Portland Backyard Privacy Screening for a Family’s Outdoor Room

Family Needs a Private Backyard Landscaped in Portland

2 Patios with privacy screen are loosely connected with flagstone stepping stones in Portland, Oregon.

Two patios – one stamped concrete and the other crushed rock – are loosely connected with flagstone stepping stones.

Kristen and Rob have lived in their home long enough to remember when privacy fences did not exist between the backyards. Rob specifically remembers the days when he felt like their backyard was much bigger because there were no definitive boundaries from tall wooden fences. Fast forward a couple decades and the situation has changed – it’s time to create a backyard that is a more private family hangout space.

Instantly Hide an Eyesore with a Landscape Privacy Screen

Goal number one is to create a privacy screen without the cost of replacing the entire fence. The neighbors window had a direct view into the family backyard and, more importantly, a new flood light that the neighbor installed was beaming into their backyard at all hours of the day and night.

Portland Home Gets Privacy Landscape Treatment

Before: Hello Purple House!

Sometimes the solution to a privacy problem can be solved with plant material alone, but this one needed a quicker resolution. The client sketched out the tall wooden privacy screen that I happily incorporated into the design. See the photo below to see how much that helps! That is only the beginning of the solution, however. In order to truly feel like a private space, we must create layers.

Portland Home Gets Privacy Screen for Back yard Privacy Landscape

During. Wood Privacy Screen built in front of the fence provides instant gratification. Vines will eventually adorn the trellis.

Vines and Trees create Privacy and Shade

To create layers, we use plant material. This not only adds to the screening but it also creates something more beautiful for the eye to concentrate on instead of seeing the house. Look how the Japanese Maple in the foreground adds to the privacy and the layered plantings create a wonderful distraction.

A wooden trellis, Japanese Maple and multiple planting beds complete this private backyard for the family in Portland, Oregon..

A wooden trellis, Japanese Maple and multiple planting beds complete this backyard for the family.

The Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum, had to be just the right shape for the space. We purchased the tree as a single trunk with a high canopy. Over time, the tree will spread out to create a natural shade from the blasting afternoon sun. We discussed attaching a permanent structure to the garage to create that instant shade, but all parties agreed that in this case, the shade of a tree creates the type of atmosphere they want, even if they have to wait a couple years for it to bulk up.

Japanese inspired privacy screen planted with climbing hydrangea.

Trellis and privacy screen with climbing hydrangea, Schizophragma hydrangeoides

Three climbing hydrangeas, Schizophragma hydrangeoides, will scramble up the back trellis. This is a dappled shade area, which is ideal for this plant.  Unfortunately, climbing hydrangeas are not the fastest grower, but if you’ve ever seen a full grown one, you know it is worth the wait, and the clients thought so too.

Hardscapes create different “Garden Rooms”

 

Private backyard landscape design.

Landscape Design with Two Seating Areas and Lawn. Click image to see more detail.

This family backyard features two seating areas, aka “Garden Rooms”. The main dining area is poured concrete with a flagstone-style stamped pattern. The secondary seating area is crushed rock, installed to allow drainage. The secondary area is designed as the tween hangout – slightly set apart from the main area.

Asian theme continues throughout private backyard.

Simple arbor with view of lawn and patios beyond.

Drainage Solutions including a Rain Garden

As usual in Portland backyards, drainage is an important consideration. Luckily, the clients hired one of the best contractors for attention to detail – Donna Burdick of D&J Landscape Contractors.  One disconnected downspout had to be moved, the crushed rock had to be installed correctly for extra drainage, and the poured concrete had to slope in just the right way to ensure the winter water moved away from the house.

Portland rain garden for downspout.

Small rain garden with hidden dry well captures water from a disconnected downspout

Additionally, a small rain garden with a dry well captures the water from a small portion of the roof gutters.

Contact Us to Create Your Private Backyard Hangout

Are you ready to tackle your backyard to create privacy and a hangout for the whole family? Contact us today!

 

Drought Tolerant Plants for Front Yard Curb Appeal In Portland

Evergreen Ground Cover Plantings for Portland Front Yards

This blog could be called many things…..Drought tolerant Plants for Front Yard Curb appeal in Portland or  Evergreen Groundcovers for Front Yard Curb Appeal but actually it should simply say these plants together are my favorite all season interest groundcover.

