Friday, April 1, 2011

Creating a NW Native Landscape: Part One - Intro

Almost exactly three years ago, my wife and I bought a duplex in SE Portland.  It's a very basic, mid-60s ranch style building, and when we bought it, it was in need of a little TLC.  Part of the problem was the landscaping, or lack thereof.  It really had very little at all, apart from a few overgrown bushes pushed right up against the building.  The rest of the yard was weed-filled lawn.

Over the following three years, we completely re-landscaped the property, using almost exclusively native plants.  And while there's always room for improvements and additions (is a true gardener's landscape ever complete?) we're very happy with the results.  This is the first post in a series, where I'll tell you all about our experience with that project, from planning, to planting, to pruning.  I'll give some tips on how to plan your native landscaping, how to select the right native plants, how to prepare your site, as well as how to plant and maintain your new native landscape.

I do have some experience with re-landscaping a yard, because I did it once before at our previous SE Portland house.  Results there were beautiful, but I learned some valuable lessons along the way.  And since I wasn't using native plants, a lot of what I did plant just didn't look like Oregon plants.  It was like the yard could have been located in any part of the country.  No part of it said, "This is an Oregon yard."

This go-round, I wanted to tie the building to the natural environment, with a landscape that just looked like it was supposed to be there.  (Because this is a rental property, I also wanted the landscaping to be fairly self-sufficient in the summer - not requiring a lot of extra water.)

As I started looking into native landscaping - also called naturescaping - I realized there are lots of other reasons to plant natives. Such as:
  • Pest and disease resistance - native plants evolved in our regional environment, therefore they're more resistant to local pests and diseases
  • Low fertilizer/pesticide usage - because of the above
  • Low water usage - non-riparian native plants are accustomed to our dry summer weather, and require little, if any extra water, once established
  • Saving money - because of the three items above, you can save money with natives!
  • Health benefits - fewer fertilizers and pesticides mean healthier people, animals, and rivers 
  • Reducing pollution - if you replace lawn with native plantings, you reduce the use of those noisy and polluting mowers - also, less lawn = less herbicide usage = healthier rivers
  • Wildlife benefits - native plants provide food, shelter and habitat for native animals (especially song birds and native pollinators) that struggle to survive in urban environments
Creating a naturescape is a rewarding experience for all these reasons and more.  Even though the fun of actually doing the landscaping work may be debatable, the results are definitely worth the effort. 

The next post in this series will discuss planning your naturescape.  Until then, here are a few pictures of the yard before any work was done...

overgrown bushes and weed-filled lawn
more of the same
struggling roses and more "lawn"
not much to look at, for humans OR wildlife
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