Gardening in the Pacific Northwest

The Complete Homeowner's Guide

Gardening-in-PNWFull disclosure: I have lived and gardened in the Pacific Northwest my entire life. I know of no other growing conditions. It’s pretty great. Authors Paul Bonine and Amy Campion tackled an ambitious topic in their new book—largely because there’s very little that can’t be grown in this oh-so-hospitable far northwest corner of the county. And yes, most of us know how lucky we are.

Paul is an expert weather enthusiast and a skilled nurseryman. Appropriately the book opens with Know Your Climate, a thorough description of eight climatic subregions of the Pacific Northwest, which is defined as from Southwest British Columbia to the southern border of Oregon. “One of the most basic aspects of gardening is an understanding of the impacting forces above ground: weather and climate. (Climate is the measure of weather over time.)” It might not be sexy, but a careful understanding of where you garden informs the future success of all your gardening efforts. Readers, you are in good hands.

The chapter on Good Garden Culture also delves into regional specificity including a discussion of glacial till, the foundation of most gardens in western Washington; loess and loam east of the Cascade Range; woodland soil in forested areas; and clay. Planting tips include selecting the right shovel for digging in our native soils (a narrow ditching blade), how to plant in wet—and dry—conditions (they’re different), and a cautious analysis of fertilizers and feeding. Curiously, only a single page is devoted to irrigation. Yes it rains a lot in the Pacific Northwest, except when it doesn’t. In fact, our region gets very little precipitation from late June to the end of September. Plants need to transition from a long, cool moist spring to little to no rainfall at all during the primary growing season. PNW water smarts is critical.

Plant diseases and pests get their own chapter accompanied by solutions and controls as well as identifying plants that are resistant to some of the worst disease offenders. As you might expect, slugs and snails get ample attention, as do deer, all of which are capable of inflicting great damage on gardens. I appreciate that among the authors’ tips for managing a healthy, chemical-free garden, they suggest doing nothing at all in defiance of a pesticide industry that thrives on selling solutions. “Sometimes doing nothing is just as effective and it’s a lot less harmful to the environment.”

The bulk of the book is devoted to plant portraits keyed by exposure, soil/water, foliage type, and the best subregion for growing in. That’s a lot of symbols, and a bit of an alphabet soup, but the result is an efficient and thorough profile of each plant with plenty of room for beautiful photos. Perennials, shrubs, and trees included in this chapter allow the authors nursery expertise to shine, with plenty of lesser-known plants to inspire your next nursery visit.

The book concludes with a chapter devoted to Design, Northwest Garden Style—an unexpected but pleasant addition to this hardworking guide. The Pacific Northwest is a hot bed of horticulture and home to many gifted designers and creative home gardeners. From “A Woodland Way of Life” to “The Dry Garden,” “East Meets Northwest” to “The Tropical Touch” and “Meadow Gardens and the New Perennial Movement” and more, there’s something of interest for everyone. I expect my copy of Gardening in the Pacific Northwest will soon become rumpled and stained, marks of a treasured go-to resource.

Lorene Edwards Forkner, editor