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The 10 Best Plants for Your Pacific Northwest Garden

Updated on March 24, 2014

The 10 Best Plants for Your Pacific Northwest Garden

When we bought our first home, almost 25 years ago, the only thing I knew was that plants were green. Turns out that was wrong too! After a quarter century of gardening in the Pacific Northwest, I have learned a lot about the process and satisfaction that comes from building a garden. Because of our mild and moist climate, we are fortunate to be able to grow a very wide variety of plants. SInce mild and moist sometimes becomes cold and wet or even frigid and frozen, some plants are borderline. Therefore many of us suffer from zonal aspiration - that's OK! For those who are just starting out, or for those who just want to share some ideas about creating a beautiful garden, I dedicate this lens. The plants featured here deserve a home in most Pacific Northwest gardens.

It's Spring - Time to Do a Dance

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The crocuses are blooming

The heather's aflame

The trees will need pruning

It's Springtime again!

My Current Favourite Rhododendron - Blaney's Blue

Blaney's Blue Rhododendron
Blaney's Blue Rhododendron

This rhodo found it's home a couple of years ago when I built a narrow bed at the side of our house. Finding the right spot for plants can take time, but this has turned out to be the right spot for some azaleas and this particular small-leafed rhododendron. The colour can only be described as an electric blue. Last week I underplanted it with some marigolds because I wanted a hot orange to contrast with the blue. This colour was completely missed by my camera which washed it out to a pale purple so I adjusted the colour to get back closer to the true hue. I may need to buy several more!

How to Get Rid of Bay Leaf Suckers Organically

We have a small bay leaf laurel in our equally small herb garden. For a number of years, it has been plagued by small winged insects that would cause the leaves to thicken and curl. We would find a bluish sticky substance being deposited on the leaf below an infested leaf. It was unsightly and my dear wife threatened to banish the plant from its prominent place right beside our back porch. She who must be obeyed, would go in and hack away the damaged leaves, but the little bug(gers) would return on mass. With its very existence in peril and being rather fond of the Bay Leaves fro cooking, I took some of the infested leaves to our local GardenWorks gardening store and presented them to the pest "expert" who declared an infestation of aphids and suggested insecticdal soap. I duly applied that last year adn this spring, i went as far as being a bag of lady bugs, knowing that aphids are their favourite meal. I released them on the bay tree and in a couple of hours soon it was festooned with 1500 bright red and black beetles, diligently seeking out their next meal. The next day, I could count around 50 and within four days they had left for parts unknown. In the meanwhile, I had done some research ans lo and behold, they weren't aphids at all but a nasty litlle critter called the "Bay Leaf Sucker"! Well that certainly made sense andf rom the photos I found on the 'net and the descriptions I read, there was no doubt about who our unwanted freeloaders were.

I also read that a mixture of liquid castille soap, olive oil and water could be an effective Bay Leaf Sucker killer. I just so happened to have some of Dr. Bronner's fabulous peppermint castille soap and organic olive oil. I mixed together a dollop of both in a spray bottle and went to war. Every day, I search out the little suckers and spray the "sh*t" out of them. They die. I also nip out any infested leaves and dispose of them. At this point, I have become a Bay Leaf Sucker's worst nightmare. Our Bay Leaf tree looks 100% better, and I have a new sport - Organic Bay Leaf Sucker Hunting. If you have a similar problem, save yourself the money of buying expensive insecticidal soap and make your own concoction. It's cheaper and way more satisfying. My apologies to any members of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Against Bay Leaf Suckers, (SPOCABLES). I won't be coming to any of your garden parties in the near future!

Great Plant Combination - For your patio

heuchera, hostas
heuchera, hostas

Once in a while, you get it right and put together a plant combination that just knocks your socks off. This is one. Hosta varieties "Blue Angel" and 'June' and heuchera 'Southern Comfort'. Works for me!

Great Plant Combination II

Brunnera macrophylla, Jack Frost, Siberian Bugloss
Brunnera macrophylla, Jack Frost, Siberian Bugloss

Here's what's happening in my garden right now - April 2012. Brunnera Macrophylla, Jack Frost is one of the greatest plants around with its twinkling bright blue flowers and gorgeous variegated leaves, These delicate pink rhodos have been in this bed for many years and this is the first really nice display of blossoms we've had. With the Jack Frost underplanted it's spectacular. Brunnera is also known by the incongruously unnattractive name of Siberian Bugloss.

Great Gardening Books for Pacific Northwest Gardeners

Every gardener needs inspiration and these books will provide it!

Before - A view of our back yard when we bought our house in 1996

Not a pretty sight!
Not a pretty sight!

I recently came across this photo. This is one of those cases of buying the worst house on the street and it was ugly!

