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Archive for native plants

Hummingbird Candy-Gardening for Birds

Gardening for Birds Makes Year-Round Entertainment

12 Portland Plants to feed Hummingbirds

Did you know Hummingbirds stay in Portland over the winter? You can attract these beautiful creatures to your yard, and provide much needed nectar, with a variety of plants. Here is a round up of plants we call “Hummingbird Candy” for every month of the year. If you’d like help integrating these plants into a Garden Design, contact us. Or just add one or two in a pot on the porch!

(Note: plants bloom at different times each year depending on the weather. The plant selection above is typical in Portland.)

Happy Bloomers for Early in the Year

Portland gardening for birds.

January: Oregon Grape

Portland gardening for birds

February: Witch Hazel

Portland gardening for birds.

March: Flowering Currant

January – Oregon Grape, Mahonia sp., blooms winter through spring, depending on the type. I enjoy Xera’s description of Mahonia x media ‘Charity’. Pair this Mahonia with other natives such as Red Twig Dogwood, Cornus sericea, and a dwarf cultivar of our Western Red Cedar, like Thuja plicata ‘Excelsa’.

February – Witch hazel, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’, is a winter must have. See the blog post Winter Garden Plants the Sizzle for some ideas where to view these beautiful shrubs in full size. This is one of those plants that improves with age.

March – Flowering Currant, Ribes sanguineum, is a beacon of joy in Portland’s dreary season. The bold pink of this bloom is just so happy! Ribes is one of the easiest Portland native plants to grow. For more easy natives, see Native Plants.

Usher in the Spring with these Reliable Plants

Portland gardening for birds.

April: California Lilac

May: Cape Fuchsia

June: Penstemon

April – California Lilac, Ceanothus sp., is great for Hummingbirds as well as Bees. Pair the small dark-green leaves of Ceanothus impressus ‘Dark Star’ with the strappy light-green foliage of Hakone Grass, Hakonechloa macra. Of course, you’ll need to water that Hakone Grass with drip irrigation until it’s established.

May – Cape Fuchsia, Phygellus sp., is a plant we like so much it has it’s very own blog post: Colorful Cape Fuchsia. 

June – Beard Tongue, Penstemon sp. is a wonderful bloomer for drought-tolerant landscaping. Many Penstemon’s are native to the west coast and all attract hummingbirds.

Enjoy the Lazy Days of Summer with Beautiful Blooms

July: Hosta

Portland gardening for birds

August: Crocosmia

Portland gardening for birds.

September: Salvia

July – Hosta cultivars are an often overlooked hummingbird magnet for shade. See A Pollinator Garden Paradise

August – Crocosmia blooms all summer long, ending around August in my Portland garden. This is often the first plant people think of when they want to attract hummingbirds. Check out some impressive captures in Portland on this instagram account.

September – Anise Sage, Salvia guaranitica, is a favorite of a recent client design and install, see Laurelhurst Neighborhood Backyard.

Keep the Hummingbird Entertainment Going through Fall

Portland gardening for birds.

October: Hardy Fuchsia

Portland gardening for birds.

November: California Fuchsia

December: Yuletide Camellia

October – Hardy Fuchsia, Fuchsia magellanica and hybrids bloom from summer into fall, depending on the type. Portland Nursery always has a nice selection.

November – California Fuchsia, Epilobium sp., is less widely known as others on this list. It blooms the entire fall season, later than most perennials. Pair it with ornamental grasses, which look fabulous at the same time. I might suggest an evergreen sedum or other evergreen groundcover in front of this plant as it gets pretty ugly after the first hard freeze of winter.

December – Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ and other Camellia’s fill a very important season for hummingbird plants. Some hummingbirds leave for the winter but our native Anna’s Hummingbirds stick it out through the cold and wet. Consider planting a winter-blooming Camellia for these pretty creatures. For more fun winter interest, see Cheery Winter Landscape.

If you are a bird lover who wants more wildlife in their garden, contact us to make an appointment.

Colorful Backyard Low Maintenance Garden Design in Portland

Low Maintenance Garden Design for Backyard in Woodstock Neighborhood

Client Wish List:

Low maintenance Landscape Design in Woodstock neighborhood

New Dining Area! Just waiting on the rest of the plants to make this corner complete.

