Go Native in the Pacific Northwest Garden

     Stomping through the woods on a summer evening (sorry Robert Frost) can send a South Sound gardener into a “tizzy” over a whole new world of plant possibilities for the home garden. Whether you call them natives, wild things or indigenous plants they are a tempting alternative to cookie cutter landscapes.

Native plant gardening is trendy but effective.

As with most garden trends a little education goes a long way. To begin with, keep a good ID book with you. “Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast” by Pojar and McKinnon is a pocket sized and complete native plant identification book with 1100 color photographs, habitat maps and tidbits about how the native plants have been used. After identifying what you like the real fun starts…trying to find what you like. Local mainstream nurseries usually have a few natives among the marigolds…familiar plants like…

Salal and Kinnickinnick

In the forest they’re understory plants but in a home garden, they’re tough, fresh looking year round evergreen groundcovers with leathery glossy leaves (unsluggable), flowers (for the bees) and berries (for the birds). They grow in sun, shade, wet, dry…you name it. These show up in local nurseries along with cultivated and mass propagated groundcovers because both Salal and Kinnickinnick grow anywhere and require zero care once they’re established. Reclamation projects often have plenty of salvageable “you dig” Salal and Kinnickinnick but local nurseries can easily get full flats of them for planting large areas. Mainstream nurseries also carry more common native shrubs and trees like…

Mahonia and Vine Leaf Maple

Once again, mainstream nurseries carry these natives because they are reliable, easy to grow and have year round interest. Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) attracts hummingbirds, bees and other pollinators and with enough sugar, the berries can be turned into jam.  Acer Circinatum (Vine Leaf Maple) is the native maple that blasts out the bright red leaves in autumn, a foil to all of the native Doug firs and Western Red Cedars in nearby forests.

Salal, Kinnickinnick, Oregon Grape and Vine Leaf Maple are a small peek into a world of new plant opportunities. Native plants are already adapted to our wet winters and dry summer so you know they’ll grow. The trick is giving them what they want and putting them in the right place. Questions about how to incorporate natives in your garden are answered in the third edition of…

 “Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest”  by Arthur A. Kruckeberg and Linda Chalker-Scott (3rdedition)

Go native!

     Since its first edition in 1989 “Gardening with Native Plants” has been the go-to book for demystifying exactly how to use and take care of plants that grow and thrive naturally in and around the South Sound.

     In this new third edition (March 2019) the authors have managed to explain both the science behind and practical applications used to successfully grow native plants in our cultivated gardens.

     The first section deals with the all-important basics, why grow native plants and how do I choose and maintain native plants for a home garden environment? The rest of this 30 year best seller is a complete list of native ornamental shrubs, conifers, deciduous trees, perennials and a few annuals that are worth growing in the home garden. The authors are quick to point out that not all native plants are garden worthy and not all “wild” plants are considered native. Nettles, for instance…not native.

“Gardening with Native Plants” is a science based reference book that deserves a special spot on your South Sound bookshelf.

University of Washington Press, 374 p, 948 color photographs with habitat icons, $39.95





Local chapter of Washington Native Plant Society



Native Plant Nurseries


Sound Native Plants, Olympia



Black Lake Organic Nursery, Olympia



Woodbrook Native Plant Nursery, Gig Harbor