favorite ferns of all time. The stems are black and they are so light and airy, faithful spreaders, too, if you give them conditions they prefer.

Wild ginger or Asarum caudatum (with a fern coming along for the ride) and Oxalis oregana (on the right). All great choices for shade groundcovers.

Well-labeled areas are very appreciated by me, the consumer.

Here is more ground-cover, but for sun. There is Sedum spathulifolium 'Cape Blanco' in there (middle, the white plant), strawberry, oxalis and more.

Bunchberry or Cornus canadensis, one of my favorite ground covers, that I simply cannot grow. There is a trick to this and they tell me it's to plant wood chunks along with it, for that's how it grows in the wild - on decaying trees. I have done that with limited success. I still love it with its white dogwood flowers, evergreen nature and little berries.

Sedum spathulifolium 'Cape Blanco'.

Wild beach strawberry or Fragaria chiloensis. Evergreen, about 6 inches tall with edible fruit.

A lovely new grouping of mountain hemlock, evergreen huckleberry, Juncus patens and lots of sun perennials. This whole "island of plants" is new to the native area and I like it. Good job, Portland Nursery!

Sedum oreganum in the center, yarrow is the carrot-like foliage and the plant on the left is Oregon sunshine or Eriophyllum lanatum. It has yellow daisy-like flowers and likes hot and dry conditions in sandy or rocky soil.

Beautiful foliage of Achillea millefolum or common yarrow. This is an excellent plant to attract beneficial insects.

More information about common yarrow. I find these signs quite helpful and would encourage more nurseries to do something similar; I know many already do.

How about some grasses? Who knew there were so many from which to choose?

Slough sedge or Carex obnupta. This is a rapid grower, spreading by rhizomes and grows in boggy or wet conditions. This rarely turns brown and the seed heads are a great food source for foraging birds and the foliage serves as nesting cover for many bird species.

Carex densa is a compact, evergreen grass. Also found in boggy wetland areas and likes full sun. Both Carex densa and C. obnupta offer soil stabilization as one of their many benefits.

Umbellularia californica or Oregon myrtle (also known as California bay laurel). Yellow flowers in summer, dark green aromatic leaves, 25 - 30 feet, sun or shade. This tree/shrub is evergreen.

Goldenrod on the ground along with evergreen huckleberry or Vaccinium ovatum. The trees are pines, Pinus contorta 'Murrayana', a very slow-growing conifer often with a contorted trunk.

Rudbeckia occidentalis, western coneflower, an herbaceous perennial with odd little flowers.

Beach daisy or Erigeron glaucus, a sweet sun perennial with purple blooms. Full sun in coastal areas, part shade inland is okay. Definitely a pollinator favorite and great for low-water gardens.

Lewisias! Lewisia cotyledon. Such cool flowers. Likes it dry and hot.

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus (left) and Spiarea douglasii on the right.

Mimulus cardinalis or scarlet monkey flower. Likes wet feet and a sunny day.

Oregon sunshine or Eriophyllum lanatum again. In this shot you can see the blooms, which a few people I know would cut off.

Western wallflower, Erysimum capitatum, with cheerful orange flower racemes. This doesn't live long in my garden but I plant it all the same. Pollinators seem to really go for this one.

Festcuca idahoensis or fescue on the left, yarrow and Oregon sunshine.

What this area in Portland Nursery reinforced for me is that there is a huge variety of native plants available, not just the two or three we see over and over again. It also shows that they can be thoughtfully displayed and treated as all of the other plants in the nursery, not something to cram in the back lot. I think that there is an even larger number of under-grown plants or plants not grown at all that are completely worthy of propagation and sale to be added to the landscape - it's almost uncharted territory.

