Archive for Low Maintenance Landscape Examples

Larry’s Forest Landscape Letter

Adding a Forest to the Trees

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

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

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

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.

 

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

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.

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 andlater 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

Rubus Parvifolia-Thimble Berry, great for Portland bumble bees

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

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 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.

 

 

Tricky Residential Corner Landscape Overhaul in Northeast Portland

Grant Park Neighborhood Home Gets Curb Appeal Design for Front Yard

New entry hardscape landscaping has spacious acid wash concrete steps and landing.

Outdoor Living Needed in Grant Park Residential Landscape Design

These Grant Park homeowners just finished updating the stucco exterior of their home and were eager to finally tackle the landscape. The entry was not working at all; it wasn’t clear how to get to front door and the fence was in the wrong spot for curb appeal. They wanted to add beauty and function.

Portland oregon residential landscape design needed

New Front Steps

The old entry had a short concrete wall and an old boxwood hedge. We ripped all of this out and opened up the entire area to maximum curb appeal. The stairs and landing are poured concrete, acid washed. We did not want to change anything about the old Portland charm (or function!) of the Tudor-style portico, so that section of concrete was just updated with paint. Yes, it will have to be re-painted every once in a while. However, it’s almost impossible to match old concrete with new, so a complementary color can be a great solution.  A small sit spot makes the front entry feel welcoming.

Curb appeal gets a landscape update in Grant Park neighborhood

Colorful Planting Plan

The entry plants have already made a splash in their first year in the ground. Last fall, the neighbors were commenting on how the yellow grass, Carex oshimensis ‘Everillo’, glows in the low autumn light. It is always a joy when our gardens suit our clients and enhance the community at the same time.

Grant Park Neighborhood Front Yard gets Colorful plantings

Purple Hellebore blooms from February to May. The yellow grass, Carex oshimensis ‘Everillo’, and Coral Bells, Heuchera ‘Grande Black’, bring color year round and are incredibly easy maintenance.

The entry is part shade and sloping so plant selection is important. (When is plant selection unimportant?) Two Vine Maples, Acer circinatum, flank the new steps, seen in the first picture of this blog. The Sarcococca ground cover brings a lovely fragrance in the winter. Hostas pop up for spring and bloom in summer. Into the fall, the small white blooms of Japanese Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’ light up the entry.

Corner Lot Conundrum

I love working with corner lots because they almost always require out-of-the-box solutions. This one had a useless extra path and the grass was being used as a cut through for neighborhood kids on the way to school.

Grant Park neighborhood in need of residential landscape design

We removed the walkway, pushed the fence away from the front door and put in a Lavender Hedge so that the homeowners could reclaim this side yard space. The clients say that this solution has worked like a charm and no one cuts the corner anymore. With a new lawn installed, the side yard lawn can be a play space for the kids.

Grant Park neighborhood corner lot updates landscape for more usable space

Planting plan for corner lot in Grant Park neighborhood includes a Lavender hedge. It provides evergreen beauty and summer fragrance while gently discouraging people from cutting through the yard.

Dog Friendly Back Yard

With the layout of this property, the back yard is small, comprising about a quarter of the total outdoor space. We need all the usable space we can get for the family of four and two big dogs. Therefore, the back is mostly hardscape with plants squeezed in wherever we could get them. The casual crushed rock patio is a comfy lounge area.

Grant Park neighborhood outdoor living landscape update

A relaxed collection of different seating- a hammock, a couch and even a raised dog bed make this patio comfortable for the whole family.

The planting plan can take dog traffic – including sword fern, Japanese Forest Grass and the happiest Penstemon I’ve ever seen. The dogs can go to the bathroom on the crushed rock, but these city dog owners are very diligent about frequent walks.

Dog friendly design elements for Grant Park neighborhood landscape design

Check out the raised dog bed in the back, lucky pups. Plants include sword fern, Japanese Forest Grass and a single trunk Japanese Maple. Oh, and a fish planter spitting out strawberry plants. Too cute.

