Best natives for Northwestern gardens

Jim McCausland

Native plants are wise additions to Northwest gardens. The eight examples listed here are naturally suited to the climate; all bear showy blooms or lush and lovely foliage. And when water is scarce, many kinds can survive on little more than rainfall. Just give them what they need― the right exposure, and well-drained soil― and they'll thrive. If you start with nursery-raised plants, remember that even drought- tolerant natives need to be watered during the dry season for a year or two until they're established.

(Lewisia cotyledon) 1 foot tall, 10 inches wide. Clusters of white or pink flowers often striped rose or red. Plant where drainage is perfect (as in a rockery or wall); little or no extra water. Climate zones 1-7, 17.

Two evergreen species spread by underground stems; both have early-spring flowers followed by berries loved by birds. M. aquifolium grows 6 feet tall. Zones 2-7, 17. M. nervosa grows 2 feet tall. Shade; little or no extra water. Zones 2b-7, 17.

Pacific Coast iris
(Iris douglasiana and others). 1 to 2 feet tall. Many hybrids with spring-blooming flowers in various colors, including blue, copper, pink, and white. Partial shade (sun on coast); little to moderate water. Zones 4-7, 17.

Redtwig dogwood
(Cornus stolonifera) Deciduous shrub; 7 to 9 feet tall, 12 feet wide. Red fall foliage and winter stems. Spreads by creeping underground stems. Partial shade; regular water. Zones A1-A3; 1-7, 17.

Vine maple
(Acer circinatum) 5 to 35 feet tall. One or multiple trunks; leaves start turning red tinged with orange or yellow as early as midsummer. Partial shade (can take full sun with regular water). Zones A3; 2b-6, 17.

Western azalea
(Rhododendron occidentale) 6 to 10 feet tall. In late spring, the plant is covered with fragrant white or pinkish white flowers with yellow blotch. Moderate water helps bloom, but sparing summer water is fine. Zones 4-7, 17.

Western columbine
(Aquilegia formosa) Perennial; 1 1/2 to 3 feet tall, 1 1/2 feet wide. 2-inch red and yellow flowers. Seeds relished by many small songbirds. Partial shade; regular water. Zones A1-A3; 1-7, 17.

Western sword fern
(Polystichum munitum) 2 to 4 feet tall. Classic mounds of sword-shaped, dark green fronds. Partial to full shade; little water. Zones A3; 2-7, 17.

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