Archive for Landscape Styles

Covered Outdoor Living for Baby Boomers in NE Portland Backyards

Covered outdoor living landscape design

Covered outdoor area in Rose City Park backyard protects from  sun, rain and walnuts.

Landscaping Outdoor Living in Portland’s Urban NE Neighborhoods

Backyard Outdoor Living in Portland’s Urban NE Neighborhoods often requires a covered area.  While backyard outdoor living conjures up visions of  intimate gatherings with close friends and family sometimes only a covered area will offer any privacy from a 3 story apartment building next door.  A small urban home may not have enough entertaining space indoors and some clients use a covered outdoor space for an extra office or a place for messy arts and crafts projects.  Finding ways to create overhead cover is an important tool for my designs since I often work  in urban neighborhoods.

Rain proof outdoor living’s best benefit in my opinion is leaving the cushions in place for easy use 9 months of the year.  When the rain is pelting us from the south in the winter few people will enjoy being outside and the rain will come in under the cover typically and soak the cushions anyway.  But a gentle rain in the late spring or early fall can easily be thwarted.  If I can use my furniture without having to go fetch the cushions, or peel off a plastic cover….. if it is just waiting for me to use…guess what ?  I use the sitting area so much more.

Here are 5 Portland backyard landscape designs that use overhead cover for outdoor living.

Rose City Park Backyard

My client Anna wanted a cool shady sitting area to read in her landscape.  We called it the book nook.  Her cover has a traditional tile roof with enough angle to keep dry in a light rain but the most important aspect of the cover for Anna is to protect her from walnuts dropping from her neighbors gorgeous huge walnut tree.  She loves the tree for it’s shade, and  for attracting wildlife.  Her covered outdoor area is designed for 2 people and is mostly for Anna’s use.

Design tip: A translucent cover would have gotten stained and looked filthy in one season because of the debris from the walnut tree.  Translucent covers under some trees are doable here in Portland but one needs to go into it knowing there will be regular maintenance needed to keep the cover attractive and not a visual detriment, (and not under a walnut tree).

Covered outdoor living landscape design includes motorized louvers

Covered outdoor dining in Creston neighborhood has motorized louvers to let the sun in or keep the rain out.

Creston Neighborhood Family Covered Dining Deck

My clients in the Creston neighborhood wanted the option of sun or shade plus rain protection so their furniture would stay dry. Their pergola by Cardinal Aluminum is steel posts and supports but the motorized louvers in the pergola are aluminum.  The louvers give them the choice of sun or shade.  I have several clients who have gone with Cardinal and been quite happy with the results. Given the cost of wood this no wood option is now seen as more affordable than in the past.

 

Covered outdoor living landscape design includes transparent roof.

“We all love the new space and have basically been living out there every time the weather is even a bit decent.” Clients in Richmond neighborhood

Richmond Backyard Year Round Outdoor Living

These clients  in Richmond neighborhood wanted it all.  After working with Landscape Design in a Day they have a heated covered patio with a translucent cover.  They wanted a comfy sofa under the cover and have a table up on the deck near the house.  Our client Emma says this.  “The summary is that we all LOVE the new space and have basically been living out there every time the weather is even a bit decent. We’ve been using the whole backyard too — before the redo the back part of the yard was kind of dead zone (except for the veggie beds) but now we find ourselves out there almost every afternoon, not just puttering in the veggies but sitting out on the little patio or kicking a ball around with our toddler.”

They have overhead heat (electric) for primary use and in the colder months they also use their tower heater which can be moved about.  They can leave their furniture outside year round.  The cover structure is steel posts with a wood structure for the translucent overhead cover.  This photo was taken in late spring so they still have their second heater out in the patio.    Most of the heat is electric so it has less of a carbon footprint than a natural gas firepit or propane or wood burning.  Design by Alana Chau, Landscape Design in a Day

Design Tip: Angle the cover to protect from south or SW sun to create a cooler summer retreat and help protect your cover for possible winter snow load.

 

Large covered outdoor living landscape for dining.

Outdoor living for these Mt. Tabor clients includes two barbeques and covered dining.

Large covered outdoor living patio designMount Tabor Backyard Transformed into Year Round Outdoor Living

My clients in Mount Tabor also wanted the entire backyard turned into outdoor living space.  Their wood pergola structure has a translucent cover.  They especially love the drama added by lighting the top of the cover.  The light is very soft and diffused coming through the semi opaque cover.  They have room for cooking, counter and storage space.  The posts for the cover are set into the property 5’.

Design Tip:  We used the corner of the property to gain the most useful square footage and space.

 

Heated covered outdoor living landscape design.

Here’s where I get my massage and body work done. This lovely covered area provides heat and protection from rain.

Outdoor Office in SW Portland

This is my massage practitioners heated outdoor treatment room in her SW Portland back yard.  This was her response to keeping her clients and herself safe when Covid came into our lives. As her patient I love hearing the birds, including the buzz of hummingbirds and the squirrel scolding while getting my treatment.  No music required.  I have  been treated out here even in November and December.  The powerful electric heat in the top of the arbor is directed down by the shape of the cover.  The shape also keeps the rain out except when it is too windy.  I’m very comfortable and I love listening to the birds while I’m getting a massage.  This structure is wood with a translucent cover.

