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Lawn Do Over for Portland Landscapes

Drought Tolerant, Synthetic & No Lawns Landscaping

Landscape Design in a Day's newly installed drought tolerant RTF grass.

Landscape Design in a Day’s newly installed RTF grass with dry stream bed.

This is the year for rethinking the lawn. As a Portland landscape designer many of my new clients want to make big changes in their landscapes.  I am recommending clients replace their old lawns with new and improved grass varieties.

My Lake Oswego clients, George and Marcia, contacted me completely discouraged about their front yard. I met them in the fall after our particularly hot and horrid summer of 2015. They had spent their entire summer watering and watering their lawn.  It wasn’t dead on the October day that I came to their home but as you can see it was quite unattractive.

Uplands Neighborhood of Lake Oswego before drought tolerant lawn.

Damaged Lake Oswego lawn

They decided it was time to hire a designer and start over with their landscape. It is a typical Lake Oswego landscape with heavy clay soil, fir trees nearby with thirsty roots, and drainage problems.

Before we even started the landscape design process, I was able to share information about a new lawn grass that uses less water and is more durable than the grass (perennial rye grass blends) we have been using for the last 30 years.  Working closely with Kevin Schindler of Autumn Leaf Landscaping Inc. we replaced their old lawn with Rhizomatous Tall Fescue (RTF) grass and designed a naturalistic dry stream bed that also solves the drainage problems.  Solving the drainage problems also enhances the health of the grass.  Even RTF grass doesn’t do well in a boggy winter soil.  George and Marcia are very pleased with the appearance and performance of the new grass.  They love their new dry stream bed and how it has pulled together the entire front yard, giving it a dramatic focal point.

They are no longer slaves to watering with drought tolerant lawn.

Installation day at George and Marcia’s Lake Oswego home.

This year several of my clients have taken out their old grass and installed RTF.   From a distance it looks like any lawn, in fact it looks more uniform because it grows so thickly that it tends to crowd out weed grasses much better than our perennial rye grass does.  My Lake Oswego clients especially appreciate the fact that RTF tolerates more sun and heat and if they did decide to let it go dormant, it will come back beautifully.  RTF can even handle a south facing lawn with reflected heat from a sidewalk.  This is the most difficult place to successfully grow grass so Portland landscape professionals are embracing this new product.

It is available as a roll out turf product (sod) and as seed.  Kuenzi Turf & Nursery

After front lawn of drought tolerant landscaping in Rose City Park.

Rose City Park Neighborhood

No grass lawn for drought tolerant landscaping.

West Portland Park  Neighborhood

Other clients want no lawn designs, thinking it will be lower maintenance.  No lawn will mean lower water usage but replacing a lawn with paths and plants does not promise low maintenance. Even the fairly new minimalist style using 90% round river rock and 10% plants isn’t as low maintenance as you think. Someone has to blow dust and debris out of the river rock frequently to prevent weeds from building up.  Many clients simply don’t want to mow any lawn and are fine with the first two years of extensive weeding that is needed to get a no lawn front yard established.  For a lot of people, however, weeding is the least favorite gardening chore.

Synthetic Lawn Installed in front yard for drought tolerant landscaping.

Newly installed synthetic lawn in Parkrose Heights neighborhood

Other clients are installing synthetic lawn.  Before you sneer at the idea of fake grass (which I did when I first heard about it), check out these photos of my Southeast Portland clients Bob and Norma Bleid.  They gave themselves a retirement gift, front and back synthetic lawn.  No water, no chemicals, no fertilizer; it is the ultimate low maintenance landscape lawn.

Early fall is a particularly good time to install a new lawn or landscape.  With a good irrigation system landscapes can be installed any time of the year.  As a Portland landscape designer I am not fond of July or August installations, I know my clients will be “nervous nellys”  seeing their plants’ leaves droop, scorch and burn in the summer sun.  The fall rains typically do a beautiful job of providing the moisture needed to get plants (including grass) well established.  This eliminates the stress and worry of summer planting.

If you are interested in having your landscaping updated, redesigned or help with a plan – contact us for more information.



Updated Rain Gardens Just in Time for Fall

Disconnected downspout water feeds into small rain garden in Portland, Oregon.  Rain Garden plants like dwarf Golden Acorus add drama.

Rain Garden with attractive evergreen grasses makes the entry look great even in winter. (Smith Entry 2008)

Portland rain garden surrounded by pollinator friendly plants such as Black Eyed Susan, Salvia, Blanket Flower catches winter water

Alana and I teamed up to design this Portland eco garden with loads of pollinator friendly plants and a rain garden. This was so much fun. July 2023

Rain Gardens in Portland Oregon Are Now Part of Local Culture.

This blog is from 2008.  Goodness we have had so much fun with rain gardens since then. Portlanders have fully embraced the concept of directing winter water into areas where the water can return to the earth instead of the local water treatment plant.


My clients had disconnected their down spout and sort of had a rain garden but rain water flowed across the front walk making it slippery, mossy and messy.

After I created a basic design for the rain garden, I brought in Donna Burdick of
D & J Landscape Contractors.  We worked together to finalize the design and then placed the rock to create the stream effect. Plantings were the finishing touch.


Year Round Interest Plants Used

Wet area needs Rain Garden

Before Rain Garden: The Smiths enjoy their holiday flamingos in a wet untamed area by their front door.

Christmas Plantings Look Great

The plantings look good even at Christmas with glossy gold grass and dark green leafed plantings.

Now when the Smith’s get out their flamingos for holiday decoration, their entry looks lush and welcoming.



Rain Gardens are not just a ring of drainrock!!! Courtyard entries are the norm in Charbonneau, a planned community in Wilsonville, Oregon.

The client and Carol Lindsay of Landscape Design in a Day placed the  rocks and plantings.   No more standing water.

Courtyard Entry w Rain Garden

The rain garden fits into my clients’ garden style beautifully.









Rain Garden Solves Entry Pond Problem
Small courtyard entries are the norm in Charbonneau, a planned community in Wilsonville, Oregon.  My clients had a yearly winter pond in their courtyard entry.

Heavy Clay Soils Present Design Challenges
The soil has heavy clay and does not drain well. My clients in this area do a lot of soil prep. They have to install drains or take drastic measures to deal with winter rain water.

One half of the courtyard was buried in several inches of water every time it rained. It would take days or even weeks to drain away.  We decided a rain garden with pizzazz might solve their water problems and fit in with their garden style.

Landscape Design in a Day Comes to the Rescue
The client and Carol Lindsay of Landscape Design in a Day placed rocks and plantings. We used the large-sized Gold Acorus grass (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’) with Kelsey’s Dwarf Red-Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Kelseyi’) along the back wall. We may look at using a dwarf Compact Inkberry Holly (Ilex glabra ‘Compacta’) instead as the garden continues to develop. The client installed their own perforated pipe under the rain garden – resulting in no more standing water going for over five years now.

Rain Garden in Alameda neighborhood in Portland Oregon doubles as play area for kids and is decorated with their plastic dinosaurs.

Rain Garden in Alameda neighborhood in Portland Oregon doubles as play area for kids and is decorated with their plastic dinosaurs. 2023

Updated-Here are rain gardens designed in the last few years, mostly in N and NE Portland.