Archive for low water plantings

Tips to Create Larry’s Native Oregon Forest Landscape

Adding Native Oregon Plants to the Trees

Adding landscape plants to Oregon native forest

Larry’s new back yard needs a landscape design in Portland, Oregon

My friend Larry bought a property with huge Douglas Fir trees and he wants to create landscape for wildlife in the Pacific Northwest.  He wants a back yard forest.  He sent me a photo of his new property’s back yard after I offered to give him a few tips.

Landscape Designer and Certified Arborist Collaboration

So Larry here’s my advice for your first step;  you will get your back yard forest better, faster and easier with a landscape designer who works with arborists.  Because of all those huge 60′ tall fir trees your next step is to have an arborist evaluate the trees, talk with you and give us a report on the health of your trees.

Why work with an arborist before we create your design?  We don’t want to design your back yard forest landscape around a large existing tree that will need to be removed later.  Such a waste.

Existing Trees Need Evaluating

Native Oregon Douglas Fir

Majestic Douglas Fir trees in a Portland landscape

Get an arborist who will consult and evaluate your trees – not just come by for a sales call.  If you have to pay for this service, you will know for sure it is not a sales call.  Some arborists only want to assess whether they can remove or prune any of your trees. It’s true that we want to know if they think any of the trees should be removed or need restorative pruning but we want to know so much more.

Arborist Site Evaluation

Here are a few questions I would ask just from looking at your photo:  I see there is a double gate for vehicles near the trees.  I would wonder if the soil is compacted under your trees because people parked trucks under your trees?

Has excess soil been added over your trees root zone?  Adding soil (or even too much bark chips) over the roots of mature trees could be a problem. Did someone trench near your trees to add a septic or an irrigation system? Do you plan to add a garage or outbuilding near the trees in the future? An arborist can see the problems and advise you on how to mitigate some of the damage done.

General tree care:  get their recommendation on how much to water your Doug firs, and other native trees.  Find out how often and how much water needed, when to start watering each year and when to stop.  Looking on line you will read conflicting information about watering native conifer trees so get your information directly from the arborist.

Stress on Native Trees Due to Climate Change

Tips on watering for native cedar trees in Oregon

Dying cedar trees near Portland, Oregon

Ten years ago we never ever summer watered Douglas fir trees.   Due to climate change we have had multiple years of too dry in the spring and even some odd winters where it did not rain enough for our trees.  This has severely stressed many of our native trees. New recommendations I have heard are to give regular but not too frequent deep watering.  Homeowners need a precise watering plan so they know what to do and when to do it.  We want slowly applied water so it gets down deep into the soil rather than run off into a low spot somewhere.  That’s why I favor the drilled emitter tube or a homeowner soaker/ooze type of hose and why I do not recommend using overhead sprinklers for watering anything except lawn.  Ask the arborist how you should water your trees and write it down.  Here’s a money saving tip:  A written report from a certified arborist costs a lot of money and a verbal report is much more affordable.

Fir Tree Compatible Landscape Design

Hey Larry, did you think I would say hire a designer who knows about landscaping with native plants and knows what kind of plants are compatible with Douglas Fir?   I’m a residential landscape designer with 20 plus years in Portland.   I am accustomed to creating designs that are compatible with big trees and that is why I know so many arborists as well.  We create designs that surprise our clients with our downright clever use of space, the way we add functional areas, and create paths that beautifully integrate the entire property.  We take your ideas and make them useable and  brilliant and the plants we suggest will meet your criteria for forest community and low maintenance.

Best Timing for Planting Natives

Native Oregon flowering witch hazel

Field of flowering witch hazel near Portland, Oregon

Don’t Let Your “Do it Now!!!” Energy Add Pressure

And it’s hard to wait. I know you just moved in last fall Larry and now spring is on its way.  You are wanting to get it going right?  If you are not ready to start now say early February with your design and decisions made….. consider getting everything else ready and wait ’til fall for most or all of your plantings.  You will not lose valuable growing time by planting in the fall. Your new trees planted this late spring or (worse in summer) will be stressed by summer heat (even if we do not have a heat dome June 2021) and they won’t grow much. Success will be keeping the leaves or the needles on the tree. Or you could plant the same tree this fall say in October and next spring the fall planted tree will be bigger even though you planted it 5 months later and be less stressed by summer because it has an established root system that grew over winter. So don’t feel you are losing your opportunity for a faster growing tree if you wait ’til fall.