Deluxe umbrella for covered outdoor living landscape design.

Concordia neighborhood backyard outdoor living gets a deluxe umbrella to create shade for dining.

Concordia Backyard  Patio gets Cover with an Offset Umbrella

My clients Ryan and Sam live in a very urban area of NE Portland with a pub next door that has outdoor dining.  This landscape design in particular was a very collaborative process, even more so than usual.  We had a new back porch in the design but the expense (wood is so expensive these days) blew our budget.   We kept the old porch and steps and together created this outdoor room that is such a perfect fit.  It distracts from the next door pub garden, creates privacy, integrates the other two important areas of the backyard beautifully and is highly useable.  A collaborative relationship with clients and installer always opens the door for new and even better fitting ideas.

Design Tip:  Using an off set or cantilevered umbrella creates a physically and visually spacious dining area.  An umbrella with post in the center of the table often makes a dining area feel small and blocks potentially good views, in this case the steel privacy panels (which add so much pizzazz to the space) would have been greatly diminished.

Contact us

Looking for an outdoor landscape design that can create solutions for your city property with all its challenges? Contact us.  We have the experience to know what is doable and the creativity to find the best design for you and your wish list.

Tips to Create Larry’s Native Oregon Forest Landscape

Adding Native Oregon Plants to the Trees

Adding landscape plants to Oregon native forest

Larry’s new back yard needs a landscape design in Portland, Oregon

My friend Larry bought a property with huge Douglas Fir trees and he wants to create landscape for wildlife in the Pacific Northwest.  He wants a back yard forest.  He sent me a photo of his new property’s back yard after I offered to give him a few tips.

Landscape Designer and Certified Arborist Collaboration

So Larry here’s my advice for your first step;  you will get your back yard forest better, faster and easier with a landscape designer who works with arborists.  Because of all those huge 60′ tall fir trees your next step is to have an arborist evaluate the trees, talk with you and give us a report on the health of your trees.

Why work with an arborist before we create your design?  We don’t want to design your back yard forest landscape around a large existing tree that will need to be removed later.  Such a waste.

Existing Trees Need Evaluating

Native Oregon Douglas Fir

Majestic Douglas Fir trees in a Portland landscape

Get an arborist who will consult and evaluate your trees – not just come by for a sales call.  If you have to pay for this service, you will know for sure it is not a sales call.  Some arborists only want to assess whether they can remove or prune any of your trees. It’s true that we want to know if they think any of the trees should be removed or need restorative pruning but we want to know so much more.

Arborist Site Evaluation

Here are a few questions I would ask just from looking at your photo:  I see there is a double gate for vehicles near the trees.  I would wonder if the soil is compacted under your trees because people parked trucks under your trees?

Has excess soil been added over your trees root zone?  Adding soil (or even too much bark chips) over the roots of mature trees could be a problem. Did someone trench near your trees to add a septic or an irrigation system? Do you plan to add a garage or outbuilding near the trees in the future? An arborist can see the problems and advise you on how to mitigate some of the damage done.

General tree care:  get their recommendation on how much to water your Doug firs, and other native trees.  Find out how often and how much water needed, when to start watering each year and when to stop.  Looking on line you will read conflicting information about watering native conifer trees so get your information directly from the arborist.

Stress on Native Trees Due to Climate Change

Tips on watering for native cedar trees in Oregon

Dying cedar trees near Portland, Oregon

Ten years ago we never ever summer watered Douglas fir trees.   Due to climate change we have had multiple years of too dry in the spring and even some odd winters where it did not rain enough for our trees.  This has severely stressed many of our native trees. New recommendations I have heard are to give regular but not too frequent deep watering.  Homeowners need a precise watering plan so they know what to do and when to do it.  We want slowly applied water so it gets down deep into the soil rather than run off into a low spot somewhere.  That’s why I favor the drilled emitter tube or a homeowner soaker/ooze type of hose and why I do not recommend using overhead sprinklers for watering anything except lawn.  Ask the arborist how you should water your trees and write it down.  Here’s a money saving tip:  A written report from a certified arborist costs a lot of money and a verbal report is much more affordable.

Fir Tree Compatible Landscape Design

Hey Larry, did you think I would say hire a designer who knows about landscaping with native plants and knows what kind of plants are compatible with Douglas Fir?   I’m a residential landscape designer with 20 plus years in Portland.   I am accustomed to creating designs that are compatible with big trees and that is why I know so many arborists as well.  We create designs that surprise our clients with our downright clever use of space, the way we add functional areas, and create paths that beautifully integrate the entire property.  We take your ideas and make them useable and  brilliant and the plants we suggest will meet your criteria for forest community and low maintenance.

Best Timing for Planting Natives

Native Oregon flowering witch hazel

Field of flowering witch hazel near Portland, Oregon

Don’t Let Your “Do it Now!!!” Energy Add Pressure

And it’s hard to wait. I know you just moved in last fall Larry and now spring is on its way.  You are wanting to get it going right?  If you are not ready to start now say early February with your design and decisions made….. consider getting everything else ready and wait ’til fall for most or all of your plantings.  You will not lose valuable growing time by planting in the fall. Your new trees planted this late spring or (worse in summer) will be stressed by summer heat (even if we do not have a heat dome June 2021) and they won’t grow much. Success will be keeping the leaves or the needles on the tree. Or you could plant the same tree this fall say in October and next spring the fall planted tree will be bigger even though you planted it 5 months later and be less stressed by summer because it has an established root system that grew over winter. So don’t feel you are losing your opportunity for a faster growing tree if you wait ’til fall.

