Archive for Rain Garden

Portland Backyard Privacy Screening for a Family’s Outdoor Room

Family Needs a Private Backyard Landscaped in Portland

2 Patios with privacy screen are loosely connected with flagstone stepping stones in Portland, Oregon.

Two patios – one stamped concrete and the other crushed rock – are loosely connected with flagstone stepping stones.

Kristen and Rob have lived in their home long enough to remember when privacy fences did not exist between the backyards. Rob specifically remembers the days when he felt like their backyard was much bigger because there were no definitive boundaries from tall wooden fences. Fast forward a couple decades and the situation has changed – it’s time to create a backyard that is a more private family hangout space.

Instantly Hide an Eyesore with a Landscape Privacy Screen

Goal number one is to create a privacy screen without the cost of replacing the entire fence. The neighbors window had a direct view into the family backyard and, more importantly, a new flood light that the neighbor installed was beaming into their backyard at all hours of the day and night.

Portland Home Gets Privacy Landscape Treatment

Before: Hello Purple House!

Sometimes the solution to a privacy problem can be solved with plant material alone, but this one needed a quicker resolution. The client sketched out the tall wooden privacy screen that I happily incorporated into the design. See the photo below to see how much that helps! That is only the beginning of the solution, however. In order to truly feel like a private space, we must create layers.

Portland Home Gets Privacy Screen for Back yard Privacy Landscape

During. Wood Privacy Screen built in front of the fence provides instant gratification. Vines will eventually adorn the trellis.

Vines and Trees create Privacy and Shade

To create layers, we use plant material. This not only adds to the screening but it also creates something more beautiful for the eye to concentrate on instead of seeing the house. Look how the Japanese Maple in the foreground adds to the privacy and the layered plantings create a wonderful distraction.

A wooden trellis, Japanese Maple and multiple planting beds complete this private backyard for the family in Portland, Oregon..

A wooden trellis, Japanese Maple and multiple planting beds complete this backyard for the family.

The Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum, had to be just the right shape for the space. We purchased the tree as a single trunk with a high canopy. Over time, the tree will spread out to create a natural shade from the blasting afternoon sun. We discussed attaching a permanent structure to the garage to create that instant shade, but all parties agreed that in this case, the shade of a tree creates the type of atmosphere they want, even if they have to wait a couple years for it to bulk up.

Japanese inspired privacy screen planted with climbing hydrangea.

Trellis and privacy screen with climbing hydrangea, Schizophragma hydrangeoides

Three climbing hydrangeas, Schizophragma hydrangeoides, will scramble up the back trellis. This is a dappled shade area, which is ideal for this plant.  Unfortunately, climbing hydrangeas are not the fastest grower, but if you’ve ever seen a full grown one, you know it is worth the wait, and the clients thought so too.

Hardscapes create different “Garden Rooms”

 

Private backyard landscape design.

Landscape Design with Two Seating Areas and Lawn. Click image to see more detail.

This family backyard features two seating areas, aka “Garden Rooms”. The main dining area is poured concrete with a flagstone-style stamped pattern. The secondary seating area is crushed rock, installed to allow drainage. The secondary area is designed as the tween hangout – slightly set apart from the main area.

Asian theme continues throughout private backyard.

Simple arbor with view of lawn and patios beyond.

Drainage Solutions including a Rain Garden

As usual in Portland backyards, drainage is an important consideration. Luckily, the clients hired one of the best contractors for attention to detail – Donna Burdick of D&J Landscape Contractors.  One disconnected downspout had to be moved, the crushed rock had to be installed correctly for extra drainage, and the poured concrete had to slope in just the right way to ensure the winter water moved away from the house.

Portland rain garden for downspout.

Small rain garden with hidden dry well captures water from a disconnected downspout

Additionally, a small rain garden with a dry well captures the water from a small portion of the roof gutters.

Contact Us to Create Your Private Backyard Hangout

Are you ready to tackle your backyard to create privacy and a hangout for the whole family? Contact us today!

 

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.

 

 

Modern Landscape Design for Kenton Neighborhood Front Yard

Modern Landscape Design for Kenton Neighborhood Front Yard

Modern landscape design adds functional space and charm to Kenton front yard in Portland

Modern Fun Front Garden Ready for Entertaining

Client Wish List

New homeowners Katie and Jeni (Kenton neighborhood Portland, Oregon) enjoy chatting with their neighbors in the front yard. Before the overhaul, they would just pull some chairs and a firepit from the back and hang out on the grass.   Eventually they realized it might be nice to create a more permanent sitting area in the front, so they poured a concrete patio. They are ‘get it done’ dedicated DIYers with more than a few successful projects under their belts.   Next came the hard part – how to integrate that stark concrete into a front yard garden that’s inviting and warm.  They realized they wanted some help with the integration efforts and hired Landscape Design In A Day because of our collaborative design approach.

