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What Is A Natural Garden?? How Do You Create A Garden Color Palette?? All Your Questions Answered By Emily’s Professional Landscape Architect

Ya’ll, once again I was lucky enough to learn so much from professionals and experts – this time about landscaping. This job was massive and while a lot will thrive in Oregon (due to rain), I wanted someone who understood the vibe we were going for and I could trust to stay in line with that goal. When we met with Cali Pfaff from Studio Campo and she just got us – she has a very sophisticated and yet really casual approach to landscape design that felt so right to us. Our tastes were totally aligned which felt so good. Every presentation she showed us was so beautiful, and we had so little feedback because she just nailed it. So today she is going to share some of her expertise with y’all – it’s such an informative post. Thank you, Cali!

Hi there, my name is Cali and I run a landscape architecture practice, Studio Campo, with a focus on naturalistic design. Over the past two years, I have worked with Em and Brian to develop a farm master plan and am excited to share with you all some of the thinking behind the garden and tips for how to achieve a similar look at home. Throughout the process, we have had a number of amazing collaborators whose hearts and minds informed the design, including Yardzen, Northwest Native Landscapes, and ARCIFORM. Most critically, I want to thank Emily and Brian for trusting me with their garden. We will begin with a little garden psychology on how to craft a mood, provide some tips on assessing your site, and then dive into how we developed the plant palette at Em’s house and how to achieve a similar look in your home. I am happy to address any questions you may have in the comments.

Before we begin, you may be wondering what is a natural garden exactly? And what makes a plant native? In essence, a natural garden mimics the function and appearance of nature; it is designed with ecology in mind. For some of you, it may feel messy and it is, in certain ways. What we sought to do in their yard is balance naturalistic planting with moments of quiet (the lawn, the patio, the pool) and use a curated color palette to give a sense of cohesion and warmth. As for native plants, I find it helpful to think about the larger ecosystems that shape your location, rather than strictly going by what plants fall within state lines. Portland, for example, abuts the coastal mountains and the Pacific Coast temperate rainforest and resides along the Willamette River and its fertile inland valleys. For Em’s garden, we drew from both of those landscapes and used a mix of native and adaptive (non-native, non-invasive, climatically appropriate) plants; it is a both-and situation.

Crafting A Mood

Gardens are deeply personal spaces. Done right, they can invoke memories and connect us to a wilder world. When starting a garden design project, I ask clients a few framing questions to better understand what they find beautiful (and not beautiful), and how their garden can help them live the life they imagine for themselves. 

  • What kind of landscape did you grow up in? 
  • What are your strongest memories of gardens and/or the outdoors? 
  • What does a perfect morning at home look like to you?

Often, people’s sense of beauty is rooted in the place they grew up or a “chosen home” they settled on later in life. When working with Emily and Brian, their answers to this first question were telling and shaped the layout of the garden as a whole. Brian had vivid memories of playing sports on a big grassy lawn as night set in. Emily’s childhood was a bit more woody, snacking on huckleberries in the woods with her siblings. So we knew we needed both pieces: the structure and formality of the lawn with loose, naturalistic planting and wild edges. Brian and Em also put a lot of thought into the type of childhood the farm would create for their kids and the overall farm plan was developed with a sense of adventure in mind. The combination creates a landscape that is very them and strikes a delicate balance between manicured and natural.

When designing a natural garden for yourself, one way to begin is to think on what kind of mood or feeling you are after. Moody, joyful, quiet, lush? Does your current garden capture this feeling? What feels inharmonious? There are many factors (program, budget, maintenance, climate, etc.) that impact a garden’s design but mood is often overlooked and can be a helpful bellwether for the design. For the Hendersons, key descriptors were natural, unfussy, and farmy, with an ongoing conversation on how to balance simplicity with a sense of abundance.

  • Garden Mood-Setting Tips:
    • Create a mood board to capture the feeling of your garden (example above), then divide it out into spaces or elements you’d like to incorporate into the garden as a whole.
    • Map out how you spend a typical day off at home and see if there are any tweaks to your routine that would prompt you or your family to spend more time outdoors (e.g. a shaded dining table, a great reading chair, an outdoor movie screen, a remote office space, etc). Design is habit forming, try putting a super comfy chair outdoors and see if it shifts your routine. 
    • Look out of every window in your house. What do you see? What do you want to see? Varying the foreground, middle ground, and background will make the garden more dynamic and allow for privacy from certain rooms, longer views from others. 
    • Journal on the framing questions above, ask a garden-curious friend to do the same, and discuss your answers over coffee.