After: Same View Today

A more inviting space
A more inviting space

After a lot of work and enjoyment, here is the same view today.

The Patio Project - Creating an outdoor room

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A few years ago, I created a partial paving stone patio, which can be seen in this photo. By my calculations it involved moving 11,000 pounds of material in a yard, with an 8 foot vertical drop. How to get all of the sand and gravel for the base from the parking pad which was at the higher elevation to the patio area was the problem. I solved it by getting two concrete tube forms (the one used to make concrete columns) and taping them together with duct tape. I then placed one end up top creating a tube into which I could shovel the first the gravel and then the sand). The material slid down the tube into a wheelbarrow. It worked but it was nonetheless a back-breaking job. The patio I made had sweeping curved edges and looked pretty good, but it was not big enough to be truly useful. When we decide to expand the patio to include the remaining section of yard which was still grass, I hired some experts. What would have taken me three months took them a couple of days! Anyway, the results were excellent and we have had a beautiful and practical patio since then.

The Patio Project - After

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It was definitely worth doing. Instead of having a patch of grass, that needed constant mowing and weeding, we now have a beautiful patio for entertaining and summer enjoyment. The addition of numerous pots with hostas and annuals adds a lush beauty to the area.

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Heuchera "Southern Comfort" - My favourite heuchera

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This is a relatively new variety and it is a great performer. It grows vigorously and puts out an amazing variety of colour as the leaves age. They start out a salmon pink, with a purplish pink underleaf. Over time they turn, first a caramel colour and then a greenish yellow. All of these colours co-exist. In the Pacific Northwest it likes to be in a container and is a great foil for hostas.

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Clematis

Beauty or Beast?

I was given this beautiful pink clematis by a friend and planted it near the fence on the east side of the yard. I have always admired the exuberant abundance of clematis. It survived and thrived in that spot - a little too much! Within two years it was a monster plant that was grasping onto every nearby plant, climbing over the fence and onto the roof of the neighbours carport. It was out of control! I pared it back for a couple of years but it would only come back hardier the next. It is beautiful in May, with masses of pink flowers cascading along the eastern border of out property. But it was too vigorous and was overtaking the smoke bush and a nearby rhododendron, so I choose a drastic measure. I cut it back to the ground. Guess what? It's back! I think I can keep it under control by doing the same every year - cutting it back to the ground. Anyway, I still like the flowers - if it could only learn to contain itself.

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Finding a Good Spot for Ligularia

In our garden, I had planted the Ligularia Stenocephela "The Rocket" under our Tai Haku cherry tree. This is a great plant with deeply notched leaves and in the summer, tall spikes of yellow flowers on a black stem. It looks like a rocket climbing into the sky. It did not thrive under the cherry tree - not enough sun and the slugs ate it as fast as it came out of the ground. I then moved it to a very open spot which got pretty much full sun all day. There it wilted under the heat and likewise was not happy. Finally I moved it into a north facing bed that gets early morning sun. That was the ticket! It has thrived there and is now healthy, despite the aphids which love it. From time to time I need to spray the flower stems with a hose to knock off the aphids which will gather there in profusion. It did so well there that I also planted the spectacular Ligularia Dentata right beside it. They now anchor the best bed in my garden!

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Ligularia Dentata

I bought this plant because of the gorgeous, large, glossy, purple leaves which gives it the moniker 'Elephant Ears'. I planted it beside the Ligularia Stenocephala "The Rocket" since I that variety was thriving in the northeast facing bed. It gets the cool morning sun for a couple of hours and baths luxuriantly in the shade the rest of the day. It grew like Topsy and was a very key component to that bed. Imagine my surprise when tall stalks emerged from the lustrous growth and spectacular clusters of bright yellow, daisy-like flowers burst forth in mid-summer. It seemed like this plant wasn't content to just deliver great form, colour and structure - it produced amazing flowers as well. A must for any garden.

Magnolia - Leonard Messel with Ompholodes Verna in the background
Magnolia - Leonard Messel with Ompholodes Verna in the background

Spring

Spring is working its magic once again. The omphalodes verna twinkles it's starry blue blue flowers underneath the delicate pink of the magnolia - Leonard Messel. White primulas have been out for 3 weeks, white aubretias are blooming, and the hellebores have been in bloom for several weeks as well. Pink traces on the flowering current are starting to show and the ligularia have started to grow in the north-facing bed. It's an exciting time for our gardens, as a parade of foliage and flowers is about to present us with another Spring pageant.