 

Landscape with native Oregon plants under existing trees

New landscape in St. Johns North Portland highlights existing Vine Maple

Creating Larry’s Shady Forest One Plant Layer at a Time

Here are some of the plants I’d consider (organized by the layer, tallest, 25′, then 15′, then 7′, then 3′ and under).

So Larry since your existing trees are limbed up (no branches for the first 20’) it’s going to be awhile before you have your shady forest. This means your initial plantings need to be plants that can handle quite a bit of sun now but later on will thrive in dappled shade.

I would design your  hardscape and layout plant first so you know where paths and planting areas will be.  Next up is your planting plan starting with 20′ to 25′ tall under story trees. These trees  will make shade for your forest floor plants.  Cascara frangula purshiana-Cascara buckthorn, Malus fusca-Pacific crabapple, and Amelanchier alnifolia-Pacific Serviceberry are also great bird and pollinator plants.  Native vine maple works too but will have scorched leaves for a few years in this kind of sun.  It will  become accustomed to more sun and then later also thrive in the shade of the big trees.  Situate vine maple so it gets some afternoon shade from those “way up in the air” Doug Fir branches.

Native Oaks are the New Cool Climate Change Trees

Landscaper with native oregon White Oak

Carol Lindsay, Landscape Designer, with Native Oregon White Oak in SE Portland

Our beloved Oregon White Oak grows quickly to 15-20 feet and then slows down as it grows to over 100′ tall.  (Which Larry you and I will not be around to see).   I also love to use  a smaller oak tree, our native evergreen Canyon Live Oak (Q. chrysolepis). While it’s native to southern Oregon it does well in Portland and it is much faster than this southern California small oak called ‘La Siberia’.  Quercus greggi ‘La Siberia’ is very very attractive and tough and available locally at Treephoria.com.  Yes I promised not to go into such detail but I am a sucker for oak trees.

The Next Understory Layer Includes Native Rhododendron

The next layer can be shrubs that grow 10′ to 15’ tall. I tend to call these plants “shrees” as they mature into small trees.

Native Plant Rhododendron Macrophyllum-Pacific Coast Rhododendron

Larry, I know you especially like our native rhododendron which is what started this conversation. So our evergreen Pacific Coast Rhododendron can get 10′-15′ in improved soil.  It can take quite a bit of sun but no boggy wet soil.  When it is older it will also tolerate more shade.

Our very fragrant smaller Rhododendron occidentale-Western Azalea, is listed for sun and loses it’s leaves in winter so not evergreen. The sweet fragrance can waft quite a distance in early spring. I’d plant it on the edge of your forest area where it will always get more sun.  Clients often say its their favorite fragrance.

Native Oregon plants Flowering Currant

March: Flowering Currant-Ribes sanguineum

Wildlife Garden Design – Provide for Birds and Pollinators with these Plants

Here are just a few native plants (in the 10′ to 15′ height)  to help you garden for birds:  Ribes sanguineum, Pacific Current, Holodiscus Discolor-Ocean Spray,  and Vaccinium parvifolium-Red Huckleberry.  And you will want  Oemlaria cerasiformis-OsoBerry or Indian plum (which can scorch in full sun so doesn’t look so great in late summer) because it is such an important wildlife plant.  Don’t let its mid summer rough appearance keep it from your landscape.  It’s worth it.  Even this east coast native, Cornus Mas-Cornelian Cherry has very early flowers, low water needs and is so great for pollinators and later in summer has fruit for birds.

Consider one of the many varieties of Arctostaphylos-manzanita or Ceanothus. These plants should be placed where they will get lots of sun and should not be watered in the summer or fall.  They are great for wildlife providing food for birds including over wintering hummingbirds and important insects.