Kenton neighborhood home with diy concrete before garden design process

BEFORE: mismatched concrete and no privacy.

Designer’s Perspective-Alana Chau

I was so pleased to see that the new concrete was well done and a wonderful size for the amount of people they host. But it felt huge in the small front yard space, and modern landscape style always needs visual softening. There were also disconnected downspouts to contend with, 3 in total. Due to the new concrete pour, I knew at least one of these downspouts needed to be moved. Yes, in some cases downspouts can be moved!

Originally, the homeowners wanted to keep the existing retaining wall and walkway to save money.  I showed them a couple designs hoping I could offer them useful visuals that might change their minds.  I knew how fabulous it could look if we changed the front walk. So we all stood at the sidewalk and talked about the potential for something different.   A front walk that was offset gave us a much more interesting entry and dramatic spaces for plantings. As you can see, they went for it and they are so happy they did.

Hardscape Landscaping design integrates existing concrete slab beautifully

A dynamic new front walkway.

Ruby the pup

The clients have the cutest pup, Ruby, and we wanted her to have some grass to play on. In this case, the grass will perform a double duty as Ruby’s lounge area and also the walkway to the backyard. Since this path will not be used in the winter, it is an acceptable solution. (In Portland, Oregon grass is NOT a good path material if it needs to be used in winter because it becomes wet muck and does not recover well.) 

small patch of dog friendly lawn in Kenton front yard

Lawn can be used as a walkway as long as it is not used in the winter.

Hardscape Landscaping

The Materials

The new retaining wall is modular concrete block, which creates a clean look while keeping costs down. The steps were created with steel risers filled with gravel for the treads. The walkway is created using 24″ square pavers, aka architectural slabs.

Old and new concrete did not work well together in this before photo of front entry walk and courtyard

BEFORE: view from the front door.

What a difference the new hardscape landscaping makes for this Kenton home's front entry

AFTER: view from the front door. 24″ Pavers, or Architectural Slab, create a dynamic front walkway

The short wood fence allows some privacy from the street, while maintaining a friendly feel.

front yard privacy screen for Kenton front yard is a pattern of wood boards

Short fence in front yard gives patio a bit of privacy.

front yard privacy screen for Kenton front yard is softened with pollinator plants

Gaura, aka Wandflower, adds texture and encourages pollinators to visit in the summer.

Modern landscape design adds steps with steel risers to Kenton front yard in Portland

Stairs with steel risers and crushed rock.

The Raingarden

A downspout was moved so that it could outlet into a new pseudo rain garden area where red-twig dogwood shrub and juncus, a type of rush (similar to ornamental grass)  will help us manage that water with their deep root systems. The City of Portland encourages rain gardens, but we recommend diy’ers doing a bit of research first.  Here’s a helpful publication: How to Build a Raingarden from City of Portland.

Plant Diversity

There is a wide variety of plants in this small front yard.  Rain garden plants, edibles and interesting textural ornamentals make up our landscape design plant list.

Modern Landscape style is expressed with architectural slabs, steel risers and colorful plantings

Modern Front Yard Garden with Plant Diversity One Year After Install

There is an edible theme going on in this garden too. Two raised beds, plus fruit trees; one Fuyu persimmon, and two columnar apple trees.

Pottery softens the concrete patio area for Kenton front yard

To soften a large concrete area, without sacrificing usable space, we added a fun and eclectic arrangement of potted plants, including a dwarf Japanese Maple with great fall color.

The Hardscape Landscaping is Softened with Pots

We had a lot of fun with pots on the large patio.  I designed some of them – such as a dwarf Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Fjellheim’) and a funky conifer (Cedrus deodara ‘Feelin’ Blue’). I call it funky because the foliage is fantastically textural, very blue and oddly its’ foliage grows in a variety of directions.  The homeowners designed others, including one with carnivorous plants! This was a true collaboration and it was fun to see which parts the homeowners wanted to take off and run with.

solar night lighting with architectural slab front walk in Kenton front yard

Solar lighting adds fun and safety. Also seen here is Cedrus deodara ‘Feelin’ Blue’ in a pot, which is especially valuable for winter structure.

