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The Best Plants For The Lower Mainland

Our favourite native plants, annuals and perennials for garden projects

Choosing flowers at a garden center or local nursery can feel overwhelming, especially when there are so many options available (one of the many perks of living in the Lower Mainland!) 

Add in all the different conditions our region can throw at it — like dry summers, wet springs, and cold winters — and it can difficult to know how to keep your flowers happy and healthy.

I get it! I’ve worked in the landscaping industry for over ten years. Choosing the right plants for your garden can have a drastic impact on the look and feel of your space. If you’re looking to breathe new life into your outdoors, here are some great options.

1. Native Plants

I always recommend starting with native plants because it allows for biodiversity to thrive and they aren’t invasive. Native plants also tend to be lower maintenance than their exotic counterparts, because they’re meant to flourish in our area.

Native plants allow for pollinators like bees, birds, and butterflies to move the pollen grain from the anther (male part) to the stigma (female part) of a flower, producing seeds and fruits for the next year. Pollinators are important parts of every ecosystem around the world and a substantial portion of our food can’t be grown without them! Huge swathes of the orchards in the Okanagan Valley wouldn’t be able to survive without pollinators.

All that to say… choose native if you can! Here are my top choices:

  • Pacific Bleeding Hearts — This nectar-rich flower draws the attention of hummingbirds and bees and can add pops of pretty-in-pink colour to your garden. They have a unique locket shape to their petals, light green stems, and fern-like leaves that grow best in shadier conditions and damp soil. If you’re looking for a unique flower, this is the one I’d recommend. 
  • Goatsbeard — Known for its wispy white flowers, Goatsbeard is a particularly low-maintenance plant. They’re incredibly shade and drought-tolerant once established, making them perfect for those spots in the garden that don’t get enough sun or water. Plus, its name is pretty fun.
  • Sword and Deer Fern — Growing in a variety of different sizes, these ferns prefer moist soil but are perfectly drought-tolerant. Once they’ve put down deep roots (usually within the first year) these ferns require very little maintenance. Both ferns are happiest in cloudy conditions which makes them perfect for the Lower Mainland.
  • Common Elderberry — This native shrub grows clusters of white blossoms that eventually produce tiny edible blackberries perfect in pies and preservatives. While they thrive in most climates in the Lower Mainland, they love full sun or partial shade best.  Elderberry plants only require pruning in the autumn months just to keep them tidy, but they are otherwise low maintenance and make for a great addition to your garden. 
  • Red Twig Dogwood — A personal favourite of mine. This dogwood’s bright branches make for a great focal piece and accent during the winter months.

2. Annuals

If you’re not set on a colour combination or texture, I suggest using annuals. As the name implies, annuals are plants that complete their lifecycle — from germination to the production of seeds — within one year. Annuals allow you to change colours each year, so you can accent your new patio accessories or keep up with current design trends

For our region, here are two great options for your garden:

  • Impatiens — Affectionately known as the Busy Lizzie, Impatiens are fast-growing flowers that provide lots of colour options for shadier gardens. They attract bees and hummingbirds, and grow best in the summer months, once the soil has warmed up. If you’re looking for a flower that provides pops of pink, red or white, this a great choice!
  • Nasturtium — Though native to South America, this flower is resilient and able to last well after the first frost. Nasturtium are adaptable in both sunny and shadier conditions, making them perfect for BC gardens. They’ll also add lots of orange and yellows to your greenery. Interestingly, Nasturtium are also edible. If you’re looking for an easy-to-grow flower, this is a good fit.

3. Perennials 

Unlike annuals, perennial plants live for longer than two years. Try these three for the lower mainland.

  • Bunchberry — Native to the Lower Mainland area, Bunchberry plants grow in both sunny and shadier conditions. Known for their showy white flowers and striking red berries, they’re an important food source during fall migration. If you’re an avid birdwatcher, this is a great way to support wildlife.
  • False Lily-of-the-Valleys — Blooming from mid-April to May, the flowers of this plant appear delicate and white. They attract pollinators and grow red berries in the autumn season. This low-growing plant is perfect for Lower Mainland as they thrive best in moist and shady conditions.
  • Ocean Spray — This shrub’s long lilac-like cream-coloured flower clusters by midsummer and provides natural shelter for birds and amphibians. Oceanspray grow well in both dry and moist conditions.

4. Trees

In BC, It’s important to select trees that can withstand changing climates and seasons. Here are two I’d consider:

  • Western Redcedar — The Western Redcedar is the official tree of BC. It’s hard not to see why. It grows up to 60 meters high and thrives in our climate. The Western Redcedar tree provides cover for many species and resting spaces for small animals and birds.
  • Western Hemlock — The Western Hemlock is a large tree that can grow up to 30–50 meters high. Its soft glossy needle-shaped leaves make it the perfect resting space for many birds. Its seeds are a favourite snack of Pine Siskins and Chickadees and its bark is beloved by the Douglas Squirrel. Looking to encourage more wildlife? I’d recommend this one.
  • Pacific Dogwood — Evergreens are large and don’t always work in small residential yards. There are many varieties of Pacific Dogwood available that are resistant to anthracnose disease, which has been a growing problem the past few years.

Whether you want to plant your new garden yourself or want to consult with a landscaper, I hope this post gives you a helpful starting point. Want to take a peek at more of the gardens we’ve designed? Browse our featured projects!

Written by  Trent Brown