I live on the Columbia River Plateau – an area of approximately 100,000 square miles of shrubby steppe that stretches from the Cascade Mountains to the Rocky Mountains. People think the Pacific Northwest is lush and green with a marine climate, but this is only the narrow strip that crosses western Oregon and Washington.
Otherwise, the area is in the high desert, with hot summers, cold winters and very little rain. This area is rocky, rough, isolated and extraordinarily beautiful. Regional gardening in this zone 6 has a difficult climate and the growing season is relatively short.
Coexisting with nature in the high desert
Mostly, I am fascinated by the native plants of the area. A small part of my courtyard has never been disturbed, and is populated mainly by prairie grass and a rabbit brush, which is nice in late summer and autumn. Rabbitbrush is a shrubby plant (underrated and taken for granted) that often grows together with sage.
My wild prairie garden comes alive in spring, with masses of bachelor’s buttons, lupine and wild phlox (depending on how much snow we receive during the winter). Another section of my backyard is planted in native prairie grass. We are still waiting for the grass to fill up, and hope that in the end it will be healthy enough to get rid of the weeds.
Meanwhile, the handfuls of wildflower seeds we mixed with the grass paid off with masses of poppies, bachelor buttons and black-eyed Susan that bloomed and attracted bees all summer. Other wildflowers that are predominant in the area are balsamroot, Indian brush, desert parsley, yarrow, biscuitroot, penstemon and many others.
The previous owner had planted yuccas in various areas around the courtyard. It grows beautifully here and the summer blooms are spectacular.
In addition to juniper, there are very few trees that naturally grow in the area. Juniper grows like crazy and actually creates problems because it attracts a lot of water from the soil. Believe it or not, a large juniper can use 20 to 40 gallons per day during the summer (when water is available).
For me, the challenge of regional gardening in this neck of the “desert” is learning to live with nature. Unfortunately, non-native plants (such as Russian thistle) are a big problem for farmers and gardeners in this agricultural area.
Gardening in my area means short growing seasons that quickly fade away. That said, nature in the high desert is a wonderful thing.