#1 - Hostas

Hostas are a group of perennials that should be included in every garden. On our patio, we have a group in pots and they set the tone for our entire backyard. They are lush, exotic, incredibly varied and very hardy. Right now it's spring in the northwest and the hostas are poking through the dirt. Some are already unfurled and presenting us with that incredibly vibrant, fresh spring green. In addition to having beautiful leaf form, variety and colour, hostas put up beautiful flowers ranging from light purple to white, some of which are very fragrant. We often get hummingbirds visiting our hostas in mid summer.

The only knock against hostas, well maybe two knocks. They are kind of expensive, typically running $25.00 and up at our local garden shops. Secondly, they die back in the fall and turn to mush. Countering those two slight drawbacks are the fact that they are easy to divide and swap with your neighbours and cleaning them up in the fall is dead easy.

Speaking of two knocks -

"Knock knock"

"Who's there?"

"Hosta"

"Hosta Who?"

"Hosta la Vista" Bye bye.

#2 - Rhododendron

In the Pacific Northwest we are blessed by an ideal climate for Rhodos and their close cousins - azaleas. What's not to like? Beautiful and abundant flowers, incredible varieties and an exotic, tropical appearance. Rhodos are a must for every garden where they can thrive.

#3 - Azalea

For anyone whoever gets to Vancouver a spring visit to the Van Dusen Botanical Garden and a walk through the rhododendron and azalea display can be a psychedilic experience without the drugs. In fact there is one secret passageway through the deciduos azaleas with an understory of bluebells that is on eof the all-time great garden experiences. It is a kaliedescope of pastel pinks, oranges, yellows, blushing whites and blue that surrounds and envelopes you accompanied by a honey scent that will transport you to places you haven't been since the late '60's,

#4 - Ceonothus

So here's the thing about the ceonothus, it comes from the chaparrals of California so the Pacific Northwest can be a little too cold. But it is probably my favourite plant. It has masses of lilac blue flowers redolent of honey. Grow one by you back door so that when you step outside in June, you'll get a waft of sweet, perfumed honey and hear the buzzing of the bees. It has small glossy, dark green leaves and grows rather quickly. I had one underneath the the roof overhang right up against a south facing wall and it thrived for about 10 years. We even planned our back porch around this plant. Then it died. That was a bummer! Fortunately I had a backup growing along the fence and it was doing quite well until this last winter which was definitely not California! It's looking a bit dodgy right now. However if it dies I will buy another. My garden is not complete without a ceonothus. Oh yeah - if you have a phobia about bees, do not get a ceonothus -bees love it!

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#5 Rosemary

One of the critieria for a plant to be on this list is this - if it died would I replace it right away? If the answer is yes, it gets on the list. So rosemary fits that criteria because in the Pacific Northwest, we really shouldn't grow rosemary since it is more suited to a Mediterranean climate. However, we have zonal aspirations here and if you're lucky like I was you might get a decade out of your rosemary before it gets wiped out by a particlarly nasty winter like this last one. Sadly, the -17 temperatures and the month of sub-zero weather this year did mine in. It really is a great plant and I can't resist rubbing the spiky leaves with my hands to get that fresh, piney scent every time I walk by. I'll be looking for a new one next trip to the garden shop. However, make sure you put it in a sunny southfacing spot, preferably up against your house or a fence to capture the heat.

#6 - Skimmia

Every garden has that tough spot - deep shade, not enough water,maybe because you have a dense overhanging shrub or tree. In my garden it's the bed with an eight foot high retaining wall on the south side of our patio. There are three large shrub/trees (they used to be shrubs 50 years ago). In the western end of that bed there was a spot that was plant graveyard - no sun, poor water, deep shade. In my quest to find a plant for that spot I came across the skimmia. I planted three - two males and a female. You need both sexes if you want the red berries. They thrived there, in fact there growth is so vigorous that I need to cut them back twice a year.

What's so good about the skimmia? It has attractive, glossy leaves, it is evergreen, it produces beautiful red berries after a delicate display of small white flowers. Best of all, it's the one plant that you can put into the worst spot in your garden and it will thrive.

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#7 Pierus Japonica

This plant does everything. It is evergreen. The new foliage comes out with a vibrant flower-like colour, it has clusters of delicate bell-shaped flowers and it comes in many varieties, One of the spring highlights in our garden is the display of the three varieties of pierus japonica. The leaves are a bright intense pink or red when new and slowly fade into a solid or sometimes variegated green. It is slow growing and easy to train into a standard. No question this is one of the top plants for your garden.

#8 Tulips

Every garden should have a spring display of tulips. These Orange Emperor tulips reside underneath a Japanese Maple. Although their display is brief, a mass of brightly coloured tulips herald the arrival of Spring and better things to come. Tulips must be done en masse. There is nothing so lonely as one or two forlorn tulips plopped into a bed. You needs ranks of them, they should be planted in multiples of 20 or more.

