A Few Native Plants at Chickadee Gardens

 The inspiration for much of my gardening drive is attracting birds. I want to provide a haven for wildlife and be just a little closer to nature. I learned long ago that planting native plants is a big step towards achieving that goal. In a nutshell, if you plant native plants you will attract appropriate native insects. These insects are crucial for birds to feed their young, so you can get the idea and see the cycle. Besides, I love native plants. I love wildlife. I also love a lot of other plants, so fair warning, I am not a native plant purist. I think there is benefit to many plants I grow, not just visual appeal. Many provide food in other forms such as berries, others provide shelter and many provide pollen and nectar, especially for our honeybees. For me, balance seems appropriate. 

So let me qualify native plants. I mean - that's a can of worms, right? Every plant is native somewhere, I just had to decide my boundaries. For me, the West Coast of the U.S. is fair game, but specifically Willamette Valley natives are the golden ticket. I say the West Coast because frankly the climate in Oregon is becoming more like California every year, so being mindful of drought-adapted plants is not only smart, but seemingly necessary for me and our two-acre garden.

OK, time to sit back and enjoy a brief survey of some of the native plants we grow at Chickadee Gardens.

Diplacus puniceus, syn Mimulus puniceus, red monkey flower. This is basically a red form of Diplacus aurantiacus. This is an evergreen shrublet that I honestly never water. It is native to California primarily but I include it here because it's never bloomed so much before and I thought it was a good banner photo. Plus it's fun...red flowers!

First up, let's look at plants that prefer full sun. Most of these, if not all, are drought tolerant and appreciate good drainage. Pictured is Penstemon davidsonii - it is a mat forming low evergreen penstemon with bright purple flowers in mid spring. They are quite large compared to the foliage size.

This shot has several native plants. On the right is Eriophyllum lanatum, Oregon sunshine. The orange flowers are of course Eschscholzia californica, California poppy. The reds are Heuchera sanguinea (they are named cultivars but have sanguinea blood in them). The green in the foreground is Ceanothus gloriosus, a prostrate ceanothus.

A second evergreen penstemon, this is Penstemon cardwellii which forms a small sub shrub. Such a fantastic plant if given great drainage, full sun and lean soil. Little to no summer water and I never prune or cut it back.

There are two manzanitas in this shot. This low form is Arctostaphylos 'Pacific Mist' and the one in the upper left is A. 'Sentinel'. Both need well-drained soil, no summer water and if you notice the gravel, that's a great topdressing amendment that keeps soil-borne pathogens down when it rains.

Arctostaphylos 'Saint Helena' has the best green coloring on new foliage. This one is about 8' tall in my garden and has white flowers and gorgeous bark.

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi or kinnikinnick in a pot on our deck adds evergreen splash. This particular manzanita is also good for ground covers and some shade.

This manzanita on the right is Arctostaphylos pumila. While not one I would limb up the bottom branches on, it is a smart looking shrub with beautiful and clean foliage.

This is Arctostaphylos 'Howard McMinn' with Ceanothus gloriosus at its feet. All arctos love sun and good drainage, unamended soil and room to grow. They don't like being crowded. They bloom in winter to spring and are a key form of sustenance for bumble bees I have noticed.

On to other ceanothus. This is Ceanothus cuneatus 'Adair Village', a Willamette Valley native with white rather than the typical blue flowers found on this genus.

Ceanothus cuneatus 'Adair Village' from a few feet back. This, like most other ceantothus are evergreen shrubs. Many are upright but there are low growers out there such as the C. gloriosus in the previous photo. They have the same basic cultural requirements as arctostaphylos do. 

Ceanothus 'Blue Jeans' has very holly-like foliage and is one of the earliest ceanothus to bloom in my garden.

Showy milkweed, Asclepias speciosa, which is the plant that monarch butterflies use as a host plant. They lay eggs on their leaves the emerging caterpillars use as their only food source. It also smells fantastic and is visited by many pollinators. It forms colonies so - give it room - and watch the show.

Carpenteria californica, commonly called bush anemone is a small upright evergreen tree native to specific parts of California. It's so lovely in flower that I include it here, even though it is notoriously fussy in the garden.

Two natives here, Zauschneria californica or Epilobium canum is the gray foliage deciduous spreader which will have orange red trumpet shaped flowers very soon. It's a fantastic spreader for hot, dry sites and also attracts hummingbirds. The green clump in the middle is Armeria martitima, sea thrift, another native to many parts of North America. The blooms you see here are spent (save the one hot pink one). It can be dead headed to promote possible summertime flowers. It is an evergreen grass-like plant great for the rock garden.

This fuzzy leafed cutie is Eriogonum compositum (Form 2) from work. It is a low spreading sub-shrub that has bright yellow flowers.

Eriogonum compositum is much like its cousin above but has larger foliage.

