Archive for Plants I Recommend

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.

 

 

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.

Drought Tolerant Ground Cover Plant for Portland

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

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

Low Maintenance Plant for Portland has Versatility

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

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

The Original Roof Garden Plant

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

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

Drought Tolerant Ground Cover

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

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

Low maintenance groundcovers create a tapestry of color for planting bed

Groundcovers cuddle up

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

Care and Maintenance of  Sempervivum – Hens and Chicks

Important Tips for Establishing Sempervivum in Portland, Oregon

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

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

Prevent Flowering Until Plants Mature and Have Lots of Chicks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support Pollinators

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

Low Maintenance Plant for Portland

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

Contact Us

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

 

Create Shaded Outdoor Living in University Park Backyard

New University Park Landscape Design Clients Need Shade

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

Borcon Steel Art Panel provides backdrop to Stahl Gas Firepit

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

Cool Outdoor Living in University Park

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

Landscape Assets and Issues to Solve

In need of shaded outdoor living in university park.

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

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

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

Solving the Too Small Covered Patio

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

Solving for Long and Narrow Back Yard

Shade tree for University Park backyard living space.

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

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

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

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

The Water Feature Has a Modern but Neutral Style

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

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

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

Stand Against the Sun-Creating Afternoon Shade

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

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

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

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

Contractor and Designer and Client

 

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

Hardscape Materials List 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plants for Outdoor Living Backyard

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

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

The Shade Tree Selection

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

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

Client Testimonial

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

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

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

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

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.