Welcoming No Grass Curb Appeal in Irvington Neighborhood
Our clients in the Irvington Neighborhood wanted their front yard landscape to welcome them home.
The house had amazing bones and the kind of porch you only see in a movie. Big and roomy with a high ceiling and meant to be used as outdoor living space. In fact Carol created their backyard design sitting on a big comfy outdoor sofa on this very porch (during Covid). The front landscape had 2 old rhododendron trees and a large hydrangea hedge that fit the old 1920 era bungalow house perfectly. The rest of the landscape including a very tired lawn needed to be re-imagined and re-designed.
Carol blogged about the backyard for this beautiful bungalow last year: Baby Boomers Downsize to NE Portland & Landscape Beautifully. Here is the rest of the story…
Sometimes You Have to Lose a Tree to Gain a Functional Front Yard
The front yard had a different set of goals than the back, as they always do. We integrated the two spaces, (front yard and back) through plants and materials while solving unique functional issues. The first goal was to create functional and charming access from the sidewalk to the front door.
There was a concrete front walk and steps up from the public sidewalk. Near the porch, the concrete path ended with bits of broken flagstone which led guests smack into the side of the porch. The funky twisted trunk of a sweet but misshapen rhododendron tree was in between the front entry path and the front porch entry. Someone needed to make the decision to remove the old rhododendron tree and connect the entry path to the porch.
It’s a sigh of relief sort of solution.
And just in case we had any second thoughts about the old rhody our second goal, was to highlight the classic NE Portland front porch. The lines of the porch, the pillars and windows of the house are classic and perfect. Unfortunately the tree was blocking this feature and so twice dammed, the large rhody tree was removed.
Boulders Versus Wall
The next element to address is the sloped front yard. In the summer, the clients would mulch their front beds, which is almost always a good practice. However, without sufficient retaining, the mulch would slide down the hill and unto the sidewalk every winter, creating a big mess and they didn’t want lawn. So we needed retaining that would fit well with the house and have a more natural style. The clients knew they wanted an organic look and did not want a tall commercial looking wall – enter Basalt boulders. Using local materials like Basalt boulders is also a better environmental choice since they don’t need to be trucked in from Montana.
Boulders are not as visually powerful as a wall since they don’t present as one piece. How so? They become so integrated with the plants that they don’t compete with the house.
Basalt Boulders to Tame the Slope
We love to use boulders and often do when a wall would clearly be too visually overpowering. See previous projects Drought Tolerant and No Lawn. You can click on the photo above to take a closer look. The lower set of boulders are larger and provide the majority of the retaining, while the upper boulders are smaller and create useful planting pockets. This type of boulder design usually requires the designer to be on-site to assist with boulder placement as well as plant placement.
The drawing cannot communicate to an installer the exact placement of each boulder let alone how each plant would fit with the boulders as installed. Instead it becomes a collaboration between the designer (me) and the installer. Carol and I both find placing boulders to be very satisfying and it allows us to get it just right – plus it’s fun. Also, the clients wanted some materials used in both the front and the back landscape and with boulders we could seamlessly repeat that material and style.
An Ice Storm Interrupts the Install
A late winter ice storm took down a huge tree in the neighbors yard just before the amazing contractor Donna Burdick of D & J Landscape Contractors started work on the front yard. If a tree has to come down crushing the yard and plants, the timing could not have been better. It also took out our street trees which had some advantages since one of the trees was pretty funky looking.
Special Irrigation for Drought Adapted Manzanita
The clients wanted a landscape that could handle our hot, dry summers here in Portland. Although their original thought was to have zero irrigation in the front yard, I had to advise them against this because we wanted to keep three mature hydrangeas and the mature rhododendron tree on the south end of the porch. That rhododendron tree is fantastic and now has been professionally pruned, making it more fantastic. But rhododendron and hydrangea will never be fully drought tolerate. So we went with mostly all low water plantings instead, aiming for a once-a-week drip-irrigated landscape with one focal point tree, (the manzanita) that will never ever be watered now that it is established.
Manzanita (Arctostaphylos bakeri ‘Louis Edmonds’) will thrive in the super-hot Southwest facing corner of the front yard. The planting pocket is created by boulders and the soil is prepared with added drainage so that the Manzanita will not only survive, but thrive. It’s small now but this will eventually be a focal point of the front yard. The versatility of drip irrigation allows us to specify that this Manzanita and a couple other plants in this design have absolutely zero irrigation in the summer while most of the other plants get that once-a-week drink. This is one of the biggest advantages of drip. So after the first year of irrigation the installer cut out a section of drip tube and put a section back in that has no drip holes ensuring that the manzanita would not get irrigation.
Fun and floriferous plants included in this scheme: Wallflower (Erysimum ‘Winter Orchid’), Stonecrop (Sedum ‘Fuldaglut’), Lavender (Lavandula stoechas ‘Otto Quast’) and Abelia (Abelia x chinensis ‘Rose Creek’)
Finishing Touches – Bold Container Planting
Just before guests walk up the steps to the front door, I wanted a bold container planting to greet them. The rusty-red container holds Sun Rose (Helianthemum ‘Henfield Brilliant’) and New Zealand Flax (Phormium ‘Black Adder’), which echoes the Black Mondo Grass planted in the landscape.
Are you ready for a welcoming front yard or a fun and functional front yard that uses less water? Contact us for a collaborative design experience.