Archive for 4) Ecological Garden Designs

Using Native Trees and Shrubs in the Landscape,

*Plant Selection is the Key!

Complex historical interactions of climate, soils, pollinators, seed disseminators, and herbivory on native flora created the great forest ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest. Ecologists call our region the “Western Hemlock Zone.” The idea is that barring any type of disturbance, long-lived Western Hemlock trees will come to predominate as shade-tolerant young trees grow up to eventually replace other trees such as Douglas Fir. Open areas are usually caused by disturbances such as fire, windfall, flooding, logging, etc., but soils may play a part, too.

Sunset Western Garden Book calls our coastal climate zone in the Puget Sound Region “Marine Influence along the Northwest coast.” We have what is called a Cool Mediterranean Climate; relatively warm, wet winters and relatively cool, dry summers. People are often surprised to find out that summers in the Seattle area are usually dry. This is what helps to make Washington “the Evergreen State.” Other regions have rain in the summer. which would usually be considered the growing season. But when water is limited, plants are unable to grow. Having evergreen leaves make it possible for trees and shrubs to photosynthesize whenever temperature and moisture are suitable.

Most of our native deciduous trees and shrubs grow in moister areas near wetland habitats, which could be swamps, bogs & marshes; seasonal ponds; and lacustrine (along lakes), riparian (along rivers), estuarine (where river meets the tide), or seashore habitats. These wetland areas are especially important for wildlife. Deciduous plant species are more likely to need occasional supplemental irrigation in landscapes. As an adaptation some native plants such as Red Alders and Indian Plums may lose some leaves in late summer.

Our native soils are mostly glacial till, mixtures of clay, sand and gravel deposited by advancing & retreating glaciers. Soils in our landscapes can be very diverse depending on the history of the site regarding the accumulation of biomass, biotic (worms, microorganisms, etc.) and human activity. The physical properties of soil affect fertility, water retention and drainage. Traditional gardeners usually strive to create an ideal loamy soil. Even for a wild garden, it may be necessary to amend the soils in your landscape.

*When we are thinking about using native plants, we still need to keep in mind what is necessary or ideal for plant growth. When selecting plants for your site it is important to take into consideration the soil characteristics, how much moisture will be available to the plant, and the amount of sun or shade.

In her WSU extension bulletin, “Are Native Trees and Shrubs Better Choices for Wildlife in Home Landscapes?” Linda Chalker-Scott said her “literature review revealed that with few exceptions, the native status of trees and shrubs had no impact on wildlife biodiversity.” She argued that “wildlife will adapt to new food and habitat sources as they become available.”

It is true, that just as humans adapt to new environments, so can many species of wildlife.  Some creatures, however, may have a more specialist relationship with the plants with which they co-evolved, especially pollinators adapted to collect from more specialized flowers.

By planting native species, we can also avoid the introduction of non-native species which may be wildly popular with native wildlife, such as the highly invasive, Himalayan Blackberry. Another consideration is that birds can transport non-native seeds from landscapes to distant natural habitats. We often can find non-native plants such as English Holly, Laurel and Ivy growing in forests.

I don’t dispute the science, but I would still argue that it is better to use native species when possible. Some people are more purists and try to go 100% native, but I think 80% or so is a good goal. Also, to reduce your carbon footprint, you may want to grow some of your own food plants. Blueberries, raspberries and Asian pears are some of the easiest to grow. You can allow wildlife to share in your bounty, too!

You just need to be careful to choose appropriate plants for the intended location. If there are no appropriate natives to fulfill a certain requirement, then you can start looking for appropriate non-natives. For example, if you need a smaller tree, you might want to try a Japanese Maple. Or if you need a smaller evergreen, you may look for some cultivated conifer varieties.

Whether you want a wild natural habitat or a more formal look, it is important to do some planning to determine which plants are likely to be successful and fulfill the goals that you have.

