wakefield garden

Photo: Courtesy Janet Loughrey

Bruce Wakefield and Jerry Grossnickle’s West Hills garden is designed for drought tolerance and lush abundance at the same time, with yuccas, paddle cactus, and agave softened by purple and pink penstemon, salvias, Centranthus, ground cover sedum, and Euphorbia cyparissus.

Tune in to the Climate

MAP IT. Every yard has a variety of different growing environments, or microclimates. A great way to plan your garden is by sketching a map. Take a monthly walk through your yard for a year, noting south- and west-facing walls that reflect heat, sunny spots that will dry out, and shady areas destined to stay damp into late spring. Note where you have poor soil or tangles of tree roots and, if you’re lucky, patches of dark, rich loam. With a detailed map to work with, a good horticultural professional can offer advice on what to plant where.

GROW WITH THE WATER. In the quest for striking plant combinations, even the best designers forget this rule. Picture a desert oasis in your yard—with a lushly planted core beside the spring (your hose bib or downspouts), surrounded by progressively more drought-tolerant plantings toward the edges.


Photo: Courtesy Josh Mccullough

Plants like this Agave parryi can grow in the Portland area, provided they are planted in the sun, in gritty, well-draining soil. Plant less hardy types in portable containers.

DON’T BE A “ZERO-SCAPER.” Xeriscaping isn’t about re-creating the surface of Mars in your front yard. It’s actually a time-honored approach to environmentally appropriate, low-water garden design. Avoid zero-scaping by planting luscious, wildlife-attracting plants, including perennials like California fuchsia (Zauschneria), shrubs like manzanita, grasses like Stipa giganteum, and our summer drought-loving native madrone tree.

LET THE RAIN BLOOM. Don’t fight damp ground by trying to plant things you wish would grow there. Instead, go with damp-loving species: red-twigged dogwood (Cornus sericeus) and sweet flag (Acorus gramineus), both of which love life under a downspout or marshy areas. Consult Metro’s online rain garden plant lists at oregonmetro.gov for more ideas.

WATCH THE WEEDS. How much we should combat invasive species is a hot issue in our region. But nobody can deny that English ivy, blackberry, and a handful of other exotic weeds encroach on native habitat and overtake more desirable plants. Take the time to learn about which plants are invasive in our area and remove them from your own garden. SOLV offers excellent information and volunteer opportunities.

Expert Tips

The Right Plants
Lance Wright | Horticulturist, City of Portland

lance wright
Image: Thomas Cobb

I’m a geography junkie. It comes into play when I garden at home and at work. I don’t adhere strictly to an Oregon palette of plants—maybe more West Coast—but above all, I try to plant Mediterranean-climate plants that don’t require extra summer water.

Of course, everyone gets seduced by plants—I still do— but I really try to learn about each of them. Where did it come from? What’s the climate like there? Can I provide it with similar conditions? Look at soil conditions, drainage, sun and shade, as well as local climate. You can’t just plant the same set of cookie-cutter plants that have been successful somewhere else—go with what’s appropriate to the site.


Plants: For dry areas, select plants from regions that have wet winters and dry summers: types of Ceanothus, manzanitas ( Arctostaphylos ), yuccas, penstemon, salvia, and California fuchsia (Zauschneria).