The Next Layer 5′ to 7′ Native Shrubs

Native Oregon Thimble Berry is great for pollinators

Rubus Parvifolia-Thimble Berry, great for Portland bumble bees

Native Oregon evergreen Huckleberry

Vaccineum ovatum-Evergreen Huckleberry at a very special garden on Sauvie Island

Native Vaccinium ovatum-evergreen huckleberry is one of my favorites.  It’s shorter in lots of sun and taller in shade so it’s perfect for you. Next on my list would be various native Rubus plants. Rubus spectabilis-Salmon Berry is taller and the flowers are a shocking hot pink in early spring and is beloved by our native bees. Rubus parviflorus – Thimble berry is early season bumble bee food and makes a great 3′ to 4′ high hedge if you want one somewhere.  Both of these plants have short thorns. They take a lot of sun so plant on the edges.  My mom grew up on the Oregon Coast and she loves Thimble Berry to eat fresh.  It’s a little surprise tart-ish flavored berry.

Our native salal at 3’ to 5’ can be hard to get established. But don’t get discouraged.  Several of your plants may croak for no reason you can discern but the ones that survive will spread. They will be shorter in the sun and taller in shade, sometimes 5′ tall in shade.  I have a client who makes a gimlet and always adds Salal berry.

Ground Layer Native Plants 1′ to 3’ Tall

Native Oregon sword fern

Portland native plants: Sword fern with a skirt of dicentra exima-Native Bleeding Heart

Sword fern is a low maintenance native plant for sun or shade and fills planting beds fast

You could plant a bazillion sword ferns and some Gaultheria Shallon-Salal under fir trees and call it done. Polystichum munitum-Sword Fern is good to go in sun or even fairly deep shade. It’s the primary fern in the Willamette Valley so it’s the one I grew up with.  Unlike other native plants (who can be fussy about soil), Sword Fern will grow in horrid clay sub soil as well as the good stuff! They handle fir needle debris as well as leaf load in the fall so you don’t have to spend your time removing every leaf to keep the ferns thriving.  Don’t you want a garden where you can leave the rake in the garage?  Plants that work well with sword fern are numerous but here’s an idea you may not have thought of; let’s use easy to germinate native plant seeds.

Seeds are Perfect for Filling in a New Planting Area Quickly

Native Oregon ground cover Phacelia Nemoralis

Native bees rely on this ground cover Phacelia Nemoralis

I love using these native self seeding annuals and perennials to fill in my ground level while waiting for the larger plants to grow. I sow these native plants by seed in fall, in late winter, and in the spring to get them going strong. These are my favs:  Oregon native phacelia nemorosa  for both sun and shade. The California native phacelia  flower is more attractive but is for the sunniest areas along with an Oregon native called Gillia capitata.   After your shade deepens you will have fewer of these last two.  These self seeding native plants provide abundantly for pollinators and they will do a lovely short and long term job of covering your ground. After your larger trees and shrubs get planted these self sowers will fill the spaces left available.

Another plant is Tellima grandiflora-Fringe Cup (which you will recognize Larry from living in Oregon most of your life) and it takes a lot of sun but will settle into shade nicely. It is a perennial and you can buy it as a plant or go for seeds too.

Spread Multi Species Wood Chips To Put Life Into Your Soil

Larry, here’s a cool thing you can do now. Get a load of diverse species wood chips from a tree service. Ask for a mix of different kinds of trees. You want diversity. Spread them at no more than 2” above your existing grade in future planting areas or everywhere for now if your yard is a blank slate.  As the chips break down they will start putting life back into your soil that the trees need. By life I am talking about fungi and making a place for diverse micro organisms. These good bacteria are an important investment in the health of your plants.  Tip:   Only  add  2” of any kind of chip over tree root areas. It has to do with oxygen ratios in the soil and your trees tiny root hairs. Not enough oxygen and the little tiny roots which process most of the water for the tree die off…not good.  When in doubt-check with your arborist about how deep to apply chips around trees.  Many gardeners replenish these chips every few years around their native plants.