  • Plant Selection & Design: I always start out by thinking about the site in question and creating a wish list, keeping in mind how many plants I might need and the budget. I am a horticulturist, not a landscape architect, so am not very good at drawing things out.  I usually just have a general idea in my head and place plants out once I get them.
  • Right Plant, Right Place: As I mentioned above, selecting plants for their sun, shade, and moisture requirements is critical for success, Ultimate size needs to be considered. Large trees such as cottonwoods, conifers, alders, etc. may not be appropriate for a small yard.
  • Special Goals: You may have special goals that you are trying to achieve in your landscape such as attracting wildlife (birds, butterflies, etc.), providing food, screens, erosion control, deer resistance, etc.
    • To create a wildlife friendly habitat, you need to provide food, water, cover and places to raise young. Plants that produce showy flowers, berries and nutritious seeds, will attract pollinators, birds, mammals, other creatures and even their predators.
  • Aesthetic Design Elements: We all want our landscape to be beautiful. Basic design elements to consider are focal points, scale, form, texture, color, balance, fragrance, movement.
  • The 4th dimension: It is important to recognize that landscapes are dynamic, constantly changing. When planning our landscape, we want to try and visualize change through time–the seasons, years, decades, centuries…! Avoid trees or shrubs that will get too big for their location.
  • Set out plants: Start with largest plants to create the “framework.” We can always add more understory plants as time and money allows. Then plant following established planting guidelines. Irrigation will be necessary, at least for the first 1-3 years.

There are many native trees and shrubs that have proven themselves as outstanding performers in home landscapes. Here are some favorites:

Alaska Yellow Cedar, Callitropsis (Chamaecyparis) nootkatensis, grows moderately slowly to 80 feet or more. It is often used in plantings close to commercial buildings; best in sun or part shade.

Mountain Hemlock, Tsuga mertensiana, is an attractive, slower-growing evergreen tree. It generally only gets 20-30 feet in gardens; best in sun or part shade.

Pacific Wax Myrtle, Morella (Myrica) californica, is our best evergreen shrub for screening. It can grow 10-30 feet tall and wide but is often kept smaller by trimming or shearing into a hedge. It fixes nitrogen in association with the bacteria, Frankia sp.; best in sun.

Vine Maple, Acer circinatum, has long been recognized as an outstanding plant for landscapes. It is a shrubby tree and can grow to 35 feet tall. Fall color ranges from orange, scarlet to yellow. It grows well in sun or shade.

Red-twig or Red-osier Dogwood, Cornus sericea (stolonifera), is usually grown for its red winter stems and attractive fall foliage. It is native throughout much of the United States and Canada. Many cultivated varieties have been developed; some dwarf varieties, some with yellow twigs, some with variegated leaves. The species generally grows 7-9 ft. spreading to 12 ft. or more. It likes moist areas and grows in sun or part shade.

Saskatoon Serviceberry, Amelanchier alnifolia, is also native across much of the U.S and Canada. It has attractive flowers and edible blue-black berries. It grows to about 20 ft. tall; best in sun or part shade.

American Cranberrybush, Viburnum opulus var. americanum; while not common in our area, this is our version of the European Cranberry Bush, which includes the Common Snowball. It has outstanding fall foliage, beautiful white lace-cap flower clusters and bright red berries. It is best in sun or part shade.

Pacific Ninebark, Physocarpus capitatus, has attractive white flower clusters, reddish dry seed capsules, and peeling brown bark. It grows to 8 ft. tall; best in sun or part shade.

Pacific Rhododendron, Rhododendron macrophyllum, is our native rhododendron. It has evergreen leaves and large pink flower trusses. It grows to 10 feet or more; best in sun or part shade.

Western Azalea, Rhododendron occidentale, is native to Oregon and California, and is very popular with gardeners. It has large fragrant flower trusses, white to pale rose, with or without a yellow blotch. It is a parent to many cultivated deciduous azalea varieties and grows 9-15 ft.; best in sun or part shade.

Indian Plum, Oemleria (Osmaronia) cerasiformis, is our harbinger of spring. Its white flower clusters and bright spring green leaves are a welcome sight after a dreary winter. It grows to about 15 ft; best in part shade or shade.

Red-flowering Currant, Ribes sanguineum, is one of our most popular natives. Its pink flower clusters attract Rufous Hummingbirds that are migrating up from Mexico in the spring. It grows to about 9 ft; best in sun or part shade.

