When I moved to Portland a few years ago, I was looking forward to taking lots of hikes and seeing wonderful native plants. And I wasn’t disappointed! There are lots of great natives here, and lots of great native plant nurseries – so you can see nature’s beauty on a morning hike and then buy them in the afternoon.

Tom McCall Nature Preserve

At the Tom McCall Nature Preserve in Rowena, OR, balsam root and lupines flower together.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Camassia Natural Area

The ground is carpeted with camas lilies at the Camassia Natural Area in West Linn, OR.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer


The nodding pink flowers of this Erythronium make the plant a real charmer.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer


Lewisia is a natural for the rock garden.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Azure penstemon

The shockingly blue flowers of azure penstemon are a welcome sight in early summer.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Trillium ovatum

Western trillium flowers begin their life as pure white, but change to rose and finally maroon shades.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

It’s too difficult to pick two or three plants as my favorites, since there’s such an abundance. Instead, I have some favorite groups. My first are the penstemons. I was so inspired by what I saw in the wild, that I’m now growing seven species in my yard.

Penstemons are primarily dark pink, blue or purple and range in size from 4 inches to 3 feet tall. Here in the Northwest, penstemons bloom from spring through fall, depending on the variety and their elevation. Perhaps my favorite is azure penstemon (Penstemon azureus), with its electric-blue flowers. The plant grows 12-18 inches tall. Like most penstemons, azure penstemon needs full sun. Many of the native penstemons have been hybridized to create types with larger flowers. I like to grow them beside each other, but they also combine well with late spring and early summer bloomers.

Another favorite group includes the Erythroniums, called dog tooth violets, trout lilies and fawn lilies. There are white ones, like Erythronium oregonum, and pink ones, like Erythronium revolutum and Erythronium hendersonii. They grow 12-15 inches tall and need a shady spot. Erythroniums flower early in spring and are easy to tuck into a shady spot beside bleeding hearts and pansies. After the flowers fade, their mottled foliage creates interest throughout summer.

The group of pink, orange and white lewisias (Lewisia cotyledon) is another favorite of mine. These were named after Meriwether Lewis, of Lewis and Clark fame. In the wild, lewisias grow in rocky places, and they appreciate the same treatment in the home garden. Place them in an area with full sun and excellent drainage. Lewisias flower in late spring and early summer, reaching about a foot tall and wide. In the garden center, they’re usually found with other rock garden plants.

There are so many other wonderful spring-flowering plants, like the tall spires of bear grass (Xerophyllum tenax), which grow 3, 4 or even 5 feet tall. The flowers of Western trillium (Trillium ovatum) announce spring and fade from white to dark red as they age. Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) has huge flowers and won’t grow anywhere but the West Coast. And who could miss the blue spires of camas lilies (Camassia), which grow everywhere; or the sunny yellow faces of balsam root (Balsamorhiza sagittata); and the many types of checkered lilies (Fritillaria)? And although I don’t want to own any skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanum), I’ll admit that it’s nice to see the large leaves and huge yellow “flowers” in boggy places in the wild.

Favorite summer plants include the tall, pink spires of fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) – considered by many to be a weed, but a beautiful one nonetheless; huckleberries (Vaccinium), which yield delicious fruit; and the airy flowers of ocean spray (Holodiscus). As you can see, it’s hard for me to pick favorites. So go out and discover your own!