Archive for Plants I Recommend

Coming Back to See Fully Grown Privacy Landscape of North Portland Back Yard

Lush plantings create back yard privacy in Concordia neighborhood of N Portland

Privacy Landscape Design includes finishing touches applied by design collaborators Ryan and Michael

North Portland Back Yard Gets Private, Colorful Plantings

My new clients, Michael and Ryan, moved to N Portland’s Concordia neighborhood from a farm in Pennsylvania.   They knew some horticulture science and had a lot of confidence coming into the project from both a design point of view and working with plants.

Their new home in the Concordia neighborhood was a 1910 bungalow.     My clients hired me because they had no privacy and have a difficult landscape to work with. They believe in working with a designer and were sure I would amaze them with my solutions.  It’s great when clients have high expectations.

My clients wish for a landscape design also included:

  • Privacy for the patio to include dining and using the new hot tub
  • Dog friendly areas and grass for their two dogs to play and poop on
  • Interesting and colorful plants with lots of texture
  • Integrate the existing patio into the new design
  • Work with the existing aspen trees and magnolia

Privacy Landscaping

North Portland planting day shows wisps of the clumping bamboo for privacy screening.

Planting day shows only wisps of clumping bamboo.

Privacy was a very big concern.  Behind the house we had 3 homes with second story windows that had a good view into the patio and kitchen.  The properties to each side also had views not advantageous to our private hot tub plans.  Living in the city does mean getting to know your neighbors but not that intimately. And while in the hot tub we want to see natural beauty not someone doing their dishes.

The back porch was very attractive and had room for two people to sit and lounge but was too narrow for four. We tried a design that expanded the deck to fit a 4 top table but it was right on top of where we wanted the hot tub to go so it and a few other concepts went into the round file.

The former owners had installed a concrete patio and while I am sure it made sense to them, these odd concrete pedestals made no sense to us.  They were 4′ long and about a foot tall and wasted so much valuable space for outdoor living.  Huh? I’d love to know what they had on these pedestals. Big concrete lions?

Like most new homeowners they had already spent plenty of time and money getting the interior just right so I would consider carefully how to use the assets we had.

Lush plantings create back yard privacy for hot tub in Concordia neighborhood of N Portland

Our privacy planting solution for the patio is already thick in just 2 years.

The Privacy Solution for the Patio and Hot Tub Room

We measured the sight angles together and discovered that 10’ tall evergreen plantings would block the views into the hot tub area and the proposed dining table corner of the patio. My design solution put our privacy plantings in right next to the patio not out at the back fence line.

Kitchen view and privacy – We also had Ryan stand in the kitchen while we mocked up the height at various locations for privacy plantings.  It’s lovely to work on site and get the facts of exactly how high our privacy solutions needed to be.  Virtual design has it’s merits but there is nothing like being on site to create the best fitting design.

My favorite clumping bamboo worked beautifully for the patio privacy solution.  Ryan and Michael loved the texture and lush greenery of the Fargesia robusta ‘Campbell’ which grows 10′ in full sun (in Portland) and 12′ to 15’ tall in shadier settings.

I use this plant often for privacy solutions in city back yards because it’s tall enough to give us privacy, but doesn’t turn the whole yard into a shade setting.  It is evergreen and so is ideal for hot tub privacy even in winter and my clients love the drama and tropical effect of the leaves and form in the garden.  My only caveat on clumping bamboo is the amount of water it takes for it to thrive.  I prefer it to be on its own irrigation zone for this reason.  It needs more water than your other plants do and it will not become drought tolerant.  To put it on the same zone with other plants means you will waste water by over watering your other plants.

North Portland backyard shows privacy problems before privacy landscaping.

Planting day photo shows privacy problems.

Existing Tree in the Perfect Spot

We  had an evergreen Magnolia virginiana tree but  because it looked wimpy my clients wanted it gone.  Here is the cool thing.  This is the only magnolia tree I know about that will be happy as a companion to the frequently watered bamboo.  Both plants want evenly moist soils and once this magnolia recovers from two years without proper watering it will get taller than the bamboo and screen out the rest of those windows….oh did I mention it grows really fast and has a very fragrant flower.  I was and am very excited about having this existing tree to work with. It was planted in the perfect place to provide year round privacy from a corner neighbors windows. All it needed was a few years of proper watering.  And the bamboo is fine with some shade so the Magnolia can grow up to be itself without goofing up our lovely scheme. This is a rare moment in my design life but one I am always looking for.

Evergreen Privacy Selection Issues

Stepping aside for a moment:  I have limited plant choices when a privacy solution calls for evergreen plant material. Most clients don’t want to give up the space that a hedge takes but more important….they don’t want to prune a hedge regularly which is what they need.  I had already placed one evergreen hedge plant, Rhamnus Alata Varigata Variegated Buckthorn, between the hot tub and the side yard neighbor and it will have to be sheared a few times a year to keep it nice and thick.  That is a lot of work so adding another hedge was out. Trees are too big and just the wrong solution for the center of a small city back yard.

Lush plantings with custom planter and moon gate add drama to back yard landscape design in N Portland

Moon gate with lights and planter designed and built by clients.