Tall Oregon Grape, Mahonia aquifolium, has evergreen, often bronzy, holly-like compound leaves. In the spring, it has fragrant, bright yellow flowers and is attractive next to Red-flowering Currant. Its berries make a great jam! It grows 6-8 ft.; best in sun or part shade.  Its smaller cousin, Low Oregon Grape, Mahonia nervosa is a good choice for shady spots.

Pacific Mock Orange, Philadelphus lewisii, has beautiful arching sprays of white fragrant flowers in spring or early summer. It grows to 9-10 ft; best in sun to part shade. It is perfect for forest edges.

Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus, has unusual white berries and is a versatile shrub which tolerates many different conditions. It grows 6-8 ft; best in sun to part shade.

Salal, Gaultheria shallon, and Evergreen Huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum, are two of our native evergreen staples. Both have edible berries and attractive evergreen leaves, which are used for greens in the florist trade. They both are slow to establish but can eventually get 3-6 ft. or more.

Kinnikinnick or Bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, is our best native groundcover for sun (or part shade). It has pinkish-white bell-shaped flowers and red berries. The common name Kinnikinnick is a native word for a plant that was smoked. Both scientific names mean “bear-grape or bear berry.”

Summary: When using native plants in the landscape, like with any garden plant, it is important to select plants that are likely to be successful and fulfill the goals that you have. With climate change coming upon us, we also may want to consider drought-tolerant species that are native south or east of here. Wildlife species may need to find favorable habitats if they are forced to migrate.

The new edition of Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest, 3rd Edition by Arthur R. Kruckeberg and Linda Chalker-Scott is now available. (They used 14 of my photos.) Dr. Kruckeberg sat in on many of our seminar classes when I was getting my Master’s Degree at the University of Washington. He often would say that we can’t forget about the native plants and people east of the Cascades!

Ecological Garden Designs Index

Native Plant Gardening

Wildlife Gardening

Xerophytic Gardens

Rain Gardens

Green Roofs


Landscaping for Energy Conservation

Permaculture & Vegetable Gardens

Fern Gardens & Stumperies

Moss Gardens

Guerilla Gardening

Also Check out my articles at West Sound Home & Garden:

Want Carefree Gardening? Tips for Ecolawns and Other Low-Maintenance Ideas

Native Plant Gardening Index

Using Native Trees and Shrubs in the Landscape

Landscaping With Natives

Edible Native Berries

Ethnobotanical Gardens

Propagation of Native Plants

Growing Endangered Species

Prepare for Global Warming with California Natives

Meaning and Derivation on some Scientific Names of Pacific Northwest natives (PDF)

The Heath Family–Family Ericaceae

Also check out my articles on the Westside Home & Garden Blog:

Water, Wild Plants, and Wildlife–How to Create a Backyard Sanctuary for Wildlife

Best Native Plants for Protecting Your Hillside from Erosion

Scientific Names of Plants Demystified

And B&B online (The Official Publication of Washington State Nursery and Landscape Association):

Not Just Another Native: Unusual and Underused Natives

Food for Quail

   Someone recently contacted the nursery where I work interested in buying plants that will improve her  habitat for quail. This is what I came up with for her:

   I am assuming you are referring to California Quail.

   Habitat in general is the most important thing to consider. Quail eat tender leaves in late winter and spring, but rely mostly on seeds. They will also eat insects such as ants, beetles, grasshoppers & crickets. I always recommend that people who want to create habitat for wildlife should not be neatniks, because many of the plants that wildlife depend upon are considered weeds by people. And of course, as you mentioned in your email, they need shrubs for protection (cover) and access to water, too.

   I am attaching scanned pages from American Wild life & Plants, A Guide to Wildlife Food Habits, by Alexander C. Martin, (1951) (It is a Dover Publication published by agreement of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, so is not under copyright.) It lists weeds that you may want to encourage in your yard.

Quail Food

  In addition, food plants that we have at the nursery would include:


Oregon White Oak, Quercus garryana

Deerbrush, Ceanothus velutinus

Redstem Ceanothus, Ceanothus sanguineus

Pacific Mock Orange, Philadelphus lewisii



Coast Silktassel, Garrya elliptica

Nootka Rose, Peafruit Rose, Baldhip Rose, Rosa sp.

