Mahonia Repens Pacific Northwest Native Plant

Gardening With Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest

(Mahonia repens)

We love plants. It’s what brought you to this blog, it’s what is compelling me to write this post, and it’s why we got into this business. Dirt under our fingernails and muddy doorsteps; nothing can stop us from seeking out the joy we feel when we see that new plant blooming for the first time. We usually take time to plan out our gardens and all the variables that each plant brings. So let’s consider an additional detail: native plants of Portland and the Pacific Northwest. Plants that have spent a millennia adapting to become the perfect resident in our backyards. Plants that could’ve existed quite literally where your home is now. Have you ever caught yourself imagining, what your neighborhood would’ve looked like some two or three hundred years ago?

With the plant varieties from around the globe accessible to the modern gardener, plants have been moved and grown all over the world. Landscaping trends have come and gone, leaving most cultivated spaces in our country, unrecognizable to their former native selves. The longest lasting trend has been “the lawn”, a monoculture, which lacks biodiversity, covering approximately 40 million acres across our nation. A well kept lawn requires a significant amount of water, fertilizer, and pesticides. Whereas plants native to Portland, Oregon, are adapted to our soil, our weather, and are generally low maintenance.


(Philadelphus lewisii)

We aren’t the only ones who benefit! About 25% of our local, non-migrating bird population is in decline and adding native plants to our gardens is something we can do to help out our avian friends and bring life into our gardens. Growing plants that are native to Portland positively impacts a giant network of creatures that make our region so special. Many native insect species, like pollinators, are highly specialized creatures that have co-evolved to rely on one or two species of plants for food and shelter. This in turn gives more opportunities to native birds and mammals that feed on these insects, which, excitingly, will be happening in your backyard. So everything you plant that is native to Oregon will help invite those creatures back into their native area.

The term “native plant” can have a broad definition. Is this plant native to the Pacific Northwest, or is it native to the Portland area? Would you find it near Cannon Beach or in Forest Park? One of the best resources for western Oregonians is the Native Plants for Willamette Valley Yards pamphlet published by Oregon Metro. It contains an exhaustive list of plants that are found from the Oregon Cascades to the Coastal Range. It also includes brief descriptions of the conditions each plant is most suited for and which creatures they tend to support. You can download the pdf here.

To take your native gardening to the next level, check out the Back Yard Habitat Certification Program. For $35, they will connect you with one of their habitat technicians who will visit your property, talk to you about your goals and put together a comprehensive report on what is ideal for you and your garden. If you sign up with the Back Yard Habitat Certification Program you will also receive a coupon for native plants at Cornell Farm! Linked below is a video we put together in coordination with them, going over many of the reasons to plant native. Another inspiring resource is the book Real Gardens Grow Natives, written by Eileen Stark, a Portland-based ecological landscape designer. It details everything you’ll ever need to know on our local flora, from how to plant it, take care of it and how it bolsters our regions waning biodiversity.

We all love to see a thriving, vibrant yard. Spotting a garden with intention and design will make us stop and stare, so why not take intention to the next level? Even adding a few native plants to the landscape makes a difference. We often garden for our own joy, setting out to create something we are proud of, and in the process we can help our little ecosystem, our neighborhood, and our flying, fluttering, crawling, slithering, and scurrying friends.