Understanding Your Site (And Yourself)

The more you know about your property and its local ecology, the better equipped you will be to design with nature. My suggestion to anyone starting a garden project is to map what’s existing and then test your soil. There is a tendency to add compost to any and all soil. This can be a mistake, particularly when working with native plants. Many native species (prairie plants in particular) thrive in nutrient-poor soil where there is less competition and deep root systems allow the plants to weather droughts. When we over-enrich the soil, we provide ideal conditions for weeds to thrive. For a natural garden, irrigation should ideally focus on allowing healthy plants to establish and weather extreme temperatures, rather than acting as continual life support.

Ultimately, your garden will be happier if you match your plant palette to the local climate (precipitation, sun, winter hardiness) and to your property (soil type, drainage, proximity to buildings and infrastructure, etc.). I know that this may seem a little heartbreaking if your taste is at odds with the norm in your area but you can truly create any style of garden using native and adaptive plants; it’s all about how you combine them, something we will cover in a bit. 

Lastly, be honest with yourself on maintenance. Not everyone enjoys gardening and fewer love weeding. There is no shame in starting small with a single bed or a few pots to test out ideas. If you are committed to a more natural garden but are not crazy about maintenance, try replacing aging trees and shrubs with native species that can provide a broad range of ecological services (nesting grounds, winter forage, high-nutrient food) with little additional maintenance. Em and Brian made a maintenance-driven decision at their place to narrow the beds around their house and limit higher maintenance planting to those zones.

  • Site Assessment Tips:
    • Consider a 6-month moratorium on landscaping when you move into a new place. Keep notes of areas that are thriving and those that need help before planning a renovation or engaging a designer. 
    • Test your soil! The more you can align your plant selection to your soil, the happier your plants will be. Most states have an agricultural school where you can send in samples or there are at-home kits available at Home Depot or garden centers. What you are looking for is info on soil type (sandy, loamy, clayey), soil richness or fertility, and nutrient deficiencies or excesses (nitrogen, potassium, etc.).
    • Walk your neighborhood. You can get a ton of inspiration and granular data on what plants thrive in your area by going on a long walk. iPhoto has a great feature where you can identify plants by clicking the info icon at the bottom of your photo. 
    • If you live in an arid region, look up dry gardens and gravel gardens for ideas on how to pull off low water and lush. You can also search these terms alongside a garden style you are fond of (“cottage style dry garden”) to see what’s possible. 

Honing Your Color Palette

Not all landscape designers use color to structure planting but I find a dialed-in color palette can provide a sense of cohesion and helps to narrow the plant list. Luckily for this project, Em is a magician with color. The exterior paint selection for the residence ultimately settled on a palette heavy on white with dusty blue, copper, and black accents. Tonally, Em had a vision for the garden from the start, with shades of blush, white, copper, and burgundy. Something soft, layered, and rooted in the landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. To balance the pinks and warm tones, we used accents of black, burgundy, and sage in the planting to give depth and interest to the planting beds. We used a triadic color palette (sage, copper, burgundy). The planting around the house is lush, diverse, and hedges on the wilder side. The constrained color palette and tidy lawn create a nice contrast to the lushness of the planting and act as visual cues to visitors that the overgrown feeling is intentional. 

  • Garden Color Palette Tips:
    • If you have a color in mind, search for abstract paintings of the color online to explore interesting color combinations. Abstract expressionists like Joan Mitchell, Mark Rothko, and Clifford Still are favorites of mine. 
    • If you already have your exterior paint palette selected, use a color palette tool (Coolors, Adobe, and Canva all have free options) to test out complementary, monochromatic, triadic, and analogous combinations for your plant palette.
    • Visit a favorite regional open space and take photos with color top of mind. What are the color overtones? What tonality are the rocks and soil? What plants set the palette? This can change seasonally too. 

Curating A Natural Plant Palette

The Hendersons’ planting divides into three palettes: full sun, part shade, and native/unirrigated for the outer edges of the property. The idea is that the planting is more curated close to the house and gets softer and more natural as you move away. The full sun and part shade palettes align with the houses’s solar orientation and creates a nice alternating rhythm as you circle the house. The Henderson’s front door faces north and the part shade palette is more subdued, borrowing from the native coastal woodlands Em grew up in. As you move towards to back deck—facing West, the planting gets more wild, colorful, and is heavier on perennials, which provides a nice sense of movement and whimsy. The full sun palette is prairie-inspired and draws from a wider range of plants.

