Red flowering currant (only this one is pink – probably Ribes sanguineum ’Poky’s Pink’). This is an iconic shrub of the Pacific Northwest, beloved to hummingbirds, and with pungently-scented foliage that either smells deliciously resinous or like cat spray, depending on the sniffer.

Portland is home to some lovely public downtown gardens, if you just know where to look. One of my favorites to visit throughout the seasons is at the Ecotrust Building at 721 Northwest 9th Avenue, in the Pearl District. I’ll write again later in the season about how this beautiful mostly native garden designed with year-round beauty in mind came to be. But first, just take a look at how lovely it is in March, with just the evergreen foliage, some twigs and berries, and the first few stray buds and early blossoms adorning the branches.

If you are in the area – or even if you are not! – stop over, get a coffee or a nibble at Laughing Planet or Hot Lips Pizza and take a look at the gardens. And stop to admire the ingenious structure of the place, particularly along the west side of the parking lot (along 10th Avenue), where there are 16 granite benches flanking the sidewalk, six of which are engraved with evocative quotes by the likes of Wendell Berry, Jane Jacobs and other ecologists. (Thanks for checking on how many benches there are, Sam Beebe!) The inscriptions are easy to read now, as the foliage isn’t obscuring them.

The remnants of the original building remain standing, creating a kind of holding space for the garden and the parking lot inside it. Take a walk around the entire parking lot gardens and see what’s popping up.

Return in mid-May to June, when the mock orange, ninebark, Pacific coast iris, native columbine, larkspur and penstemon are in flower. Autumn’s great, too – there’s wonderful fall color from the red-twigged dogwood and various damp-loving deciduous trees in the bioswales. Winter’s pretty grand, too: all the broadleaf evergreens create a cozy, green atmosphere that brightens the rainy days: incense cedar, Umbellularia, Ceanothus, manzanitas…

It’s a great place to admire the beauty of Pacific Northwest and Southern Oregon natives, and learn about design, planting, and long-term maintenance (watering, pruning, etc) of native plants in an urban setting.