A Few Native Plants

A kind of cool thing just happened. I was sorting through photos from this week, looking for themes for the blog, and I realized without even focusing on native plants that so many are looking good right now. That is to say I wasn't searching for them when I took photos; they are just part of the garden and are fantastic. OK, it's a sign. It's time for an introduction (or re-introduction to many of you) of a few native plants in the gardens here at Chickadee Gardens. When I say native plant, I am talking about plants that are indigenous to Oregon and on a broader level, possibly the West Coast.

Penstemon cardwellii is one of my favorites. It is an evergreen subshrub that I have grown before in the old garden with much success, that is until it fails. It could be that they are short lived. In any event here it is in very well-drained soil with almost no supplemental water. This was actually a throw away from work a couple of years ago. 

This is the same Penstemon cardwellii right before it bloomed. 

Rhododendron occidentalis is a deciduous azalea, basically, with a lily fragrance. It's really quite striking how sweetly scented this is. I have about six of these, and although they are not super showy when they are not blooming, they are a decent backdrop for other plants. I plant these on the edge of shade - they can handle sun but I like them in a woodland setting.

Lewisias can be tricky - they need excellent drainage and sun. I've killed many. Here on the rock wall I have two that have not only survived but are thriving. This is L. cotelydon, possibly 'Rainbow' or 'Kanab' - I  lost track. 

A second Lewisia cotelydon with darker flower coloration. Full sun for these succulents.

Iris x pacifica, not certain which one likely 'Broadleigh Rose' (thank you Alison!), with evergreen foliage as an added bonus. These happen to be in full sun and are doing just fine.

 Ceanothus 'Italian Skies' in full, glorious bloom. This is where all the bumble bees in Columbia County live.

Eriophyllum lanatum, Oregon sunshine just starting to explode into its bright yellow springtime party. Teeny tiny insects love this plant.

More of a West Coast native, Thermopsis montana has yellow lupine-like flowers and after it's established, it is pretty tough. It didn't do anything for the first two years, in fact it kind of fizzled out on me and I took it for goners but this year, that tap root is established and it's ready to bloom.

 Another throw away from work, this Eriogonum umbellatum var. porteri has bounced back nicely. Technically another West Coast native.

Another buckwheat Eriogonum compositum, and another throw away from work (I prefer the term "rescue" from the compost pile). It's also bouncing back nicely with full sun and excellent drainage on the southern edge of the garden. 

Berries (drupes) of Arctostaphylos 'Pacific Mist' surprised me, I don't remember ever seeing them before. Most Arctostaphylos species are native to the West Coast and are evergreen shrubs, small trees and in the case of A. uva-ursi, a groundcover. They thrive in excellent drainage, sun, air circulation and un-amended soil. Ceanothus, many of which are also native to the West Coast, have basically the same cultural requirements. I know many of both of these genera don't do well outside of our area but some might.

A native large shrub (to 8' tall), Lonicera involucrata or twinberry produces double dark purple berries that wildlife really enjoy. It does well in wet sites, is deciduous, a nice background shrub. It would be good in a hedgerow or rain garden.

A row of our native Spiraea betulifolia, birch-leaved spirea. There is the species, pictured in the closest plants, the last five are the variety known as 'Tor'. 

Flowers of S. betulifolia have long stamens, making them look fuzzy as they age. The foliage, by the way, is gorgeous in fall, ablaze in oranges and reds. 

Here is the variety 'Tor' - it does not have the long stamens and the branch growth habit is different - more horizontal in nature. Both blend in nicely, however, and I like both. You can see the difference in the first photo with all 8 of them in a row - the three on the left are the species, the rest are 'Tor'.

Flower of our native Viburnum trilobum or American cranberry bush. This too has nice fall foliage and will, after these flowers, have fruits for the birds. 

Lupinus albifrons, a native of southern Oregon and California, has brilliant silver foliage (evergreen!) and purple blue flowers. This is the first year it bloomed in my garden. Oh, and lupines are nitrogen fixers in the soil, as are ceanothus.

Sweet pale blue flowers of wiry-stemmed Linum lewisii or wild blue flax. This seeds around here and there but looks especially nice with orange/bronze colors of Carex comans 'Bronze'.

On the shady side of the garden, our maidenhair fern has unfurled and is showing off its black stems nicely. Adiantum aleuticum.

 Vancouveria chrysantha from Xera Plants, a yellow-flowered version of our native "inside-out" flower native to southern Oregon.

It spreads slowly to form colonies in woodland settings, the flowers float high above the foliage this time of year (May). 

Tellima grandiflora or fringe cups in a shady grove. Some of these were here already, but what made them colonize like this was that we cleared out the blackberry and other weeds to give them room to set seed and germinate. I'd much rather have these than weeds, especially in this part of the garden far from the house. 

Circaea alpina, commonly known an enchanter's nightshade, a little annual that was already in the soil. I let it go where it will, it doesn't stick around all summer.

I showed this recently, Polypodium scouleri or Scouler's polypody - a leathery evergreen small fern. It is a slow grower, expanding to form large clumps in time. This is finally putting on new growth, so that's the reason for the new photo. 

On the left is Heuchera chlorantha that I showed last week, on the right is Tolmiea menzeisii 'Taft's Gold' from Xera Plants, a golden-leaved version of piggy-back plant. From the Xera website:

An exceptional variegated form of our native “pigaback” plant that is excellent as a groundcover in dense to light shade. Vigorous and evergreen it will spread to 4′ wide in 2 years but stay only 1′ tall. Very easy to grow, works well under established Rhododendrons. Pretty, but not conspicuous brown flowers. Regular water but will take drought if in the shade. Easy, indispensible native plant.  Forms new plants directly from the center of each leaf. Cool trick. Also grown as a houseplant. Good in containers. Oregon native plant.