As I'm a plant geek, I know what I'm looking for when shopping for natives so appearance in the pot doesn't bother me if it's not ideal, I know the plant's potential. Part of what will make these more attractive and interesting to a larger percentage of gardeners is contingent on how they are presented to shoppers who know nothing about their virtues - that is to say making the whole thing more mainstream and glammed up a bit. Education helps and goes a long way, but to have the "wow" factor of a great display goes farther in the short-term and once the gardener has one of these great plants in the ground and sees what they can do, they won't regret it. The displays were lovely, better than I've ever seen at Portland Nursery, but they could be better. Part of that is due to what's available to work with and part of it is the above mentioned education and displays. Either way, I'll take it and appreciate the extra attention this area has received as of late.

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you for reading and until next time, happy gardening!


  1. Which Portland Nursery was this? I've been looking for some named varieties of vine maple, but can't find them up here. I may have to make a special trip down to Portland.

    1. This is the Stark street location - thanks for mentioning that, Alison. There's one at 50th and Stark and another at 90th and Division. I found my 'Pacific Fire' at the one on Division two years ago, so I bet either would have some.

  2. Lovely Mahonia nervosa and you're so right, that section is greatly expanded and looking good! But why no Arctostaphylos?

    1. Oh, I know...no arctos? They do, of course have them in the sun shrub section. I don't know if I've ever seen them in the native section now that you mention it. There is a school of thought that says to intersperse native plants in general with the other plants - and I get that - but for people looking to naturescape using natives it's hard to track them down. Portland Nursery - are you listening? Add some Arctostaphylos to the mix in natives!!

  3. I wish my own local nurseries and garden centers would create such a sharp focus on natives. More are advertising "California friendly" plants (which sometimes include natives but, more often, just plants geared to our Mediterranean climate). Even my local botanic garden offers slim pickings. A good assortment of natives requires a visit to distant specialty nurseries.

    1. Wouldn't that be nice? That's surprising...I know there are a few native nurseries in Northern California but that doesn't help you much. I see a marketing opportunity there!

  4. I know that some nurseries started out with the intention of being native plant-centric but found it a hard sell. A big nursery like this has the wherewithall to include a section for natives. In the past I have found it to be rather sparse, so this new emphasis is most welcome. Blogs like yours are invaluable for showing just how decorative and satisfying natives can be.

    1. Yes, you're so right Rickii. I do find it welcome, too. Thank you for your kind words - to showcase how they can be excellent landscape and garden plants is one of my goals here so I'm glad that you come away with that impression!! :)

  5. I haven't been to the Stark location. This might change that. I love that they did this!!

    1. Oh, good - go when you can! The Division St. nursery also has a nice section dedicated to native plants but I haven't seen it in a while so I'm not sure if it too is expanded.

  6. Thanks for the awesome plug, Chickadee! I work at the Stark store and enjoy your blog. We did change around the Natives layout a bit this year, although we didn't really do an expansion--we just put more focus on some better displays and signage. I will say that you came shopping on a really good day--we just got a fresh shipment from Bosky Dell or another of our local natives suppliers. If the section seems sparse sometimes, it's usually because we sell out so fast. Portlanders LOVE their native plants, and sometimes it's hard to keep up with demand! As for the Arctostaphylos, we usually have Kinnickinnick in natives...maybe we were out that day? We have our manzanitas on display tables out in the shrubs. They get scooped up quick, too! I can think of a lot of native plants that find their way into perennials, shrubs, etc. It's usually because they are cultivars rather than straight species (for instance, Ribes sanguineum 'King Edward VII' is over in tall shrubs). Anyway, I digress. Thanks again for the warm words! We love our passionate gardener friends in blogland and beyond!

    1. Hello Corina, thank you for reading and commenting! It's nice to know that there are eyes out there paying attention. I thought that might be the case as I've seen most of these plants in one form or another. Who else besides Bosky Dell supplies your native plant material? That's great news it sells so well, hopefully this trend will continue as we see more homeowners wanting to create healthy gardens in the cities and beyond for both people and wildlife. I know you usually do have lots of Arctos on hand - that's a good sign if they are also selling well. Keep 'em stocked! Thanks again for your fabulous attention to the natives section and for commenting. Cheers!


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