Year round color for drought tolerant groundcovers in Concordia neighborhood of North Portland

Evergreen texture and contrast party in my client Lisa’s garden in late winter. Heather and Hen and Chick together.

Low Water Ground Cover Plants – Heathers with Succulents

I want to introduce a drought tolerant heather that looks fantastic with hens and chicks and talk about how to use these plants for year round good looks in your Portland landscape.

Reasons to use Heather with Succulents or Hens and Chicks

We garden designers want attractive planting combinations to be year round colorful attractive plants that look great together, suppress weeds, feed bees and are simple to care for.  This is my 2nd blog of three showcasing the use of low water and drought tolerant plants.

What is Great About Planting Heathers and Hens and Chicks together?

Drought tolerant heather, sedum and hen and chicks landscape in Portland.

Shortie Heather  (with Sedums and Red foliaged Hens and Chicks), grow nicely in rock crevices

Contrast!  The fine soft needles of the heather, the large blunt shape of the Sempervivum leaf and the rosette that it forms creates a strong contrast.  Using these combinations really tickles my designer’s fancy.  Using contrast is an important tool for design.

Drought Tolerance:   They both need well drained soil and must be irrigated the first summer to establish mature drought tolerant roots.  So yes plant them together – they are a perfect fit.

Heathers and hens and chicks are evergreen, provide multiple foliage and flower colors to create interest.  It’s fun to see a gold leafed heather with the dark red rosettes of a hen and chick by the front door in winter.  No wonder I love to use them for a colorful year round landscape planting plan.

The Shortie Heathers are My Favorites

Texture galore with drought tolerant evergreen groundcovers including heather, hens and chicks and sedums

Heather and succulents make a tapestry of color in the garden of Marcia Peck on ANLD garden tour.

The shorties – Besides being so attractive these very low (4” tall or less) heather (Calluna vulgaris) are well worth it because they need very little to no pruning at all.  Some clients don’t remember to prune anything so these shorties are just right for them.  All the other types of heather have to be pruned.  I’ve nicknamed these heather ‘shorties’ to set them apart from the many many other kinds of heathers.  If you call them a “shortie heather” at a plant nursery they will not know what you are talking about.  Stick with the latin and look for these at specialty growers and nurseries.  See end of blog for where to buy these special heathers.

I like to use a very short heather with my hens and chicks like this three inch high heather called Calluna vulgaris ‘Mrs. Ronald  Gray’. This heather has needles that grow in a configuration that look like tiny ferns fronds and is my favorite of them all.   Other very short 2 inch to four-inch-tall heathers include Calluna vulgaris ‘Caleb Threkheld’, and ‘White Lawn’.  I use these shortie heathers in a variety of situations with many different kinds of plants but they look especially good with the succulents. They will also drape over a wall nicely.

The Difference Between Drought Tolerant Heather and Other Heathers

Rose City Park front yard shows Calluna Vulgaris 'Mrs Ron Gray' this Designer favorite drought tolerant heather.

The stems look like feathery tiny ferns on this unique Calluna vulgaris, Mrs Ron Green (shortie heather)

I want to be sure my readers will understand that not all heathers are drought tolerant (and most of them are not shorties either).  Heathers named Calluna vulgaris – Scotch Heather (summer and fall flowering heathers) are very different from the spring flowering heathers (Erica carnea and Erica darleyensis) in terms of their soil conditions and water needs.  The Calluna must have well drained soil. They must be watered regularly and carefully their first summer, after that, they prefer less water and can become drought tolerant after just a few years of maturity.   They need full sun or at least 8 hours where Erica carnea can make do with less.  Erica darleyensis can take light shade although I like to grow them in full morning sun.

I Water My ‘White Lawn’ Heather Once a Month in Summer

My Calluna vulgaris ‘White Lawn’ at my vacation house gets watered once a month if its been hotter than usual in the summer.  I’m only there once a month and they even made it through the heat dome of 2021.

Portland landscape cascading Caleb Threkheld heather.

Calluna vulgaris ‘Caleb Threkheld’ cascades down the sides of an elevated planter in early fall.

