Native Northwest plants thrive on their home turf

  • By Debra Smith Special to The Herald
  • Tuesday, March 19, 2013 8:41pm
  • Life

The ground cover twinflower would be a nice addition to just about any Northwest garden.

It’s native to this area, forms a gentle, low-growing mat in the landscape and produces cute, bell-shaped flowers.

Just try finding it in the average nursery.

It’s tough to find many native plants at big-box nurseries partly because many don’t perform well in containers, said Shirley Doolittle-Egerdahl, owner of a small, native plant nursery in Woodinville called Tadpole Haven Native Plants.

That doesn’t mean natives won’t perform well in the garden. Quite the contrary. This is, after all, their home turf. Once established in the landscape, they require less water and offer better resistance to pests and diseases.

Take our native Pacific dogwood. The tree is a graceful lady in the garden, with beautiful delicate white flowers and oval leaves. But that same lady becomes a fussy princess when confined to a black plastic nursery container.

Doolittle-Egerdahl, a native plant enthusiast, would like to see more people replace “cookie-cutter” landscapes with plants native to the area. Homeowners can add native plants in the same way they would any plant from a nursery, she said.

Natives can be planted and cared for in a more cultivated way or they can be arranged for a more natural, forestlike look in the landscape.

She offers more than a hundred types of native plants at her nursery, including ground covers, shrubs, trees and perennials.

If you’ve ever struggled to grow something under the dry shade of a tree, here’s your solution: salal, sword fern and Oregon grape.

When planting, adhere to the standard adage “right plant, right place,” she said.

Think, too, about how large a plant grows and how fast. One of her favorite trees is the western white pine, which can reach more than 100 feet tall. The kind she sells is 90 percent resistant to white pine blister rust, which has devastated white pines.

She suggested thinking about planting in layers: a tree, an under-story of shrubs and trees, and ground covers. She likes to use a layer of woodchips on her beds, which holds in moisture, suppresses weeds and enriches the soil as they break down.

A strong sense of environmental responsibility guides Doolittle-Egerdahl. She’s distressed by the march of development across the area.

The nursery is located on land her great-great-great grandfather homesteaded in the 1880s and farmed. She’s been tied to the land since her childhood. Some of the plants she sells are from cuttings, seeds and starts from the property.

“I feel strongly the environment is overbuilt,” she said. “People take up more space than they need to, and they destroy a lot. I’ve seen many changes in my lifetime.”

For her, growing and planting native plants is a way to mitigate some of that change. They provide habitat for birds and animals. Native plants also are particularly good for the environment because they need less fertilizer and no pesticides, thereby improving water quality by keeping those chemicals from flowing into area waterways.

“Everybody is upstream from some body of water,” she said.

Options to consider

Evergreen huckleberry: A stellar plant with urn-shaped flowers, perennial leaves and black-purple berries.

Salal: An evergreen shrub with edible berries and leathery, dark green leaves.

Pacific dogwood: This tree offers gorgeous white flowers in the spring and can grow up to 50 feet tall.

Red flowering currant: a popular garden shrub grown for its showy pink flowers; it needs well-drained soil.

Deer fern: a forest fern with lance-shaped fronds that resemble ladders; it grows best in shade.

Oregon grape: An evergreen shrub with leathery leaves that resemble holly; produce clusters of grapelike berries.

Twinflower: A ground cover that is not aggressive; forms a mat and produces cute, bell-shaped flowers.

Western white pine: a tall, stately tree that can grow to heights 100 feet plus.

Vine maple: Considered one of the best native trees for the home landscape; amazing fall leaf color and twisting, spreading limbs.

Cascara: The tree is best known for its barks medicinal abilities to relieve constipation; in the landscape, offers intense yellow fall foliage; grows well in sun or shade but prefers moist areas.

Indian plum: a shrub with dangling white blooms that appear before leaves emerge. Its flowers are the first thing blooming in the forest in the spring.

Camas: an important food service for native people, this bulb produces a stalk topped with bluish starry flowers.

Resources

• Tadpole Haven Native Plants in Woodinville is open on select days, including March 23, and by appointment. For more info, go online to tadpolehaven.com or call 425-788-6100. Sign up for an email list at growing@tadpolehaven.com and receive information about upcoming nursery events.

• Washington Native Plant Society offers a wealth of information on the state’s 3,000 native plant species. Check the plant society’s website beginning April 1 for information about native plant talks, hikes and other activities. www.wnps.org.

• “Landscaping With Native Plants in the Inland Northwest,” by Tonie Jean Fitzgerald, Washington State University Cooperative Extension. WSU-CE order number MISC 0267.

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