Van Dusen Botanical Gardens

A Must-See in Vancouver

If you're a gardener, or just love a beautiful garden, the Van Dusen Garden is a magnificent destination. Created when the Shaugnessey Golf Course was moved, it opened to the public on August 30th, 1975. This spectacular 22-hectare (55-acre) garden in the heart of Vancouver has matured into a botanical garden of international stature since opening to the public in 1975. The mild Vancouver climate allows the cultivation of an outstanding plant collection which is a delight any time of the year. VanDusen boasts over 255,000 plants representing more than 7,300 taxa from around the world. Their plant collections represent ecosystems that range from tropical South Africa, to the Himalayas, to the Canadian Arctic, as well as plants native to our own Pacific Northwest.

VanDusen Botanical Garden is located at 5251 Oak Street at West 37th Avenue (north west corner).

#9 Choisya

This plant would be a welcome addition to any garden in areas with a mild winter. It is evergreen and in the spring puts out attractive clusters of fragrant white flowers. The variety I prefer is a golden colour known as Choisya Ternata Sundance. The common name is Mexican Mock Orange. It needs to be protected from extreme weather, and in the winter of 2008/09 I lost a beauty in my back yard. Fortunately a smaller specimen in the front yard survived. One of my favourite colour schemes in the garden is a golden yellow or chartreuse-leafed plant, combined with a dark purple or maroon leaf and a dusky blue. An example would be the Choisya Ternata Sundance with a purple smoke bush and an unusual rhododendron I have with a dusky-blue-green leaf.

#10 Japanese Maple

In all it's varieties, the Acer Palmatum deserves a spot or two in any northwest garden. Graceful, slow growing and available in a dazzling variety, it should be a focal point in your landscape. Trees grow fast and they grow big in the north west so this is an ideal choice since it doesn't get to be a 75 foot tree.

Gardening Links - Cool Links for Gardeners

A list of public gardens, shops, websites and whatever else strikes my fancy. Oh yeah my websites!

Cool Stuff to Buy

Here you will find things to buy that may please the most discerning. Maybe not.

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    • Prentice Lee profile image
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      Prentice Lee 3 years ago from BC

      @paulahite: Thanks for the recognition!

    • paulahite profile image

      Paula Hite 3 years ago from Virginia

      Beautiful lens and photos! I shared it on our G+ page today!

      https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/10593843672309975630...

    • profile image

      liny-tan 4 years ago

      love each and every flower you've got in your garden...very lovely!

    • profile image

      liny-tan 4 years ago

      love each and every flower you've got in your garden...very lovely!

    • LauraHofman profile image

      Laura Hofman 4 years ago from Naperville, IL

      You have a lovely garden! Thanks for sharing. Beautiful photos!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Great site my friend, you're full of surprises!

      Speaking of two knocks:

      Knock knock!

      Who's there?

      Hosta.

      Hosta who?

      Hosta la vista baby!

    • heidi lm profile image

      heidi lm 4 years ago

      Love the little Jack Frost flowers; the blue is gorgeous against the greenery and other colors.

    • Isabellas-cabin profile image

      Isabellas-cabin 4 years ago

      Very beautiful yard!

    • northcoastpubli profile image

      northcoastpubli 5 years ago

      "High Five" I love your yard transformations!

    • kindoak profile image

      kindoak 5 years ago

      Excellent - the before and after photos of your garden are great. Just goes to show that you can always create a nice environment with a plan.

    • Kathryn Beach profile image

      Kathryn Wallace 5 years ago from Greenbank, WA, USA

      Thanks for the tips! I'm new to a (coastal) Pacific Northwest garden, so all this great info is duly noted!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I very lovely garden plants lens. Blessings!

    • profile image

      floatingsquid 6 years ago

      Really nice lens. I am really fond of tulips and rosemary and what a lens on it. Enjoyed reading it.

    • profile image

      AigulErali 6 years ago

      Really nice lens. Rosemary is one of my personal favorites!

    • profile image

      AzotaPhotography 6 years ago

      Great lens. I'm always looking for ideas for my garden here in the NW.

    • profile image

      karitina 6 years ago

      these plants, remember me my own city, near the beach, beautiful, healthy, bright as life itself, thank you!!!!!!!!!!

    • chezchazz profile image

      Chazz 6 years ago from New York

      Great lens! Blessings from the Perennial Gardening Neighborhood Squid Angel. Your lens is featured on "Wing-ing it on Squidoo" - our tribute to bless-worthy lenses. (You can see it at http://www.squidoo.com/lenses-blessed-by-this-squi...

    • eccles1 profile image

      eccles1 7 years ago

      what a beautiful yard !