Plant Heathers in fall

Portland front yard with drought tolerant Calluna vulgaris "Mrs. Ron Gray' with dwarf blanket Flower in late summer

Calluna vulgaris ‘Mrs. Ron Green’ borders synthetic lawn flowering in mid summer at my clients home.

Life will be easier, and kinder if you plant your heathers in the fall-best practice.  Planting in early spring would be next best.  Planting in late spring or early summer will mean complete devotion to watering these plants.  It’s easy to kill heather their first summer and here is why – most plants leaves will droop a little and let you know they are dry.  You water them and all is forgiven.

Heathers Cannot Dry Out The First Summer

Not so with heathers – Heather cannot dry out the first summer, not even once or it’s all over.  This is why planting in the fall is easier on you.  If the chance they will have to be replaced come fall is not a problem for you, you have nothing to lose except the plants.  Most of us won’t be planting 50 of these so our loss is minimal except for the shorties which are harder to get in the first place…..still calculate your potential loss and decide if you want to gamble now that you have the facts.

No Pruning for the Shortie Varieties of Calluna Vulgaris – Scotch Heather

Portland landscape with freshly pruned heather.

Calluna vulgaris – heather freshly pruned at the Oregon Garden. These heathers get about 12″ tall and must be pruned each year.

Taller type heather must be pruned thoughtfully every year but mostly one never needs to prune these shortie Calluna vulgaris – Scotch Heather.  I have plants Calluna vulgaris ‘White Lawn’ that are over 10 years old.  I’ve let one heather spread out and moved any hens and chicks that got in the way.  I have a patch that is over 15 years old and it’s about 24″ wide now.  I like it that wide and I still have room for plenty of hens and chicks.

Drought tolerant Calluna Vulgaris heather in Portland landscape.

My large two foot swath of Calluna vulgaris ‘White Lawn’ gets little to no water at my vacation home. This is what I call a “shortie” heather.

If you are still with your heathers in ten years, you can choose to either referee so the heather doesn’t totally bury the hens and chicks as it matures by carefully pruning out a section of the heather or….You could be a lazy gardener and just let the heathers grow over the top of the hens and chicks since by then you will have lots and lots of the hens and chicks.  I love the combo so I have done a little of both. Just realize that the section you cut out of the heather will not grow back.

Happily hens and chicks are so easy to transplant.  Sometimes I pick little chicks off the mother plant and tuck them into a cooler spot in the ground even with no roots on them at all and often they root and thrive – they are that easy to transplant. Learn more about hens and chicks.

 

Drought tolerant Sempervivum Carmen Hen and Chick pictured in Portland.

Exquisite foliar texture on this Sempervivum –  hen and chick called ‘Carmen’.

Finding the Shortie Heathers to Buy

So perhaps I’ve convinced you that these shorties heathers are just right for adding full season color and interest to your low water landscape.  Where to buy them?

Highland Heathers – Janice Linewebber can u.p.s. right to your door. If her web site is not updated just e mail her at [email protected]canby.com  Ask her if she has any Calluna vulgaris that grows only 3 or 4 inches tall.  She will probably ask if you are my client…I love these little shortie Calluna vulgaris heathers so much in my designs.

Heaths and Heathers is mail order and while there are threats of retirement….so far we can still order from her. She is also on Facebook as Heaths and Heathers Nursery and is in Washington.  Ask her for substitutions as she has some shortie heathers I’ve never grown or used. A shortie is 4″ or under when mature.

There is a large wholesale grower in the area called Little Prince that sometimes grows these heathers. Therefore, I have found them at Cornell Farms and Portland Nursery at times.

Drought tolerant Sempervivum arachinoides called 'Pekinense' grown by Little Prince

Top marks for this Sempervivum arachinoides called ‘Pekinense’ grown by Little Prince and photo by Little Prince as well.

Contact Us for a Thoughtful Drought Tolerant Landscape Design

We love to create landscape plans that are low maintenance and can support our environment. Plants help cool the soil, absorb carbon and provide food for pollinators and other life. They also make your home welcoming and attractive.  Contact us if you want a low maintenance landscape design that is interesting, colorful and can be an asset to your home and community.

Irvington Low Maintenance Front Yard Welcomes Her People Home

Low maintenance plantings and boulders for Irvington neighborhood.

