By Sarah Bronstein, Casey Colley, Kathleen Dennis, and Xia Lu
Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture (OCCUH) is a learning laboratory for sustainable horticultural practices in both rural and peri-urban landscapes. Its 6.5 acres on the SW corner of campus house formal and informal OSU research, riparian restoration, a student CSA program, as well as just plain fun.
This past summer, OCCUH invited OSU Extension Master Gardener (MG) trainees to work on a pilot project renovating and planting beds on the grounds. Kathleen Dennis, the on-site project lead, guided the MG volunteers.
Together, the group:
Weeded, mulched, and added native wildflowers to an upland prairie area
Renovated a high-profile woody hedgerow
Planted a small hummingbird garden
There is an inviting walkway between the greenhouses and OCCUH’s rock and water feature known as the “vernal pool”. MG trainees Casey Colley and Xia Lu used a mix of veggie and flower starts to transform the space into a low-profile garden to accent this pool. Native clarkia, Oregon sunshine were still going strong midsummer. Colley and Lu chose plants that were great for attracting pollinators, including
Lagos spinach (Celosia argentea)
And several other herbs
They packed in so many colorful salvias that the garden became a hummingbird flyway.
When the collaboration began, the little flowerbed was an open slate.
Later, Colley direct-sowed buckwheat between plants as a nitrogen fixer. This amazing mid-season cover crop is lovely in its own right, and can reach maturity in 45 days! It lends itself to successive sowing from April to late September. When Lu and Colley thinned the mature buckwheat in September, the soil beneath each plant was the consistency of wet coffee grounds!
The season was a success! The hummingbird garden created a variety of textures, colors, and scents. It sustained lots of pollinating insects and kept Oak Creek’s resident hummingbirds happy.
OCCUH’s mission is to utilize open expanses in a more coherent urban-based fashion. Urban Meadows, Green Roofs, pollinator space and urban wildlife habitats are all on the drawing board. The Center is always looking for volunteers to help with projects.
We hope gardeners are inspired by these summer memories as they plan gardens for the new growing season.
There is a growing interest amongst gardeners in the Willamette valley to add more native plants to their gardens and landscapes. What if I told you that some of them might just invite themselves into your garden? This has been my experience in my own garden. I wanted to share these four native flowers with you so that you might be able to recognize them if they pop up where you garden.
I first discovered pearly everlasting growing in a crack in my walkway. I was about to pluck it, thinking it was a weed. But its soft, silvery leaves gave me pause and I decided to leave it alone to see what might develop. After its sweet little white flowers bloomed, I was able to identify it as pearly everlasting. I learned that it is an incredibly drought-tolerant perennial that is native to most of the United States except for the southwest. It’s also very attractive to pollinators like mining bees, American Lady butterflies, Painted Lady butterflies, the Everlasting Tebenna moth, and sweat bees.
When the flowers dry out, they make attractive additions to floral arrangements.
Fun Fact: “Pearly Everlasting is one of the first plants to colonize recently burned forests. When the rain comes after a fire season, Pearly Everlasting sends out rhizomes that allow the plant to spread rapidly across nutrient-rich areas.”
Douglas Aster Scientific Name: Aster subspicatus or Symphyotrichum subspicatum
I first spied Douglas aster popping up in an area of my yard between a flowering quince and a lavender-bloomed rhododendron. I almost missed it amongst the Nootka rose, (which I will get to presently). It’s probably because the Nootka rose was so dense that I couldn’t really see the Douglas aster until the delicate light purple flowers began to open. I was smitten!
Much like Pearly everlasting, Douglas aster is quite hardy and will tolerate a variety of light and soil conditions. It is drought and is deer resistant. It’s native along the west coast from Alaska to California, also in Idaho and Montana.
Douglas aster provides nectar and pollen to its insect visitors, which include native bees, syrphid flies, and northern checkerspot and woodland skipper butterflies. It may also be a larval host to several different month species.
It can get tall and leggy and can be considered “weedy” by some. It can also be an aggressive spreader, which I personally welcome. It can also be grown in a container, if preferred.
Fun fact from the Garden Ecology Lab: “Douglas aster is a pollinator plant superstar. It is particularly valuable as a late-season pollinator plant, able to provide both nectar and pollen to its visitors when these resources may otherwise be scarce in the landscape.”
It’s easy to forgive Nootka rose for almost choking out my favorite lavender flowered rhododendron because the Nootka rose blooms are just so pretty and their red rose hips add a lovely pop of color in the fall and winter.
Nootka Rose is a Northwest native extending from northern California into Alaska and east into Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. It tolerates a variety of soil, light and drought conditions, and is not affected by pests.
Nootka rose blooms from May through July. The flowers are pink, about 2” across and have a delicate sweet fragrance.
“Nootka rose produces extensive rhizomes and grows rapidly, making it an ideal plant for revegetation projects. It is used to control soil erosion on hillsides, road cuts and streambanks. Nootka rose has successfully been used for rehabilitating disturbed sites at Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.
“Nootka rose is an important wildlife browse. Mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, moose, caribou, bighorn sheep, bears, coyotes, and various rodents eat the fruits. Squirrels, mice, beavers, and porcupines eat the twigs and leaves. Nootka rose fruits are preferred by deer, elk, and squirrels.Nootka rose thickets are used for nesting and escape cover by birds and small mammals. Nootka rose provides good cover for waterfowl in Wyoming.”
When we first moved to this property eight years ago, I noticed a small patch of yarrow in our lawn. I was already familiar with this plant, so I was pretty happy to see it. I’ve allowed it to flourish and grow, and now it is quite an impressive patch.
Yarrow is native to most of North America and is a valuable plant for native landscapes and restoration projects because of its ability to quickly grow in disturbed areas, its wide range of soil tolerance (can grow in moist soils except for constantly saturated soils), its ability to compete with exotic weeds and invasive species, its long flowering time, and its value to numerous pollinators.
Fun Fact from the US Forest Service: “Numerous tribes in North America used yarrow for a variety of ailments. The crushed plant was applied to wounds and burns. The dried leaves were used as a tea to soothe colds, fever, and headache. Yarrow beer has been brewed in Europe since the middle ages. The Chinese considered yarrow plants to be good luck. Even Lewis and Clark were acquainted with yarrow. It was collected during the Lewis and Clark Expedition while they were camped near Kamiah, Idaho in May 1806.”
I hope this inspires you to look for natives that might be volunteering in your yard and maybe give something that, at first sight, might seem like a weed a little time to prove itself. You might be pleasantly surprised!
While flowering plants provide pollinators with food, insects also require shelter for nesting and overwintering. Most bees and wasps create nests in the soil or within dead plant stems or in cavities in wood. Many butterflies, wasps, moths, and lady beetles seek shelter in leaf litter and brush piles. Here are 3 things you can do to provide nesting & winter habitat.
Save the Stems
Rather than cutting dead stems to the ground, leave stalks for insects
Provide hollow and pithy stems from perennial flowers and shrubs
Provide variety of stem heights (8 to 24 inches) and diameters
Cut stems in spring and leave stems through summer, winter and at least first half of second summer.
Leave the Leaves
Insects, worms, beetles, spiders, and many other small creatures use leaves for winter shelter.
Leave a thin layer on lawns; a thin layer won’t damage it
Spread over flower and veggie beds
Pile around trees & shrubs as mulch
Rake or blow to move, don’t shred with mower, as that harms the critters
Build Rock Piles and Place Logs
Rock piles or rock walls (dry wall construction) provide protected crevices for critters
Keep it messy and loose, with access to bare ground
Logs with loose bark and beetle holes provide habitat for insects, frogs, lizards, and more