Open Gardens Project – Featuring Karl’s Habitat

Site Information: Karl’s habitat in SW Portland, in the Bridlemile neighborhood, has conditions that include full sun, part sun, and shade light conditions; dry, moist, and wet soil conditions; as well as a slope and riparian area.

Looking from our deck at the restored stream below

What inspired you to enroll in the Backyard Habitat Certification Program?

I work for the US Forest Service, and I see most days the damage that invasive plant species are doing to our native forest ecosystems. Knowing that most of these species (i.e. English Ivy) are backyard and landscape industry introductions, we are proud to participate in a program that promotes the use of native plant species in yard and garden landscapes.

Front yard from street

How would you describe your habitat?

We have a relatively large, wooded, yard in the SW hills of Portland that is transected by a small stream. We’ve done our best to restore the stream habitat (by constructing small rock dams/terraces) and plant/or release a variety native shrubs, trees and understory vegetation. We use no herbicides or chemical fertilizers.

The small restored stream

What are your top three favorite native plants and why do you love them?

  1. Oregon white oak: There is a majestic 400-ish year old specimen in the middle of our backyard.
  2. Western trillium: First sign that spring has arrived.
  3. Western bleeding heart: Because it looks so much more fragile than it is.
Our amazing Oregon White Oak

What changes have you observed as a result of creating habitat?

So many changes…After clearing all of the ivy, laurel, periwinkle and blackberry, the native vegetation came back quickly (with some help). We’ve notice more birds surely – even had a pair of ducks land in the stream last year. Mostly though, we’ve just been amazed by how quickly the landscape has seemed to “heal” itself. We feel so fortunate to be surrounded by such a rich and beautiful landscape so close to town.

The small restored stream

What were the two most significant challenges you encountered while creating habitat, and how did you address them?

Noxious weed removal, mostly English ivy, and erosion control. We spent many days hand pulling ivy and then returning periodically to catch what we had missed. Every year though, as the native vegetation takes over, there is less and less to deal with. We combatted erosion mostly by spreading MANY truckloads of mulch. The mulch has also benefitted the native vegetation.

Front deck from driveway

What resources did you find especially helpful?

Mostly books and websites. The Backyard Habitat Program and Portland Audubon have some great resources.

How do you enjoy your Backyard Habitat throughout the different seasons? What are its highlights in each season?

The seasons are wonderful here. What we enjoy most is the way the the quality and angle of light changes throughout the year affecting shades and colors. And the spring flowers of course: the trilliums, native violets and western bleeding hearts.

Our amazing Oregon White Oak

What part of your backyard habitat are you most proud of?

Probably the way the small stream has changed. When we first moved in, it was just a scoured channel (down to the bedrock). We brought in a few loads of rocks and placed them in small dam formations. It was so satisfying to see how quickly sediment began to fill back in. The stream is now teaming with invertebrates and ferns are taking over the banks.

Small restored stream

Is there anything else you’d like to add about your journey?

Anyone with a yard can do it. Just imagine what it would be like if everyone did.

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