The plant palette should build interest across seasons, provide enough structure for the dormant season, and have a range of blooms, forage, and habitat for wildlife. There are a number of great resources that I will include at the end of this article on naturalistic planting but here are some key design ideas: the first is that naturalistic planting is built in layers. The ground cover underlays a dynamic mix of perennials and grasses, seasonal bulbs pop up through, and shrubs and trees add structure, shade, and winter interest. Planting is dense and dynamic, as you would see in the wild. We planted Emily’s garden in May and the beds are beginning to take off. It will take another 2-3 years before they really hit their stride. While I promote density in grasses, ground cover, and perennials, it is important to provide trees and shrubs ample space to reach their mature size. You can underplant shrubs with other plants but leave enough space between shrubs and trees for them to stretch out.

Next, let’s talk bloom cycles. If you are musically inclined, the bloom cycle is like an orchestral arrangement of flowers colliding across the seasons. Ecologically speaking, the longer and more diverse the bloom, the more wildlife your garden can support. It is truly win-win. One mistake I often see in DIY garden design is that people go to the garden center, buy whatever is beautiful and in bloom, and end up with garden that only blooms for a short window. Here are some combinations to try at home that will span the seasons:

Full Sun

Echinacea, Ornamental Grass, Penstemon, Sedum, Ninebark

All these plants are common in nurseries and come in a vast array of colors, textures, and sizes. In the first row are the species used in Emily’s garden, followed by two variations to show the versatility of these plants. 

  • Natural Plant Palette Tips:
    • Skip the mulch. I know this may sound crazy but mulch is not necessary in all situations. Densely plant your perennials, grasses, and ground covers. As plantsmen Thomas Rainier says, the plants are the mulch. 
    • Double down. As your garden matures, double down on the plants that are thriving. You can do this by collecting seed, taking cuttings, or heading to the nursery. Repetition shows intentionality in the planting and if a plant makes you smile, grow more.
    • Demand better. The nursery industry still has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to growing and supplying native plants. If your nursery or local Home Depot doesn’t have what you are looking for, ask them to order it. Consumers have the power to move the market. 
    • Explore nativars. Native plants are wild by nature, they spread, breed, and drop fruit. These are all beautiful things but not always next to your foundation and in a narrow bed. Nativars are nursery adaptations of native plants, some are bred for size, interesting color combinations, or sterility. They can often provide many of the same ecological services without the issues of a full-fledged native plant. Some we used at the Henderson’s are: “Tiny Wine” Ninebark, “Lynnhaven Carpet” Robin’s Plantain, and “Peewee” Oakleaf Hydrangea.

And with that, we close! Thank you for reading and if this piqued your interest, below are some resources you may find helpful as you plan your own garden. For those doubly curious about Em’s garden, we have included the full plant palette on our website.

Natural Gardening Resources

Planting the Natural Garden by Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen

  • Natural gardening classic with images and recommendations on the favorite plants by the most well known plantsman in the world

New Naturalism: Designing and Planting a Resilient, Ecologically Vibrant Home Garden by Kelly Norris

  • I love this book. Beautifully written and touches on geology, ecology, and other forces shaping your garden, all while being accessible to the reader. Gah photos and plant guides.

Prairie Up: An Introduction to Natural Garden by Benjamin Vogt

  • User-friendly guide on how to transition your yard into a habitat area and not scare your neighbors. Best step-by-step book on the process of natural garden-making.

Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes by Thomas Rainer

  • This is the most technical of the recommendations but SO GOOD. Introduced new thinking into planting design on how to bring nature into built landscapes. Great diagrams.

*Photos by Kaitlin Green


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80 thoughts on “What Is A Natural Garden?? How Do You Create A Garden Color Palette?? All Your Questions Answered By Emily’s Professional Landscape Architect

  1. What an amazingly informative post. Thank you so much, Cali! I love the idea to look for paintings when searching for color combinations—applicable for all kinds of projects, not just gardens.