OK, while this "death camas" is not in our garden, I spied it on a walk in our local park. Toxicoscordion venenosum is one all hikers in our area should be able to recognize because it is really deathly poisonous. Stay away from this one, even if it is native. The blue flowers in the background are our native Cammasia quamash, the edible kind of camas that is everywhere out here in Saint Helens and gorgeous. The blue kind is what we have at Chickadee Gardens.

 Finally, another that I have found already on the property, Trientalis borealis or star flower is a woodland native I like to keep around - it pops up from time to time. This photo is actually from the same hike in our local park where I took the death camas photo, not in our garden but we have it here and there.

There are many many more native plants in our gardens, in fact at the old garden more than 50% of all plants were native, a criteria we had to meet to gain the platinum level for the Backyard Habitat Certification Program. I carry that mantra with me still even though we're outside of the program's boundary out here in Saint Helens. These that I posted are simply plants that caught my eye this week and they happen to be natives. There are some good-looking natives out there, let me tell you, and the added bonus is that the native plants attract native insects that the birds need to eat to feed their young. So if you want wildlife in your garden, adding even a few native plants to your area here and there will make a huge impact and help to connect dots on the map birds need to create sanctuary corridors in increasingly urbanized settings. As soon as I started adding these and other beauties to the garden we saw an increase in bird visits from more uncommon birds, especially.

OK, lecture over. I know you all love wildlife, I just get very excited when it comes to cool native plants. What do you have in your area that is native that you adore? We'd love to know!

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always thank you so much for reading and commenting, we love hearing from you all. Happy gardening!


  1. Your Pacific Coast Iris looks a lot like one I've brought to a few Bloggers swaps, if you took one it might be that. It's called 'Broadleigh Rose.' I planted Eriogonum last fall, I'm looking forward to it flowering this year.

    1. Ah ha! That's probably where it came from. Nice...! I hope your Eriogonum l. does well - keep me posted!

  2. l recognized many of the native's growing in your garden. We have closely related cousins growing here in Alberta. Best thing about natives is they don't require any help from us to survive. Unfortunately, pocket gophers love them too so frequently lose many of them, especially penstemon. Penstemons are usually quite short-lived but here self seed abundantly.

    1. Great, I'm thrilled you recognized many natives in your own garden. So many in the Pacific Northwest that are garden-worthy, don't you think? Pocket gophers? Oh no...so sorry about that. Darned critters.

  3. Transfixed by the Tellima grandiflora. Can't have been fun removing blackberries, but you all have been amply rewarded!

    1. The Tellima...I'm glad you appreciate it! Not everyone does, but it's really pretty this time of year. It's too weedy for some people, but not me ;)

  4. You have a great assortment of natives. I wish I could grow some of them here.

    1. I wish you could grow some too! What grows well for you, Lisa?

  5. Even before you yourself commented on it I was struck by just how often you've pointed out lovely "rescued" plants in your garden. Native plants need better marketing I think, at least that's true here where garden centers find it hard to sell anything that isn't covered in fluffy flowers at the time of purchase. I've noticed that our local conservancy organization has taken to posting photos of many of them in bloom when they hold sales.

    My favorite natives are Pacific Iris, Ceanothus, and Romneya coulteri, although the latter is showing signs of becoming a bit too exuberant.

    1. Ooh, Romneya - I have one that finally took. Do you think I'll regret it?

      You have a great point about marketing natives - they often don't look very showy in a pot but once they do their thing in the ground, they often look spectacular. Photos are a great idea.

      I too love Pacific Iris and Ceanothus - they do well for you?

  6. I love lewisia, but have killed all but one of mine! Right now it looks like nothing more than a pile of flowers! It's yellow, my least favorite. All the wonderful magenta died.
    I couldn't keep Oregon sunshine alive either.
    I don't seem to do so well with natives! Maybe I'd better not try that wonderful penstemon! My non-native, unknown kind, is doing well though!
    I should have paid more attention to my father, he collected seeds and grew so many natives in N. CA.

    1. The penstemon on your Bloom Day post is gorgeous! So many penstemons are...some are just fussy, like the native ones. They really need excellent drainage and perfect conditions. I've killed my share, too!

      What did your father collect and grow? What a wonderful memory...

      And I too have admittedly killed my share of lewisias...those guys are tricky. But yours in your photo on the last post are gorgeous!

  7. You are such a great resource! I’m particularly inspired by natives this year. Can’t wait to get some more in the ground.
    Will you go out to the Camassia bluff with me?

    1. Oh my gosh, of COURSE! It's near my home! Say the word.

  8. Oh—I forgot to ask if you read Pacific Horticulture. I used (quoted) one of the articles in my blog yesterday. The writer is so inspiring! The particular article wasn’t only about natives, but they ARE a major theme of hers, a guiding passion.

    1. I DO read it and subscribe to PHS, a fantastic resource for West Coast gardeners. I'll have to look up the article you are talking about. Thanks!

    2. “Nature is a Game Changer” by Cassy Aoyagi, current issue with the Ceanothus on the cover (which is Aoyagi's photo). Article is pgs 28-33.

  9. So many lovely natives! I think you need to blow up larger versions of your photos, and post them at Joy Creek so people can see what they will actually do when out of their little nursery pots. You have some stunningly beautiful varieties. I think I need to come visit - I miss you!


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