Eriogonum heracleoides, parsnip flowered buckwheat, a native of much of Eastern Oregon, Washington and California. Dry, sunny locations and well-drained soil.

Eriogonum umbellatum var. porteri is teeny with smooth green foliage. All the Eriogonums or buckwheats need great drainage and sun.

Common Achillea millefolium, yarrow, is an excellent umbelliferous flower for pollinators. It does seed about but is pretty and a great addition to mixed borders, meadows and wild areas. Its flowers can vary in shades of colors, I have seen pink and orange tints on many in this garden. Umbels, by the way, are great for pollinators because they are big, wide and flat - easily accessible with many flowers to feed on, so worth a butterfly's while to land here and linger for a while.

Fremontodendron californicum, commonly known as flannel bush, is native to California and the Southwest. It is a large evergreen shrub that wants no summer water whatsoever once established.

Diplacus aurantiacus (syn. Mimulus aurantiacus) 'Apricot' has been a reliable small evergreen shrub in my garden and has even given me several seedlings.

Festuca rubra 'Patrick's Point' is a spreading low-grass that is drought tolerant and frankly glows in the late afternoon sun.

Romneya coulteri, Coulter's Matilija is a West Coast native occurring in California primarily. It will soon have large fried egg looking flowers that are about that big, too. It needs room to spread, so if it's happy in the garden it will let you know by taking over.

Sweet annual Limnanthes douglasii is a low, spreading (by seed) annual commonly known as Douglas' meadowfoam. It is so charming, I allow it to go wherever it likes and encourage its spread by removing dried foliage and seeds and spreading them around. They usually die down this time of the year and can easily be swept away with no indication they were ever there. 

Helianthella uniflora, commonly known as one-flowered sunflower is native to the west. I had purchased and planted this from Humble Roots Nursery in Mosier, Oregon, several years ago and it disappeared, likely too much competition with surrounding plants. I have since cleared the area and it came back quite strongly. I am happy to have it in the dry labyrinth garden once again.

Beautiful Cornus nuttallii, our native dogwood tree, is pure elegance in springtime. Our tree pictured here is about 35' tall. It's deciduous and sometimes has good autumn coloring on the leaves. The birds love this tree, especially the funny fruits that form in summer.

Thermopsis montana is a lupine look-alike. This perennial is pretty easy going, and is said to do well in moist areas however I have it in a rather dry situation and it does well for me. It is native to Oregon and other western states.

Spiraea betulifolia var. lucida is a small deciduous shrub worth growing. These wonderful flowers bloom this time of the year, the foliage is smart looking and in autumn the leaf color changes to oranges and golds. It's a sweet, forgiving shrub that can be a real asset.

Lonicera involucrata, twinberry, is a large deciduous shrub. You can see both the yellow flowers and dark purple fruits with red bracts. This is a bird favorite for both cover and food - and for pollinators and hummingbirds, too. It is a bit lanky and large, I do trim it from time to time with no ill effects.

Sedum oreganum, a fresh green (in a bit of shade) color of sedum with yellow flowers in summer. It is a good sedum for part shade or full sun. More sun will give it reddish tints. It's a great front of the border ground cover for the labyrinth garden which is quite dry.

Myrica californica (syn. Morella californica) or Pacific wax myrtle is an evergreen shrub that is currently about 9' tall in my garden. It is native to coastal areas of Oregon, California and Washington and is really easy and pretty. It adds height and a bit of movement with its long reaching branches to my woodland shrub area. It is tolerant of a variety of soil types and also wind. Very adaptable evergreen shrub and the birds seem to like foraging in it.

Mahonia nevinii is a bit of an obscure plant, native to California. I include it here because it is so uncommon and so wonderful for wildlife and frankly, extinct in many of its endemic regions. Mine is extremely small but I have hopes it will get to size one day and be a benefit for wildlife.

Rhododendron occidentale is a deciduous azalea with gorgeous lily-like flowers that vary in color from pinks to yellows to amber. The flowers are extremely fragrant, too. I have a few in a woodland location, but they would probably like a bit more sun and would flower better. 

Oxalis oregana has been featured on this blog many times. I love it in the right situation where it is allowed to spread, in my case in the shady understory of fir trees. In the garden, however, it can take over smaller perennials if it is happy. Still, it's charming and such a Northwest plant. Give it dry shade and it won't spread as quickly.

Beautiful vine maple, Acer circinatum is a favorite. It's a graceful small tree that reaches up through the shady canopy, forming great long interesting branches. It has a bit of autumn color and is petite enough to fit into the understory of my garden without taking over.

Aruncus dioicus, goat's beard is a large upright perennial for shade. It is dioicus, meaning there are male and female plants. Impossible to tell when they are small which is which. The flowers on the female plants are a little less showy, which this specimen is. I have many throughout the shade garden as it's one of my favorite shade plants. Great for the back of the smaller border or mixed in. Handles some sun, best at the edge of the woodland garden with some light. 

