Open Gardens Project – Featuring Riverplace’s Habitat

Site Information: Riverplace condos near the South Waterfront Park naturescaped their grounds to coordinate with the natural beauty of the Willamette shore.

We are so proud of our community’s Backyard Habitat certification.

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

We wanted to create a natural area in the city center. RiverPlace was the first multi-use neighborhood to be built in the City of Portland and the Landscape Architecture was prepared by Robert P. Perron, FASLA, who also was involved with the development of Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Over the years with the help of Dave Mayfield, our recently retired landscape manager, we’ve developed a living landscape that is less like a park and more like a living garden! It is because of his inspiration and expertise we now have beautiful backyard habitats for all to enjoy!

There once was a lawn here.

How would you describe your habitat?

Our natural habitat invites a diversity of wildlife to an eco-friendly environment in the heart of the city. We have done our best over the years to develop our 2.5 acres in a sustainable manner and have noticed an increase in the variety of birds, butterflies, and pollinators. We have introduced river rock in our landscape to add beauty and help with erosion. Our property borders the Willamette River in the center of the city.

Rocky paths make the garden look more natural and allow residents to walk through the naturescaped areas.

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

1. Red-flowering currant for the flower clusters in early spring and berries for wildlife in the fall.

2. Red huckleberry for the nectar source for hummingbirds and bees.

3. Cascade Penstemon for the long-lasting blooms that are enjoyed by bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.

Plantings happened during fall and winter to improve survivability (when plants are dormant and soil is moister).

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

There has been a significant increase in the interest in gardens. We are thrilled at the educational opportunity it provides to our homeowners and guests at the hotel. The signs help promote the program and provide an interesting conversation starter! We all enjoy the natural areas that have replaced where we once had lawn. No more noise from the lawnmowers, not to mention the fumes! Our landscape has come alive with natural beauty. We all celebrate our healthy horticulture!

A newly naturescaped area of the community.

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

Some of our homeowners liked the lawn areas and manicured look of the garden, so we did have a bit of convincing to do at the beginning. Our gardens are more peaceful now with the natural habitats and homeowners and hotel guests appreciate that.

Snowberry bushes provide food for birds and pops of pure-white color during the winter months.

What resources did you find especially helpful?

Native Plants for Willamette Valley Yards by METRO, Gardening for Wildlife by The Berry Botanic Garden, and Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest by Kruckeberg and Chalker-Scott.

Ornamental plants were removed to create space for native species with higher wildlife value.

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

We have beauty and wildlife activity year-round and with that and the change in the foliage, we always have something to enjoy throughout the seasons.

Top three favorite native plant – Penstemon serrulatus

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

We’re most proud of the gift we have given the wildlife and ourselves!

Top three favorite native plant – Vaccinium parvifolium

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

It wasn’t an easy task to achieve! When you live in a condominium community, you always have a lot of opinions and people enjoy a good debate about change. With Dave’s leadership and vast knowledge and an active and involved Landscape Committee, we were able to make it a reality. We hope to educate and inspire other condominium communities in the city to create their own backyard habitat by inviting them to visit RiverPlace and see what’s possible.

Top three favorite native plant – Ribes sanguineum