The dining table and concrete pad were existing, we just enhanced it with a simple sun sail and some planters to soften the garage wall. A low cost update.

landscape hardscaping is poured concrete, modern pavers and crushed rock work great for this outdoor living area in NE Portland.

Sun sail is a great low cost way to bring shade and a bit of color to this Grant Park Neighborhood back yard.

Clients Bring the Fun

It’s exciting as a designer for the ideas in my head to become a real-life landscape that a family gets to enjoy.  It’s even more joyful when the clients use their outdoor space so much that they add their own flair, like the cloud wall from a past project or the chairs made from whiskey barrels. This family took it up a notch by creating murals that they fixed to the inside of the fence. Although I had nothing to do with this creative work, I couldn’t help but take a picture with the client to celebrate the completion of their landscape.

Portland Oregon residential landscape designer with Grant Park diy mural

Alana Chau sits with her client in front of the family’s DIY fun mural art.

Contact us today to create a collaborative design that solves all those tricky problems with a corner city lot.  We love tricky lots but if your lot isn’t difficult, we are happy to bring our full design abilities to serve your needs.  Tricky is not required.

Pros & Cons of 5 Dog Friendly Landscaping Surfaces

Dog friendly Back Yards in North Portland

pros & cons of dog friendly landscaping Fescue grass in St. Johns neighborhood of Portland

Westy got his lawn in St. Johns neighborhood of Portland. This is tall type fescue grass.

Here at Landscape Design in a Day we create a lot of dog friendly landscapes for our Portland clients.  Today I’ll share my experience (pro and con) with 5 typical surfaces for dog friendly backyards.  And I’ll have an excuse for cramming in lots of cute dog photos into the blog.

One of Alana’s designs featured 3 areas for the family dog.  One was for dry feet in the winter and so designed to be mud free.  One area is for summer and a dog cannot reach it during wet weather. The third area is for the dog only when its people are present.  Most of our clients don’t have enough yard for this solution but the following materials for the surfaces were at the heart of this design.

Materials for dog friendly landscapes

pros & cons of bark mulch dog friendly landscaping

My dog Daisy exploring her Aunt Kathy’s woodland garden on a bark mulch path.

 I’ll start with our least favorite surface – Bark Dust

I don’t like to use bark dust for the primary area for my dog or a clients’ dog.  Fleas, splinters, some of it tracks in and yet when I was a kid we had lawn and lots of bark dust and our dog never seemed to have a problem with it.  Maybe that is because she had so much lawn.  So I don’t use bark dust for the primary dog area.

Bark Dust

Bark dust harbors fleas and may need to be treated with chemicals to get rid of them.  Cedar chips don’t.  Cedar chips are not much more expensive than bark dust and it lasts longer.  We never used to allow cedar chips to mulch plantings, people believed it would remove nitrogen from the soils.  New research indicates this old idea is not true and I’m so delighted because having both cedar chips and bark dust in the same yard ends up looking very messy, bark dust migrating into the chips and vice versa.

Dog Friendly Landscape puppy on cedar chips Portland, Oregon

Luna the newest member of my client’s family snoozes on cedar chip path in NE Portland back yard.

Cedar Chips

This is my favorite for a dog area and I am also using it as a plant mulch when I don’t want my clients to have to install edging.  There is a specific kind of cedar chip that I like to use.  The easiest one to buy is at Mt Scott Fuel in SE Portland.  It is called NW Play Fiber and it doesn’t seem to splinter, it lays nicely together and makes a thick cover and it lasts for years.  Fir chips and other non cedar wood chips don’t last.

pros & cons of nw play fiber cedar chips dog friendly landscaping

NW Play Fiber Cedar Chips in doggie relief area near Mt Tabor.

I like to lay the chips 6″ deep.  The only negative I have noticed is with active large dogs in small spaces. Running and wrestling with their buddy dogs can displace some chips up against a fence.  The chips hold some moisture and now you have moisture up against the wood fence panels.

