How to Create a Northwest Native Landscape in Your Yard

Landscape designer Paul Broadhurst's tips on using plants native to the Pacific Northwest
Posted July 08, 2014
From top left, clockwise: Paul Broadhurst with Madrona trees and Roemer's fescue wildflower meadow; Roemer's fescue meadow with Western Buttercup, camassia and Indian Paintbrush; Mossy rock with sedums, polypody fern and Dog's Tooth Violet; Lone Madrona on Yellow Island spit with camassia and Western Buttercup; meadow detail with camassia Western Buttercup and Indian Paintbrush; Lichen covered rock

In our July 2014 issue, we visited a stunning Kirkland backyard that had been transformed into a natural wonderland using plant species native to the Pacific Northwest. The project's landscape designer Paul Broadhurst explains how you, too, can incorporate the special foliage into your outdoor space:

A spring trip to the flowery grasslands of Yellow Island Preserve in the San Juan Islands, a lush preserve of The Nature Conservancy (nature.org), inspired me to engage the Kirkland homeowners and their family with an endangered and very beautiful NW native landscape. This memorable experience helped to inspire subsequent design work and gave the owners’ landscape a certain ‘resonance.’

In the Kirkland home's outdoor space, a sunny, stylized meadow hosts a variety of native plants found on the island: Camassia in variety (Camassia quamash, c. leichtlinii sps. suksdorfii, alba and ‘San Juan Form’) stud the loose grassy texture of Roemer’s fescue; at its margins are Menzies’ larkspur (Delphinium menziesii), shooting star and Iris tenax; and lower are wild stonecrops (Sedum oreganum and spathulifollum).

How can a personal landscape, which is often located in an urban area with restrictive boundaries, transcend those boundaries and connect with the distinctive natural environment of a region? Using native plants is a natural and easy fit. But I’m no purist about their use. Home landscapes must perform well, so I supplement native species with well-adapted non-native grasses, such as Deschampsia caepitosa ‘Goldtau’, perennials (Daylily flava and Amsonia) and shrubs (Potentilla ‘Abottswood’). This combination can work well in the unnatural environments of our cities and suburbs.

With this in mind, try introducing a native-focused planting for that shady corner of your garden: Start with a cluster of native vine maples and a screening fan of wild huckleberries with an understory of sword ferns and Vancouveria hexandra, then add a Kirengeshoma from Japan for good measure. Taking in this native spectacle every morning before hurtling oneself into the day will create an opportunity to pause, reminding us of hikes in the woods and quietly, effectively anchoring us to our Cascadia region.


Paul's Planting Tips:

1. Pay close attention to the growing preferences of the plants you use. Do they prefer sun or shade? Dampness, or can they tolerate some dryness?

2. Remember that even drought-tolerant plants need summer watering in their first year or two.

3. Amend soils with organic material such as a medium texture ground bark. I also frequently break up compacted soils with pumice, a fine-grade volcanic gravel. Photo: Meadow detail with camassia, Western Buttercup and Indian  Paintbrush.

4. Hendrikus Organics (hendrikusorganics.com) have a great range of natural soil products, I favor its Organic Fertilizer 'Complete' and 'Humagic' soil additive.

5. Many native plants are often increasingly found in a special section devoted just to them at local nurseries. If you can’t find what you want, just ask your nurseryman or woman. Remember, the marketplace responds to customer demand!