Flowering Front Yard with Boulders and New Plantings Create Charm and hold the Slope

Welcoming No Grass Curb Appeal in Irvington Neighborhood

Our clients in the Irvington Neighborhood wanted their front yard landscape to welcome them home.

The house had amazing bones and the kind of porch you only see in a movie.  Big and roomy with a high ceiling and meant to be used as outdoor living space.  In fact Carol created their backyard design sitting on a big comfy outdoor sofa on this very porch (during Covid).  The front landscape had 2 old rhododendron trees and a large hydrangea hedge that fit the old 1920 era bungalow house perfectly.  The rest of the landscape including a very tired lawn needed to be re-imagined and re-designed.

Carol blogged about the backyard for this beautiful bungalow last year: Baby Boomers Downsize to NE Portland & Landscape Beautifully. Here is the rest of the story…

After Irvington curb appeal landscape design corrected front concrete walk

Simple concrete walk is possible after removing old Rhododendron

Sometimes You Have to Lose a Tree to Gain a Functional Front Yard

The front yard had a different set of goals than the back, as they always do. We integrated the two spaces, (front yard and back) through plants and materials while solving unique functional issues. The first goal was to create functional and charming access from the sidewalk to the front door.

Before Irvington low maintenance curb appeal landscaping.

Before: new concrete walkway ends abruptly to avoid tree trunk and roots.

There was a concrete front walk and steps up from the public sidewalk. Near the porch, the  concrete path ended with bits of broken flagstone which led guests smack into the side of the porch.  The funky twisted trunk of a sweet but misshapen rhododendron tree was in between the front entry path and the front porch entry. Someone needed to make the decision to remove the old rhododendron tree and connect the entry path to the porch.

It’s a sigh of relief sort of solution.

Tree blocks beautiful old house before landscaping update.

Before: overgrown rhododendron tree was blocking path access and hiding the best asset, the front porch.

And just in case we had any second thoughts about the old rhody our second goal, was to highlight the classic NE Portland front porch. The lines of the porch, the pillars and windows of the house are classic and perfect.  Unfortunately the tree was blocking this feature and so twice dammed, the large rhody tree was removed.

Boulders Versus Wall

The next element to address is the sloped front yard. In the summer, the clients would mulch their front beds, which is almost always a good practice. However, without sufficient retaining, the mulch would slide down the hill and unto the sidewalk every winter, creating a big mess and they didn’t want lawn. So we needed retaining that would fit well with the house and have a more natural style.  The clients knew they wanted an organic look and did not want a tall commercial looking wall – enter Basalt boulders.  Using local materials like Basalt boulders is also a better environmental choice since they don’t need to be trucked in from Montana.

Boulders are not as visually powerful as a wall since they don’t present as one piece.  How so?  They become so integrated with the plants that they don’t compete with the house.

Boulders help with low maintenance landscaping on front yard slope in Irvington.

After: Boulders and dense planting to hold slope and play up the porch.

Basalt Boulders to Tame the Slope

We love to use boulders and often do when a wall would clearly be too visually overpowering.  See previous projects Drought Tolerant and No Lawn. You can click on the photo above to take a closer look. The lower set of boulders are larger and provide the majority of the retaining, while the upper boulders are smaller and create useful planting pockets. This type of boulder design usually requires the designer to be on-site to assist with boulder placement as well as plant placement.

The drawing cannot communicate to an installer the exact placement of each boulder let alone how each plant would fit with the boulders as installed.   Instead it becomes a collaboration between the designer (me) and the installer.  Carol and I both find placing boulders to be very satisfying and it allows us to get it just right – plus it’s fun.  Also, the clients wanted some materials used in both the front and the back landscape and with boulders we could seamlessly repeat that material and style.

An Ice Storm Interrupts the Install

A late winter ice storm took down a huge tree in the neighbors yard just before the amazing contractor Donna Burdick of D & J Landscape Contractors started work on the front yard. If a tree has to come down crushing the yard and plants, the timing could not have been better.  It also took out our street trees which had some advantages since one of the trees was pretty funky looking.

Storm damage prior to curb appeal landscaping update in Irvington.

During: An ice storm brought a tree down on the landscape.

