On the Cusp

Early spring native shrub garden

Our front yard native shrub and perennial garden doesn’t look like much this week. The shrubs are just starting to leaf out, we haven’t cut back all of last year’s penstemon stems, and there are weeds everywhere. That’s pretty much the nature of gardens in early spring. We gardeners know what’s coming and get out in the sunshine to clean up the mess so we can enjoy the blooms that will soon start appearing.

We began this part of our garden in earnest in 2017 when we had a big truckload of soil delivered. We spread it out to a depth of one or two feet to improve the drainage. Who would have thought that a gentle slope would be waterlogged most of the winter and into the spring?

In the photo above you can see some of the native shrubs we’ve planted — red-flowering, golden, swamp, and prickly currants; serviceberry; Douglas’s hawthorn; red-twig dogwood; birchleaf spiraea; and ninebark. Native perennials fill in the gaps.

Early spring native shrub & perennial garden

Among the perennials are two species of penstemon, Cascades penstemon (native mostly west of the Cascades) and broad-leaved penstemon (native in scattered counties in the northwest). The green shoots at the base of last year’s penstemon stems are great camas.

Since we’re gardening a large property we tend to plant in large swaths for mass effect. It’s a good strategy for us since we have lots of space and we can propagate some of the material we plant. The camas started as a single clump a few years ago. We dug it up last summer after the foliage died down (just like you’d do with daffodils that need dividing) and replanted them in several new places.

While we don’t garden exclusively with northwest natives, we’re moving more in that direction. They’re beautiful and adapted to our climate. Over time they should require less work, less water, and less fertilizer than many common garden flowers from other parts of the world.

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