One client had an Irish setter who liked to run down the middle of her yard and then bounce up against the fence.  My clients have to rake the chips off the fence. They don’t mind because overall the chips have been such a blessing and are so much better than the muddy half grass they had.  Fir chips are not cheaper and will have to be topped up every year where cedar chips will last several years.  Arborist chips are too large and are awkward for dogs to run on and for people to walk on.  They have  an important place as a way to improve your soil and bring in good mycorrhizae (beneficial bacteria) but are not a product I recommend for a dog area.  They are just too lumpy.

pros & cons of dog friendly landscaping

Westy in his kennel waiting for lawn installation and new fencing in North Portland

Synthetic Lawn Pro and Con – Dog Friendly Back Yard

Pro  Yes! Synthetic lawn can be a great solution for dog owners with shady back yards or small yards.  Anyone who wants to get away from wasting water, mowing and fertilizing may be attracted to synthetic lawn.  My clients with dogs and shady back yards love their synthetic lawn.   With synthetic lawn there is no muddy winter lawn and it’s easy to clean up those dog treasures year round.

Northeast Portland back yard with synthetic lawn dog friendly landscaping

Synthetic lawn can be the perfect solution for a shady back yard with dogs.

Con  Synthetic Lawn will it smell like dog pee?  yes it could especially if you have multiple dogs.

Some people hose the spots their pets tend to visit, others actually run their irrigation system to rinse the urine odor out.  Apparently people use a chemical on their synthetic lawn to keep them from smelling.  Using a chemical doesn’t seem to be going in the right direction.

Is Synthetic Lawn harmful to trees?

Portland dog friendly landscape design pee proof lawn

Daizzie on synthetic lawn roof garden of floating home

Con – I have had an arborist warn me to place synthetic lawn away from existing trees.  I was given this formula.  For every inch of tree (diameter at breast height) place the synthetic lawn out another foot.  This is not practical for small city properties with large trees.  I would suggest consulting an ISA certified arborist to advise about whether there is a way to mitigate problems for trees where the synthetic lawn would be close to the trunk.  Synthetic lawn as a surface over our soil that alters the living microorganisms in the soil.  Is it worse for trees than a concrete patio?  Concrete is a non natural surface.  Another arborist pointed out that many installation companies use a heavy application of herbicide as part of their preparation for the synthetic lawn installation.  I would want to be sure that if a herbicide is used, it is applied by a professional who knows when and how to apply it to avoid harm to bees.

pros & cons of dog friendly landscaping

St Johns Portland client waiting for her dog friendly landscape design

Is there ever a good reason to use an herbicide? Well…..maybe.

Pro  Getting rid of the lawn will save all the water that would have been used to irrigate.  This will prevent using any of the fertilizers or chemicals typically used to maintain a lawn and many of these are harmful to bees.  Does this offset a one time use of professionally applied herbicide?  Each of us has to decide the answer to these questions.  I know of a large company who wanted to have a real Willamette Valley meadow installed on several acres specially for pollinators.  They decided to use herbicide to kill off the old lawn by first cutting the lawn down to an inch tall so there would be no flowers for bees to be attracted to.  Then they used the herbicide.  The meadow is now in its first spring and will be safely feeding thousands upon thousands of pollinators as it matures.

The New Tall Type Fescue versus old fashion short fescue blends

For yards with more sun, a newer type of grass, tall type fescue (one brand name is RTF) handles dog traffic, urine and poo better than traditional grass.  A contractor friend (with Autumn Leaf Landscape) has noticed the RTF lawn in his own backyard has fared much better than his old fescue blend lawn with his two large dogs.  Another benefit with RTF is that when you get a bare spot in the lawn, it can fill in faster because of its spreading (rhizomatic) root system.  Traditional lawn roots clump and do not spread quickly and so the old fescue blends needed more re-seeding because they clumped slowly.

pros & cons of dog friendly landscaping Fescue grass in St. Johns neighborhood of Portland

Some dogs just can’t help themselves and will try and dig their way to China.