Jill recently moved to Portland from an entirely different climate.  She is a gardener and knows that a different climate means an entirely different set of plants, watering strategies, and soils.  So she wanted Portland native plants to celebrate her new home in the Pacific Northwest. Getting expert advice about plants that would thrive here was her number 1 concern.  She wanted a vibrant garden with some traditional and colorful plants.  She also wanted her grandchildren, who live nearby, to enjoy playing in the backyard.

She already had a covered area for lounging adjacent to the house. She wanted to add an area for family dining, some edibles, and a play structure.

Landscape designer considers location of huge tree trunk for small back yard design in Woodstock neighborhood

Before – Doug Fir Trunk is 6′ wide at the base.

Designing around a large tree

The elephant in this room is that beautiful huge Douglas-fir. It took up a lot of space situated in the center of the backyard but to Jill it was a part of nature and she was happy to accommodate the tree.  Lawn is a poor choice near a Doug-fir and Jill did not want any lawn so we already had a good fit there.

The 6 foot diameter trunk will continue to grow so we needed to remember that as we worked toward the right design.  Many sources maintain that fir tree roots would prefer as little disturbance as possible. And we must be careful with how we water the plants around it so selecting drought tolerant planting companions was a strong consideration.  See Kym Pokorny article on stressed trees and how to care for them.

We had to address the elephant in the room first. In it’s natural habitat, the Doug-fir is surrounded by natural forest mulch and select native plants. More on the plants later. With the smaller size of the lot, the mulch around the trunk does double duty as a pathway. The color of the mulch will fade over time to blend in nicely with needles cast from the tree. It is important to only lay mulch around the tree and not up onto the tree’s trunk like a volcano.

Playground cedar chips are part of low maintenance landscape design in Woodstock neighborhood

During – Wide path designed around Doug-fir

Designing  the Dining Area near large tree roots

One way to create dining space near a large tree is to install a deck – it will have relatively low impact on the root system and allows rainwater through. A deck versus a patio is a better choice for our tree.  However, Jill was not too fond of the upkeep or cost of a deck. So we moved on to another good option – cedar chips and crushed rock. These materials also allow rainwater to soak into the ground and do not require too much excavation to be installed. And it’s easy on the budget.

Edibles in Containers

Jill initially wanted veggie beds in the soil, but due to greedy tree roots and the shade cast by the Doug-fir, we needed to employ some tricks to incorporate edibles into this yard. Three large pots or half wine barrels are designed in the sunniest part of the garden for annual veggies like tomatoes. A raised bed was designed next to the existing patio – and furthest from the Doug-fir – where part-sun veggies could thrive, such as greens and lettuces.

Flagstone path will lead through the plants to the back table with low maintenance plantings around the fir.

Structure of the Garden all ready to be filled in with Plantings

play house for low maintenance landscape design has cedar chip surface

Playhouse for Grandkids

Turn Unused Side Yard into Play House Space

We turned a previously unused side yard into the perfect play area for grandchildren. Kid-approved plants like Fuzzy Lamb’s Ears lead us down the path to a play structure. As the plants grow up, this area will transform into a miniature secret garden. As a bonus, when the grandkids outgrow the space, the structure can be easily replaced with a bistro table for an afternoon tea.

Planting Plans

Jill is a plant person and we especially had fun creating with a broad plant palette for this garden design.

Drought-tolerant plants that are native plants surround the Doug-fir such as Salal, Sword Fern and a vase shaped shrub called Oceanspray are all up to the task. 75% of the plants we selected are very low maintenance plantings.

For flower power we used well known color magnets like peony, cape fuchsia, hydrangea and more. Jill will add annuals to spice up the summer color.

Acer Circinatum "Pacific Fire" photo from Handy Nursery is a low maintenance plant.

Acer Circinatum “Pacific Fire” photo from Handy Nursery is the winter view from living room

For the view from the living room window we selected a native cultivar of Vine Maple (Acer circinatum ‘Pacific Fire’) which has red twigs in winter.

Materials

Cedar chips, crushed rock and also large flagstone for the path to the dining table.