 

Landscape with native Oregon plants under existing trees

New landscape in St. Johns North Portland highlights existing Vine Maple

Creating Larry’s Shady Forest One Plant Layer at a Time

Here are some of the plants I’d consider (organized by the layer, tallest, 25′, then 15′, then 7′, then 3′ and under).

So Larry since your existing trees are limbed up (no branches for the first 20’) it’s going to be awhile before you have your shady forest. This means your initial plantings need to be plants that can handle quite a bit of sun now but later on will thrive in dappled shade.

I would design your  hardscape and layout plant first so you know where paths and planting areas will be.  Next up is your planting plan starting with 20′ to 25′ tall under story trees. These trees  will make shade for your forest floor plants.  Cascara frangula purshiana-Cascara buckthorn, Malus fusca-Pacific crabapple, and Amelanchier alnifolia-Pacific Serviceberry are also great bird and pollinator plants.  Native vine maple works too but will have scorched leaves for a few years in this kind of sun.  It will  become accustomed to more sun and then later also thrive in the shade of the big trees.  Situate vine maple so it gets some afternoon shade from those “way up in the air” Doug Fir branches.

Native Oaks are the New Cool Climate Change Trees

Landscaper with native oregon White Oak

Carol Lindsay, Landscape Designer, with Native Oregon White Oak in SE Portland

Our beloved Oregon White Oak grows quickly to 15-20 feet and then slows down as it grows to over 100′ tall.  (Which Larry you and I will not be around to see).   I also love to use  a smaller oak tree, our native evergreen Canyon Live Oak (Q. chrysolepis). While it’s native to southern Oregon it does well in Portland and it is much faster than this southern California small oak called ‘La Siberia’.  Quercus greggi ‘La Siberia’ is very very attractive and tough and available locally at Treephoria.com.  Yes I promised not to go into such detail but I am a sucker for oak trees.

The Next Understory Layer Includes Native Rhododendron

The next layer can be shrubs that grow 10′ to 15’ tall. I tend to call these plants “shrees” as they mature into small trees.

Native Plant Rhododendron Macrophyllum-Pacific Coast Rhododendron

Larry, I know you especially like our native rhododendron which is what started this conversation. So our evergreen Pacific Coast Rhododendron can get 10′-15′ in improved soil.  It can take quite a bit of sun but no boggy wet soil.  When it is older it will also tolerate more shade.

Our very fragrant smaller Rhododendron occidentale-Western Azalea, is listed for sun and loses it’s leaves in winter so not evergreen. The sweet fragrance can waft quite a distance in early spring. I’d plant it on the edge of your forest area where it will always get more sun.  Clients often say its their favorite fragrance.

Native Oregon plants Flowering Currant

March: Flowering Currant-Ribes sanguineum

Wildlife Garden Design – Provide for Birds and Pollinators with these Plants

Here are just a few native plants (in the 10′ to 15′ height)  to help you garden for birds:  Ribes sanguineum, Pacific Current, Holodiscus Discolor-Ocean Spray,  and Vaccinium parvifolium-Red Huckleberry.  And you will want  Oemlaria cerasiformis-OsoBerry or Indian plum (which can scorch in full sun so doesn’t look so great in late summer) because it is such an important wildlife plant.  Don’t let its mid summer rough appearance keep it from your landscape.  It’s worth it.  Even this east coast native, Cornus Mas-Cornelian Cherry has very early flowers, low water needs and is so great for pollinators and later in summer has fruit for birds.

Consider one of the many varieties of Arctostaphylos-manzanita or Ceanothus. These plants should be placed where they will get lots of sun and should not be watered in the summer or fall.  They are great for wildlife providing food for birds including over wintering hummingbirds and important insects.

The Next Layer 5′ to 7′ Native Shrubs

Native Oregon Thimble Berry is great for pollinators

Rubus Parvifolia-Thimble Berry, great for Portland bumble bees

Native Oregon evergreen Huckleberry

Vaccineum ovatum-Evergreen Huckleberry at a very special garden on Sauvie Island

Native Vaccinium ovatum-evergreen huckleberry is one of my favorites.  It’s shorter in lots of sun and taller in shade so it’s perfect for you. Next on my list would be various native Rubus plants. Rubus spectabilis-Salmon Berry is taller and the flowers are a shocking hot pink in early spring and is beloved by our native bees. Rubus parviflorus – Thimble berry is early season bumble bee food and makes a great 3′ to 4′ high hedge if you want one somewhere.  Both of these plants have short thorns. They take a lot of sun so plant on the edges.  My mom grew up on the Oregon Coast and she loves Thimble Berry to eat fresh.  It’s a little surprise tart-ish flavored berry.

Our native salal at 3’ to 5’ can be hard to get established. But don’t get discouraged.  Several of your plants may croak for no reason you can discern but the ones that survive will spread. They will be shorter in the sun and taller in shade, sometimes 5′ tall in shade.  I have a client who makes a gimlet and always adds Salal berry.

