South Fidalgo Island Gardening

Douglas FirRed Flowering CurrantSalalOregon GrapeOcean SprayMadronaWestern Sword FernTo appreciate gardening here requires an understanding of the conditions on the site:

Beginning around 18,000 years ago, these islands were sculpted by the Cordilleran ice sheet.  The soil left behind is called Vashon till: sand, rocks and clay.  It is similar to the glacial moraines seen in mountains.

The site exposure is southeast, with a slope to the beach.  This is directly facing into the prevailing salt-laden windstorms.

The effect of the Olympic Rain Shadow has been discussed.  Negligible rainfall from mid-May to mid-September can be expected.

Snails, slugs, deer and rabbits are cohabitants.  An ancient deer trail crosses the property.  The deer still follow the route to the beach munching and snacking as they go.

Mature Douglas and Grand Firs on the site send out networks of shallow rootlets which efficiently consume moisture and nutrients from the soil.

Poor soil, salt air, low summer rainfall, pests and competition from the firs are special considerations.  These require looking to nature for strategies.  Plant selection follows a Northwest woodland theme and includes many of our natives plus their ornamental counterparts.

I have also attempted to add an Asian flavor to my garden. I have always been inspired by the gardens of Japan.

Plants Indigenous to Site

Bitter CherryPrunus emarginata
California HoneysuckleLonicera hispidula
Deer FernBlechnum spicant
Douglas FirPseudotsuga menziesii
Early Blue VioletViola adunca
FireweedEpilobium augustifolium
Grand FirAbies grandis
Indian PlumOemleria cerastiformis
Lady FernAthyrium filix-femina
Longleaf MahoniaMahonia nervosa
Nootka RoseRosa nutkana
Ocean SprayHolodiscus discolor
Orange HoneysuckleLonicera ciliosa
Oregon GrapeMahonia aquifolium
Pacific MadronaArbutus menziesii
Perennial Sweet PeaLathyrus latifolius
Red Flowering CurrantRibes sanguineum
SalalGaultheria shallon
SnowberrySymphocarpus albus
Western HemlockTsuga heterophylla
Western Red CedarThuja plicata
Western Star FlowerTrientalis latifolia
Western Sword FernPolystichum munitum

Selected Northwest Natives

Bigleaf LupineLupinus polyphyllus
Creeping DogwoodCornus canadensis
Douglas IrisIris douglasiana
Evergreen HuckleberryVaccinium ovatum
KinnikinnickArctostaphylos uva-ursi
Oregon IrisIris tenax
Pacific DogwoodCornus nuttallii
Pacific RhododendronR. macrophyllum
Red Osier DogwoodCornus stolonifera
Sedum 'Cape Blanco'Sedum spathulifolium
Shore PinePinus contorta contorta
Vine MapleAcer circinatum
Wild GingerAsarum caudatum
Wild Mock OrangePhiladelphus lewisii

Alien Life Forms

The inspiration for Ridley Scott's "Alien" could well have been the Himalayan Blackberry (Rubus discolor).  Luther Burbank thought we needed a dry, tasteless berry with big hairy seeds and introduced them.  They have no diseases, parasites or predators to keep them in check.  The vines may grow two feet a day.  Cleared land will become an impenetrable thicket in two years.  The canes are designed to inflict pain and injury and their wrath cannot be avoided.  They grow to an inch thick and bear 3/4 inch thorns.  Every encounter means bleeding and pain.  Birds spread their seeds and seedlings cling tenaciously to the ground.  If  a vine touches the ground, a new plant will spring up.  The roots will also produce new plants.  It likes full sun, full shade, wet, dry, whatever you have.  Herbicides such as Roundup™ won't kill it.  It is the perfect life form, the plant version of the creature in Ridley Scott's film.

With apologies to my friends in the UK, I must add English Ivy (Hedera helix and H. hibernica) to my list of problem aliens.  It is magnificent growing on the walls of English country houses, where it belongs.  In Northwest forests, however, it is a pest.  It aggressively runs rampant over native vegetation choking it out.  It grows up the trunks of Douglas firs and other trees.  Its roots penetrate the bark, allowing insects and diseases to enter the tree and kill it.  Its seeds are spread by European Starlings, another problem alien here.  I guess we can be thankful it doesn't have thorns.

Fidalgo Weather Plant List »

Back to top