Tiny Buckman Neighborhood Backyard needs Hardscape Landscaping
My client’s 1909 house fills most of his 36’ by 100’ lot. My mission? Transform his tiny narrow utilitarian “yard” into a private and relaxing place to be for summer. He was especially interested in finding a designer with a close working relationship with an installer. He didn’t want to end up with a great design and no one trusty to install it.
Client want list
Usable private outdoor sitting space for 2 with a meditative and natural feel
Hide the garbage cans from sitting area but keep easy access
Privacy from south and west neighbors’ windows
Very low maintenance
Use plants that remind him of nature
Use the most environmental materials and low water plants.
Designers Perspective on the existing site
My client was making do with a 3’ x 3’ private sitting area. It was only private with the back of his Adirondack chair tight to the fence. The neighboring houses had large windows and “looked” down into the tiny yard and one of the garages (happily with no windows) sat on the property line and was part of the yard enclosure.
He loved the neighbor’s large and mature cherry tree. There was a high 30’ long single branch whose side branches provided cool shade all along the back of the house. They were beautiful to look up into, but the branches were too high to provide privacy. I think there is something very inviting about being under tree branches. The downside was the sticky cherry pits.
Many city dogs spend a lot of time on walks and at the park so the small yard would not be his primary exercise or potty area. Initially we talked about using my happy dog cedar chips as an easy care and affordable surface, but we decided flagstone would be easier for cleaning up the sticky cherry pits and be better for re sale value.
Creating a private sitting area
How small can you go? I prefer an 8 x 8-foot minimum area to fit a 36” table w 4 chairs. While space for 2 was fine with my client, we agreed space for 4 would add re sale value.
Where should our sitting area go?
The narrow back yard was eliminated because there were too many unknowns as to what we could do with the exterior of the neighbors’ garage. So, we circled back to the side yard for our private area. There were many problems to solve to make this area work.
This was the widest area available at 8’ x 9’, just right for our private sitting area but it had the disconnected downspout extension sticking out into the walking area by a foot. It was a trip hazard. The path to the front yard and garbage cans cuts through this area. Once I remembered my client took out his garbage from the front door, I was confident we could make our sitting area on the side.
My privacy solution was multi-purpose
I used two large stone planters at 18” high with a wall cap for sitting. Our screening plant material is planted at 18” above grade and gives our plants a boost so they will be tall enough to create some privacy in the first two years. Another advantage to the planters is our plants won’t be competing with the mature cherry tree roots.
We needed privacy screening in the 8 -10-foot range but for summer months only. Most people don’t sit out in their courtyard here in Portland in the winter months. It’s important to know whether I want evergreen or deciduous screening. If I only want summer privacy, I can use a deciduous small tree. They provide privacy faster because they are typically round headed and make screening right where we want it. An evergreen conifer is very narrow at the top, so it takes years to get the screening where we want it and there are very few small fast growing leafed evergreen trees for shade.
Privacy from kitchen back door window
I did want evergreen for the view from kitchen. I used shade tolerant Azara microphylla – Box leaf tree. It’s one of very few leafed evergreens with the right shape that is fast growing. The attractive stone planters add an inviting presence from the tiny back porch and make a second sitting area.
Hiding the garbage cans
I created two wood screens to hide the garbage that can be walked around, setting them 6 feet apart makes for a very comfortable access. The simple screens match the existing fence.
Trip hazard solved
The trip hazard downspout extension had to go away. It stretched across the only access path area between the kitchen door and the new private sitting area. Happily, Donna Burdick D & J Landscape Contractors was able to design a solution. She installed one of the new flow wells. Now the water from the downspout goes under the stone path and into the flow well unobtrusively. The flow well has a tiny little cap for cleaning out. These kinds of solutions allow us to use the square footage available to the client.
This garden design is very simple, and the solutions consist more of hardscape then they do from plants. This is perfect for my client. Over ‘gardenifying’ this landscape would not have been in his best interests. Having said that, I will be happy when the small trees, ferns and ground covers mature and bring more life to the courtyard. On planting day, it looks a little skimpy on the planting side of our design.
The cool back yard area was not neglected even though it may never become a sitting area for my client. We created 2 different design ideas for the 7’ deep back yard. Both added a small tree to block the large window on the far end of the corridor like yard and this planting area was installed. Halfway through the installation he learned the neighbor was remodeling the old garage which sits on the property line into an ADU. Our client decided not to change anything else there. Once it’s finished, he may consider integrating the back yard into the new landscaping.
“From the concept and design through implementation, I really appreciated Carol’s understanding of my needs and desires, and her ability to think outside the box on my behalf for a solution for a small tight space that suited me. The design kit, survey and phone interviews gave me a sense of ownership of the project. Carol’s expectations and availability were clear. My advice is to spend some time on the kit and bring your ideas to vet with Carol. Seeing the outcome, my only regret is that I didn’t commit to this project years earlier”. Ben
I love challenging landscapes. Contact me with your twisty little yard and let’s find a great design that makes best use of your property. Whether small or large, your landscape can be made to suit your lifestyle with hardscape and landscaping. Go to my Contact Page for more info.
Landscape Designer: Carol Lindsay of Landscape Design in a Day
Landscape Contractor: Donna Burdick of D & J landscape Contractors
Planters-Concrete pavers with an 8” concrete cap
Sitting area surface – Variegated Lavender Blue Stone Flagstone mortar set
Garbage can area surface – Fiberx Cedar Chips
Wood screens to hide garbage cans were built to go with the existing fencing and are simple cedar boards. Our client plans to use an oil to preserve the wood once the dry weather arrives.
Azara microphylla – Box leaf Azara
Pacific Northwest Native Plants: Vaccinium ovatum – Huckleberry, Polystichum munitum – Sword Fern, and Dicentra formosana – Bleeding heart, various maidenhair fern and groundcovers