Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mixing it Up—Natives, Nativars and Exotics

Barney, my adorable golden retriever, and I squeezed in a few walks in Forest Park between rain showers last week. Looking at the native plants that thrive along the hiking trails, I was once again inspired to add some natives to join my “exotic” ornamentals, this time in a newly planted shady area of the garden. I transplanted some Oxalis (Wood Sorrel) and added a chartreuse-leaved current (Ribes aureum, perhaps) and several variegated fringe cups (Tellima grandiflora ‘Forest Frost’). I also bought a bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) for the first time. The leaves and bright red berries on these plants smell like wintergreen (!), one of my favorite scents. I’m not certain my garden soil is rich or moist enough for it, but we’ll see what happens. I still want to add sword fern, Vancouveria, Maidenhair fern and wild ginger.

My tendency is to plant one or three of a variety because I’m a sucker for a wide variety of plants, but I think I should pause and heed Mother Nature’s planting plan by planting natives in larger swaths. I find the forest environment to be soothing so translating that to my garden makes sense, right?

Most garden centers carry native species. A few specialize in natives, including the following:

Willamette Gardens
3290 SW Willamette, Corvallis

Echo Valley Natives
18883 S Ferguson Rd., Oregon City

Bosky Dell Natives Inc.
23311 SW Bosky Dell Ln., West Linn

Looking at the list of native plant lists on the Web sites of these nurseries makes me realize that I have a fair number of natives and “nativars”* incorporated through my yard. Some I added specifically because they were natives, vine maple and milkweed, for example. Others were added because I thought they were great looking plants and they just happened to be natives (Scarlet Pearl snowberry comes to mind). What natives or “nativars” are in your garden?

* Lisa Albert introduced me to the term “nativar,” which is a cultivar of a native species. Lisa is a freelance garden writer and is knowledgeable about native plants. She authored the “Gardening with Native Plants” flashcards sold through The Berry Botanic Garden (www.berrybot.org/pubs/flashcard.html). Hopefully, “nativars” provide the same benefits to our native wildlife as the species, just with a few extra bells and whistles.


  1. Regarding bunchberry, I think it was the Sunset garden book that recommended planting a piece of partly rotted wood or bark in the soil next to the plant. I can't find my SG book at the moment or I'd look it up for you. I understand these plants can be difficult to establish, so any little thing might help it along. Let us know how it goes!

  2. Thanks for the suggestion! I'll give it a try...and I'll check my Sunset Garden Book. I did use planting compost in the hole. The other day I saw the bunchberry used as a full sun ground cover in a commercial installation. I was shocked and surprised that they look quite happy in their location. Don't have any idea how long the planting has been in place.