Ground Layer Native Plants 1′ to 3’ Tall

Native Oregon sword fern

Portland native plants: Sword fern with a skirt of dicentra exima-Native Bleeding Heart

Sword fern is a low maintenance native plant for sun or shade and fills planting beds fast

You could plant a bazillion sword ferns and some Gaultheria Shallon-Salal under fir trees and call it done. Polystichum munitum-Sword Fern is good to go in sun or even fairly deep shade. It’s the primary fern in the Willamette Valley so it’s the one I grew up with.  Unlike other native plants (who can be fussy about soil), Sword Fern will grow in horrid clay sub soil as well as the good stuff! They handle fir needle debris as well as leaf load in the fall so you don’t have to spend your time removing every leaf to keep the ferns thriving.  Don’t you want a garden where you can leave the rake in the garage?  Plants that work well with sword fern are numerous but here’s an idea you may not have thought of; let’s use easy to germinate native plant seeds.

Seeds are Perfect for Filling in a New Planting Area Quickly

Native Oregon ground cover Phacelia Nemoralis

Native bees rely on this ground cover Phacelia Nemoralis

I love using these native self seeding annuals and perennials to fill in my ground level while waiting for the larger plants to grow. I sow these native plants by seed in fall, in late winter, and in the spring to get them going strong. These are my favs:  Oregon native phacelia nemorosa  for both sun and shade. The California native phacelia  flower is more attractive but is for the sunniest areas along with an Oregon native called Gillia capitata.   After your shade deepens you will have fewer of these last two.  These self seeding native plants provide abundantly for pollinators and they will do a lovely short and long term job of covering your ground. After your larger trees and shrubs get planted these self sowers will fill the spaces left available.

Another plant is Tellima grandiflora-Fringe Cup (which you will recognize Larry from living in Oregon most of your life) and it takes a lot of sun but will settle into shade nicely. It is a perennial and you can buy it as a plant or go for seeds too.

Spread Multi Species Wood Chips To Put Life Into Your Soil

Larry, here’s a cool thing you can do now. Get a load of diverse species wood chips from a tree service. Ask for a mix of different kinds of trees. You want diversity. Spread them at no more than 2” above your existing grade in future planting areas or everywhere for now if your yard is a blank slate.  As the chips break down they will start putting life back into your soil that the trees need. By life I am talking about fungi and making a place for diverse micro organisms. These good bacteria are an important investment in the health of your plants.  Tip:   Only  add  2” of any kind of chip over tree root areas. It has to do with oxygen ratios in the soil and your trees tiny root hairs. Not enough oxygen and the little tiny roots which process most of the water for the tree die off…not good.  When in doubt-check with your arborist about how deep to apply chips around trees.  Many gardeners replenish these chips every few years around their native plants.

The only thing I don’t like about these arborist multi species wood chips is that they are often so chunky that they are hard for some dogs to run on (ankles and knees).  I wouldn’t want these chips to be the only place where dogs can play and run around.

Dog Friendly Landscape puppy on cedar chips Portland, Oregon

Luna naps on playground cedar chip path.

For a dog friendly surface I prefer playground cedar chips (Northwest Play Fiber or similar) for attractive woodsy looking paths that last and are easy to walk on.

Wildlife Garden Design or Landscaping with Native Plants – Contact us

So Larry, thanks for inspiring me…. I wanted to give you some tips for how to achieve your back yard forest and for anyone interested in landscaping for wildlife in the Pacific Northwest.

Contact us: Carol Lindsay (and Alana Chau associate designer) with our contact form or call us at 503-223-2426.

 

 

Modern Landscape Design Seen in NE Portland Back Yards

Hardscape Solutions for Portland Back Yards With A Modern Twist

We enjoy visiting our past back yard designs and today we are in NE and SE Portland.  We will see installed back yard hardscape landscape designs and modern gardens in Portland neighborhoods Grant Park, South Tabor, Richmond, Reed and Eastmoreland.

Eastmoreland Neighborhood Outdoor Living Patio

Modern landscape design in Richmond neighborhood

Covered Outdoor Living in Richmond Neighborhood gets minimalist modern landscape design treatment.

 

 

 

 

Eastmore neighborhood landscape design

Alana Chau sits in the new patio garden she designed in Eastmoreland neighborhood of Portland.

Richmond neighborhood with minimalist modern landscaping

Our clients installed almost everything in their new landscape including this echo chamber water feature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We start near the Sellwood Bridge to see a very small back yard ‘Remodel’ design.  With a landscape that already has mature trees and fairly good privacy our job is to keep what works, remove what doesn’t and create the missing elements.  We (designer: Alana Chau), added a perfect fit lounging patio to the existing concrete area, a water feature, and fresh new plantings.  Our client Eva Barnes loves the new design.  She and David had so much fun with friends and family installing most of the design including an electrician friend who came and installed the GIF (ground fault interrupter) for the water feature.  Eva says about her new backyard, ‘It’s just perfect’.