A relative of our deciduous woodland groundcover Vancouveria hexandra, this is rather Vancouveria planipetala. It differs in that it is evergreen and not quite as much of a spreader, but is gorgeous when happy. It occurs in Oregon and parts of California in moist woodlands, although it is drought tolerant once established. 

Oregon grape, this one is Mahonia nervosa, the mid-sized mahonia at about 2' in height. This was on our property already and is quite ubiquitous in forested areas in the Willamette Valley and beyond. We are very pleased to have this in the garden and to let it spread a little in the wilder hedgerows. Evergreen, a low filler for the understory of our woodland areas with interesting yellow flowers followed by berries which you see here.

Common snowberry, Symphiocarpus albus is a deciduous suckering small shrub or large groundcover. It is a favorite of both small pollinators and bumble bees and it is also a bit of a thug. It will quickly spread if allowed and I've been told it has allelopathic properties, so observing that other plants around this one don't thrive, I began making room for the desired plants. They are doing better. It's not that I don't think this has a place in my garden, it does, but I must keep it in check. It has pretty white berries in winter that add some much needed interest that time of the year.

Physocarpus capitatus, Pacific ninebark is a medium to large deciduous shrub with great characteristics. When branches become large enough they bow, giving the shrub a cascading effect, especially lovely when in bloom. It has exfoliating bark, making it attractive in winter and I have noticed some autumn coloration on the leaves, although it's not known for this characteristic. It's a fantastic multi-stemmed shrub for the back of the border or for wilder areas, especially if you have wet soil. It will do fine in some sun, I just have it in shady locales and it is gorgeous. 

There it is, a look at many native plants here at Chickadee Gardens. There are others, of course, but it's fun to change it up from time to time. It is really worth it to plant even just one native plant to your garden, it may seem like a drop in the bucket as far as conservation is concerned, however it all adds up. The critters need a little help out there. I tell you, it is such a joy to see the abundance of birds, insects, invertebrates and others in our garden, it makes it all so incredibly worthwhile and is the source of my motivation.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. What kind of native plants are you growing in your garden? What are your observations? 

Until next time, happy gardening! Oh, and if you are a Hardy Plant Society of Oregon member, look us up - we're having an open garden on Saturday June 19th from 2 - 6 p.m. Come on over and say hello!


  1. I'm always amazed by the breadth and variety of your plant collections, Tamara. I've never heard of, much less seen, a white-flowered Ceanothus (although I've managed to kill a pink-flowered species twice now by the look of things at present). Romneya coulteri, encouraged in part by the runoff from our gray water system, has gotten out of control on my back slope, crowding other plants. We thought we'd dug it out last year but it's back with a vengeance this year. As your climate becomes more like ours, ours is reportedly becoming more like that of the southern Baja peninsula.

    1. Thank you Kris! The white flowered form was brought to my attention by the good folks at Xera Plants. It's a good shrub, to be sure. It sounds like your Ceanothus 'Marie Simon' didn't make it? That's too bad...maybe it will pull through? It's one that takes more water than most of our West Coast ones.

      I think many people would love your Romneya problem, it's tricky to get going here but once you do, as you illustrate, it can take over.

      Yes, the zonal thing is definitely shifting. It's right before our eyes. I guess we just adapt?

  2. When on a big property it's so easy to include lots of natives. They really help give your garden a natural look. They kind of sneak in here and for the most part I leave them alone. I have a few beautiful thugs (A. millifollium and fireweed) that are banned though as they are a just a wee bit too aggressive.

    1. They do indeed help to give a natural look, they can also be used in a smaller garden - for example I had Acer circinatum in a pot on my front porch at the old house and lots of mimulus as small shrubs. They totally pass for ornamentals.

      Oh, but yes, there is potential in many plants to become aggressive, I see that can happen with Achillea.

  3. Jeanne M DeBenedetti-Keyes2:11 PM PDT

    Interesting about the snowberry being allelopathic. I used to have a relatively large snowberry in one of my front beds. Never could get much to grow around it. I thought maybe it because of the root competition and the suckering. Some very cool natives I have never heard about: mahonia nevinii, helianthella and thermopsis. Very beautiful. Love the foliage on the nevinii!

    1. Ah, that is interesting. A plantsman I really respect mentioned the snowberry's allelopathic qualities once and I've been watching it ever since. I see the same thing, plants very nearby do not thrive.

      The Mahonia nevinii is really cool if you can find one.

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. Philadelphus lewisii just flowered in my yard and I am in love with this plant. Simple elegance. I mostly just coo at it as I walk by and smell its gorgeous flowers.

    I am a recent reader of your blog and enjoy it so much. Thanks for writing it.

    1. Aaah, Philadelphus is another FABULOUS native shrub/small tree. Oh, that scent! Thank you for the reminder.

      Thank you for reaching out and commenting and reading - we appreciate it! Cheers!


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