Wednesday, July 16, 2008


With all the eagle activity lately I have been remiss in addressing gardening interests, so today is the day I hope to at least partially make up for that.

Recently I assisted a friend with choosing plants for a local shopping center’s green areas. That was both fun and interesting, knowing that whichever plants we selected needed to be tough in order to survive shoppers sometimes even stepping on the poor, defenseless plants. In addition to tough, they needed to be attractive. Fortunately, there are plenty of plants to choose from that will do well west of the Cascades, in our temperate USDA Zone 7-9/Sunset Zone 4-5.

(USDA Zone map:
Sunset Garden Climate Zones :,20633,845218,00.html)

When selecting plants, it can’t be said enough…choose the right plant for the right place. There is even an excellent book published with that name (Right Plant, Right Place, by Nicola Ferguson:

So what are some of the factors you should consider before you ever even BUY that plant?

Climate Zone. Know the climate zone in which you live and buy plants on ‘worst case’ scenarios. Get plants that are at least hardy enough for the coldest and warmest your plants will grow in.

Direction, i.e., sun or shade. Where will the new addition to your yard live? North side of a building will be cooler, not as much sun throughout the year; south side can bake so be sure the plants can take the heat. East side gets that morning sun, which is cooler than the west side’s hot afternoon sun.

Drainage. Clay and hardpan are the norm around here. Though you may have these conditions, you can improve them by adding compost. You don’t need to turn it into the soil, just apply a nice thick layer on top of the garden beds each year if you can. How thick? At the minimum add 1 inch, 3 inches is better, and 6 inches is even better if you have clay or hardpan.

Extent, i.e., how much will the plant grow? What will its mature height and width be? Just like people, the DNA in plants directs them to grow to a certain size in suitable cultural conditions. If you have a spot where the mature plant needs to be less than 6 feet tall, then you will lose the battle with a plant that is ‘coded’ to be 8 feet. Go smaller rather than bigger in these cases, as many times I’ve found that the plants surpass the ‘maximum’ height/width listed on the plant tag.

Go native. Choose plants that are indigenous to the local area since they are well-suited for the climate conditions. More and more nurseries are carrying native plants in their inventory now. If you live in the ‘south end’ of King County, one of the places you can find a good selection of native plants is the Lake Wilderness Arboretum nursery in Maple Valley. Their knowledgeable folks can answer all of your questions every Saturday thru the summer, and help you make the best plant choices.

And now, the current (so hard to narrow it down, plus it changes) list…here are some of my favorite plants for this area. (Disclaimer: pictures are from my yard so some of the plants have recently been planted and don't represent full-sized plants!)


Ceanothus (various) (above)

Mahonia (various)
Pieris japonica
Potentilla fruticosa

Ajuga ‘chocolate chip’ (slow-growing and well-behaved)
Gaultheria ovatifolia
Rubus calycinoides
(now pentalobus)


Acer griseum

Ginkho biloba (above)
Stewartia pseudocamellia

Chamaecyparis (various, but really like C. obtuse ‘Lemon Twist’ and ‘Nana Gracilus’)
Viburnum rhytidophyllum (leather-leaf viburnum; catagorized as shrub as well) (below)

I have lots of other favorites…perennials, annuals, etc, so that will be another posting at another time!

If you’re looking for what to choose for plants, check out the information on plants rigorously, meticulously, carefully, selected by horticultural and design experts in at:

Now it's 'share time'...what are your favorite plants?



  1. Your Rhododendron metternichii is most likely a Vibrunum.

    John Perkins

  2. Thanks very much for catching that, and letting me know so I could correct the name to match the picure!


  3. Aerie-el:
    What a great blog..... your photography skills are amazing! Thought I would add a few of my favourites:
    Aconitum uncinatum - trailing form
    Corydalis elata (signature plant)
    Thalictrum diffusiflorum
    Clematis tubulosa 'Wyevale'
    Disporum cantionense 'Night Heron'
    .... its so hard to choose, but without a doubt favourite shrub or small tree is Disanthus cercidifolius (only waited three years to find it at the nursery where I work)


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