Special Irrigation for Drought Adapted Manzanita

The clients wanted a landscape that could handle our hot, dry summers here in Portland. Although their original thought was to have zero irrigation in the front yard, I had to advise them against this because we wanted to keep three mature hydrangeas and the mature rhododendron tree on the south end of the porch.  That rhododendron tree is fantastic and now has been professionally pruned, making it more fantastic.  But rhododendron and hydrangea will never be fully drought tolerate. So we went with mostly all low water plantings instead, aiming for a once-a-week drip-irrigated landscape with one focal point tree, (the manzanita) that will never ever be watered now that it is established.

Special front yard landscaping for Manzanita in Irvington neighborhood.

Heat loving Manzanita (Arctostaphylos bakeri ‘Louis Edmonds) has a special planting pocket with extra drainage to ensure the plant thrives.

Manzanita (Arctostaphylos bakeri ‘Louis Edmonds’) will thrive in the super-hot Southwest facing corner of the front yard. The planting pocket is created by boulders and the soil is prepared with added drainage so that the Manzanita will not only survive, but thrive. It’s small now but this will eventually be a focal point of the front yard. The versatility of drip irrigation allows us to specify that this Manzanita and a couple other plants in this design have absolutely zero irrigation in the summer while most of the other plants get that once-a-week drink. This is one of the biggest advantages of drip.  So after the first year of irrigation the installer cut out a section of drip tube and put a section back in that has no drip holes ensuring that the manzanita would not get irrigation.

Fun and floriferous plants included in this scheme: Wallflower (Erysimum ‘Winter Orchid’), Stonecrop (Sedum ‘Fuldaglut’), Lavender (Lavandula stoechas ‘Otto Quast’) and Abelia (Abelia x chinensis ‘Rose Creek’)

Finishing Touches – Bold Container Planting

Just before guests walk up the steps to the front door, I wanted a bold container planting to greet them. The rusty-red container holds Sun Rose (Helianthemum ‘Henfield Brilliant’) and New Zealand Flax (Phormium ‘Black Adder’), which echoes the Black Mondo Grass planted in the landscape.

Container planting for curb appeal landscaping update in Irvington.

Container planting includes Sun Rose (Helianthemum ‘Henfield Brilliant’) and New Zealand Flax (Phormium ‘Black Adder’)

Contact Us

Are you ready for a welcoming front yard or a fun and functional front yard that uses less water?  Contact us for a collaborative design experience.

Drought Tolerant Ground Cover Plant for Portland

Garden Designer Loves Low Maintenance Plant Sempervivum Tectorum – Hens & Chicks

Boulder with low maintenance drought tolerant groundcovers in NW Portland Oregon front yard

Low Maintenance Plant for Portland has Versatility

I love to use these plants hens and chicks -Sempervivum in my low maintenance landscape designs. The name Sempervivum means ‘always alive’ so even new gardeners will be successful with this plant. Hens and chicks are everyone’s darling because the modern landscape aficionados think they were invented for them, people with black thumbs can be successful and those looking for a nostalgic cottage garden plant will all be happy.

Hen & Chicks is a beautiful drought tolerant plant for Portland.They add fascinating texture and leaf color that lasts throughout the year. Plus I love the way they add the finishing touch to a planting area. The fact that they are low maintenance, low water to drought tolerant and suppress weeds is a huge bonus.

The Original Roof Garden Plant

From medieval times hens and chicks were planted in stone or tiled roofs and also in thatched roofs. It was thought when used on a thatch roof that it would protect from fire caused by lightening. The plants also provided some insulation for homes and helped to moderate heat. They can extract water from dew and fog and thrive. Many would go dormant in summer and return in the fall with the rains. Native to the Mediterranean region these plants were also used for roofs all over Europe. Planting roof leek (hens and chicks) on your roof was thought to cause good health and good fortune.

So what’s so great about these plants for groundcover in Portland?

Drought Tolerant Ground Cover

Sempervivum are a low water to fully drought tolerant plant here in the PNW. I feel some water is required if siting in full day sun (8 to 10 hours) and many varieties of Sempervivum will scorch at least initially in full hot sun the first year. I don’t plant mine right next to a concrete walk or blacktop driveway if full day sun. That is too hot and some plants will shrivel and die or look so bad you will wish they just up and did so. Not fussing about watering is my idea of low maintenance but proper placement is part of how we get there.

