When Yards Go Native


Yard prior to landscaping

Last month I mowed the front yard for the last time because we just went native in our front yard.  That is, we replaced our grass lawn with a diverse landscape comprised of 70 native plants.  As it grows in, it will be increasingly attractive to the eye as well as to birds and wildlife.

What prompted us to do this?  Maybe it was the ghost of my great grandfather landscape architect, Jens Jensen, whispering in my ear.  Jensen advocated tirelessly for native plants and used them extensively in his own landscapes of parks, gardens, and private yards back in the mid-1900s. He thought native plants were under-utilized and denigrated: “It is often remarked that native plants are coarse.  How humiliating to hear an American speak so of plants with which the Great Master has decorated his land!” he fumed.

In addition to my great grandfather’s influence, going native is the right thing to do.  Native plants are specifically adapted to the soils and climate of the area.  Except for the first year of establishment care, they do not require watering nor do they require fertilizers or pesticides.  A native plant landscape is a sustainable landscape.


Back yard landscape, installed 10 years ago

Yes, there is still maintenance required, including weeding, mulching and trimming, but not much else.  Since replacing the grass in our back yard with mostly native plants, we spend more time there and are motivated to take care of it.  We enjoy the birds, wildflowers, edible berries and other native plants that now occupy our yard.  At least ten new species of birds frequent our back yard since we have gone native.  As my friend, Hilary Hilscher says: “Plant them (natives) and they (birds and wildlife) will come.”



Interested in going native?  Here is a recipe:

  1. woodyloricolorCreate a thoughtful Design. If you can, hire a landscape architect who has designed native plant landscapes.  We did and are very happy with the results. Landscape architects incorporate practical with aesthetic considerations in their designs. Or, if that is not an option for you, research and plan your own design starting with the resources provided at the end of this blog.  In Jens Jensen’s words: “Every plant has a fitness and must be placed in its proper surroundings so as to bring out its full beauty.  Therein lies the art of landscaping.”
  2. p1070251Remove sod. You can do so forcibly with a shovel – a back-breaking job, or via a sod-cutting machine – available for rent or hire.  You can also place cardboard on top of the sod for several months, then remove it to dig up the sod.  We did this in our back yard, and hired a crew with sod-cutting machine for our front yard.  The crew and their machine did our entire yard in several hours, saving time and our backs.
  3. p1070254Stir in topsoil and compost. The mixing part is best done with a roto-tiller but can also be done with a shovel.  Keep ibuprofen handy if you choose the second option.
  4. p1070258Install pathways for access. Paving stones, cedar chips or gravel walkways provide access to your new landscape.  These can be done artistically with the use of attractive paving stones and winding routes.
  5. Plant the natives. More and more nurseries stock native plants.  Be certain to buy actual native species as there are similar sounding names that are not native species. Jens Jensen would be pleased/amazed by the availability of native plants today.  Planting them is the fun part.  Space them properly to ensure their long-term survival and to maximize their beauty.p1070266
  6. Mulch around the new plants to hold in moisture and nutrients while suppressing weeds.
  7. Watch your new landscape grow. You will find that a diverse, native plant landscape draws you outside more often to check for blooms, to see plants undergo seasonal changes and to watch for birds.  Please do try this at home!

Landscape Architect:  Windrose Landscape Architecture http://windroseseattle.com/

Site preparation, paving stone and plant installation: EcoYards http://www.ecoyards.com/

Native Plantings:

Creeping Oregon Grape Mahonia Repens
Red Columbine Aquilegia Formosama
Tiger Lily Lilea Columbianum
Deer Fern Blechnum Spicant
Maidenhair Fern Adiantun Alueticum
Trillium Trillium Ovatum
Blue Camas Camassia Quamash
Dwarf Redtwig Dogwood Cornus Stolonifera
Bearberry/Kinnickinnick Arctostaphylos Uva Ursi
Mock Orange Philidelphus virginalis



Audubon’s Plants for Birds program: http://www.audubon.org/plantsforbirds

Find native plants for your area: http://findnativeplants.com/

Make your yard more bird-friendly: http://awaytogarden.com/welcome-to-subirdia-by-john-marzluff/


Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest by Arthur R. Kruckeberg

Gardening for Life – An Inspirational Guide to Creating Healthy Habitat by Seattle Audubon Society

Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest by Russell Link

NOTE: There are probably equivalent guides to the last three listed above for other geographical areas