Salmonberry, Thimbleberry, Blackcap Raspberry, Dewberry, Rubus sp.

Redtwig Dogwood, Cornus sericea

Soapberry or Buffaloberry, Shepherdia Canadensis

Twinberry, Lonicera involucrata

Coast Strawberry, Wild Strawberry, Wood Strawberry, Fragaria Sp.

Permaculture, human endeavor with an environmental ethic

    Permaculture is short for permanent agriculture. It is the conscious design and maintenance of food-producing ecosystems which have the diversity and resilience of natural ecosystems. It has grown to include the sustainable production of energy, shelter, and other materials.

    The philosophy behind permaculture is one of working with, rather than against nature; creating a harmonious landscape ecosystem for people and wildlife — Permaculture is a creative design process, based on an environmental ethic, that encourages us to study, observe, & mimic the patterns and relationships we find in nature.

    By adopting the ethics and applying these principles, we can make the transition from being dependent consumers to producing some of our own healthy food and materials. We can also relearn traditional skills, such as food preservation & general self-suffiency that our ancestors relied upon for survival. These skills and community-supported permaculture programs may help us to prepare for an uncertain future as populations increase and food & other resources become scarcer on our finite planet.Permaculture

    Central to permaculture are the three ethics: care for the earth, care for people, and fair share. They form the foundation for permaculture design and are also found in most traditional societies. Following are the 12 principles of permaculture as described by David Holmgren, with some of my own editorial comments:

1. Observe and Interact – Take the time to engage with nature. We are often focused on work and the task at hand such that we forget to appreciate what surrounds us…take notice of the flowers & the birds & the beauty that surrounds you.

2. Catch and Store Energy –Collect resources when they are abundant and use them in times of need: Catch water with rain barrels, compost to store nutrients for plants, & harvest & preserve food for future use.

3. Obtain a yield – Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as a result of the work you are doing…emotional and psychological rewards, as well as staple foods and sweet fruit– nature’s candy!

4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback –discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well…avoid chemicals and other harmful inputs to the ecology of your garden. Take notice to see what works…and what doesn’t.

5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services –Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources. I use the cheapest local sources for soils, natural fertilizers, mulches and other materials; reusing & repurposing what I can.

6. Produce No Waste –By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste…food scraps can go to pigs, chickens, or worms or can just be composted.

7. Design From Patterns to Details –By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go…getting inspiration from nature!

8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate – By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other… know whether plants need sun or shade, wet or fairly dry, or benefit from companion plants.

9. Use Small and Slow Solutions –Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes…Focus on small sections of your garden at a time, improving soil and building populations of beneficial organisms.

10. Use and Value Diversity – Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides. By growing several crops you avoid “putting all your eggs in one basket.” You will have some failures, but hopefully your successes outweigh the cost of a failure. In nature, some trees will produce heavily one year and sparsely the next as a strategy to control the population of frugivores or seed-eaters. By growing a variety of species you are more likely to have a healthy ecosystem and a more stable food source.

11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal –The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system. Edges of forests are the most diverse wildlife habitat and ideal growing conditions for many shrubs.

12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change –We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing and then intervening at the right time. Use IPM, Integrated Pest Management techniques to monitor and control pest populations. Remember that landscapes are dynamic, constantly changing through the seasons, and through the years…

   A Permaculture Garden can be divided into zones as follows:

Zone 0–The house, or home center in a permaculture design creates a harmonious, sustainable environment in which to live, work & play. It uses energy and water conservatively and incorporates sustainable energy systems such as wind, solar, or geothermal power.

Zone 1–The zone nearest to the house is for those elements in the system that require frequent attention. It may include a kitchen garden with raised beds for growing salad crops, vegetable & herb plants, strawberries, or other berries, propagation areas (greenhouse and cold frames), a chicken coop, and/or a worm compost bin for kitchen waste.