We enjoyed this design process with Jill and helped her create functional hardscape landscaping with paths and a 2nd sitting area that works well.  Now she has plantings that fit our region as well as the color she craves for summer.  And the deck?  If she decides to add the deck, she has the design for future consideration.  With our laid back NW lifestyle and regular visits from grandkids, her simple table and benches sitting on cedar chips will suffice as her second dining area for many years.

Can we help you have the backyard that fits your ideals and lifestyle?    Contact us and let’s create together.

North Portland Residential Landscape Design for Shade

North Portland Residential Landscape Design for Shade

Chris and Jennifer of North Portland contacted me for help with their large shady back yard.

Problems

They were overwhelmed with the high maintenance of lawn under huge trees. They wanted a back yard for entertaining a large family (with lots of adult kids and future grand kids).  They wanted to DIY and had a strict budget, so spending 20 grand on a concrete patio was not realistic.Cedar chip patio makes affordable landscaping for North Portland home. Views over the fence included other neglected yards and they had a large (evil) tree of heaven that had to go. Many plants had died or looked leggy and sun starved.

The back yard was longer than deep and made creating a design on their own more difficult.

Solutions

My best contributions were getting the shapes of the new rooms to work with their long but shallow yard. Introducing them to the concept of using cedar chips as their primary surface for entertaining and paths was a perfect fit also. It looks great with their NW Natural style landscape, it’s affordable and it’s very easy to care for. If you get the right kind of chips you can even use a leaf blower on them and they don’t blow away.

We tucked different outdoor rooms into the perimeter of the landscape and kept the existing small concrete patio as a spacious entry to the house and the BBQ center. No more trying to fit a dining table on it as they had done before the design.

Crushed rock firepit patio makes for affordable landscaping in this N. Portland backyard.Selecting low water plants

Sword fern works well for the woodsy nature of this North Portland garden design.

Sword fern works well for the woodsy nature of this North Portland garden design.

The plant selection was also critical.  Shade plants had to survive on the water the big trees would let them have so our palette needed to be all low water plants. We used a lot of sword ferns and kept native plants wherever possible.

On the south end we used one of my favorite little evergreen trees, Boxleaf Azara – Azara Microphylla. They planted them up on a berm which made them taller and helped do a faster job of screening out the neighbors garage wall.  Planting Azaras up on a berm prevents root rot since these plants do not tolerate poor drainage.

DIY installed

Their DIY install of the landscape turned out fantastic. They loved their back yard. When change came along, and they had to put their house on the market, the yard was another major asset and selling point. These photos, which they took, are from their marketing page.

I especially love the hammock room. The fire pit patio is clearly the largest entertaining area and is used for lounging with or without a fire. Their fire pit patio is a crushed rock surface, not cedar chips.

low maintenance evergreen screens tall wall in Raliegh Hills garden design

Azara Microphylla has fine evergreen leaves that add texture to this wall in SW Portland.

The chips continue around to the side yard gate and match the rest of the now low maintenance landscape.

“Carol understood us and got our style for a NW Natural landscape design for our North Portland yard.  We were very happy that she surpassed our expectations for low maintenance, no lawn, great textured plantings, backyard design.  She understood that we wanted to do some of the work ourselves and helped us make a beautiful-yard-on-a-budget a reality.”

 

Violet Blue Flowers in Your Summer Garden

Violet blue flowers in your summer garden

There is something magical about violet blue flowers in a summer garden. A mass of long flowering intense violet, purple or blue flowers to see from your summer chaise is a joy. Here is a plant that I use in my garden designs that is easy care and long flowering.

Blue False Indigo – Baptista Australis ‘Purple Smoke’ is a long lived perennial so it will live for decades in your landscape. I use it in my landscape designs because it is colorful, low maintenance, fully drought tolerant, and long blooming. It has attractive foliage and interesting seed pods for fall. Clients who want color and easy care would line up for this plant if they knew about it. It looks great with ornamental grasses and has a more naturalistic look since it is related to lupine, a classic native wildflower.