Working with the Existing Aspen Trees

Aspen Trees in small city yards is a bad idea and yet we had 4 existing mature aspen trees to work with. And hey there, Aspen are beautiful trees with white trunks, fluttering leaves and gold fall color.  Since some butterflies and native insects lay their eggs in the leaves they are desirable for that reason alone.   Too bad they can be evil and sucker over an entire landscape and then head over to your neighbors.  I never put them in a design ever.

Second Opinion-Can I trust these Aspen trees to behave?

We removed one of the four existing mature Aspen trees as it was not growing well.  The remaining trees were so beautiful, well placed and were providing summer privacy and habitat for pollinators and birds. There were no evil suckers, not even one and my clients loved them.  I was so torn about them so I sought professional advice from the head grower at Heritage Seeds who said since the aspen had not suckered yet there was a very good chance they would not ever.  He grows and sells a type of aspen that is now (last 15 years or so) being used in the Willamette Valley by braver(?) or more fool hardy designers than I am. It is a different Aspen than the ones I have avoided but he says no guarantees about suckering even with the new ones. And if I had 20 years experience with using Aspen that was positive I would feel differently.

Colorful back porch adds to privacy landscape design in n Portland backyard

Check out the fun vine grid made by my clients that dresses the down spout.

Careful Plant Selection Starts with Experienced Designer

You are hiring me to recommend plants that I know and trust.  As a landscape designer it’s easy to want to use an in vogue plant (that you have no experience with) in designs.  This is wrong for me and my practice and I don’t do it.    OK yes occasionally I will use a sort of new perennial or even a shrub if my clients want a more adventurous planting palette.  Even then I have seen it in other designers gardens or it comes from a grower I trust.  If a plant has a well deserved reputation as being destructive, it won’t be in any of my designs.

Experience counts and I have been around long enough to see what harm aspen can do especially for small city properties.  I would not hesitate to use the new ones from Heritage seedlings on large properties where we are doing nature reclamation.  In these settings they are not typically irrigated so grow slowly and are planted as a community with other native plantings that are a benefit to wildlife.

Portland residential landscape designer Carol Lindsay stands in back yard privacy design of North Portland

Carol Lindsay stands in Concordia neighborhood privacy landscape design going on year 2.

Finishing the Privacy Design for Concordia Back Yard

The Aspen do a good job of making summer privacy from the houses behind us but we still had holes.  We used evergreen magnolia ‘Teddy Bear’ to finalize our privacy plan.  Teddy Bear Magnolia has a cute name due to very fuzzy gold brown felted backsides to the dark green leaves.  This tree has a narrow silhouette, is evergreen with large white summer flowers.

Plantings to go with the Aspen Trees

We added some native plants including flashy Echinacea to provide for the Aspens visitors, Western Tiger Swallow Tail and Loquinns Admiral butterflies.  A native blue fescue grass is part of the planting plan here and it hosts a variety of butterflies and insects.  Ryan is experimenting with different native flower seeds to include Gillia capitata, California poppy and Lupine to expand the diversity of visiting pollinators.

The north facing Aspen got a very different planting mix.  It already had a large group of autumn fern around it which we kept.  I added 3 white flowering clethra shrubs, Summersweet or Clethra alnifolia   The clethra, has a strong enough root system to compete with the Aspen and attracts hummingbirds, and bees including bumble bees.  The fragrant white flowers in spring with the white bark of the aspen create a beautiful vignette. I also use it around the edges of rain gardens in Portland.  We used Japanese forest grass ‘All Gold’ to add color.  This soft grass is also very popular with their dogs who love to munch on the blades.

Path and Surface Materials for Back Yard Design

Colorful coralbells collection enhances the privacy landscape of this North Portland backyard.

Ryan’s collection of colorful coralbells.

Materials used:  New concrete was added to mask where the odd concrete pedestals were.  Path materials used were both crushed rock with steel edger, and cedar chips for paths without edger.  The lawn was replaced with a tall type fescue which takes less water than a traditional lawn.

Clients Add Their Design Expertise

I mentioned they brought a lot of confidence into the project and were strong collaborators.  After the contractors installed our design, a great looking landscape I will brag on us all……. Ryan and Michael went to work adding the curved arbor pergola called a moon gate that became the heart of the design, and a custom wood vine trellis to the back porch exterior.

Look at the way they added both the lighting and the fern baskets to the arch.  The two planters under the curved arch were designed and built by Michael from wood and he used fiberglass for the top frame of the planter. They continue to experiment with plantings.

Dog friendly landscaping was required of this North Portland backyard. Hakonechloa macra pictured here.

Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ being nibbled on by a 4 legged client Concordia neighborhood N. Portland

 

Planting Day

My clients found their own contractors and I worked with them to order the plants from my plant broker and again to physically place the plants and coach on planting some of the plants that needed special techniques.  They did a great job.

I was able to work with Brian to make any necessary plant substitutions.  Since Covid many plants are scarce so we had to swap a few out but mostly we found the plants we wanted. The design was installed in fall of 2020 and these photos are from summer of 2022.

Coneflowers bring color in client made planters in North Portland backyard.

Vibrant coneflower (Echinacea) sizzles with color in privacy landscape design for small city back yard

Testimonial

Ryan gave me this comment to use from our design process, “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.”
~Ryan N. of Portland

If you are looking for residential privacy landscaping in Portland, contact us for more information.

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.

 

 

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.