Native Plant Gardening: Yarrow
I had a perennial bed next to the driveway that never did well. It tended to look weedy to me. If it got rained on, the taller plants would droop over. The spectacular color display I expected and the butterflies never materialized. I think the soil, weather, location and whatever were just not right for this type of garden.
In February, 2013 I ripped out the perennials and replaced them with native plants and shrubs. Since then, I have been gradually adding new plants to the bed whenever I have been able to find them. This included a clump of Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). This wonderful native flower has turned out better than any of the non-native perennials that I had there before.
Yarrow grows wild all over the area. All it seems to need is bad soil and well drained to dry conditions. I have a lot of both. Most of the wild flowers I see are white, but along my road and nearby Highway 20, I see plants with pink flowers. Apparently, they also come in red.
The three photos above were taken at the Kukutali Preserve, along the causeway to Kiket Island and on the tombolo between Kiket and Flagstaff Islands. Here they grow fairly tall, 24-30 inches (60-76 cm). On the other hand, at the summit of Goose Rock in Deception Pass State Park, they barely reach 6 inches (15 cm) in height. The top photo in the pair above also shows a fine crop of Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium).
Back in my garden, I have planted cultivars of the native Yarrow. Looking closely at the blossoms reveals they are made of many tiny flowers clustered in tight groups. They are sweet smelling and attractive to beneficial hover flies, lady bugs, bees and butterflies. The flower also attracts wasps that feed on garden pests, including moth and beetle larvae. I have read that growing Achillea improves soil quality and the health of other plants growing nearby. Crush a leaf and enjoy a spicy aroma with a hint of menthol. To me it is a bit like oregano or maybe nutmeg. Is there any downside to this beautiful flower?
I just bought three more plants to start another clump in this bed. Leave the seed heads through the winter to get new seedlings coming up next spring.
Yarrow has a long history of medicinal value by both Europeans and Native Americans. The name Achillea is derived from the Trojan War hero Achilles. It is said he carried the plant with his army for its styptic and healing properties to treat battle wounds. Millefolium means "a thousand leaves" referring to the feather-like leaf structure.
I'd like to mention another plant in this new bed that is surprising me. Salal (Gaultheria shallon) is already beginning to spread and produce berries in its second season. In early spring when food can be scarce, the flowers were alive with bumblebees. The shrub is attractive to birds and beneficial insects and is one of the best for providing cover for wildlife.
Once again, I have been able to use native plants to solve problems in my garden. With native plants, I don't have to water as much and I may never need to fertilize. They are also naturally resistant to local pests and diseases. If you are having garden problems like mine, take a look around you and notice what likes to grow naturally. Visit local nature preserves and see what catches your eye. Then check the native plant section of your nursery or look for native plant society sales. Your garden could become something very special and a model for the neighborhood.