Planting combinations for Portland Landscape Designs

I’ve used it in a low water parking strip in NE Portland with true dwarf pine, succulents like Sedum spurium ‘Green Mantle’, heather and black mondo grass.  In a SW Portland Landscape design I placed it to tower over a low boulder with plant companion ‘Kim’s Knee Hi’ Echinacea to the side.

Over time the plant will increase to a nice thick stand of charcoal green stems (which add to the beauty) and violet blue flower stalks.  ‘Purple Smoke’ is grown locally, other varieties and flower colors are only available by mail order.  I only use the  variety of Baptista Australis called ‘Purple Smoke’.  Don’t use the parent plant of  ‘Purple Smoke’, it is called just plain old Baptista Australis and gets too tall for most city gardens.

Plant uses

The primary use is ornamental and wildlife friendly. It’s not edible although it is a legume but it is not toxic. It’s a true native American plant.  North American Indians had many uses for this plant.  The Cherokee made a blue dye for fabric from the flowers.  The Osage made some kind of eye wash.  Others used the roots as an antiseptic for wounds.  It is not considered edible and was once thought to be highly toxic.  Modern research has changed this perception.  Read more about the plants chemistry.

How to kill Baptista: Water it every day in the summer and fertilize it heavily. Plant it in a low spot where winter rain water will puddle or sit.

Best practice:  Water deeply once a week the first summer.  The second summer water deeply but infrequently or put a plug in the drip emitter because it won’t need any water by the third summer.  I always place it with low water plants so it is easy to provide it with low water to no water. Don’t divide it. It has a tap root so dividing will kill the plant. If the clump gets too wide, take off new plants at the edge of the clump.

After the foliage yellows in the fall cut it down to the ground.  Mulch twice a year with garden compost.

Check out my Summer Watering Tips. Learning how to water properly can be a great stress reducer for you and protect your landscape investment.

 

Native Plants for Drought Tolerant City Landscapes

Native Plants for Drought Tolerant City Landscaping

NW Native plant Sword fern is drought tolerant.

NW native plant Sword fern can be planted in less than ideal soil with good results.

People dream of a landscape that will need no watering.  Sometimes because they think it will be less work but more likely these days they recognize that water or the lack of it is an environmental problem that will continue to grow.  Like the Brits in World War II we want to do our bit to help with a very real problem.

One way to have a no water landscape is to use NW native plants that are drought tolerant.  Here are some tips to help you have more success growing NW Native plants.

What size of plants to plant

Natives are a little more particular than other plants.  Use 2 gallon sized plants not 4 inch or 1 gallon for best results with native plants like Salal-Gaultheria shallon, Ocean Spray-Holodiscus discolor, Huckleberry-Vaccinium ovatum, Current-Ribes sanguineum or the favorite native of all, Vine Maple-Acer circinatum.  They will establish better if you start with a bigger root ball.  Expect 20 percent of your plants to fail even when using a larger sized plant.  I tend to plant an inch or two too high rather than too low with these plants or any that are drought tolerant.

Sword fern size can be smaller

If you are planting Sword fern Polystichum munitum, save your money and buy smaller plants, like a 1 gallon.  The two gallon rule does not apply because Sword fern establishes its roots much  more easily.  Unlike other natives it also can thrive in less than ideal soil with good results.  It’s the only NW native plant that doesn’t need careful soil preparation.  I’ve transplanted it from my woods and had it play dead for over one full year.  It came up the second year and was back to a three foot wide fern by the third year.  Fascinating.  This plant can be killed but one would have to work at it.  It can tolerate summer water and will look more attractive watered when planted in a sunny area.  In shady areas it has looked quite attractive without a drop of summer water by the third year.

Pacific Madrone for drought tolerant landscaping.

Pacific Madrone – Arbutus menziesii
has recently been approved for City of Portland street trees.

Madrone must be smaller

Madrone-Arbutus menziesii is perfect for a no water landscape and is very picky about how and where it is planted.  This is because unlike most trees it has a tap root so it does not thrive in a pot for long.  In the past I’ve only successfully planted a 6 inch tall plant. Recently friends of trees has found a way to grow them to about 5′ feet tall and plant them in parking strips.  They are a needed plant for hosting rare butterflies so if this succeeds it will be very exciting. Two important tips for success with your new Madrone; water sparingly the first summer, and do not ever fertilize.  After the first summer is over, never water your Madrone again.  Don’t plant anything else within ten feet that needs summer water and don’t prune your Madrone.  It’s a beauty that requires planned neglect for success.  At this time I do not have a retail source for the larger Madrone.  If you want one, buy the 6″ size at a native plant sale.  They grow surprisingly fast.