Design Incorporates New ADU/Studio for a Family Friendly Landscape

Reed neighborhood incorporate existing gate into landscape designAn important factor for this Reed neighborhood home was working the new Adu/studio into the overall back yard landscape design.  An important decision was whether to keep the existing fence and gate that separated the small intimate family covered dining area from the larger back yard.  After much deliberations, we kept the gate and fencing because it made more usable space for the covered dining area, created a separate (and sunny) sit spot near the studio door and kept the existing fence and gate which has whimsical and delightful carvings of crows that are incorporated into the wood.  These corvine illustrations are both carvings and wood work.  They are all through the fencing and there are illustrations also in the brick patio from the previous owner.  It felt good to honor those.

Privacy for Tiny Patio Garden in Creston Kenilworth Neighborhood

Portland landscape design

Alana Chau and client Bill Sims with dog Juniper.  Note: Bill built the planter himself.

Portland Oregon simple modern landscape pavers

Hardscape landscaping design results in simple but very attractive path for side yard.

This family needed a planting plan re-do for the front, back and side yard and a designer who could understand the balance of privacy needs and community connection for the sidewalk patio. Taller plants in the new planter create privacy from eye contact with passersby without cutting folks off from community. The large planter with wide wall cap doubles as a wonderful sit spot. It’s a very friendly neighborhood.  The new hardscape path for the side yard is such an asset to the patio views, sets the stage for dramatic foliage plants and also makes a way to the garbage cans with dry feet during the winter.

Hosford Abernathy Neighborhood Back Yard Privacy Design

Our clients did not have a good view from their back yard before hiring Landscape Design in a Day.

See our previous blog about privacy.  It’s still a young garden so we are waiting for the privacy plants to get going growing on the new screen. (Japanese Climbing Hydrangea) and other colorful maturing plantings are filling in and starting to diminish the power of the purple violet house nicely. The landscape also needed a lot of careful attention to water from downspouts and had other drainage issues.  These issues were solved collaboratively with the landscape contractor, D & J Landscape Contractors, Donna Burdick and Landscape Design in a Day designer Alana Chau.

Carol Lindsay Portland landscape designer hugs young oak tree in Portland back yard.

Portland landscape designer hugs young oak tree, (Oregon White Oak, Quercus garryana) in clients back yard.

There are 2 rain gardens, a small one in the back yard and a larger more dramatic rain garden in the front.  Our client wanted to protect the river by keeping his drain water on site and returning it to groundwater, a high priority for our client.  He also planted a native Oregon White Oak.

Richmond Neighborhood Back Yard Has Uber Modern Back Yard Landscape Design

Richmond neighborhood modern landscape design

Chartreuse flowers of Euphorbia contrast with black patio table in uber modern backyard landscape design.

We started our blog with a photo of this dramatic minimalist modern landscape design.  The best news is that the clients use this covered outdoor living area patio year-round.  They live out here whenever they can. There is no better complement for a designer.  In the winter they use a standing heater as well as a ceiling heater.  For summer entertaining they will put the standing heater away to make more room for guests. Meadow style grasses and other dramatic plants give the overall design a modern minimalist style.  There is even a Tetrapanax papifera ‘Steroidal Giant’ in the back corner which will add a tropical flair (with very large leaves) once it matures.  We will have a blog that shows photos and more details on this fun garden soon.

South Tabor Home Back Yard Landscape Design

This home is getting the full treatment being remodeled inside and out to include adding an ADU now that the back yard transformation is well on its way.  Alana’s landscape design is planned around the future ADU.

Tabor neighborhood modern patio landscape design

Modern hardscape landscaping back yard patio garden replaces previous backyard wasteland in South Tabor neighborhood.

Alana collaborated with our client to create a new modern landscape style patio area with plantings.  She kept it low maintenance and low water.  He loves the new plantings and especially the colorful carpet of hens and chicks.  The back yard was previously a bit of wasteland when the house was purchased in 2019.

Contact Us

We love driving around and seeing our clients in their new back yards.  Contact us for a collaborative landscape design process that takes your needs, likes and dislikes into account while we lead the way to a perfect fit back yard.

Time Travel a Willamette Heights NW Plant Lovers Garden

Residential landscape design for Portland gardeners.

After design installation for NW Native Garden Design Style.  When they said they were gardeners they were not kidding around!

Decades Designing a NW Natural Garden Landscape Design

Creating a NW Natural Native Garden Design for a hillside home in Portland, Oregon?  Why say time travel?  I met D and R and we created their first native garden design in 1997 and they are still enjoying their property and home now in 2022.

In the beginning they purchased a newly constructed home in Willamette Heights neighborhood of Portland.  They found me through their builder.  We connected at our first meeting and they saw I was a collaborative garden designer  rather than a person who finishes up a generic landscape for a builder.  Over the years we made a great team.  I’m grateful they picked me and this garden has meant much to me personally and professionally.

Design Phase-Getting to Know My Clients

They introduced themselves as people who like to garden. At my first glance, looking at their sloped back yard covered in English ivy and invasive blackberries, I figured we would not be doing much with the back yard.  The front yard and the side yard would be easier for them to care for so that would probably be where they would play with plants and garden.   I had no idea that over the next ten years we would transform the entire property into a lusciously planted NW style and native garden with  stone paths and steps to access multiple patios terraced into the hillside. Lush colorful plantings would knit the entire garden into a whole.  And so we began a garden transformation journey that would cover the next decade and a friendship that has gone on much longer.