Rounding out the plants are some fun evergreens for winter structure, including a shrubby Manzanita (Arctostaphylos bakeri ‘Louis Edmunds’), and a New Zealand shrub better known as a houseplant (Sophora prostrata ‘Little Baby’).

“Alana, we never would have thought of all of this without you! We are super happy with how it all looks! It’s been so fun to be outside when a neighbor walks by and compliments the yard. That’s the best. Thank you again for all your work and creativity with our plans.” Katie and Jeni in Kenton neighborhood Portland, Oregon.

Let’s transform your front yard with a collaborative design process that explores the potential of your existing landscape and home.   Contact us and let’s create together.

 

 

St. Johns Front Yard with Rain Garden

Colorful Low Maintenance Landscape Update In St. Johns

St. Johns Portland front yard low maintenance landscape update.

New Front Garden

Clients Wish List

Terry and Connie wanted a carefree front yard with nice curb appeal. After new construction finished next door, they felt motivated to update their mess of a front yard (their words, not mine!). One main objective for the project was to fix the transportation. Wobbly pavers and stairs that were too close to the driveway caused issues each time they parked in the driveway. No one wants dents on the driver side door!

Before low maintenance landscape update in St Johns.

Before

As for the garden, he wanted a bit of grass while she wanted none. Both wanted a plant palette that is low on maintenance and high on color.

Designers perspective

I helped the homeowners decide between lawn or no-lawn by discussing the “why”. He wanted lawn for ease of maintenance and to cut down on weeding. She wanted no lawn for the look of a colorful front garden. After collaborating and tweaking the design several times, we settled on no-lawn but with ample walking paths. This appeals to both parties because the paths are low maintenance and make it easy to reach from all sides of the bed for weeding. On top of that, I selected plants that are particularly good at suppressing weeds. More about the plants below.

New matched hardscape in this St Johns front yard update.

During – Construction by D&J Landscape Contractors

I solved several issues through fencing in this design. The front fence provides a separation between road and home. It remains inviting and interesting because of the see-through slats and low 42″ height. A matching 6′ fence hides the garbage cans and shed in the side yard.

New low front yard fence uses existing azalea in St Johns front yard update.

Low Front Yard Fence with Azalea Peeking Through

The disconnected downspout dumped directly into the yard, which caused too much water in the winter, a classic problem in Portland. The new rain  garden provides the perfect solution for excess winter water and also creates a beautiful focal point which can be seen from the front porch.

Rain garden added to fix water problems in this landscape update.

Rain Garden

Installation

We referred the project to D&J Landscape Contractors.  The low fence was installed by Rick’s.

Plants

The established Vine Maple (Acer circinatum) is a beautiful old tree and was able to stay with minimal pruning.

St Johns landscape update uses existing Vine Maple.

Look how the new landscape highlights that Vine Maple!

Other plants in good shape and able to stay were the Azalea, Rhododendron, and Fatsia.

The new tree is an Evergreen Magnolia.

Low maintenance landscape update with evergreen magnolia.

Evergreen Magnolia anchors this garden bed.

Groundcovers are very integral to the continuity of this design. The gold highlights are Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’) and Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Variegatus’). The purple contrast is Heuchera ‘Purple Petticoats’. The evergreens that ground the look are Inkberry (Ilex glabra) and Geranium (G. cantabrigiense ‘Crystal Rose’).

Materials

The new walkway is Variegated Bluestone, and the mossy boulders were brought in to give the garden a nice established feel.

Contact us

Would you like to create a welcoming entry experience that makes your house look and feel it’s best?  We would love to work with you.  Call us at 503-223-2426 or use our contact form.

 

 

 

2021 Update!

The Garden is looking beautiful as the plants grow in fat and happy.

Rain Garden filters the runoff from the roof, through a disconnected downspout and soaks into the ground. Acorus and Ilex surround the boulders.

Plants are filling in nicely: Heather, Mugo Pine and Geranium. The Magnolia anchors the bed, bermed up with boulders.

Portland Rain Garden Fixes Front Yard Lake

Front Yard Thrives With Low Maintenance Rain Garden

East Moreland Rain Garden low maintenance design in Portland, Oregon

Winter view after drainage and landscape design was installed.

