Archive for No lawn back yard

5 Benefits of Having an Outdoor Living Room: Why Your Family Needs One Now

Sellwood nieghborhood Portland outdoor living shaded area landscape design.

Outdoor living in Sellwood neighborhood of Portland Oregon provides shady summer outdoor living

Quality Outdoor Living for Residential Portlanders

As a landscape designer, I have seen firsthand the value that a back yard outdoor living room can bring to a family. These spaces can provide a place for relaxation, entertainment, and quality time spent together.  But wait there is more…..

Concordia neighborhood Portland landscape privacy solution.

Privacy solution for outdoor living in Concordia neighborhood of NE Portland features modern pavers and these special steel screens.

In Portland Oregon we know the opportunity to enjoy outdoor living is here late spring through mid to late fall.

The sky spigot tends to shut off just after early June’s Rose Festival and summer in Portland can be heavenly.

Having comfortable outdoor living is part of a quality lifestyle for most Portlanders.

Outdoor Living Gets Us Outside

First and foremost, an outdoor living back yard gives my clients a place to enjoy the beauty of nature. It gets us out into fresh air and sunlight.  This can feel especially wonderful during the warmer months when the outdoors becomes a haven for relaxation and rejuvenation.  Or it could if you have one…

Kenton neighborhood Portland outdoor landscaping screened front yard.

This attractive modern style front yard also has a comfortable outdoor living space screened away from the sidewalk in Kenton neighborhood of N Portland.

Gathering Place for Friends and Family

An outdoor living room can also serve as a gathering place for friends and family. With comfortable seating, access to outdoor cooking and a heat source like fire pits, outdoor fireplaces or outdoor electric space heaters placed under overhead cover, its easy to host events and create lasting memories with loved ones.  Aside: (outdoor electric space heaters placed inside covered areas don’t pollute or add to global warming here in Portland where we have abundant and cheap electricity.)

Gain a Needed Outdoor Office Space

Another benefit is having more functional room for working from home.  My snowbird clients in NE Portland’s Alameda neighborhood only have one office inside their Portland home.  The new outdoor patio also serves as an office for my client’s partner who is writing a book.  He needs a quiet shady place to work on his laptop and a covered patio with comfortable furniture is perfect for him.  She is a lawyer and uses the indoor office.

Rose City Park neighborhood Portland with outdoor living for bookworm client.

Outdoor living for Rose City Park back yard has large natural shaped flagstone patio and a covered lounge area affectionally called the book nook. Before plants

Personal Relaxation and Meditation Place

In addition to providing an extra office and a place for gathering with friends and family, an outdoor living room can also be a great place for a person to seek quiet contemplation. It can serve as a peaceful retreat where you can enjoy a book, meditate, practice Chi Gong or Yoga or simply sit and listen to the sounds of nature.

One of my NE Portland clients has a covered area in her outdoor living room that she calls the book nook.  While she can also use it for dining with a friend it is used primarily for her to read.  The neighbor’s walnut tree drops walnuts and so the roof of the book nook protects her from the walnuts and the bird droppings as the walnut tree is a wonderful haven for birds.

Get the Kids Outside

One of the greatest benefits of an outdoor living room is the opportunity it provides for children to play and explore in a safe and natural environment.  A back yard that has a covered place for sitting and socializing can also be used to do family arts and crafts in the winter and spring months.  Being sure the back yard has unstructured space to allow for kids and pets to run, jump, and play in the fresh air is a requirement.

Cully neighborhood Portland residential landscape design client.

Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ (Cone Flower) with Delosperma cooperi. Perfect combo for a SW facing drought tolerant planting in Cully neighborhood of N Portland.

Design Your Back Yard to Fit Your Family and Your Property – No Do-Overs

While an outdoor living room can be a great investment for any family, it is important to carefully consider the design and layout of the space. It is important to take into account the size of the yard, the layout of the house, neighboring properties, and the unique needs and wants of the family. A good landscape designer can create a functional and cohesive design that will surprise you with it’s clever use of your back yard spaces.  Once installed this design will not require do overs because it works so well the first time.

Overall, an outdoor living room can bring a wealth of benefits to a family. It’s all about providing a place for relaxation, entertainment, and quality time spent together. By carefully considering the design and layout of the space, you can create a functional and cohesive outdoor living room that meets the needs of your family and becomes a beloved gathering place for years to come.

 

Contact Us

We love to create relaxing outdoor living rooms for your city property.  We know what it takes to make privacy and spaces you and your family will love to be in.  We know you want your landscape design to provide low water needs, habitat for birds, and happy places for the 4 legged members of the family too.  It’s all part of well designed outdoor living back yard in Portland, Oregon.   Contact Us

Portland Landcape Designer Shares Her Favorite Paths & Patios

Best Hardscape Landscaping Materials for Portland Backyards

Crushed rock landscaping material for paths & friendly chickens!

