Portland's New Urban Jungle: Backyard Habitat & Green Zebra Team Up - Columbia Land Trust
In Portland's Kenton Neighborhood, Green Zebra Grocery Earns Stripes for Wildlife.
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Plantings help manage storm water and provide food for wildlife. Photo by Hannah Carlton

On North Lombard Street in Portland’s Kenton neighborhood, the diminutive Green Zebra grocery store makes itself known via a standard marketing tool: a huge sign. The grocer’s logo, a zebra, is painted on the front, also supersized. But Columbia Land Trust’s Backyard Habitat Certification Program Manager Gaylen Beatty gets the most excited by…the parking lot. “Right here, this is a red osier dogwood, which has these beautiful red stems,” she points out, as if the plant were awe-inspiring art.

This spring, Green Zebra became the first true commercial space to earn platinum certification from the Backyard Habitat Program. Co-managed by Columbia Land Trust and Audubon Society of Portland, the program teaches people in the Portland metro area about gardening with Willamette Valley native plants—and then inspires and encourages them to use those plants as well as to remove noxious weeds, among other gardening practices. Those who successfully meet the program’s gardening goals earn the much-coveted Certified Backyard Habitat sign.

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One of Green Zebra’s bioswales. Photo by Hannah Carlton

Green Zebra is the first business to show how the program can work in high-traffic, quintessentially commercial spaces. “The science is showing that even in small urban lots, you can support wildlife,” says Beatty. Ornamental plants and shrubs commonly seen around concretized landscapes, such as viburnums and arbor vitae, have little value for wildlife, Beatty points out.
The benefits to wildlife are greater if many people come together to garden with native plants, as they are doing in Kenton: Some 75 Kenton residents have signed up for the Backyard Program and are working toward making their yards places where birds can feed, forage, and find refuge. In Portland, some 2,000 people have signed up for the program since 2009, and more than 500 have been certified. “All these yards complement each other,” says Beatty. “Homeowners and businesses can start to create wildlife corridors between parks and other green spaces.”

Kenton is particularly well suited as a wildlife connector neighborhood. Nearby is Columbia Slough, Baltimore Woods in St. Johns, and Smith and Bybee Wetlands. Natural places like these are reminders that, though Portland is a city in name and in feel, it’s also part of the Columbia River floodplain. Historically, the land it was built on provided refuge and habitat for wildlife. “When you see native birds and bees drawn into your yard or urban space, you feel a connection to the natural world beyond the city limits,” Beatty says. “You realize you’re part of something much larger.” —Jill Davis