The only thing I don’t like about these arborist multi species wood chips is that they are often so chunky that they are hard for some dogs to run on (ankles and knees).  I wouldn’t want these chips to be the only place where dogs can play and run around.

Dog Friendly Landscape puppy on cedar chips Portland, Oregon

Luna naps on playground cedar chip path.

For a dog friendly surface I prefer playground cedar chips (Northwest Play Fiber or similar) for attractive woodsy looking paths that last and are easy to walk on.

Wildlife Garden Design or Landscaping with Native Plants – Contact us

So Larry, thanks for inspiring me…. I wanted to give you some tips for how to achieve your back yard forest and for anyone interested in landscaping for wildlife in the Pacific Northwest.

Contact us: Carol Lindsay (and Alana Chau associate designer) with our contact form or call us at 503-223-2426.

 

 

Modern Landscape Design Seen in NE Portland Back Yards

Hardscape Solutions for Portland Back Yards With A Modern Twist

We enjoy visiting our past back yard designs and today we are in NE and SE Portland.  We will see installed back yard hardscape landscape designs and modern gardens in Portland neighborhoods Grant Park, South Tabor, Richmond, Reed and Eastmoreland.

Eastmoreland Neighborhood Outdoor Living Patio

Modern landscape design in Richmond neighborhood

Covered Outdoor Living in Richmond Neighborhood gets minimalist modern landscape design treatment.

 

 

 

 

Eastmore neighborhood landscape design

Alana Chau sits in the new patio garden she designed in Eastmoreland neighborhood of Portland.

Richmond neighborhood with minimalist modern landscaping

Our clients installed almost everything in their new landscape including this echo chamber water feature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We start near the Sellwood Bridge to see a very small back yard ‘Remodel’ design.  With a landscape that already has mature trees and fairly good privacy our job is to keep what works, remove what doesn’t and create the missing elements.  We (designer: Alana Chau), added a perfect fit lounging patio to the existing concrete area, a water feature, and fresh new plantings.  Our client Eva Barnes loves the new design.  She and David had so much fun with friends and family installing most of the design including an electrician friend who came and installed the GIF (ground fault interrupter) for the water feature.  Eva says about her new backyard, ‘It’s just perfect’.

Design Incorporates New ADU/Studio for a Family Friendly Landscape

Reed neighborhood incorporate existing gate into landscape designAn important factor for this Reed neighborhood home was working the new Adu/studio into the overall back yard landscape design.  An important decision was whether to keep the existing fence and gate that separated the small intimate family covered dining area from the larger back yard.  After much deliberations, we kept the gate and fencing because it made more usable space for the covered dining area, created a separate (and sunny) sit spot near the studio door and kept the existing fence and gate which has whimsical and delightful carvings of crows that are incorporated into the wood.  These corvine illustrations are both carvings and wood work.  They are all through the fencing and there are illustrations also in the brick patio from the previous owner.  It felt good to honor those.

Privacy for Tiny Patio Garden in Creston Kenilworth Neighborhood

Portland landscape design

Alana Chau and client Bill Sims with dog Juniper.  Note: Bill built the planter himself.

Portland Oregon simple modern landscape pavers

Hardscape landscaping design results in simple but very attractive path for side yard.

This family needed a planting plan re-do for the front, back and side yard and a designer who could understand the balance of privacy needs and community connection for the sidewalk patio. Taller plants in the new planter create privacy from eye contact with passersby without cutting folks off from community. The large planter with wide wall cap doubles as a wonderful sit spot. It’s a very friendly neighborhood.  The new hardscape path for the side yard is such an asset to the patio views, sets the stage for dramatic foliage plants and also makes a way to the garbage cans with dry feet during the winter.

Hosford Abernathy Neighborhood Back Yard Privacy Design

Our clients did not have a good view from their back yard before hiring Landscape Design in a Day.

