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Walk on the wild side with native plants

The natives are restless this time of year on Bosky Dell Lane. Northwest flowers and trees are popping out all over the place.

Bosky Dell means 'wooded glen' in Scottish, and in West Linn this wooded valley is the perfect spot to show off native plants. When Lory Duralia started the Bosky Dell Natives nursery 11 years ago, she grew about 10 kinds of native plants. Today, she has more than 300 varieties. Many of the plants she sells were saved from the bulldozer at forest clear cuts.

One of the most sought-after spring surprises is Trillium ovatum, also known as Oregon's native Easter lily. The variety 'Wake Robin' begins with a white flower that turns a deep rosy pink as it ages.

'I think it's the most beloved wildflower of them all,' Duralia says, judging by how many people go to the nursery and mistakenly ask for the pink trillium they've seen, not realizing it started out white.

Then there's the rare T. karabayashii. This giant trillium pushes up a burgundy-colored flower so dark its petals look like they've sucked up a bottle of red wine. Like most trilliums, it blooms once in spring and takes seven years to bloom from seed, so you know you're seeing something special.

While we're talking about trilliums, I suppose this is a good time to dispel the myth about picking trillium flowers. While you should never cut trilliums in the wild, picking the flowers in your own yard will not kill the plant. However, it does deplete the bulb, which means you might not get as many flowers the next year until the plant builds up sufficient energy again.

Who's the native here?

Many of us would like to grow more native plants in our gardens but have a hard time figuring out what is and isn't a real native. You see so many Digitalis foxgloves along the road you'd swear it was a native wildflower, but it isn't.

When you go to a nursery specializing in natives, you'll find that others have done the homework for you.

For instance, you might fall in love with a cute little wildflower while hiking between Rooster Rock and Horsethief Lake State Park in the Columbia River Gorge. Because the whole area is federally protected, you can't dig the plant up and take it with you. But after helping you identify it as a prairie star (Lithophragma glabra), the folks at Bosky Dell can sell you one to take home as well as provide you directions on how to take care of it.

If the whole 'native' thing kind of scares you, it shouldn't. Natives give gardeners the advantage. They're naturally acclimated to our weather. They require fewer chemicals, less water (after the first year) and less protection from the cold, and they are more resistant to insects and diseases Ñ all factors that top my checklist for desirable plants.

Think of it this way: Natives know the neighborhood because they were here first. They had the system figured out long before we showed up.

At home in the shade

West Linn gardener Marie Blacklidge has been tucking natives in her quarter-acre plot for 11 years.

'I live in a very wooded setting. I have a lot of shade and native plants just thrive here. I don't have to coax them into liking the environment,' she says. Nor does she she need to use chemicals to keep them healthy.

Blacklidge says she's also inspired by the way Duralia uses plants, rocks, logs and anything else around to bring out the beauty of natives.Ê

Native plants are a constant source of inspiration for Duralia.

'Every day I can't wait to put on my boots and go outside,' she says. 'I feel like I'm making this huge contribution to the Earth.'

Native plants help the birds, butterflies, frogs and the whole ecosystem. But let's be honest, you don't have to be that deep into ecology to enjoy natives. They are a hardy group, though they often have a delicate look.

Take a look at the Oregon fawn lily, also called trout lily (Erythronium oreganum), whose leaves resemble the markings on a baby deer's back. A single yellow flower is sent up on individual stems.

Shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia) makes a big impression considering the size of the flower. Each dainty flower has five petals that fold back to look like the tail of a comet.

You can also find the plants Lewis and Clark wrote about 100 years ago. The two explorers admired the blue flowers of the camas lily (Camasia quamash) and ate its bulbs for dinner. On June 12, 1806, Meriwether Lewis wrote,'The quawmash is now in blume and from the colour of its bloom at a short distance it resembles lakes of fine clear water, on first sight I could have swoarn it was water.'

These days, you don't have to be an adventurer to enjoy Northwest plants, but it is rewarding to take a walk on the wild side and get back to nature with natives.

'Anne Jaeger's Gardening Tips' airs at 9:56 a.m. Saturday and Sunday on KGW (8). Jaeger's Web site is at www.gardengal.tv.