  2. Wonderful post, thank you so much Cali! Love the approach of a native garden, overgrown and wild look. I was shocked and delighted to see that with enough density we can even forego mulch! Woohoo! I’m curious if you’re familiar with any sources (Instagram, blogs, books etc) of someone sharing their garden and experience in the mid Atlantic region? Would love to learn more about what’s done over here on this side of the country.

    And question for Emily, as someone who just went through an interior renovation and was blown away by how much everything cost, I’m curious if you could share how much the exterior landscaping cost. It’s so helpful to know what is feasible, and what is not.

    1. Not sure exactly what area you’re in, but Lorraine Johnson’s books are great (she’s Canadian, but they are a good overview of native plants based on geography. Her most recent book includes balcony gardens too). Native plant nurseries are becoming much more common (can be googled based on your area) and staff at them are very helpful. There are native plant Facebook groups for a lot of areas. Free apps like Seek and iNat can be helpful to ID plants on your property and area. In terms of online, Blossom and Branch farm not near you (or me) but is a favourite (note: these are all different zones, but very educational), Native Habitat Project (Kyle, in Alabama I think), Ben O’Brien (Wild by Design), Tom Stuart Smith (UK based), and the New Perennialist.

      1. All great suggestions, Kaitlin! I don’t know of any blogs on gardening in the mid-Atlantic but some Mid-Atlantic landscape designers I would add for inspiration are Phyto Studio, Nelson Byrd Woltz, and Miranda Brooks. Also Adam Woodruff, Matthew Cunningham, and Stimson in New England.

    2. Hi Jessica, not sure where you are in the mid-Atlantic. I’m in the Maryland suburbs of DC. There are so many great gardens in our region and many of them have incredible resources that they share with the public through educational programs. Everything from my local county supported public garden (Brookside Gardens) to internationally reknowned gardens (Longwood and Chanticleer, both near Philly) to more recently developed gardens like the Delaware Botanical Gardens at Pepper Creek which has a Piet Oudolf designed perennial garden. And that’s just scratching the surface of one type of resource.

    3. Also in the mid-Atlantic, and I’ve enjoyed David Culp’s “A Year at Brandywine Cottage” to show what’s possible in this region. He’s located in Pennsylvania.

    4. NE USA gardener here. Prairie Nursery, and Prairie Moon Nursery have really informative websites and sell to regular consumers (not just nursery trade entities) and I have learned a ton from their websites. Gardenista is a pretty good blog that often has a native bent. I also like Margaret Roach’s podcast “A way to garden” to learn about topics, techniques, and gardener authors.
      Getting started can be an investment, but overtime, you save on lawn care and plants from reputable nurseries are packed and shipped well and I find the quality is much higher than plants from conventional “regular” nurseries. Native plants will also self seed and fill in nicely. It takes time, but it’s worth it! I love watching the pollinators and birds that flock to my yard and knowing I am helping support these creatures and the eco system.

  3. I am so moved by the generosity of this post. I am literally sitting here with tears in my eyes. Thank you, Cali! This blog is singularly informative and supportive and this post is so emblematic of that. As a long time renter and now first time home owner, I have found coming up with a landscaping and garden plan to be particularly overwhelming. I am anti-mulch (at least the kind that overwhelms) and pro-wild-but-intentional, but feel so alone in my New England town. I don’t know who to ask for help, what to do ourselves, how to know which plants will work, etc. Last year we spent $4k we absolutely couldn’t afford paying someone who I thought might help but we got nowhere. My dreams of a native and wild garden now seem more doable after reading this — and at a minimum, I feel less alone… and less weird for making so many mood boards. Thank you!

    1. Hi Carrie,

      Thank you for this sweet note. You are not alone out there, I promise! You might try reaching out to my friend, Marissa Angell. She is a talented plantswoman, based in upstate New York. Her work is native focused.

      The other East Coast resource I shared below is Plant Me A Rainbow. They are also based in upstate New York and sell native garden kits they send by mail. There is a wonderful interview with them on Cultivating Place, linked below.

      Prairie Moon is also a native-focused nursery that also offers kits and 3-packs of plants, shipped nationwide.

    2. Many universities have Master Gardener extension programs that can be amazing free resources. In my Seattle area, we have Master Gardener extension programs through Washington State University, even though it’s on the other side of the state. Try searching “Master Gardener program” + (name of your state.) Good luck!