NE Portland backyard path with crushed rock and pet chickens.

Here are some of my favorite backyard paths and patios from landscape designs here in Portland!

Paths are a key element in any landscape design.  How we walk and move in a landscape is what shapes the design.  Selecting the best materials for these surfaces for function and style, makes the design come alive.

Crushed Rock is a Versatile Surface

Crushed rock fits modern and naturalistic landscape styles and is significantly more affordable than poured concrete or pavers.

It lends a soft and natural look to a NW Natural backyard landscape.  However crushed rock when crisply defined by steel edging is perfect for a modern or minimalist landscape too.

Water permeable crushed rock surfaces for your paths will allow water to find its way down into the earth instead of running off into the street and sewer.

Crushed rock is also the perfect material for a natural style garden.

Crushed rock in Woodlawn Neighborhood fits the naturalistic style of the garden.

Compacted crushed rock surfaces do not allow rainwater to filter through to the earth.  With professional grading the winter rain water can be directed away from the house and/or into a catch basin or other mechanical means of collecting water.  A licensed landscape contractor is qualified to create systems to manage winter rain water.

 

Colors of Crushed Rock

Irvington Neighborhood of NE Portland hardscape landscaping decomposed granite pathway matches the rock step.

Stone step color matches the decomposed granite crushed rock in the pathway.

Decomposed granite – the names of the colors change with each stone yard which is sure confusing but here in these photos you are looking at a soft gold tan or a cream rose color.  My clients like the look and I agree it adds visual elegance to the landscape design.  I prefer the cream rose color over the gold typically.

I’m also perfectly happy with the dark gray of locally sourced basalt.  Gray looks so good with the greens, limes and golds of plant foliage and it’s more affordable than the decomposed granite.

Crushed rock was picked to compliment this backyard patio.

Irvington neighborhood backyard patio and path materials blend beautifully.

The Cons of using Decomposed Granite

After a few years you will need to top up your patio surface because it has gotten thin, and  the color you installed may not be available.  Rock is different colors from different areas or even within the same mountain.

Granite is not local and is trucked from the east coast.  This uses a lot of fossil fuels.  We have a locally sourced attractive basalt rock here in Oregon which is gray and harder than the decomposed granite.  It won’t need to be topped up as often and doesn’t cost such a high price on the environment.

Granite is significantly more expensive then local basalt.

Using crushed rock for a drought tolerant garden top dressing.

Crushed rock acts as a top dressing for this drought tolerant garden in N Portland.

Top Dress Planting Beds with Crushed Rock for Drought Tolerant Plantings

Crushed rock can also be used as an attractive mulch for drought tolerant plantings.  This garden in N Portland shows crushed rock all around these heat and drought tolerant plantings.  Using the crushed rock as mulch on these slightly bermed planting beds helps protect the plants from our heavy winter rain.  The rain rolls off the crown of the plants roots in the winter and adds needed oxygen to the soil.  Here are narrow evergreen Italian Cypress’ Tiny Towers’ with 2 different varieties of California lilac, fountain grass and sedums for this hot south facing bermed garden.

Crushed Rock Can be the Stair Riser

Crushed rock landscaping material is great for a modern backyard path & steps.

Modern Landscape Style Entry in Kenton Neighborhood of N Portland.

Sadly, pea gravel is sometimes used for a path, patio or even as the top dressing for a planting bed but never in my designs.  It is not crushed or angled, it is round and does not stay put.  It will go all over your yard, out into the street and can actually roll under your feet as you walk and cause falls. Pea gravel makes an unsafe surface for a stair tread.  It has a softer visual look and people fall for its’ quiet beauty and then later deeply regret using it.

Contact Us

Are you considering a new landscape with paths, sitting areas, patios or firepits?  Contact us, we know how to shape your backyard paths and patio to make everything flow with the best use of space.  Let’s pick the materials that will best fit your preferred landscape style.

Hardscape landscape design in Portland Oregon, uses drought-resistant low maintenance crushed stone with in the front yard.

Drought tolerant Portland landscape design example. This front yard shown in winter is gravel, stone and plants.

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.

NE Portland Gardens with Outdoor Living Landscape Design

Concordia outdoor living landscape design.

Carol Lindsay and client Michael in Concordia Back Yard Outdoor Living Landscape.

Portland Landscape Designers Visit Portland Back Yards

We will see installed back yard landscape designs focused on outdoor living in  N. E. Portland neighborhoods Concordia, Cully, Roseway, Rose City Park neighborhoods.

Outdoor Living Patio Needs Privacy in Concordia Neighborhood

This small city back yard had 3 designers, myself and my talented clients.  It had the usual small city back yard issues and needed privacy, enough entertaining area and room for happy dogs to tear around.  The previous owners had planted Aspen trees (scary choice due to potential suckering) and they provided summer privacy for part of the back yard.  We especially needed year round privacy for the new hot tub and we needed it now so I went with my trusty clumping bamboo called Fargesia Robusta.  The design was installed in 2020 so 2 years ago and here the clumping bamboo is already giving my clients the privacy they wanted and more.  “We loved our experience and would recommended you to all our friends! We are very excited to see our finished project, and will surely enjoy it for years to come.”

