My favorite part of the year is when winter comes to an end and the flora that surrounds my home bursts back to life with blossoming colors. If you’re looking for plants to brighten your own flower garden, check out this list for long-living perennial plants that grow well here in Portland.
Shade, evergreen, small to medium
I love ferns, the quintessential Pacific NW forest plant. My favorite is the sword fern since they are native here and grow quite large at maturity. I also think the native maidenhair fern is pretty, but it grows best with constant moist conditions near water, so they don’t tolerate the drier conditions sword ferns would.
Heuchera (Coral Bells)
Shade, evergreen, small
These are like a shade gardener’s collectible, since they come in so many different color varieties. The small flowers are usually upstaged by the brilliant foliage, but I do have a heuchera that has vividly pink flowers that really pop.
Hostas & Bleeding Hearts
Shade to partial shade, deciduous, small to medium
Hostas are a dime a dozen (a budget gardener’s filler), and bleeding hearts have beautiful flowers, but the slugs always try to decimate them both as soon as they poke out of the ground in the spring.
Partial shade, deciduous, medium to large
I have trouble not killing my new hydrangeas, but if they survive the first few years they are so beautiful. There are many different types of hydrangeas, and I like the full “mophead” variety, but some people prefer the delicate “lacecap” flowers. They come in several color varieties, and perhaps the most well known is the “endless summer” cultivar, whose color changes from pink to blue depending on the pH of your soil.
Partial shade, evergreen, medium to large
Rhodies are the absolute best. They grow big and beautiful in our climate, come in all sorts of vibrant colors, and hardly need any maintenance. They also tolerate shade well, and are nice and bushy all year long. They’re my #1 recommendation for large landscape plants. Keep them trimmed, though, or they turn into large-trunked trees.
Sun to partial shade, evergreen (although best growth in warm months), large
Plant once, and you’ll have daisies coming out of your ears forever. They’ll even take over your flower garden if you let them. Somehow I even have daisies growing in my vegetable garden, and I have no idea why. When doing winter pruning, resist the urge to pull old stems or you can rip out the roots; just cut back to the base.
Sun to partial shade, deciduous, medium
I couldn’t make a list of Rose City garden plants without including roses. They’re beautiful, for sure. You can’t go wrong with a rose bush, unless you hate doing lots of pruning, or working tirelessly to keep ahead of blackspot fungus, or have delicate fingers. Well, at the very least, having a rose bush grows the character of the gardener.
Sun to partial shade, deciduous (late winter/early spring), small to medium
How can you go wrong with daffodils? These harbingers of spring have even gone wild in drainage ditches along the highway. Plant them along with summer bulbs like gladioli or crocus to get double-use out of the same flower garden space!
Sun to partial shade, evergreen, creeping
I delight in my lithodora plants because they patch up the bare spots in my flower garden, even in winter, and have awesomely brilliant blue flowers. They also don’t take offense to being pruned back off the sidewalk and otherwise don’t need much maintenance.
Sun to partial shade, evergreen, small and creeping
Everyone else’s candy tuft grows nice and upright into little bushy things, but mine spreads like ground cover. Oh well. They’re reliable, evergreen, and hardy to my occasional negligence, so I won’t complain too much. Their little white flowers make them look like little frosted bushes.
Sun, evergreen, climbing
If you want a showy climber, I love clematis because it doesn’t damage structures like wisteria, has foliage year-round, with big, vivid flowers in a variety of colors in the summer. The only downside is that you’ll have to set up a support structure like lattice, a trellis, or thick fishing line.
Sun (drought tolerant), evergreen, medium
Want to make your garden (and your house) smell amazing? Plant your very own lavender bush. Not only are the purple flowers pretty, they make excellent cut and dried arrangements. Be careful to allocate at least a 3-4′ circle in full sun, because they’ll push out anything that’s planted in it’s way!