Book Review

Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest Third Edition

Arthur Kruckeberg and Linda Chalker-Scott.
2019. University of Washington Press, Seattle, Washington.
ISBN 978-0-295-74415-5
374 pp. Softcover. $35.00

Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest Cover

Three and a half decades ago, Art Kruckeberg shared his passion for cultivating native plants in Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest. At that time good references on this topic were scarce and his book filled a gap between desire to grow natives and knowledge of how to do so. Much has changed since publication of that first edition, indeed since the second edition in 1989. Interest in growing natives has grown exponentially, starting with roadside beautification and wetland restoration and expanding into home gardens, parks and street side “hell strips.” Pollinator support has shifted awareness to hardy native plants that provide habitat as well as nectar and pollen for native insects. Water restrictions and wildfires have generated interest in drought-tolerant and fire-resistant natives.

The contents of this third edition are organized into seven chapters, preceded by an introduction. Sami Gray managed the layout of this edition, with the goal of illustrating every habitat and each species with a photo. She succeeded by enlisting 80 photographers from throughout the Pacific Northwest, including both of us. All references to wild collection of native plants have been removed; many species are now available as plants or seed from commercial sources. The introduction chapter discusses plant names, the options one encounters in plant nurseries (natives, varieties, cultivars and hybrids), and uses of native plants in gardens and landscapes. The icons used throughout the book for habitats are explained here, so don’t skip over this chapter. Chapters two and three are new to this edition and review garden ecology and science, covering basic knowledge needed by anyone growing native plants.

Chapters three through seven introduce trees, shrubs, perennial forbs, graminoids, and annuals. The nomenclature was updated to the newly published second edition of the Flora of the Pacific Northwest. The original edition described about 250 species, this number was expanded to nearly 1,000. In each section, species are grouped by type (ferns, lilies and irises, etc.) then alphabetically by genus, making them easy to locate, or sorted by height, a layout that will appeal to gardeners looking for plant solutions for specific spots. Habitat icons help the reader decide which species to try, and which to avoid based on the likeliness, or not, of delivering the proper habitat conditions in one’s home garden. Rock garden selections are featured in several sections. One native endemic shrub was mentioned, queen-of-the-forest (Filipendula occidentalis), a lovely shrub that is often overlooked in regional field guides.

Perennial forbs (wildflowers) are allotted the most space (40 pages), while trees and shrubs share about equal coverage, 24-26 pages. Much less space is devoted to grasses and grass-like plants (13 pages) and annuals (4 pages). The latter was justified by a statement in the introduction: “unlike in California and the Southwest, there are few native annuals in the Northwest, and even fewer with any exceptional garden potential.” But the light coverage of native grasses cannot be attributed to the same rationale, as the number of species offered by native plant nurseries far exceed the options mentioned in chapter six. Indeed, a major omission was a section on options for native grasses as low to no-mow turfs for replacing lawns. In the back, there is a new appendix listing plant societies and botanical gardens, along with a glossary, bibliography, index of subjects, and of common and scientific names.

There appears to be a rather heavy bias toward the west side of the Cascades, which isn’t surprising since the authors and editors are all based in western Washington. It would be good if future editions created a little more balance for east and west recommendations. For example, potential problems should be mentioned when mixing native and nonnative plants in urban gardens of arid regions. Urban landscape substrates frequently have only a few inches of “topsoil” or compost added over heavily compacted fill material, forcing plants to depend on shallow roots. To compensate for the absence of deep roots, ornamentals are watered frequently, saturating the surface soil. Native plants in arid eastern Oregon often die in these conditions, either from overwatering (lack of permeability) or from drought (lack of rooting depth). In addition, recommendations for grasses east of the Cascades are less than they could be. For example, the statement “the tallest native grass in the Pacific Northwest surely must be giant rye grass (Elymus canadensis)” leaves me puzzled. The common name for Elymus canadensis is Canada wildrye; the tallest native bunchgrass is basin wildrye (Leymus cinereus), which is highly recommended for landscaping, but not even mentioned in the book. The most common grass referred with the common name squirreltail is Elymus elymoides, not Elymus multisetus. While both are excellent species for restoration, they are not particularly good garden plants because they readily self-seed and the awns are a nuisance for dogs. The book’s roster of eastside grasses on pages 236-7 is equally misleading: Buchloa and Bouteloua are not native to eastern Oregon and Washington; Grama (presented as a genus name) is the common name for Bouteloua; the genus name Stipa (now Achnatherum for our species) is listed, despite the statement in the preface that the book follows nomenclature of the Flora of the Pacific Northwest; Poa is such a large genus that is it nearly meaningless to list Poa spp.

Despite these criticisms, we recognize that offering plant selection advice on both sides of the Cascades, from the seashore to interior montane gardens, is a formidable challenge, given the variation in growing conditions in the Pacific Northwest. Without adding another fifty pages or so of habitat and climate details, this book provides succinct and visually gorgeous information to guide readers in growing native plants in home gardens. It’s definitely worth upgrading to the new edition; it contains a wealth of recommendations.

—Kathleen Sayce, Filipendula Chapter and Cindy Roché, High Desert Chapter

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