See our previous blog about privacy.  It’s still a young garden so we are waiting for the privacy plants to get going growing on the new screen. (Japanese Climbing Hydrangea) and other colorful maturing plantings are filling in and starting to diminish the power of the purple violet house nicely. The landscape also needed a lot of careful attention to water from downspouts and had other drainage issues.  These issues were solved collaboratively with the landscape contractor, D & J Landscape Contractors, Donna Burdick and Landscape Design in a Day designer Alana Chau.

Carol Lindsay Portland landscape designer hugs young oak tree in Portland back yard.

Portland landscape designer hugs young oak tree, (Oregon White Oak, Quercus garryana) in clients back yard.

There are 2 rain gardens, a small one in the back yard and a larger more dramatic rain garden in the front.  Our client wanted to protect the river by keeping his drain water on site and returning it to groundwater, a high priority for our client.  He also planted a native Oregon White Oak.

Richmond Neighborhood Back Yard Has Uber Modern Back Yard Landscape Design

Richmond neighborhood modern landscape design

Chartreuse flowers of Euphorbia contrast with black patio table in uber modern backyard landscape design.

We started our blog with a photo of this dramatic minimalist modern landscape design.  The best news is that the clients use this covered outdoor living area patio year-round.  They live out here whenever they can. There is no better complement for a designer.  In the winter they use a standing heater as well as a ceiling heater.  For summer entertaining they will put the standing heater away to make more room for guests. Meadow style grasses and other dramatic plants give the overall design a modern minimalist style.  There is even a Tetrapanax papifera ‘Steroidal Giant’ in the back corner which will add a tropical flair (with very large leaves) once it matures.  We will have a blog that shows photos and more details on this fun garden soon.

South Tabor Home Back Yard Landscape Design

This home is getting the full treatment being remodeled inside and out to include adding an ADU now that the back yard transformation is well on its way.  Alana’s landscape design is planned around the future ADU.

Tabor neighborhood modern patio landscape design

Modern hardscape landscaping back yard patio garden replaces previous backyard wasteland in South Tabor neighborhood.

Alana collaborated with our client to create a new modern landscape style patio area with plantings.  She kept it low maintenance and low water.  He loves the new plantings and especially the colorful carpet of hens and chicks.  The back yard was previously a bit of wasteland when the house was purchased in 2019.

Contact Us

We love driving around and seeing our clients in their new back yards.  Contact us for a collaborative landscape design process that takes your needs, likes and dislikes into account while we lead the way to a perfect fit back yard.

Drought Tolerant Plants for Front Yard Curb Appeal In Portland

Evergreen Ground Cover Plantings for Portland Front Yards

This blog could be called many things…..Drought tolerant Plants for Front Yard Curb appeal in Portland or  Evergreen Groundcovers for Front Yard Curb Appeal but actually it should simply say these plants together are my favorite all season interest groundcover.

Year round color for drought tolerant groundcovers in Concordia neighborhood of North Portland

Evergreen texture and contrast party in my client Lisa’s garden in late winter. Heather and Hen and Chick together.

Low Water Ground Cover Plants – Heathers with Succulents

I want to introduce a drought tolerant heather that looks fantastic with hens and chicks and talk about how to use these plants for year round good looks in your Portland landscape.

Reasons to use Heather with Succulents or Hens and Chicks

We garden designers want attractive planting combinations to be year round colorful attractive plants that look great together, suppress weeds, feed bees and are simple to care for.  This is my 2nd blog of three showcasing the use of low water and drought tolerant plants.

What is Great About Planting Heathers and Hens and Chicks together?

Drought tolerant heather, sedum and hen and chicks landscape in Portland.

Shortie Heather  (with Sedums and Red foliaged Hens and Chicks), grow nicely in rock crevices

Contrast!  The fine soft needles of the heather, the large blunt shape of the Sempervivum leaf and the rosette that it forms creates a strong contrast.  Using these combinations really tickles my designer’s fancy.  Using contrast is an important tool for design.

Drought Tolerance:   They both need well drained soil and must be irrigated the first summer to establish mature drought tolerant roots.  So yes plant them together – they are a perfect fit.