This groundcover suppresses weeds and adds fascinating cobweb textures for visual interest.Low Maintenance Plant Suppresses Weeds

Low maintenance groundcovers create a tapestry of color for planting bed

Groundcovers cuddle up

I have some nice sized colonies of hens and chicks at my vacation property. Perhaps 24” x 4’. They may get watered once a month in the summer. They suppress weeds by growing so thickly, (which is an excellent attribute for a low maintenance plant) but they are also attractive in the winter. Their colorful rosettes are a cheery sight in our drizzle and foggy mornings. I especially like when they spread to form a colony.  And I like it even better when other ground covers “cuddle up” next to them making interesting vignettes of leaf color, texture and proportional diversity.

Care and Maintenance of  Sempervivum – Hens and Chicks

Important Tips for Establishing Sempervivum in Portland, Oregon

Plant them in a well draining soil. They will tolerate our clay top soil as long as it is not in a low spot where water collects. I find adding a half inch of a tiny gravel on top of the soil between the plants every year is very beneficial and may speed getting the plants to multiply into a colony. Don’t bother planting them in heavy compacted clay. They will rot. Don’t put the tiny gravel at the bottom of the hole. They will rot.

Water them once a week the first summer until they are established and a little extra water during very hot weather is a good idea. Be sure to reach down, press and feel the soil, don’t guess, so you don’t over water and rot them. Their 2nd summer you can water them less. After several years they typically survive without much or any irrigation.

Prevent Flowering Until Plants Mature and Have Lots of Chicks

Sempervivum with the center hen and many offsets called Chicks fill a nursery pot in Portland Oregon

It’s better to buy with chicks already in the pot but they are rarely available like this.

It is important to cut the flowering stalk off the first year or two.  The hen will send up a flowering shoot and then produce seeds. This exhausts the hen (the center rosette) and it will die, which you cannot afford until the plant has created offshoots e.g. the chicks! This problem is made worse because what you buy is typically a 4” pot with a single hen in it and no chicks.

Prevent flowering by cutting the flower shoot down low in the leaf rosettes until you have lots of offsets to carry on the work of spreading to create a ground cover. This takes  two to three years before you have enough offsets or chicks to carry on. The shoots can be quite insistent so you may have to cut that flowering stalk off more than once in a summer. Hens and Chicks add an interesting texture to contrast with the Portland, Oregon concrete sidewalk

If the hen flowers without giving you any chicks you will not have a plant at all come the next spring. In other words…you will not have any plant there come spring if you lost the hen.
You may remove the center plant, also called the hen, if it is declining once the chicks are actually rooted.  Then you can gently cut out the center plant. I do this primarily for looks. The colony looks better without the dead foliage of a declining hen. Here’s a fun link for propagating hens and chicks.

Lavander, Sempervivum, and Spirea feed the bees in this Portland parking strip planting

Pink flower clusters are what you get when a sempervivum flowers.

Support Pollinators

Once your colony is established you can let your hens and chicks flower to support pollinators. You will have to tidy up by removing the dead center rosette so the chicks can grow over the hole the next year. I used to cut all of my flowering stalks out of the rosette (or hen) but once I have enough of them… I let them flower to feed bees.

Low Maintenance Plant for Portland

Here is your takeaway – Sempervivum Hens and Chicks is an easy low maintenance plant that takes lots of sun and little water is needed for it to thrive. It looks great in the winter because it is evergreen and has fantastic texture to contrast with other low non aggressive plantings. If you are new….It’s more fun to play with plants when they don’t die. If you already love plants you will love playing around with Sempervivum so it’s a great plant for everyone.

Contact Us

Sempervivum, Hens and Chicks, House Leek? Whatever you want to call them, they are an easy and low maintenance plant for our new warmer climate. We love to create landscape plans that are low maintenance and can support our environment. All jokes about paving it over or covering your landscape with gravel aside…..those landscapes are very unattractive and do not support any of our bees, butterflies or birds. Nor do they process carbon which is something plants can do!  Contact us if you want a low maintenance landscape design that is interesting, colorful and can be an asset to your home and neighborhood.