Concordia planter designed by landscape client.

Check out this planter my client Michael in Concordia neighborhood designed and built.

Front Garden Charm for Ranch Style Home in  North Portland Neighborhood

Cully landscape client's prickly pear in their outdoor living backyard.

Prickly Pear in Cully neighborhood landscape design

North Portland landscape for outdoor living includes shade plants.

Hydrangea, Autumn Fern and Crocosmia make a great composition in N Portland neighborhood landscape.

My client is from New Mexico and wanted prickly pear for both nostalgia and jam.  Here is her plant going on it’s 3rd year in her new landscape installed in 2019.  It was only about 8” tall when she planted the single leaf (paddle). Her neighbor also worked with Landscape Design in a Day, Alana Chau and we stopped by and found this wonderful summer plant combination.

Roseway Neighborhood Front and Back Landscape Design

Roseway landscape for outdoor living including stones & statuary.

Stone and art contrast with the hundreds of tiny billowing flowers in Roseway Neighborhood.

Roseway landscape including lavender for outdoor living.

Carol Lindsay giving client pruning tips on her lavender in Roseway Neighborhood front yard.

We see our client Doreen in N.E. Portland and enjoy how her landscape is maturing.  I designed the front and Alana the back yard a few years ago. Look at this artful vignette from the back yard….a mound of tough Coreopsis ‘Zagreb’ contrasts with boulders and sculpture.

Pruning Lavender 

Doreen wanted tips on pruning lavender as her plants were 2 and 1/2 years in without much pruning.  She will start pruning them once in late summer and again in February so the plants will last for years without getting leggy and overgrown.  Here is a video that shows you how to do summer pruning on your lavander.   It’s best to start this pruning the very first year you plant your lavender.

 

 

 

Rose City Park Back Yard – Covered Outdoor Living and Privacy in the City

Rose City private book nook in backyard landscape for outdoor living.

Carol Lindsay relaxes in a private outdoor covered patio in Rose City Neighborhood back yard landscape.

Rose City outdoor living landscape includes multiple levels of hardscape.

Natural stone step makes easy access from BBQ to the outdoor dining patio in Rose City neighborhood.

Here’s my first peek at a back yard landscape in Rose City Park.  This was a tough design because of several different grade changes right next  to the back door.  The grading and hardscape solutions were in many ways the star of the design.

The Book Nook

Today I am sitting in her new covered outdoor reading room which we called “The Book Nook”.  The cover protects her from rain, sun and also the hailing of walnuts.  Getting bonked on the head with a walnut will make you lose your place in your book for sure.  The “Book Nook” is a very private retreat.

Hardscape was installed by an old pro, Pete Wilson of Pete Wilson Stoneworks.  It was wonderful to see his work again.

Instant Shade for Laurelhurst Back Yard Porch

Shade solution for Outdoor Living in Laurelhurst neighborhood.

Shade solution for Outdoor Living in Laurelhurst neighborhood is a retractable awning and vertical shade screen and privacy maker.

Laurelhurst backyard landscape designed for outdoor living.

Year 2 of a colorful garden design for Laurelhurst neighborhood back yard.

Our last garden to visit today is in historic Laurelhurst neighborhood.  It’s wonderful  to see the garden maturing and the plants filling in.

And we get to learn how different materials we selected for the design are holding up.  We used an expensive sustainable wood product called Kebony for the privacy fence, and back porch/deck we designed.  Kebony ages gracefully to a pale taupe silver and lasts for decades.  Today we see areas that are a darker shade or show mottled patterns where the wood gets wetter, such as a small panel next to the garage compared to the perfect silver taupe of the gate that it is next to.  Hmmm…..

Our client is very happy with the Kebony but as she stated, some clients would not like it being darker is some areas than others.  See more about the deck and the installation of this design by D and J Landscape Contractors in this previous blog.

Retractable Awning Shade Maker

Adding to the delightful outdoor living porch is this fabulous retractable awning.  It keeps her house and her dining deck cool in the summer and retracts at the touch of a button when she wants sun to provide warmth and light.  There is also a drop down shade to shade out the the west sun in the afternoon; a vital addition to making the dining porch fully shaded for summer outdoor living. And if that isn’t “cool” enough, it also has a wind indicator and will retract itself if it gets too windy.

Contact Us for a Collaborative Design Experience

We love solving the multiple problems of the city back yard with integrated solutions.  Sometimes my privacy solution is also a shade solution and just happens to creates a back drop for a dramatic planting.  Contact us and let’s get started creating your ideal outdoor living room.

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.