Home Grown: A Portland Family Goes a Little Wild - Columbia Land Trust
The Dehens yard is a native paradise. Photo by Jill Davis.
What happens when you turn a yard into Willamette Valley native habitat? More life.

When Regina and Dan Dehen and their daughters moved into their 1938 home in Portland’s Eastmoreland neighborhood, they loved the fact that Johnson Creek ran along the far edge of their sloped backyard. Not that they could actually see the creek. The back half of their three-quarter-acre lot was a solid wall of English ivy, laurel, holly and blackberry. (“Dark and cave-like,” is how Dan describes it.)

Seven years later, their yard provides habitat to downy woodpeckers, rough-skinned newts, Pacific chorus frogs, screech owls and even the occasional beaver, the result of removing the invaders and landscaping with plants native to the Willamette Valley. Last month the Dehens earned silver status from the Backyard Habitat Certification Program. Run by Columbia Land Trust in conjunction with the Audubon Society of Portland, the program helps people restore wildlife habitat in their yards. Here, the Dehens share lessons from their own backyard transformation.

DAN: At first we’d go out there with pick-axes and just hack away at the ivy. It was exhausting. Then we discovered we could roll it up in huge balls. We would haul it out by the truckload.

REGINA: After we got rid of the ivy, a lot of natives came up on their own. These ferns right here, they came back. This fringecup and this grass, these hardy natives were already in the ground. The ivy had crowded them out.

DAN: We bought a lot of non-native nursery plants at first. Most of them died. We were in a pretty bad plant-and-die cycle. Then we started buying more natives and, wow, that changed everything. They took off.

REGINA: The slope by the creek was solid blackberries. We replanted with cottonwoods and quaking aspen and willows, spirea and elderberry, all kinds of things. I love the smell of cottonwoods. The smell is like the coming of summer to me, the smell of summer nights.

DAN: This year I watched a Great blue heron spear a fish in the creek. It was so cool.

REGINA: We hear owls. Our girls know that a screech owl sounds like a bouncing ball.

DAN: Native plants work because they belong here. Not everyone has a creek, but when you plant native plants, the wildlife really does come back.

REGINA: That’s why we do it. It’s how it should be.