    3. I have been in a similar position as you, and I’ve learned a ton through Facebook groups like Native Plants of the Northeast. There are so many more localized gardening groups there (not just native-based ones) – it’s really the only reason I’m even on Fb at this point. I asked for advice at one point and multiple people reached out to offer tours of their gardens which was super helpful in planning my own. I’ve also found out about lots of good nurseries through these groups, and the people who work there are great sources of information.

      Also just keep in mind that it’s a marathon not a sprint (the Shavonda Gardner mantra I repeat to myself all the time!–especially helpful when you’re on a tight budget), and will take time to establish, and also that a garden is constantly evolving – plants can be moved and/or replaced, and many perennials can take a few years to grow to their full size! My first year I planted everything in the wrong places – too close to the house etc, but I moved them the next year and now they’re filling in nicely. Good luck!

    4. Hi! I work for Wild Seed Project, based in Maine. We offer educational programs, seeds, and seed grown native plants for the northeast. We have tons of resources on getting started. And Native Plant Trust’s Garden in the Woods is a native plant botanical garden that’s super inspiring. It’s daunting to get started, but there’s a passionate community of folks to lean on and learn from and cheer you on!

  4. So incredibly thoughtful and beautiful! I studied interior design at Purdue and we were right across the street from the landscape designers. I was fascinated by what all they would learn, but didn’t get a comprehensive picture. This is so neat! I’m so inspired by what kinds of things you think through about plantings. I’m only a very amateur gardener, but so looking forward to slowly updating the different flowers and shrubs around our house 😊

    1. BOILER UP! When my kids play the game, what would you do if you weren’t in advertising… I always say I’d go back to Purdue and take classes in landscape design. Such a great opportunity to not just be creative, but consider plants that conserve water, feed birds and bees.

  5. Love this, and it is especially timely for me. So, thank you for the time and thought that went into this post. One thing I did notice is that I think the plant labels on the Full Sun graphic are off…the top line with Emily’s plantings seem correct, but the rest don’t seem accurate to me. Being from the south, I know what a magnolia and a crepe mertyl look like, and neither of those plants are pictured on the graphic. 😉

    1. Thank you for your kind words and keen eye, Cheryl! We are working on getting that graphic updated. We have one with all the correct names ready to go and it should be posted shortly!

  6. I love this post – thank you Cali! Emily’s yard looks absolutely beautiful. I’ve been trying to add more natives to my (Northeast) garden, and have had a hard time figuring out how to track plants through the seasons. The “orchestra” spreadsheet with color by month is so helpful. The plant palette graphic is a little confusing though since the numbers at the bottom don’t match the plants/photos above.

    For anyone on the east coast, this book has been extremely helpful and has great information about the needs and look of each plant through different seasons:

  7. This is such a great overview! I can already tell I’ll be referring back to this post again and again.

  8. Love this post very much. You hit the nail on the head talking about the psychology of the garden, including the memories and the upbringing. They’re huge influences in any kind of project. I learned a lot – and I love your approach!

  9. Cali! I am gobsmacked!!! This is a superb masterclass in garden design.
    Absolutely brilliant and super-well written and laid out with charts and photos.🏆♥️
    I have a 700m2 almost 100 yr old property in Western Australia – entirely different climate to Portland – small Craftsman cottage, b.i.g. garden.
    I spent 1.5 yrs planning and designing my front garden. It came with very poor, sandy soil and two rose beds with lots of lawn and a struggling, small Elm (non-indigenous) that had been chopped to the ground (grew back with a double trunk, yay!).
    I had to learn ab80put verrry old roses first, then get busy with improving the soil (organic matter, mushroom compost, etc), then I mapped out pathways, built a bespoke picket fence and meticulously planned a small woodlands at the street-front for around the tree as it survived the hacking that happened just before I arrived as custodian.
    It’s a magazine-worthy garden now and I’m always flummoxed as to what to say when people comment – I live in an inner-city walking neighbourhood, so there are a lot of compliments.
    On a hotttt Australian summer’s day, the now huge, double-trunked tree creates a cool bliss as you enter the pedestrian gate and then a secret garden of flowering plants and ferns is revealed.
    I never knew I could do this. It brings me immeasurable joy, year round.
    I basically have virtually no weeding any more, even in the rose beds which are heavily mulched each spring and under-planted with perrenials and low-growing natives.
    A beautiful garden is bliss and what you’ve created for the Hendersons is beyong bliss!!!
    I’m a HUGE fan! 💓🌿💓

    1. Rusty, this comment is so kind. I am bowled over. I truly love my job and it has been an honor to share what I have learned thus far. I can picture your garden so vividly and your description of yourself as its custodian is moving. We are but stewards in the end, right? I second Allie and would love to see photos!