We would collaborate to create the design, I had lots of experience with plants to know what plants would work for their non typical back yard and I was a designer who cared about their trees, (had worked for a tree service while in school) and the environment.  I would introduce them to my favorite arborist who helped them with their trees for over a decade. We would talk about drip irrigation and selecting low water plants that would work well with their trees and their sloped property.  Collaboration, spatial design eye, plant experience and environmental know how were all needed for this design as well as relationships with experienced landscape installers.

My Site Assessment

Portland hillside covered in ivy and blackberry before landscape design.

Before landscape design, back yard is covered in invasive ivy and blackberry

Blackberry and invasive ivy removed for Portland residential landscape design.

Blackberry and invasive ivy cover back yard before design process

Access to the Back yard – House Design and the Doors

Given the extreme site conditions who knew people who love plants and gardens would buy this property?

Here are the kinds of things a designer thinks about to create a Native Garden Design.  Initially the back yard was covered in ivy, blackberries and had 4 mature large native trees, 35’ (plus) feet tall. The smallest trunk was 30” through and another was closer to 42”. It sloped up steeply on the south side and at the very top you could easily see Mt. St. Helens over their multi story house roof.  Understanding the site conditions and how to move around on this property was the key to the right design.

Doors and their Locations Dictate the Layout of the Native Garden Design

Doors and their locations are one of the most important influences on a landscape design. I know it seems odd, not plants, doors. There were two doors. We had a well placed side door (located off the great room) that opened into a very narrow side yard. We planned to take full advantage of the existing rock walls in this area by planting them with dwarf ferns and other crevice filling plants. From the great room we see these evergreen plantings year round. The stone patio side yard was the only level area on the property and it became the first patio for outdoor living but would not be the last.

NW rockery with Himalayan Maidenhair Fern for residential landscape design.

Himalayan Maidenhair Fern – Adiantum Venustum creeps through rockery and is seen from the great room windows and door.

The only door that led directly to the back yard was off the master bedroom. There was very little level area there and way too small for a sitting area. The grade immediately pitched up the slope which was too steep for paths without significant grading and retaining work.

Site Conditions-Working with Existing Plantings

The back slope had mature native big leaf maple – Acer Macrophylla trees towering over the property and one Western Red Cedar.  Any other native plants had been taken over by the bank of ivy. A hedge of variegated Acuba ran all along the south property line and created needed privacy between neighbors.  Acuba is one tough plant and since it is so well established it doesn’t need much water and only needs annual pruning. It’s a great fit with low water native plants and would be compatible with the new plantings I would select to grow under the old trees.

Shade or Sun Plants?

Our light conditions for new plantings are also challenging because the back yard gets morning shade, and the intense mid day sun. By late afternoon the plants are getting dappled shade at best. Plant selection is tricky because sun lovers don’t get enough sun and shade plants get too much. Designers know from trial and error what plants will thrive in this ‘caught between the rules’ planting area. The internet, with the exception of Great Plant Picks, doesn’t address the many kinds of shade and to most people, it’s either a shade plant or a sun plant. Happily there is a world between the two.

More Site Condition Issues – Tree Roots don’t like to Share Water

The large leaves of the Oregon Big Leaf Maple create afternoon shade and their thirsty roots surely encompass the entire lot. Their roots would take water from anything we planted so new plants would need to be able to stand up to the competition.  For this native garden design I would select low water plants near the big trees for two reasons: They need to thrive on leftover water from the thirsty big trees.  And we can’t have plants that need a lot of water under the big native trees because overwatering them could cause them health problems.  Rain garden for NW residential landscape design.

 

Mysterious Water Sounds

Water problems in NW garden calls for new landscape design.There was a mysterious wet area part way up the slope. We could not see the water in the summer but we could hear it. In the winter it was much louder, a dull roar although oddly we did not see much water.  Even in the summer I could always hear the sound of water trickling somewhere underground.  A professional solution was needed and I wanted that solution to be part of the beauty.

Native Garden Design Phase

My first design concept drawings focused on the side patio garden and terracing along the back foundation of the house. I did not address the back yard hillside. My clients loved the design but kindly told me to think bigger with regard to the back yard. They wanted to get rid of all the ivy, not a common ideal in 1997, and design for access to the whole hillside, to result in a beautiful naturalistic style hillside garden. They had a view of Mt. St. Helens from the top south corner of their property and they wanted easy access to get there, and space to sit and enjoy that view. I went back to the drawing board. The next design added another terraced patio, the dry stream bed, paths and plantings. And in a few years there would be another phase of design that added more but you will have to wait until I write about it.

It’s All About How You Move-Paths

Design can be so simple. When I was still a student, Barbara Fealey, (Oregon famous and first female landscape architect) told me, ‘Design, it’s all about how you move’. It loses in the telling but it is a profound statement. The paths take us to where we want to be doing an activity (even if that activity is relaxing and doing nothing). I wanted taking the path to feel like an adventure while it simultaneously integrated the various terraces and planting areas into one whole. Paths are also designed to be practical and allow for easier maintenance of the plants and property.

Landscape design patio for mountain viewing in Portland.