Zone 2 –Contains perennial plants that require less frequent maintenance. This may include orchards, berry bushes, squashes etc. beehives, larger scale composting bins, and so on.

Zone 3–The area where field crops are grown or livestock is pastured, both for domestic use and for trade purposes. After establishment, care and maintenance required, such as watering or weed control, are fairly minimal (maybe once a week). Livestock may need to be visited more often.

Zone 4–A semi-wild area. This zone is mainly used for forage and collecting wild food as well as production of timber for construction or firewood.

Zone 5–A wilderness area. There is no human intervention in zone 5 apart from the observation of natural ecosystems and cycles. Through this zone we build up a natural reserve of bacteria, molds and insects that can aid the zones above it. Eradication of invasive species may be needed at times.

   One of my family’s favorite sitcoms is the 1970’s British TV show: “The Good Life” or“Good Neighbors.” In the show, Tom Good quits his job and he and his wife, Barbara, adopt a self-sufficient lifestyle in their suburban neighborhood to the horror of their good friends and neighbors. They grow fruits & vegetables in their front and back gardens. They raise chickens, pigs, and a goat. They even generate their own electricity, using methane from animal waste and attempt to make their own clothes. They sell or barter surplus crops for essentials they cannot make themselves. Although this lifestyle is probably not really feasible on a small suburban lot (but it makes for a funny sitcom!), and is difficult for those that have more property, we can try to adopt some of these goals and ideas, even though we can’t go all the way and quit our wage-earning jobs!

   There are many local community groups that hold workshops on Permaculture. A quick internet search may find one near you!


Fern Gardens & Stumperies

    Stumpery! –A new word for me, even though it has been around a century & a half! A stumpery is similar to a rockery but is made from whole stumps, logs, and pieces of bark.  Plants, such as ferns, mosses and lichens, are artistically arranged to grow around or on them. The first stumpery was built in 1856 at Biddulph Grange in Victorian Britain.

   I learned about stumperies and the Victorian Stumpery recently constructed at the Rhododendron Species Foundation when I went to a lecture by John van den Meerendonk, the President of the Hardy Fern Foundation, hosted by the Bayshore Garden Club at the Key Center Library.

Ferns grow nicely on the upturned roots of a fallen tree.

Ferns grow nicely on the upturned roots of a fallen tree.

  A Stumpery seems an ideal design concept to incorporate in a Pacific Northwest woodland garden. If you are a hiker, like me, you can envision how this art can imitate nature. Stumps, fallen trees and their upturned roots create many more nooks & crannies and surfaces to be populated by botanical treasures.

    Ferns are like flowering plants in that they have true leaves and a vascular system to transport water and nutrients.  But they do not produce seeds.  Instead, they have a complex life cycle consisting of two alternate generations.  The diploid sporophyte generation is the one we recognize as a fern.  Ferns produce spores on the undersides of their fronds, which after they are released and fall to an amenable substrate, will grow into moss-like plants called prothallia.  These haploid gametophytes are free-living organisms.  They in turn produce gametes (sperm and eggs)A mobile, flagellate sperm seeks out an egg to fertilize.  The presence of water during this stage is critical and is why most ferns need to live in a moist climate, such as our rainforests.  Once an egg is fertilized, it will grow into what we recognize as a fern.

Fiddleheads of Sword Fern

Fiddleheads of Sword Fern

   We have several native ferns that could be used in a stumpery or woodland garden. Although some people eat the fiddleheads or rhizomes of some ferns, (sometimes considered a “famine food” by natives) most should probably be avoided due to possible presence of carcinogens or other toxins. Many ferns are, however, often browsed by deer, elk, bear and Mountain Beaver.

Western Sword Fern, Polystichum munitum

Western Sword Fern, Polystichum munitum


    Western Sword Fern, Polystichum munitum    Western Sword Fern is the most widespread and versatile of all our native ferns.  Although at home in woodlands, it often adapts to drier, sunnier sites in landscapes.  Its tall arching fronds are most impressive planted in drifts in a woodland garden. Fronds partially unroll their “fiddleheads” by late May. The fronds were used frequently for lining baking pits and storage baskets; and were spread on drying racks to prevent berries from sticking.  They were variously used for placemats, floor coverings, bedding; and for games, dancing skirts and other decorations.  They are frequently used today in flower arrangements. Anderson’s Holly Fern, P. andersonii, and Braun’s Holly Fern, P. braunii, are similar species in the same genus.