  10. Thank you for this post, Cali! I’m on the coast in Depoe Bay. I have fallen hopelessly in love with the plantings around Emily’s pool (I believe these are the ones she finds too messy!) Looking at the picture, I think you’ve captioned them as Prairie Inspired flowers, but I can’t figure out what they are. Can you share the type of plant this is? I am bookmarking and pinning and screenshotting my little heart out right now.

      1. Thanks for the correction, KD! It’s the ‘Whirling Butterflies’ cultivar. There are a lot of interesting variations, based on height / color. We also used native Tufted Hair Grass, Deschampsia cespitosa, and Lollipop Verbena, Verbena bonariensis ‘Lollipop’, in the mix. We will mix in one of my favorite Oregon native plants, Meadow Checkermallow, Sidalcea campestris, by seed next year.

  11. Thank you!! As a landscape architect who primarily works on much larger, commercial projects these are all the things we preach every day – to clients of all sizes! Incorporating native gardens into the residential realm will do more to move the needle toward ecologically-sensitive open space planning than 10,000 corporate campuses or parks can achieve. Here’s to gas-station parcels littered with pollinator habitat!

  12. The gardens are beautiful. But I am a little confused because this looks like a typical midwest garden – coneflowers, lambs ears, joe pye weed, sedum, star magnolia, summer beauty allium are common in midwest gardens. I have only been to Portland once so I am not familiar with typical Portland plants.

    1. Hey Angela, thanks for the comment and I understand the confusion. There are a lot of midwest natives in bloom in these photos. Around the house, there are a number of natives interspersed into the full sun beds (Mendocino reed grass, tufted hair grass, ninebark, pacific coast iris, penstemon) and the shade gardens, which aren’t captured here, hedge more classic Oregon with sword and maidenhair ferns, camas, wild ginger, etc. Among the trees, there are vine maples, serviceberry, red buds, and Oregon white oak, in addition to some mature native trees preserved on property (black cottonwoods, Doug firs, and incense cedars). That said, the area around the house is the most manicured and has the most adaptive plants worked into the mix. Em’s property is almost 3 acres so as we move away from the house, the plan is more focused on restoration and will be fully native in new planting in the woodland edges and meadows (which is most of the property). That is phase 2 but there will be a ton more native to come!

  13. I love this post so much! I’m a longtime avid gardener & this post has perspectives, insights, & tips I’ve never heard elsewhere. I love your work & how you go about it! Thank you for this post! I hope you post again, Cali!

  14. This was so incredibly helpful as I am working in my yard! Thank you. What are the grasses planted around the pool area?

  15. This was so informative. Thank you Cali. I am in Las Vegas and have a small back yard. I’ve tried to research myself what to plant but am unsure based on the size of my yard and water conservation. Any ideas or know of someone with your gift in this area? Thank you again!

    1. Thanks, Jennifer! I don’t know any landscape architects in Las Vegas offhand but Daniel Nolan has a wonderful book called Dry Gardens that would be a good place to start. I personally have a gravel garden with xeric plants that is very low water. Google gravel gardens for some ideas on how to do lush with little irrigation.

  16. Hi Cali! I love your process. I noticed that you used Tree of Heaven which is considered invasive. I personally like it, but my husband is a Larch : ) and he always encourages people to remove it. Just wondering what your thoughts are on using it in design. (Genuinely curious, not trying to call you out!)

    1. I was curious about that too. Where I live (Italy) it’s considered highly invasive and a bit of a nightmare. But this may not apply in all climates. I love the rest of the planting and the article was so thorough and inspiring, thank you Cali!

    2. Thanks for the question, Kelly! The flat lay with tree of heaven in it was from an analysis package on the existing plants and field conditions. I put it together to help Em and Brian identify them and understand what on their property is invasive and has to go. Tree of Heaven are notoriously hard to remove but the landscape contractor has done a great job clearing them out so far (alongside English Ivy, English Holly, Himalayan Blackberry, English Hawthorn, really the most wanted of invasives are almost all present). It will be an ongoing challenge but the Hendersons are amazing and are up to the challenge.

