Happy Landscape Creating Privacy in Kerns Neighborhood
I love to create privacy landscape design solutions that integrate solutions to all the issues. Next let me say I love this property because it’s tricky and the design is going to be all about happy outdoor living in the city. Creating a privacy landscape design for small city properties needs an experienced landscape designer to create an integrated solution.
I approach creating our design by creating a wonderful view that just happens to soften a bad view and create privacy. Designing an apartment building sized hedge or huge tree would ruin this small city back yard for anything else.
Small City Backyard Needs More than Privacy
My clients Chris and Veronica have a small city backyard with a ginormous apartment building at their back property line. They wanted bird friendly plants, lots of edibles, to get rid of the lawn, integrate the studio cottage and most important, create privacy from the apartment building windows. They also wanted a place for a Catio so their indoor only cats could enjoy being outside without harming birds.
BEFORE: apartment building looms.The apartment building near the back property line creates both privacy issues (people looking down into the back yard) and the need for blocking the view of the neglected building’s exterior – it’s very unattractive. I have a more horrible photo below so you can get a better view of very ugly.
We didn’t have enough yard for the more typical ideas on hiding such a large building. A three story high evergreen hedge is not practical for a variety of reasons: takes too long to grow, would require expensive professional pruning often and would be rude to the people living in the apartments by cutting off all their light. Nor did I want to use up all our square footage with a layered planting of trees. (Which would have been rude to the trees as there isn’t enough room.) So if we can’t hide it what can we do?
Reduce the Visual Power of the Building
First I want to decide where we will be and what we are doing when we want privacy the most. My clients wanted privacy for dining outdoors with family and friends, and then while puttering about with the edible plantings (Veronica is a gardener). We let blocking the apartment building from our second story window view go – it got an interior window treatment because landscape solutions for the 2nd story would take away too many choices.
Adding interesting paths and plantings will help diminish the visual power of the wall. Expanding our existing patio into the new garden also adds more weight to the landscape.
Working with Existing Concrete Patio
There were a lot of assets to work with; for example the existing concrete patio was kept (which saved sooo much money).
We used hydropressed concrete slab pavers to extend the patio into the garden and make it big enough for the end chairs of the large table. I pulled the patio into the garden and garden into the patio by adding about ten 24″ x 24″ concrete pavers. It did the trick! Donna Burdick placed the pavers as designed and then we all added the last three pavers by consensus design. [Ok the crew placed them, (they weigh about 60lbs each) and we stood around and had them try a few different configurations until we were all happy.]
Free Oversized Teak Table
Usually I don’t design around a specific piece of furniture because it is almost always short sighted but this time it worked well for us. The existing patio had to be bigger to fit their very large teak outdoor table and the new catio took up a chunk of space too. They got the table for a very good price, (used and free), so they could have ten friends over for dining in the summer and I wanted to be sure the chairs on the end would be comfortable to use. We moved the table and large chairs into different configurations on our design day to get it just right.
The Right Tree for Privacy in Kerns Landscape Design
Veronica and Chris wanted a tree that would break up that bad view and also block people in the apartment building from seeing into the kitchen and outdoor dining area. Sure they wanted some shade too but also enough sun to grow edibles and while this seems contradictory… by using a semi dwarf Japanese elm tree we will get light shade. Lower light edibles like currents and blueberries will do well
The tree was purchased already limbed up to allow sunlight in under the tree. We also get filtered sunlight through the smaller leaves of this tree. (and yes I did agonize a bit over the tree selection and the landscape contractor) Donna Burdick spent a lot of time to find me the perfect tree in a big enough size. Our special tree is called Zelkova serratta ‘ City Sprite’, a Japanese elm.
Native Plants Help Integrate the ADU into the Landscape
The adu/studio needed plantings that would connect it with the backyard. I wanted the foundation area above the retaining wall planted with lots of easy care native sword ferns and flowering fringe cup, a native perennial, Tellima grandiflora beloved by bumble bees. Once the plants are mature we won’t see the block wall.
Catio Creates Safe Haven for Birds and Indoor Cats
The new Catio creates a safe outdoor room for my clients indoor cats. The cats access their new sun bathing room from the basement window and can express how they feel about birds without harm.
Existing Japanese Snowbell Tree Helps with Privacy Landscape Design
The existing Japanese Snowbell on the left was a little damaged but a jewel in the rough that Chris and Veronica loved. I was excited we had it to work with. With proper pruning, (provided by Anne Taylor of Living Elements), it will become a master piece and help soften more of the wall. Using an established tree shaves years off the time it will take to soften the view of the apartment building with a new tree.
Vine Structure Visually Softens Wall
Here is one more way to diminish the lower view of the apartment building. We can’t grow anything right against the wall as it is not our property but we can distract the eye. We will add a 2nd vine and a sturdy structure/trellis. These structures will be placed inside my clients property (so several feet off the apartment wall). The existing trellis, built by Chris, is planted with an evergreen vine called Akebia. This vine is an evil scourge in the southern united states but lovely and useful here in the Pacific Northwest. Akebia vine needs a strong growing structure, the tiny sheet of trellis pictured on the right is temporary and would never support our vine properly.
Know What Works from Where
A reminder, from our view out the 2nd story bedroom these two vine covered structures won’t help but while we are down in the garden they make a significant difference.
In our photo the privacy landscape design is freshly installed and already the paths and plantings diminish the power of the apartment wall.
“We liked Carol’s approach. She took the time to understand what we each wanted and helped us make good choices. I was surprised at how much the new garden helps me not notice the apartment building in the summer and fall. I expected that the design would center on hiding the ginormous wall and could only hope that somehow I could have all the other features I wanted too.
We all wanted an evergreen tree for our screen tree for a year round block of the apartment building wall but the trees that would work were either going to get so huge it would spoil the light or had to be purchased so small Chris and I just could not face planting a tree that was only 24″ tall. This in reference to the Manzanita Carol suggested as an evergreen tree option. The elm ‘City Sprite’ once planted on the berm is already at 15 feet tall one year out from planting day. It works and should continue to create shade and soften the view of the apartment building better every year.
The design process was perfect for us and we appreciated digging into our property’s assets by measuring and drafting the existing backyard layout and answering the preferences survey. Also her referral to D & J Landscape Contractors, Donna Burdick was a gift. She told us she wanted us to have her favorite landscape contractor so she would not have to worry. No worries, and the installation was mostly fun, although it was pretty dusty since it was installed in summer, but every day we could see our new back yard heaven emerging.
The contractor was on board to help us save money without being cheap. There are a lot of little touches in the landscape from Donna Burdick which were not on the drawing but had been discussed with Carol so they were a great team – we even have a small rain garden.
This was a good experience and we are enjoying the results every day.” Ver0nica and Chris N.E. Portland