From an early age I knew that every part of the natural world deserved respect and needed protection, and I ardently wanted to assist. It was more than just an interest or hobby and my studies gravitated toward the natural sciences—biology, wildlife conservation, and ecology—and then landscape design. Following a few side turns and work in the animal protection field, I began a small design business—first in Seattle, then in Portland. Sprinkle in the compulsory proclivity for gardening, a naturalist’s curiosity, a lifelong love of photography, and an inclination to write, and here it is. I’m very excited to share my infatuation and hope you find something to enjoy in my book and website!
Traveling around urban and suburban neighborhoods, as well as more rural areas in our region, I don’t just see yards. I see land — that once supported native species — that’s been transformed into degraded sites where we’ve done our best with machines and chemicals to eradicate nearly everything natural. But nature is resilient, so there is potential: The possibility of so much more than conventional lawn and a few exotic shrubs, and an opportunity to support the local wildlife and ecosystem that’s been ravaged.
Of course, urban areas in particular have been so drastically changed that we can’t simply go back to how it was 200 years ago. But what if we started looking at our yards as more than just a place to arrange a patio, soak in a hot tub, and maintain a weed-free lawn? What if we put as much effort into the literally green part of our home as we do our bathrooms? What if wildlife-friendly yards connected with those next door and across neighborhoods to create essential corridors? That said, “real” gardens don’t have to be exclusively native to be ecologically functional and balanced (although the more, the better). Simply adding some suitable native trees, shrubs and other plants that historically grew in the area can create small but positive change.
I wrote REAL GARDENS GROW NATIVES because we all need a little help now and then. People seeking garden design services often contact me after their attempts to create their own garden failed. Others tell me they become overwhelmed when it comes to choosing plants. Many can’t afford to hire a designer.
From my very first assignment in my first design class I’ve managed to include native plants in every plan I’ve drawn. I hope my book will help you incorporate some into your current garden too, or perhaps begin anew, with some of the beautiful plants that truly belong in the Pacific Northwest and support dwindling wildlife.
Eileen M. Stark is an ecological landscape designer & consultant who specializes in wildlife gardens.
Her writing and photographs have appeared in regional and national publications, and in several books. She has gardened in the Pacific Northwest since 1990 and lives in Portland with her husband and rescued cats. For more information on her work, please visit Second Nature Garden Design.
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