      1. Understood! Poison Hemlock is just the worst. We have it here in Pennsylvania and I once almost ate it from my garden thinking it was fennel. A Socrates like death is not something I am keen on ; )

    3. As Cali mentioned, that section & photo was of the existing plants (including invasives & undesirables) on site that were analyzed & evaluated BEFORE the new landscape plan was created & implemented. That section needs a caption or header between the photo & plant list that says “Existing plants on property at purchase, including invasives & undesirables which will be removed” or something like that. The “before” plant list got a large photo which makes it seem like that’s the “new” plant list for a person skimming the post quickly. Still evaluating & listing the existing plants on a property is an important step for the gardener/landscaper before creating a new plan & plant list.

  17. Love this post! We just got a new roof which shifts our exterior color palette a bit, and are preparing to re-engineer our front stairs and patio. Then landscaping! I will need all of these resources soon.

    We live in the Santiam Canyon area of Oregon, where the 2020 Labor Day fires were. In Oregon we see a lot of people mulching with bark dust. It is highly flammable. We had to power line into our house, drop onto arc dust and start a spot fire, which was caught quickly. We were home and we were so lucky that we were. Every time I see someone mulching with bark dust, I just flinch. We ripped all of ours out and the plants and trees and insects don’t miss it one bit. We do leave our leaves down over the winter.

    Thanks again for the post!

  18. This was so wonderful! I especially love the bloom cycle charts – the comparison to a musical score is so lovely, and the color charts are something I will absolutely use for my own gardening in the future. Thank you!

      1. This is a really wonderful post Cali, thank you. I have been trying to figure out what to use to plan/document the bloom cycle for two beds I am planning. I drew the beds out on graph paper but that doesn’t capture cycles. Do you mind sharing the program you used to generate those charts? I know I could make Excel work but seems like it wouldn’t be as pretty!

  19. Wow- what a great and helpful post! I currently live in a apartment with a very limited outdoor space but this was still super inspiring to read and I hope to reference it in the future when I have a bigger yard and garden. For now, my little container veggie garden will have to suffice but this has me dreaming of different types of gardens. Such a great future resource.


  20. Thank you Cali for such a thorogh and informative article. I was wondering about color palettes. You’ve used a palette of 5 colors, is that a number you would usually stick to or would more be ok? Are there any general rules you apply when choosong a color palette other than looking at the existing surroundings?

    1. Thanks for the question, Kate. I don’t have a rule of thumb on the number of colors and more would definitely be okay. It all depends on the feeling you are after. Those with more subtle colors and color differences are going to read as more soothing, those with higher contrast and more colors will read as more playful.

  21. Thank you so much for sharing your incredible time and expertise, Cali. I also live in Portland and will be relying heavily on your guidance with future plantings. Such a gift you have, and the finished product at the Henderson homestead is simply gorgeous!

  22. This post is awesome! Cali, you and your team have done some beautiful work. Thanks for sharing so much of your process with us. It is genuinely informative and helpful. Do you mind sharing where you sourced your plants for the Hendersons’ property? I am new to the Portland/Beaverton area.

    1. No problem! We used a couple of wholesale nurseries, Cascadian and Blooming Advantage, but also used Portland Nursery, which has great resources on natives on their website. For commercial, I also love Cistus out on Sauvie Island. It is just dreamy and they have knowledgable staff.

  23. This is an UNBELIEVABLE treasure of a post. Informative, interesting, and just so much information. I feel so empowered! Thank you for all of the work that went into this post! Signed, someone who never comments on blogs but felt compelled by how much I loved this!

  24. You have distilled so many key elements for a thoughtful design and made it seem achievable. Thank you for a detailed overview with such sound and straightforward guidance. It’s impressive what you created with Emily and Bryan’s environment. What a happy and magical place to “be!”

  25. Thank you Cali for this wonderful post. Extremely generous of you to share all this information. I’m in Australia and have learned so much, we have amazing natives here and looking forward to planting some as I’m about to start ore garden plan and have asked my kids for their input.

  26. Are you adding shutters to your windows or is your house exterior complete? I’ve been following all your farmhouse posts for inspiration. I know at one point you were considering Dutch Blue or a light blue for shutters so I’m wondering where you stand on that, and if that would change your door color or if you feel the current door color would play nicely with a light blue shutter.

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