An All-Native-Plants Yard

Shops like SymbiOp are empowering gardeners to plant responsibly to feed the local ecosystem.

Gardening - SymbiOp (Michael Raines)

Native plants are having a much-needed moment. There’s a hunger to restore what once covered our beautiful city, with the wait time on certain trilliums lasting months and other shade-loving greenery flying off the flats. For those unsure of where to begin with planting natives, there’s loads of information out there, plus local organizations like the Backyard Habitat Certification Program run by Columbia Land Trust and Bird Alliance of Oregon (formerly Portland Audubon) that offer clear steps and resources on how to design or revive a natural habitat. There are also these incredible nurseries that are here to empower you to help restore the ecosystem that surrounds us. ROBIN BACIOR.

SymbiOp Garden Shop

3454 SE Powell Blvd., 503-893-8427, 10 am–6 pm daily.

The collective behind SymbiOp aren’t just the co-owners of this garden shop and landscaping business, nor are they mere employees. They are unwavering advocates for a regenerative ecology paradigm, which means that the plants and products they sell and the garden and landscape design they do is meant to not only make customers happy but also help serve the greater ecosystem of the region.

Talk to Wren Harris about, say, planting a nice pollinator and Harris will explain that by bringing bees into your yard, they could then feed a spider, which could feed a sparrow, which could then feed a hawk, and so on. Or ask for a recommendation of the best veggies for a novice gardener to plant (leafy greens and herbs) and Casey Nakamura will use that as a springboard to discuss the need for more farmers markets and making sure that good organic food is accessible to all.

In other words, SymbiOp aims to help its customers understand the important role they play in supporting the eco-health of this region and this planet. You may walk in simply looking for a sword fern but you could walk away, as I did, feeling empowered and inspired. Just be careful that you don’t grab one of the ferns some juncos have been nesting in.

It’s also easy to pick up on the joy that each person at SymbiOp has in the work they do. They will proudly let you know that SymbiOp is the one of the biggest (if not the biggest) retailers for native plants in the Portland metro area, and they visibly enjoy doing even the little jobs of rearranging the succulents or watering. And most important, they thrill at being able to support someone’s evolution from a novice gardener into an expert green thumb.

“What’s really important in the process is never losing your sense of wonder,” says Rachel Tanzer, a SymbiOp worker/owner who specializes in landscape design. “It’s a relationship that takes time, and you will make mistakes and something you plant may not make it. But if you keep at it, it will be worth it.” ROBERT HAM.

Bosky Dell Natives

23311 SW Bosky Dell Ln., West Linn, 503-638-5945, 9 am–5 pm daily.

“Do you wanna go see some frogs?” asks Lory Duralia, owner of Bosky Dell Natives in West Linn.

It may be a bit of a trek to get there, but it’s worth it to see this nursery nestled into trees along Fields Creek. The magic will kick in the second you step on the property, but to really get it, you’ve got to talk to Duralia, who’s spent the past three decades turning the three acres of property into a kind of native-plant sanctuary. “I think there was a lilac or two when I first got it,” Duralia says with a laugh.

Thirty years ago, Duralia was a young single mom and saw a sign on a tree stump noting the property was for sale. She left her number under the sign, pleaded that her dream was to create an all-native nursery, and got the land. In the early years, she ran a daycare and saved extra dollars to buy seedpods. She slowly grew plants, salvaging understory growth from lumber sites on the coast, and spent summers gathering volunteers to help her hand-pull invasive species along a mile-long stretch of the creek, all the way to the Tualatin River. “I really did it by taking a 10-by-10 space, taking a deep breath, and then plunging into the next one,” she says.

On a walk through Bosky Dell today, you’ll find a sea of potted ferns just waking up, violas being grown for the Oregon Zoo, and trilliums, bleeding heart and oxalis clover lining the paths. Take a look in the ponds filled with red-legged frogs or peek in Fields Creek to check for 9-inch cutthroat trout, or whether the screech owls have returned to the structures Duralia made from all-salvaged materials. She’ll also give you a free design consultation if you bring a photo of your garden and walk you around the property for ideas. But you won’t be in any hurry to get home. Schedule a few hours to hang around this paradise. RB.

Sauvie Island Natives

14745 NW Gillihan Rd., 503-380-6807, Visits by appointment only.

You’re not going to stumble upon this Sauvie Island secret. There’s no sign and no walk-ins—just a narrow road that leads you back to the modest triangle of yard space holding an abundance of native plants like baby white oaks, gooseberries, some mad-dog skullcap, or a little yellow monkey flower. The nursery is the retirement project of Jane Hartline, the former marketing manager of the Oregon Zoo. “I always call it a retirement project gone wild,” Hartline says as we sip ginger-turmeric tea under a canopy of trees.

Hartline moved to Sauvie Island nearly four decades ago and fell in love with restoration gardening, lifting swaths of blackberries to reveal wild ginger and helping native grasses return. She ran a sheep farm for some years, and it wasn’t until the pandemic that Sauvie Island Natives really launched as a place to interact in a safe distance outdoors. The nursery itself butts up against Hartline’s home, and behind the nursery are trails Hartline and her husband have carved out for visitors to take their dogs or just wander around, admiring the bug hotel they’ve built or all the native plants just waking to spring. “They just do things on their own that amaze you,” Hartline says.

To clarify, Sauvie Island Natives carries statewide natives, those coming from east of the Cascades and along the coast. (If you’re working on Backyard Habitat Certification, the plants are clearly marked with tags noting what’s on the Portland Plant List.)

Again, you’ve got to schedule an appointment to visit, but the upside is the amount of attention and care you get when you’re there. Also, for the month of May, if you mention the Bird Alliance of Oregon (formerly Portland Audubon) while you’re checking out, 25 percent of your purchase’s cost will be donated to the organization. You gotta be in the know for this place—and now you are. RB.

See more of Willamette Week’s 2024 Garden Guide here!

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