My name is Karli Del Biondo, and I live in Milwaukie, Oregon, which is part of the Willamette Valley. I am a cardiac nurse, native gardener, and blogger. (Check out her Instagram @beetles_and_bees). I have been gardening for more than twenty years and have always been a lover of the natural world. When my husband and I bought a 1960s house three years ago, I started gardening with plants native to my area. The property had several large conifers, including four Western red cedars, which are native to the Pacific Northwest. I started working to create a native understory, then slowly began adding in native perennials. My interest in native gardening came from a desire to support our local native pollinators and wildlife, which depend on native plants for survival. My native garden now contains over 100 species of plants native to the Portland and Clackamas County area, and provides habitat in a variety of ways for wildlife.
Pictured here is our native Pacific ninebark, Physocarpus capitatus (Zones 4–8), which holds four-season interest and attracts a variety of native bees. The peeling bark (hence the name ninebark) is beautiful and most visible during winter. Many of our native birds take cover here. This was actually my very first native and is now over 10 years old.
One way I am able to provide habitat is through the use of nurse logs, which play an important role in ecosystem processes, one of which is providing a place where our native cavity nesting bees (30% of our native bee population) can lay their eggs. They also look beautiful as part of the natural landscape. Many of my nurse logs have licorice ferns and perennial natives such as candyflower (Claytonia sibirica, Zones 3–7), which are often seen growing on top or inside of nurse logs.
Recently, a house in the neighborhood was “flipped,” and part of that process unfortunately included bulldozing the front yard, which had 50-year-old sword ferns (Polystichum munitum, Zones 3–8), to replace with lawn. We were able to rescue these beautiful native sword ferns (fifteen in total!) and incorporate them into our native landscape. After spending a year stunted, they have come back this year in their former glory. I like to think the elderly woman who used to live in the house where they originated would be happy if she knew they are still being lovingly cared for in a nearby garden, providing much-needed habitat for overwintering pollinators and wildlife. As an evergreen, they never grow old, they look beautiful year-round, and they love the acidic soil beneath our conifers.
Here is one of our native pollinators, a metallic sweat bee, which is a ground-nesting bee. We have provided bare soil in various places in our garden for them to nest. Often, little holes in the bare soil are visible–an indication our ground nesters have found a place to lay their eggs! We try not to walk near our bare soil sites. This one is enjoying the nectar from our native Pacific ninebark, Physocarpus capitatus, which has these beautiful white clusters of blooms in spring (it was in full bloom on Mother’s Day). We observed close to 10 native bee species this year on our Pacific ninebark alone!
For the shadier areas of our native garden, there are many beautiful natives from which to choose. Pictured here is our native oxalis (Oxalis oregana, Zones 6–9), which is mixing well with native lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina, Zones 4–8).
Native bumblebee on common snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus, Zones 3–7). Our queen bumblebees need overwintering sites like brush piles in the garden, as well as early-blooming natives like this one, to support them nutritionally once they emerge from hibernation in late winter or early spring. If there’s a place in your garden where you can leave a brush pile, our overwintering pollinators and other wildlife will find it beneficial.
Here is our beautiful native red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea, Zones 3–7) which is a delight no matter what the season, and probably one of my favorites. This one is almost 15 years old (we brought it with us when we moved). I love it so much that I have planted several more on our property! Spectacular fall color gives way to stunning red twigs over winter, then beautiful green leaves emerge in spring, followed shortly by clusters of white flowers and white berries, which our native birds love to eat. This one is easy to propagate by hardwood cuttings or by seed, which I often do for friends and neighbors.
Native Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium, Zones 5–8), our state flower, is an evergreen with bright yellow flowers emerging in late February or early March. The “grapes” are somewhat bitter when eaten raw, but you can make lovely Oregon grape jelly, tincture, or infused simple syrup to mix with tonic water on a hot summer day. Native birds such as towhees, robins, sparrows, and waxwings love the berries. This plant is lovely year-round and is beneficial to wildlife and pollinators.
Native gardening has been rewarding on so many levels for me, including giving me a chance to connect daily with nature in my own yard. With its native plants, our yard is now attractive to many species that I was unable to observe when I was focused on exotics and other nonnatives. Our native species evolved in unique ways to support local ecosystems. Most native bees are specialists, requiring certain plants, or even one plant, to survive. Many natives serve as host plants for specific butterfly species, such as the monarch butterfly, for which common milkweed is a host. What we plant in our gardens matters, and yard by yard, we can help restore some of the habitat that was lost when neighborhoods and cities were built.
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