 

Create Shaded Outdoor Living in University Park Backyard

New University Park Landscape Design Clients Need Shade

Borcon Steel Art Panel provides backdrop to Stahl Gas Firepit in University Park backyard

Borcon Steel Art Panel provides backdrop to Stahl Gas Firepit

In my first conversation with Jay, the words he used to describe what he wanted for his back yard were oasis, outdoor sanctuary, shady and cool, privacy, colorful lush plantings, and low maintenance. Then he laughed and asked me if that was even possible. His wife was the gardener and she had passed away several years ago. He was learning and keeping up but it wasn’t his favorite thing like it was hers. He and his kiddos wanted to finish making the back yard an oasis for their family but to me it also seemed like the back yard re-design would be an element of her family connecting with her because she loved plants and loved being outdoors.

Cool Outdoor Living in University Park

Jay and the kids love the University Park neighborhood and want to live here for many years.   They want to keep some of their moms plants in the new garden; especially hardy fuchsia and hydrangeas which are her favorites.  They want plants that will feed pollinators and provide for birds. They enjoy the magic of hummingbird visits.  These kids will grow up living outdoors in this yard, have encounters with nature and times spent with friends and family that they will remember all their lives. I love that part of my job.

Landscape Assets and Issues to Solve

In need of shaded outdoor living in university park.

Covered patio is cramped for space and back yard has no shade from the SW sun. (Before landscape design process)

We have two significant assets to help us toward our goals of shade, oasis and outdoor sanctuary. A covered patio area and a neighbors big tree. The house roof extends to cover a patio and although it is pretty tight for space, they can use it for eating and cooking outside, play area and for making crafts.  However, once the sun crosses to the west the afternoon sun comes in under the cover and bakes everything and everyone.

Maybe there is a break in the earth’s crust because I swear that is the hottest little Portland summer yard I’ve ever been in.  The neighbor to the NW has a large cherry tree whose branches reach across nearly to the roof line.  It only provides shade to the north corner of the narrow yard.  Happily the neighbor has a long term commitment to the tree so we can expect it will continue to provide some shade to our new outdoor living patio and firepit area on the north end.

Solving the Too Small Covered Patio

So the covered dining area is too small for a decent sized table and room it takes to walk through this area to the back door or side yard.  At a previous clients design we expanded the roof line to gain more covered area. It was a fantastic solution for them but was a major expense.  Jay and I liked the idea of adding to the covered area’s roof but this was expensive and would tip the balance away from a garden toward a large covered outdoor area with a few plants.  Not an oasis.  So we focused on expanding the patio surface space.

Solving for Long and Narrow Back Yard

Shade tree for University Park backyard living space.

Tree will provide both shade and a sense of privacy for this hot south facing back yard in N Portland.

Often I divide and conquer by creating multiple outdoor rooms instead of one long narrow space. Lets see how that works with this back yard.

In the shady north corner we create a cozy sitting and lounging patio of crushed rock and flagstone patio area. We will add very comfy furniture to relax into. The focal point of this room is a modern Stahl gas firepit with a steel art screen as a backdrop. The screen made from recycled steel will visually soften the house corner. The art screen is designed to be attractive from both the existing center garden room and the new shade corner sitting area.

The center garden room (the covered patio)  becomes the heart of the new garden.   Here we added 40 square feet to the existing patio surface to make room for the large table and chairs. This allows us space for additional diners. Jay and I preferred to use natural shaped flagstone (instead of modern square pavers) because we wanted to visually soften the existing concrete patio. The natural lines of the flagstone help diminish the power of the straight lines of the concrete, house and fence.

The Water Feature Has a Modern but Neutral Style

Our focal point for the center garden is the new water feature fountain.  It is placed to enjoy from the dining table area and to see year round from inside the house.

The fountain is backed by an evergreen winter flowering espaliered camellia and this is what we will see instead of just fence. This plant will look good year round and flower in winter. The espaliered form means it will be 8” deep and about 6’ wide and tall. It fits nicely with our narrow planting bed. The water feature is centered on this planting.

Making this center room dramatic gives it more power and so diminishes the long narrow aspect of the back yard.

Stand Against the Sun-Creating Afternoon Shade

Dwarf elm tree to increase shade and outdoor living space in North Portland.

Our shade tree Zelkova serrata ‘City Sprite’ (dwarf elm tree) was delivered via the N Portland alley and through a temporary opening in the fence.