Lady Fern, Athyrium felix-femina

Lady Fern, Athyrium felix-femina

   Lady Fern,  Athyrium felix-femina   This species, with its graceful, lacy, bright, yellow-green fronds, is very eye-catching.  It may, however be a little too aggressive for a formal garden, but is ideal for a wild, moist, woodland garden, where it can freely multiply.  It dies back completely in winter.

Spreading Wood Fern, Dryopteris expansa

Spreading Wood Fern, Dryopteris expansa


  Spreading Wood Fern or Shield Fern, Dryopteris expansa,    Spreading Wood Fern is easy to grow and its fine-textured, lacy leaves are ideal for a woodland garden.



Oak Fern

Oak Fern

    Oak Fern, Gymnocarpium dryopteris, or Pacific Oak Fern, Gymnocarpium disjunctum   Oak Ferns make a nice groundcover in a woodland garden; their lush, bright green fronds brighten a dark forest floor. They can be propagated by division.

    Ostrich Fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, is found throughout much of the northeast and across Canada; but only reaches the west coast in southern Alaska and British Columbia. Sterile, bright-green deciduous fronds grow to nearly 6 feet, in vase-like clusters, in moist, moderate climates.

Deer Fern, Blechnum spicant

Deer Fern, Blechnum spicant

    Deer Fern, Blechnum spicant,  Deer fern has two types of fronds: narrow, evergreen, sterile leaves spreading outward, and even narrower, taller, fertile fronds, which grow erect, from the center. Hitchcock writes: Deer Fern “is a truly choice fern usable in many places in the garden, but so common as to have little appeal to most gardeners.”  That said, it is one of the best native ferns for landscapes, second only to Sword Fern.  Although at home in a woodland garden, it can adapt to many situations, given adequate shade and/or moisture.  Deer Fern has also been used as a houseplant.

    Giant Chain Fern, Woodwardia fimbriata Giant Chain Fern has been found on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, and in the Puget Sound region of Washington where it is listed as sensitive.  About Woodwardia fimbriata, Hitchcock writes: “This is surely our choicest large fern.”  Being the largest, it is certainly the most impressive of all our ferns, it performs best in a woodland garden especially next to streams, bogs, springs or ponds, but it can also grow in full sun with adequate summer moisture.  It can be very striking as a focal point or when planted against a wall in a shady location.  It readily produces “sporeling plants” in wet areas.  It also may be propagated in the spring by division of the rhizomes–but judicious collection of spores is preferable where this species is rare.

Western Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum aleuticum

Western Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum aleuticum

    Western Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum aleuticum   Maidenhair Ferns are prized by gardeners for their delicate, airy fronds. Western Maidenhair is sure to evoke memories for avid hikers of enchanting waterfalls, where it grows on cliffs within reach of water spray.  Gardeners should make sure this charmer gets planted in a shady place with plenty of moisture.  Natives used the black stems of Maidenhair Fern in basketry designs.  

    Maidenhair Spleenwort, Asplenium trichomanes    Kruckeberg writes: “It is one of our best rock garden ferns, and a superb container plant;” Hitchcock writes: “Both our plants (aspleniums) are attractive, but A. trichomanes is much nicer and the more tractable.”  It can be grown in wall crevices.

    Narrow Beech Fern, Phegopteris connectilis This species grows in moist to wet forests, streambanks, and shady, seepy cliff crevices. Narrow Beech Fern resembles Oak Fern, but is larger, and a darker green, with long, triangular fronds.  Hitchcock thought this was perhaps the best ornamental species of our Marsh Ferns.

Western Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum aleuticum

Western Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum aleuticum

    Licorice Fern, Polypodium glycrrhiza, This fern usually grows epiphytically on tree trunks, especially Big Leaf Maples, also mossy logs, rocks & moist banks. Licorice-flavored rhizomes were used by natives for flavor and for colds, sore throats and coughs.  

