If you're planning to add plants to your garden, why not consider some of our gorgeous Northwest natives?

The Cowlitz and Wahkiakium, Wash., County Conservation Districts offer bulk quantities of shrubs and trees such as vine maples, Oregon grapes and Pacific dogwoods. Although the plants come to you as little sticks, in several years of good care you can be rewarded with a full-sized shrub or tree. The Conservation Districts also sell bundles of coniferous trees, such as Douglas firs, grand firs, Western hemlocks and Western red cedars. The tree packs, which contain five plants, run between $3 and $5, while the shrubs and deciduous trees cost from $3.50 to $10 a bundle, depending upon the species.

The bare root plants are available in late February at a Department of Natural Resources pick-up point in Castle Rock, Wash. For a copy of the 2002-2003 Tree Sale Order Form, contact the Cowlitz and Wahkiakum County Conservation Districts by calling (360) 425-1880 or writing 2125 Eighth Ave., Longview, WA 98632.

Some shrubs you might want to consider for your ornamental garden include:

• The common snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) makes a dandy addition to a flower and shrub border, as long as it's a border with a bit of space to be had. I don't want to get a knuckle whack for suggesting this plant because of its propensity to travel, so I'll just tell you straight out that it can get big. That said, if you are happy pruning it to the ground in early spring and giving it a topdressing of compost and fertilizer, you will be given the gift of masses of the ivory berries in winter. Besides, the berries are fun to squash between your finger and thumb if you are a 3-year-old or an adult, and nobody's looking.

• Vine maples (Acer circinatum) are those gorgeous little maples that turned brilliant colors several weeks ago. I know that the color-hungry East Coast transplants (my husband's one) get a little hungry for leaf-peeping season this time of year, and the native vine maple just might offer a little morsel of color for those used to lush fall shows.

For the less color addicted, the vine maple is just about perfect: It is upright in sun, but develops that otherworldly floating quality in shade, with branches arching for available light and seemingly feeling their way through woodland space. If you want your vine maples to turn golden and almost chartreuse in fall, plant them in magic shade. On the other hand, those planted in sun turn dense and bushy, sporting smaller leaves in brilliant reds and oranges.

• Hooker's willow (Salix hookeriana) is the one you want to plant in seaside settings. The stout shrub likes to be within a few miles of salt water. The lucky beach gardener who plants the stiff branched shrub is rewarded with large catkins in late winter. The catkins explode into a halo of yellow anthers, providing color on those gray winter days.

• The tall Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) likes some shade and moist to dry conditions, making it a great underplanting for bigger trees and shrubs. That said, it should also be mentioned that when you give the Oregon grape what it wants, it makes more little Oregon grapes for you and pretty soon you have a big family of them. I like this crowded effect in the border by the driveway, where Mahonia seems to capture kickballs, repel deer and generally withstand me backing my minivan over it. On the other hand, the Mahonia that I have in a delicate little ornamental bed in the front yard just might have to be moved. Make space when you install this plant. You can prune it in early spring or immediately after flowering and keep the rapid growth in check.

Cathy Peterson belongs to the Clatsop County Master Gardener Association. "In the Garden" runs weekly in Coast Weekend. Please send comments and gardening news to "In the Garden," The Daily Astorian, P.O. Box 210, Astoria, OR 97103 or online to peterson@pacifier.com

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