Dogs who are Talented at Destruction will make a mess of your lawn no matter what kind you have.

RTF fills in quicker than traditional grass, which means less areas for dirt to become mud in the winter. But most anyone would have the new lawn area fenced off until it was well established before turning the dog(s) loose upon it.  If you have large dogs, and a small patch of grass even RTF isn’t going to cut it.  And some dogs who are (TAD) talented at destruction, regardless of their size will need the lawn very very well established before having access.  A professional lawn installer who used to install for dog parks told me he fenced off a new lawn area for 2 full years before it was open to dogs.

Of course, this solution depends on your type of dog, and how “fantastic” they are at tearing up your back yard. For some dogs, especially multi dog families, no real lawn is going to hold up to their needs so using grass means there will be worn paths into the grass.  You need a lot of grass to manage multiple dogs and lots of sun.  Shade, lawn and dogs means winter mud.

pros & cons of dog friendly landscaping for big and small dogs

Portland park offers relief for my client’s big dogs with a small backyard

Size of dogs obviously matters here.  Smaller dogs can wear a path into a lawn but they don’t pee in a large volume.  A large dog, after being in the house all day, could drop a quart 5 seconds after he or she is released into the yard.

pros & cons of dog friendly landscaping

My neighbor Rudy happily lives on a Portland house boat and takes a lot of walks, sometimes with me. Proof some dogs don’t need a traditional lawn and yard.

City Dogs with Small Yards Need the Local Park to Save the Lawn

Small dogs and older dogs are often quite happy with lounging around on concrete or flagstone with their humans.  Many city people take their dogs for walks and to parks daily and this relieves the stress on your outdoor living areas of multiple daily doses of dog urine.  Most of these clients don’t want a special area for a dog potty because they simply do not have the room.

I never use these materials for dog friendly landscape surfaces

I do not recommend round rock,  also called pea gravel.  It can end up trapped inside a dogs foot pad.  It’s hard on their ankles and same  is true for humans.  People can slip because the round rock is not stable, it rolls and so can you.  Pea gravel is very appealing to the eye.  Don’t do it and if you have some, get rid of it.  It’s not a good surface for anyone.

I’m not fond of loose crushed rock but perhaps if you check your dogs pads frequently it might be fine for you.  It’s not what I would want for sharing a space with my dog but a non compacted crushed rock is becoming more popular because of how well it works with rainwater.  An un-compacted crushed rock surface  is fully water permeable and compacted crushed rock  is not.  I have plenty of clients with gravel patios whose dogs have not had issues with gravel or any gravel up in the dogs foot pads.  I had it happen once with my cocker spaniel but we caught it in time and it did not get infected.  Oddly he did not limp even though the gravel was up high inside his paw.  Don’t make the only surface for your dog crushed rock.

Concrete is terrible for dogs backs and knees and smells bad with repeated doses of urine.

City dog in Cathedral Park neighborhood in new front yard patio

Ruby hanging out on concrete patio waiting for a trip to the park.

Balance –  hard and soft surfaces for your dog

Ideally we are looking for hardscape for patios and areas for furniture and frequent human use with soft surfaces for dogs to play and walk on.  It’s a matter of balance.  Many clients want a concrete or stone patio but also have paths topped with soft materials like mulch or cedar chips.   Crushed rock is more affordable and non compacted crushed rock allows rain water to penetrate into the soil.  You have some concrete areas or some crushed rock areas but you also have other surfaces for them to romp and run on it may be fine for you.

Contact Us

pros & cons of dog friendly landscaping

My dog Daisy loves a soft snow surface to play on.

We love to work with the whole family when we design a Portland back yard.   Contact us for creative solutions that allow the whole family to enjoy the back yard including your 4 legged family members.

 

 

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]  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.