Elisabeth C. Miller Library

Gardening Answers Knowledgebase

Knowledgebase record #229

Real Gardens Grow Natives by Eileen Stark, 2014

Reviewed by: Brian Thompson
Review date: 2015-04-01

Real Gardens Grow Natives cover

Eileen Stark has a mission: to convince other gardeners of the Pacific Northwest to embrace the native plant palette in designing and planning our gardens. In this pursuit, she is not alone, but “Real Gardens Grow Natives” is one of the most thorough efforts to review the benefits of native plants, combined with basic garden techniques and design principles (she is a landscape designer in Portland).

Stark is a realist, knowing that “…naturalistic, ‘real’ gardens aren’t created overnight, and what will work best for your site may not be apparent right away.” She discusses in great detail the ecology and habitat of native plants and the animals they support. While size does matter—“…many wild species have space requirements beyond our wildest dreams…”—she still encourages us to see our gardens, however small, as part of a larger system.

The last half of the book is an encyclopedia of recommended plants, divided by sunlight requirements. Within these categories, the author has organized her list alphabetically, so that a grand fir (Abies grandis) is only two entries before the wee nodding onion (Allium cernuum). While I found this odd at first, it forces you to consider the full range of scale for your garden, and to put nearly as much thought into your groundcovers as the trees and shrubs.

Each entry has the usual cultural requirements of any garden encyclopedia, but here you will also find the environmental benefits of each, especially to wildlife, and other typically associated natives. There is also a handy list of traditional garden plants that these natives could replace, while still providing your desired ornamental impact.

Excerpted from the Spring 2015 Arboretum Bulletin.

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