    A related species, Leathery Polypody, Polypodium scouleri,  Grows in tree trunks and exposed cliffs and banks often within reach of salt spray. Hitchcock writes “…is by far the most attractive species, and of course the most difficult to grow successfully.”

Leathery Polypody, Polypodium scouleri,

Leathery Polypody, Polypodium scouleri,



   Red Huckleberry, Vaccinium parvifolium would also be ideal in a stumpery, because it is often found growing on stumps and nurse logs in the forest! Be creative! You could even turn your stumpery into a Fairy Garden!




Invaluable Invertebrates

   What is your reaction when you see a creepy-crawly bug? Do you want to instantly kill it, or are you respectful of this other life form, maybe even fascinated by the appearance and behavior of the tiny creature? People tend to place other organisms in categories of good or bad either due to their effect on us or our things, or just because of some ingrained prejudice. Most “bugs,” in fact, cause us no harm, some are beneficial.

A bumblebee on a thistle flower.

A bumblebee on a thistle flower.

   Bees are the star pollinators. In addition to the introduced European Honeybee, there are about 4000 native bees in North America. Our native Mason Bees are well known as excellent pollinators of orchard crops. Bumblebees and many other bees are also important pollinators.




A butterfly from the Butterfly House at Pacific Science Center

A butterfly from the Butterfly House at Pacific Science Center

   Butterflies and moths are the showiest insects. They are attractive as they flutter from flower to flower or take a sip from a puddle. They pollinate flowers, but remember that you can’t have any butterflies if you kill all the caterpillars!

    Syrphid or Hover Flies are good pollinators and they feed on aphids and other insects. Beetles and flies usually are the major pollinators of “stinky” flowers, such as Skunk Cabbage. It may take an entomologist to identify all of the tiny little insects that one may see gathering nectar and pollen from many different flowers!

Many tiny insects pollinate flowers and are prey for songbirds.

Many tiny insects pollinate flowers and are prey for songbirds.


   A few wasps are pollinators, but most are more useful for pest control. Many small wasp species parasitize other insects, such as aphids and caterpillars. Yellowjackets are important predators & scavengers but are aggressive and will sting repeatedly in defense of their nests.

   Spiders and Daddy-Long-Legs, or Harvestmen, are major predators of insects. Although many people hate spiders and will kill them on sight, I figure that they are probably helping to control more numerous insects. The only spider in our area that can give a nasty bite is the non-native Hobo Spider or Aggressive House Spider; it spins a funnel web and is often found in basements and outbuildings. Predatory Mites are spider relatives that prey on their cousins, the Spider Mites, which live on the undersides of leaves, sucking out plant juices.

    Many ants may go about their business, causing us no concern. In the forest, Carpenter Ants fulfill an important role as major decomposers, but just like termites, they can cause major damage to wood structures. I always get Sugar Ants in my house at certain times of the year. A few “scouts” don’t bother me, but when they start nesting in my house, I will put out poison bait.

   Many children are fascinated by Pillbugs or Roly-Polies. These are actually land crustaceans that can roll themselves entirely up into a ball. Other Woodlice, also known as Sow Bugs, Chiggy-wigs or Potato Bugs, may not be able to roll up entirely. They are also mostly decomposers, but may take a few bites out of your strawberries.

A Night Train Millipede a common decomposer

A Night Train Millipede a common decomposer

    Millipedes, such as the Night Train Millipede are generally decomposers; centipedes prey on insects and other small creatures, killing them with a venomous bite.

   Praying Mantis, Assassin Bugs, Lady Bugs, many beetles, Flower Flies, & Lacewings all help to control damaging pest species. Just make sure you don’t kill their larval forms—I have sometimes pleaded with homeowners not to spray the creepy-crawly Ladybug larvae they found in their fruit trees.

   And don’t forget the lowly worm. It is a major decomposer and creates the lovely “vegetable mould” or compost that nourishes the garden.

   “Bugs” are an important food source for many songbirds, amphibians, reptiles, and some small mammals. They play a vital role in the local ecology. Be careful when spraying pest species; try to garden organically!