Sneak peek into the last stone terrace patio added in 2009 at the upper north corner of the property. Clumping bamboo – Fargesia ‘Campbells’ is planted for privacy above the wall.

Path Tips

Hillside paths need to break up the steep slopes and lead us into spaces we can be in.

Think about the activities the paths would serve: access to sitting areas for outdoor living and plant maintenance.

Traversing across a slope is often the best way to go and in our case, it minimized the number of stairs.

The path that cuts across the slope creates beautifully shaped planting beds.

Having enough paths allows access to planting beds for maintenance.

NW Portland Landscape Design rock wall plantings Omphalodes c. 'Cherry Ingram'

Navel wort or Blue eyed Mary captivates us with blue spring flowers. This is a variety so not our true native omphalodes.

Walls and Terraces

The walls for the stone terraces showcase beautiful plants as well as carving out and retaining hillside to create a level place for the sitting area.

Uncommon Plants

Here is a list of fun plants that I do not typically use but that were perfect for this property.  Euphorbia amygdaloides  ‘Mrs. Robb’s Spurge’ for a dry tolerant groundcover under the maple trees.  It spreads by runner so we trapped it behind the stone paths and it was not watered much which helped it stay in bounds.  Luzula sylvatica ‘Marginata’ – Variegated Wood Rush; if you look up this evergreen grass on line, it will often say it has to be divided frequently so people shy away from it.  This is not true and it is a very low water plant and will become fully drought tolerant once it is well established.  This was used under the maple trees and picks up the gold from the variegated dogwood leaf nicely. It was a strong enough plant to hold its own with the ‘Mrs. Robbs Spurge’.

Not All Native Plants

Adding diversity to the landscape is a good thing and having lots of natives is a good thing.  If someone wants every plant to be a native plant to Willamette Valley I’m happy to create for this specification. It’s exciting. But most of us don’t have the proper soil or site conditions for just any native plant and many people want more summer and winter color than we can get with natives alone. I’m big on using native and non native plants for my clients who care about the environment but are not ready for the rough winter appearance of the fully native plant landscape. There are lots of ways to create an environmentally conscious garden design including using local native plants.

NW landscaping a dry creek bed for residential portland property.

Dry creek bed is a focal point but also has a drain to collect and move excess water on the property.

Native Plants List

We used quite a few natives to include tough and low water Sword Fern, Blue-Eyed Mary – Omphalodes verna (a cultivated variety of it called ‘Cherry Ingram’), a variety of our native red twig dogwood called Cornus S. ‘Hedgerows Golden’ with its variegated leaf in spring and summer, fall color and then red twigs in the winter. This is a plant that can be planted on the edges of wet and boggy locations or once established be drought tolerant.   We used a lot of different ferns. I’m sure we had over 20 different varieties and many of them crossed over the years and made variants (which I call frondlings).  These “frondlings” picked their spot to germinate, often in the crevices of the rock walls.  Ferns have so much fun texture and are very low maintenance when sited correctly. And many of our workhorse native shrubs like Vaccineum, Nine Bark and Ribes.

Pseudo Rain Garden/Dry Stream Bed

Another unique area for plants was the dry stream bed. We used large varieties of maiden hair fern tucked behind the logs so they didn’t get too much water in the winter when the dry stream bed was not dry…and lots of gold acorus grass which loved the winter water. The contrast of clean gold blades with the spring green of the maidenhair fronds was arresting. The contractor installed a drain at the bottom so the stream bed itself did not have hardly any plants in it like a typical rain garden would. Maidenhair fern – Adiantum and Toad Lilly – Tricyrtis are two plants that thrive planted up higher at the edge of the rocks; they would die from root rot planted into the middle. They don’t tolerant constantly wet soil in winter.

Plant Shopping

Since my clients D and R are gardeners, we experimented with many plants over the next decade. The front and side yards were also designed and so the entire property became a garden. Yes we used a lot of my trusty tried and true plants and native plants, but gardeners love plants. Some fun shopping happened at small plant nurseries like Fancy Fronds, Robins Nest and Joy Creek Nursery, (most of these are retired except Fancy Fronds who is going onto a 2nd generation).  If you are a plant geek or a wanna-be the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon can be counted on to provide great plants at their twice yearly sales. R and I had a lot of fun with blue flowering plants like Corydalis f. ‘China Blue’  and also used common groundcover Speedwell- Veronica u. Georgia Blue’ neither of these are drought tolerant btw. These days only a few clients are enthused plant geek shoppers so most clients have native plants and others delivered by my plant broker, a garden nursery or the installer.

Collaboration with Your Designer

If you want a naturalistic garden design or a full on native plants garden design, first select someone like me who is serious about connecting and collaborating with you. I believe in the power of no. In fact I will prompt you to say something when you see or feel something isn’t right when we are looking at a design concept together. I’ve already learned about what you like and I have the yes list.  Still without exception, learning about your ‘no’ allows me to make the design even better for you.

We want to help you make your new landscape a place that is not only safe for nature, but provides for and allows other life to be sustained besides your own. These days lots of Portlanders are right there with me wanting practical ways to make their landscape an asset to our environment.