Native Oregon drought tolerant Vine Maple with Single Trunk.

Vine maple with single trunk fits small city landscapes. Multiple stemmed trees will get too wide.

Vine Maple-Acer Circinatum

The most typical mistake I see in small city landscapes is multi stem vine maples horribly disfigured with poor pruning because they got too big. Most small city landscapes are not big enough for a multi stem or clump version of vine maple – Acer circinatum.  Instead I select a single trunk vine maple from one of my wholesale growers.  A single trunk tree will not get as wide. Single trunk trees are “made” by the grower so don’t expect to find them in the wild.

Plant NW native plants in the fall – Here’s why

Plant in fall for best results with native plants.  Planting in late winter works almost as well.  Planting in mid spring or summer will require more summer watering and some natives have an adverse reaction to summer water but their roots are not established well enough to go without water for the first summer so it’s a dilemma.

Avoid this dilemma by planting in the fall or early spring.

Native Huckleberry used in drought tolerant landscaping

Evergreen Huckleberry used as a screen Hillside Neighborhood in SW Portland.

Evergreen Huckleberry comes in two sizes (sort of)

Evergreen Huckleberry-Vaccinium ovatum is almost like two different plants.  Planted in a sunny area it grows slowly to 4’ tall and perhaps 3’ wide.  While it will continue to grow and get a little bigger each year, it’s very slow growing.  Compare it with the same plant in part shade to heavily dappled shade and it grows faster and is often in the 6 to 8 foot tall by as wide size.

People use the berries in muffins, pancakes and jam.  I’ve always believed the flavor tends to be mild from plants in low elevations and more flavorful in higher elevations.  Birds will eat them mild or tart but don’t tend to use them for baked goods.  I have huckleberry at a very low elevation and at the end of a very very dry summer, I sampled some and they were very flavorful.  I was surprised so now I’m questioning the old saying about high elevation berries.

Manzanita typically is a drought tolerant plant for Portland residential landscapes

Manzanita-Arctostaphylos (maybe canescens subsp canescens) N W Portland street side plantings.

Soil Preparation

Most NW Native plants need well prepared soil.  Some need fertile soil, some need a low fertility rocky or sandy soil but almost all of them need well drained soil.  I find most directions on how to prepare soil for NW natives quite complex.  It is doable.  If you are DIY, here is a web site that might be helpful.  http://plantnative.org/how_siteprep.htm

NW Native Flowering Current for drought tolerant landscaping.

Flowering current – Ribes sanguineum is a spring pick me up for people and nectar for hummingbirds.

How to Kill your plants

Plant too deep – Dig the hole several inches deeper than the root ball of the new plant.  Plant them in the lowest area of your property.

Water them every day their first summer.  They might live a few months but will die in their first winter even if you only over watered them in the summer.

Best Practice

Dig the hole twice as wide but only as deep as the root ball of the new plant.  Plant 1” too high and bring soil to the plants edges.  Water carefully the first summer.  A slow soak rather than daily light sprinkles of water is best.   Mulch the plant in the fall and spring, don’t fertilize.

Drought tolerant native Sword Fern Hillside Neighborhood Portland Oregon

NW Native Sword fern – Polystichum munitum has upright fronds in sun and horizontal low fronds in shade.

Mix of NW Native Plants and Non Native Plants

As a Portland landscape designer, when I have clients who want no water landscapes, I tend to mix other plants with NW native plants.  My list for a full sun area might look like this:  Spanish lavender, dwarf manzanita groundcovers, oat grass, heather, California lilac, true dwarf pines, smoke tree, madrone,  manzanita trees, grama grass, dwarf fountain grasses, rosemary, hebe, stepables like ‘Elfin Pink’ thyme.

If you are looking for drought tolerant landscaping, contact Carol for more information on Oregon native plants.