(This article was first published in the Peninsula Gateway on April 17, 2013 as Don’t fear bugs in your garden, they could be helping.)

Edible Native Berries

   The Pacific Northwest is ideal for growing many kinds of edible berries. There are many native species that produce delicious berries that people go out of their way to collect. Many people have favorite berry patches that they return to year after year to harvest nature’s bounty. By planting these species in your landscape, you can have quick access to these flavorful treats!

    Native peoples ate berries fresh and dried (like raisins), cooked, mashed and dried into cakes, or they preserved them in fats such as oolichan grease made from a small, smelt-like fish— their olive oil! Today we may eat them fresh, in desserts, baked into muffins or pies, or made into jams, syrups or wines.



   Salmonberry, Rubus spectabilis, is one of the earliest berries to ripen; some patches have tastier berries so keep sampling! Blackcap Raspberries, R. leucodermis, are good in jellies and syrups. Thimbleberrries, R. parviflorus, are seedy, but can be eaten fresh or dried. Dewberry or Trailing Blackberry, R. ursinus, is our only native blackberry, its small, sweet berries are refreshing in late summer.



Evergreen Huckleberry

Evergreen Huckleberry

    Oval-leaved Blueberries, Vaccinium ovalifolium, are highly regarded; they fruit early in July after Salmonberry. Black Huckleberry, V. membranaceum, is one of the most delicious, found mid-summer to fall at middle to high elevations. Cascade Huckleberry, V. deliciosum, also found in subalpine meadows, is worthy of its species name. Dwarf Blueberry, V. caespitosum, found in low elevation bogs and subalpine wet meadows is said to be the “most preferred” blueberry. Red Huckleberry, V. parvifolium, is a favorite, on-the-trail, snack for hikers. Lingonberries, V. vitis-idea, are well-liked by natives of Alaska and BC as well as Scandinavia. Small Cranberries, V. oxycoccus, are found in bogs along the coast. Evergreen Huckleberries, V. ovatum, although usually small and black, some are bigger, like blueberries; they are said to taste sweeter after the first frost. All are good baked in muffins or they can be collected along the trail for a great addition to your morning pancakes when you are backpacking!



Along with Evergreen Huckleberry, Salal, Gaultheria shallon, is one of our most plentiful natives. It is very sweet, but its texture is rather mealy. It is good mixed with other, tarter berries in jellies or preserves.

    Saskatoon Serviceberries, Amelanchier alnifolia, are sweet, eaten fresh, used in baking or made into jams or jellies.


Tall Oregon Grape

Tall Oregon Grape

    Tall Oregon Grape, Mahonia aquifolium, and Low Oregon Grape, M. nervosa, have tart berries. They can be mixed with other sweeter berries and be made into jelly or wine.

    All of our strawberries produce edible berries, albeit smaller (but often more flavorful) than commercial strawberries. Coastal or Beach Strawberry, Fragaria chiloensis, is used in hybridizing and is a parent of many cultivated varieties. Many prefer Wild Strawberry, F. virginiana. Wood Strawberries, F. vesca, are somewhat dry, but are good added to rhubarb pies!

    Currants native to the east side of the Cascades such as Golden Currant, R. aureum, and Squaw (or Wax) Currant, R. cereum, are good-eating. Black Swamp Gooseberry, R. lacustre , Wild Black Gooseberry, R. divaricatum, and Stink Currant, R. bracteosum, are also edible.

Blue Elderberry, Sambucus caerulea

Blue Elderberry, Sambucus caerulea

    Blue Elderberries, S. caerulea, are used to make a tangy jelly or wine. Because raw berries cause nausea, the berries should always be cooked.

    Pacific Crabapple, Malus fusca, and Highbush Cranberry, Viburnum edule, were both harvested by natives in fall and stored in boxes with water and oil, the tart fruits became sweeter over time. Highbush cranberries can be blended with other cranberries to make sauces and preserves.

    Soapberries, Shepherdia canadensis, although bitter, can be mixed with water, whipped to a froth, and then sweetened with salal berries.

    Always be careful when eating wild berries. Make sure they are identified correctly before you enjoy the eating any of these flavorful fruits!

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