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518XvBKJTwL._SX410_BO1,204,203,200_We’re lucky to live in a region with bountiful books on creating wildlife habitat and Pacific Northwest gardeners now have one more choice to add to their bookshelves. Real Gardens Grow Natives: design, plant & enjoy a healthy northwest garden by Eileen M. Stark is the latest offering on this topic. The book is packed full of useful information and focuses not only on creative a landscape  using native plants for wildlife, but delves deeper into more detailed content such as the soil, propagation and sharing the benefits of native plants.

Stark gives a useful overview on ecology and explains some key ideas such as ‘habitat’ and ‘diversity’. The first chapter explains the elements of habitat – from water and food to the benefit of dead trees. With the groundwork laid, Stark moves swiftly onto the basics of design and how to integrate wildlife habitat into your overall plan, including how and what existing elements to conserve. Many books put the bare bones in this chapter, but Stark really dives into the grit of design discussing important topics like site analysis, creating a sun map, considering terrain and offering elements for consideration such as rain gardens.

Stark then moves on to the heart of this book, choosing native plants. Unlike many region plant lists, Stark teaches the reader how to look even closer to learn about their specific biome and what historically grew there. She also provides a brief overview of the many types of habitat in the Pacific Northwest. Other helpful information in the chapter is how to put the plants together in terms of layering the plants as well as growing seasons.

Practical information about analyzing your soil and amending it if necessary follow. Other useful information includes a discussion on pesticides and how to water, mulch and prune your garden. Once you have your plants in place, Stark explains how to expand your garden with minimum cost by propagating your existing plants.

The second half of the book contains a list of 100 Pacific Northwest native plants suitable for gardens covering the range from trees to small annuals. Each entry discusses the basics; hardiness zones, size, spacing and growing requirements in terms of soil and sun. Stark also describes the plant’s bloom traits, a useful piece of information when planning for pollinators. Also of value is the description of the plant’s benefit to wildlife. For example Yellow monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus) has flowers which “attract native bees and hummingbirds” and is a “host plant for Mylitta crescent and snowberry checkerspot butterfly larvae”. These kinds of benefits are listed for 100 plants – that alone makes this a very valuable resource.

The plants are broken up into three sections; plants for sun, plants for partial shade and plants for shade.

Also helpful on each plant listing is “substitute for”. For example if you really love Spanish bluebells, you may consider planting Oregon fawn lily. Or if you’d really like to replace that potentially invasive Butterfly Bush, you might try out Red-flowering Currant.

Stark has considered many pieces of information and also includes the plant’s associates – what it tends to grow with, as well as how best to propagate it and it’s related species.

The appendix has a quick reference list of plants for certain growing conditions or uses such as acidic soils, hedgerows, wetlands, deer resistance, etc.

Overall this is an excellent reference book for gardeners, landscape designers, conservationists and others. The photography is beautiful and compliments the book nicely. The first half is full of practical and useful information, but the plant section is worth the price alone and is a valuable resource.

As an added benefit, a portion of the book sale proceeds are benefiting the Xerces Society.


Thank you to Eileen M. Stark and Skipstone for sending me a review copy.

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Kelly Brenner

Kelly Brenner

Kelly Brenner is a naturalist, writer and photographer based in Seattle. She is the author of NATURE OBSCURA: A City’s Hidden Natural World from Mountaineers Books. She writes freelance articles about natural history and has bylines in Crosscut, Popular Science, National Wildlife Magazine and others. On the side she writes fiction. Kelly holds a bachelors degree in landscape architecture from the University of Oregon and a certificate in non-fiction writing from the University of Washington.


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