Cindy and Chris were house shopping in Eastmoreland Portland, Oregon.  Chris found the house and brought Cindy to take a look.  The curb appeal was so bad she gave it the thumbs down and would not even go in the house. After looking at several other houses which just didn’t work for them, her husband talked her into going back.  She went inside and fell in love with everything but the front yard.  There was Before rain garden and berm - needing a landscape redesign in Portlandone big problem which wasn’t apparent at the time of purchase and might not have been bothersome if the house was in Arizona.  Water!!! Water in the basement, and large puddles of winter rain water in the front yard drowned plants and lawn alike.  As the years passed the problem worsened.

I’m married to a designer/remodeler and while he is a creative and competent professional, he can get a little pale talking about the complexities of finding a water leak.  It can be very tricky even when you have solved these types of problem in many different situations for years.  Its nothing one should ever be arrogant about.

Rain garden clears away winter water from entry patio with low maintenance plantings.

Rain garden clears away winter water from entry patio in Wilsonville.  I used Dwarf Red Twig Dogwood in this design as well as Cindy’s.

Rain Garden Solution

Cindy is a figure it out, research the heck out of it kind of person. She talked to lots of different contractors, asked great questions and decided that a rain garden was going to be part of the solution for the water problems in her home.  She took classes from the City of Portland and researched rain gardens.  She determined the volume of water her roof and downspouts needed to handle using the formulas she learned in the class.  Her solution was to install larger gutters and downspouts and have a dry well dug and installed to handle the overflow.

Front Yard Make Over

Cindy was not prepared to take on the front yard alone.  She decided to hire a landscape designer she could collaborate with.  I am not licensed to design drainage solutions.  Cindy knew that.  I was hired to create a landscape plan with her that would create beauty and curb appeal and hide all views of the mechanical water solutions.

How I did it

I design for beauty of the landscape and to enhance the appearance and the welcoming energy of the home.  I don’t like seeing irrigation valve boxes, irrigation heads and tubing, or drainage hardware.  It’s ugly.

I started by creating a beautiful natural shaped berm in the front landscape:

  1. It would create a second level which helps to add drama and contrast to the      otherwise flat yard.
  2. We used the excess soil we would dig up to do the dry well.  It’s a terrible thing to waste good top soil so we didn’t!!
monrovia bloodgood japanese maple in low maintenance Portland landscape design.

Upright dark purple ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese Maple. Photo courtesy of Monrovia Nursery

3. They wanted a Japanese Maple.  Cindy and Chris loved the up right (not the weeping form) of dark purple leafed ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese Maple.  Japanese Maples, Acer Palmatum, are much healthier here in the Pacific Northwest when they are planted up on a berm.  The raised soil keeps their roots from getting soaked in our winter rains.  Dryer roots helps to avoid the dreaded verticillium wilt which kills so many of our beautiful maples here. Plantings on the berm under the Japanese Maple would be highlighted because they are on a higher grade in the lawn.

We tucked a few boulders in the berm.  We added multi sized river rock over the top of the dry well and made it look like an attractive dry stream bed that fit into the berm nicely and as per Cindy’s plan would direct water to the dry well.

Cindy loves the evergreen Ink Berry shrub. It's great for wet areas like the rain garden landscape design.

Cindy loves the  Inkberry shrub. It’s great for wet areas.

Plantings for Wet Areas

We still had a wet area near the dry well that needed plants. Cindy loved the evergreen Inkberry and Kelsey’s Dwarf Red-Twig, Cornus Sericea ‘Kelseyi’ shrubs I used.  She had never seen the Inkberry, Ilex Glabra ‘Shamrock’  before. It’s the only evergreen shrub I use for low wet areas. Other typical small evergreen shrubs like Azaleas and Pieris get root rot and cannot be used in wet area applications.

Drought tolerant evergreen arbutus unedo in low maintenance landscape design.

Strawberry tree, Arbutus Unedo adds a little touch of Italia to the stucco house.  Photo courtesy of Richie Steffen, Great Plant Picks

We selected classic foundation plants to frame the house, added a large pot and Strawberry Tree, Arbutus Unedo ‘Compacta’  to pick up a little Italian style on the south side and we were finished!

Mission Accomplished

I talked with Cindy recently.  “The front yard is thriving.  I’m so happy every time I look at it.”  The design has stood the test of time.  It’s been 10 years since we installed the design. The only thing she changed was replacing her Johnny Jump Ups Violas for Black Mondo Grass. Mission accomplished, she loves her front yard!

Cindy and I created the design together in a day.  It was a simple design meant to be low maintenance with full season interest.  Her landscape contractors installed the design, I came by and placed the plant material for the contractors and it was done.  Voila!