Look at our reviews-they often go on a bit about how the space in some tiny or difficult yard was magically utilized. Spatial know how is a great talent and while it can be learned, Alana and I both seem to have that talent innately. And it’s a toss up as to which is more fun, figuring out the best layout of your back yard or creating the planting plan.

Are you interested in a naturalistic and native garden design style for your back yard?  Are you looking for a collaborative design experience?  Contact us.

 

 

Front Yard Landscape Designs in NE Portland

Four Portland Front Yards Get Landscape Makeover

Pathways are an opportunity to connect your house to the land.

Before front yard landscape redesign.

BEFORE: the front yard detracts from the charming Irvington neighborhood bungalow.

Front yard landscape make over.

AFTER: adding a large concrete landing matches the proportions and value of the home.

Front yard landscape design in Portland neighborhoods.

Front yard plants are filling in the new design. (2nd year) See Back Yard Design Story

These clients in the Irvington neighborhood had a pretty dinky underwhelming entry path from the sidewalk that did nothing for their home.  The 2 huge street trees towering over their home meant the lawn under the trees would never be attractive and besides these clients were retired and the mower needed to be banished.

A new stone landing was installed along with a stone veneer on the porch steps and porch floor.   The humpy lawn was removed, gentle grading commenced to include adding boulders and new NW Natural Style plantings.   Now the entry of this Irvington home sparkles.  The back yard is designed for outdoor living and has a large patio, outdoor dining room and play area for grandkids.  Installed by D and J Landscape Contractors.

Before landscape design redid the front yard.

BEFORE:  This Grant Park neighborhood house didn’t have the right path.

Portland landscape design with new entry path and colorful plantings at the front porch.

The new path is all 90 degree angles and much wider. See more of this project

A New Entry Path Leads the Design for this Historic Georgian Home

Pennisetum alocuroides 'Little Bunny' a dwarf fountain grass shows its late summer blooms in a Portland front yard

Colorful plants in Grant Park includes Little Bunny Fountain Grass

This landscape re-design is an example where changing the entry walk made a dramatic difference to the curb appeal of this historic Georgian style home.  This house (in Grant Park of NE Portland) seemed to loom over its land.  My clients wanted the landscape design to complement their home. Now the new entry walk (and driveway) has the right proportions and fits with the strong architectural style of the home.   The landscape design puts the focus back on the marvelous front porch.

Front yard landscape design with water feature.

Rain Garden in St Johns – Ranch House

 

Rain Gardens in St Johns

Before front yard landscape redesign.

Before: No front walk leaves ranch house cut off from the neighborhood.

This modern ranch needed a front walk.  My clients were done with walking up the narrow driveway.  The new front walk from the public sidewalk also improved access from the new wider driveway. Gardeners paths integrate this landscape beautifully instead of lawn.  A rain garden works as an accent to the overall NW Natural Style landscape and handles water from a disconnected downspout.  We carefully kept the old and lovely vine maple for privacy to the living room window, a mature Fatsia japonica, and several tree like rhododendrons.  Some of the new plants in this design are:

Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’

Erica Carnea-Spring flowering heather

Brunnera m. ‘Jack Frost’-azure blue flowering groundcover with silver and green leaves

Spirea japonica-low maintenance easy care summer flowering shrub

Pinus mugo ‘Sherwoods Compact’ a specialty dwarf pine

This design was installed by D and J Landscape Contracting 

 

Rain Garden Becomes the Focal Point

Portland front yard landscape design with rain garden

When my client Amy and I work together I take her design ideas and make them work. This is our 3rd project together in St. Johns Portland, Oregon.

Landscape design for Portland front yard.

This modern craftsmen style home in St Johns belongs to a serious DIY client of many years.  She wanted a working rain garden as the focal point of her front landscape and no lawn.

We worked together on a Landscape Design in a Day to refine her front yard design, rain garden design and add paths and plantings.  She acted as her own general contractor and managed the installation.  The crew she hired was inexperienced but she was able to guide them.  While working with them was quite a bit more work than she expected, she prevailed and the installation finished well with attractive boulder and stone placement.  The rain garden handles most of the rain off her front roof.  We also made a wide spot in the path for her neighbors to get out of their car into her path.  Like many city properties there wasn’t much room between houses. The photo shows her freshly installed plantings fall of 2020.

Some of the key plants for the rain garden are Gold Sweet Flag – Acorus gramiense ‘Ogon’,  Inkberry – Ilex glabra ‘Shamrock’ and Juncus ‘ Blue Arrows’ – a cultivated variety of a native rush.

Privacy Landscape Design and Modern Curb Appeal in Kenton Neighborhood

Portland neighborhood front yard landscape design.

Kenton neighborhood small front entry needs to gather guests from the sidewalk, the driveway and provide a small seating area for homeowners.

Portland modern front yard landscape design.

This very modern landscape design provides access to the house from both driveway and sidewalk and creates a semi private spot to sit.

This simple modern landscape design gave this Kenton neighborhood home much more than curb appeal.  There is a hidden seating area in addition to easy access from the driveway and the public sidewalk. Our clients didn’t need a lot of privacy, but enough to avoid accidental eye contact from walkers by.  Clients acted as general contractor and used M and J Landscape from Salem for the install.  Alana Chau designed this landscape and placed plants.  See more of this project.