The west end of the back yard is where we will make our stand against the baking afternoon sun. It will take some time but we have a perfect long term shade tree for this small back yard. The photos with the kids under the tree shows the promise of significant afternoon shade right where we need it.
We added boulders to create a raised bed for our shade tree. First it makes the tree taller by 18″ so more shade under the tree sooner, it makes fun run around room for Haley who likes to play outside and there is room for imagining her own world or even setting up fairy gardens if she wants. Some of the boulders were selected so they could be sitters.

Placing the tree in a raised bed is also a way to provide better drainage so the tree is healthier and typically will therefore grow faster.

Contractor and Designer and Client

Ready for more shade in University Park backyard.

I introduced Jay to Donna Burdick of D & J Landscape Contractors for the install. Typically we talk over the design a few times and then meet on site mid way through the installation to tweak the design which we did for this landscape design. Donna found the cool steel art screen and did the construction design of the art screen.  She also hand selected the boulders and arranged the boulder composition. The client, Donna and I met on site (outside of course-Covid days) to work through a few changes and to celebrate the progress on the new landscape together.

Hardscape Materials List 

Flagstone-Dry laid variegated lavender bluestone is tight set (very close together) to extend the patio. An additional flagstone grouping is added to the north shade garden to tie the rooms together.

A hot orange foliaged heather sets off the warm tones of the Silver Springs Easy Stack wall rock providing outdoor living in University Park.

A hot orange foliaged heather sets off the warm tones of the Silver Springs Easy Stack wall rock.

The raised bed has a blend of two rock materials.  The boulders were handpicked and they are called Columbia River Boulders and came from Portland Rock.  We also used Silver Springs Easy Stack Wall Rock for the horizontal rock in the raised bed.

The Girona water fountain is from Terra Casa , (a garden furnishings store near Clackamas Oregon) and is made by Campania International. It is a modern styled self contained fountain and does not need an additional reservoir. I especially like the neutral style which can go modern or meditative, and fit into a naturalistic native plants garden.

Steel firepit is from Portland’s own Stahl Firepit LLC and was plumbed for natural gas. The wood cover makes for a useful surface when not being used for warmth.

The steel art screen is made with Borcon Decorative Panels (60% recycled steel) and was designed and built by D & J Landscape Contractors.

Plants for Outdoor Living Backyard

Existing Fuscia kept in outdoor living landscape design North Portland.We were able to transplant several of his wife’s hardy fuchsias, hydrangeas and a few blueberry plants into the final design. Here are some new plants we used: native plants were Huckleberry, Sword Fern, Maidenhair fern, and Coneflower.

Pollinator plants that were not native included Crocosmia, Rosemary, hardy fuchsia, winter flowering heather, Solomon’s Seal, Black-eyed Susan, and Salvia. Most of these plants are also very attractive to hummingbirds. We added an evergreen Pineapple Guava shrub and more berry plants to the front yard.

The Shade Tree Selection

After lots of deliberation, we settled on a City Sprite semi dwarf elm tree. Zelkova serrata ‘City Sprite’. I wanted a cork oak but they were only available as 6” tall plants and City Sprite was a better fit long term.  Here is another small city garden where we used this same variety of elm tree.

Donna Burdick selected our tree from Treephoria, a plant nursery out in Boring Oregon.  The tree was already limbed up and so was perfect since we needed to be able to walk or sit or play directly under the tree. This landscape is too small to have low branches eating up usable square footage.

Client Testimonial

“My project included drought resistant plants, native plants, edible plants and low maintenance landscaping. The Landscape Design in a Day Kit was excellent and I was very satisfied with my overall experience.

Carol’s process worked really well for me. I appreciated the thorough definition of and thoughtful review of requirements before the final drawings were produced. I also appreciated Carol’s engagement when the project was in flight, her visit mid-way produced beneficial adjustments. And, her referrals for people to work with (contractor, gardener) were outstanding. Thanks Carol! I never would have created this backyard oasis on my own.”

Creating outdoor living with modern elements in University Park back yard.Contact us 

Are you seeking respite and shade in your backyard from summer heat?  Do you want an expert designer to give you a cool oasis in the city?  Contact us, we would love to make it so.