Heathers and hens and chicks are evergreen, provide multiple foliage and flower colors to create interest.  It’s fun to see a gold leafed heather with the dark red rosettes of a hen and chick by the front door in winter.  No wonder I love to use them for a colorful year round landscape planting plan.

The Shortie Heathers are My Favorites

Texture galore with drought tolerant evergreen groundcovers including heather, hens and chicks and sedums

Heather and succulents make a tapestry of color in the garden of Marcia Peck on ANLD garden tour.

The shorties – Besides being so attractive these very low (4” tall or less) heather (Calluna vulgaris) are well worth it because they need very little to no pruning at all.  Some clients don’t remember to prune anything so these shorties are just right for them.  All the other types of heather have to be pruned.  I’ve nicknamed these heather ‘shorties’ to set them apart from the many many other kinds of heathers.  If you call them a “shortie heather” at a plant nursery they will not know what you are talking about.  Stick with the latin and look for these at specialty growers and nurseries.  See end of blog for where to buy these special heathers.

I like to use a very short heather with my hens and chicks like this three inch high heather called Calluna vulgaris ‘Mrs. Ronald  Gray’. This heather has needles that grow in a configuration that look like tiny ferns fronds and is my favorite of them all.   Other very short 2 inch to four-inch-tall heathers include Calluna vulgaris ‘Caleb Threkheld’, and ‘White Lawn’.  I use these shortie heathers in a variety of situations with many different kinds of plants but they look especially good with the succulents. They will also drape over a wall nicely.

The Difference Between Drought Tolerant Heather and Other Heathers

Rose City Park front yard shows Calluna Vulgaris 'Mrs Ron Gray' this Designer favorite drought tolerant heather.

The stems look like feathery tiny ferns on this unique Calluna vulgaris, Mrs Ron Green (shortie heather)

I want to be sure my readers will understand that not all heathers are drought tolerant (and most of them are not shorties either).  Heathers named Calluna vulgaris – Scotch Heather (summer and fall flowering heathers) are very different from the spring flowering heathers (Erica carnea and Erica darleyensis) in terms of their soil conditions and water needs.  The Calluna must have well drained soil. They must be watered regularly and carefully their first summer, after that, they prefer less water and can become drought tolerant after just a few years of maturity.   They need full sun or at least 8 hours where Erica carnea can make do with less.  Erica darleyensis can take light shade although I like to grow them in full morning sun.

I Water My ‘White Lawn’ Heather Once a Month in Summer

My Calluna vulgaris ‘White Lawn’ at my vacation house gets watered once a month if its been hotter than usual in the summer.  I’m only there once a month and they even made it through the heat dome of 2021.

Portland landscape cascading Caleb Threkheld heather.

Calluna vulgaris ‘Caleb Threkheld’ cascades down the sides of an elevated planter in early fall.

Plant Heathers in fall

Portland front yard with drought tolerant Calluna vulgaris "Mrs. Ron Gray' with dwarf blanket Flower in late summer

Calluna vulgaris ‘Mrs. Ron Green’ borders synthetic lawn flowering in mid summer at my clients home.

Life will be easier, and kinder if you plant your heathers in the fall-best practice.  Planting in early spring would be next best.  Planting in late spring or early summer will mean complete devotion to watering these plants.  It’s easy to kill heather their first summer and here is why – most plants leaves will droop a little and let you know they are dry.  You water them and all is forgiven.

Heathers Cannot Dry Out The First Summer

Not so with heathers – Heather cannot dry out the first summer, not even once or it’s all over.  This is why planting in the fall is easier on you.  If the chance they will have to be replaced come fall is not a problem for you, you have nothing to lose except the plants.  Most of us won’t be planting 50 of these so our loss is minimal except for the shorties which are harder to get in the first place…..still calculate your potential loss and decide if you want to gamble now that you have the facts.

No Pruning for the Shortie Varieties of Calluna Vulgaris – Scotch Heather

Portland landscape with freshly pruned heather.

Calluna vulgaris – heather freshly pruned at the Oregon Garden. These heathers get about 12″ tall and must be pruned each year.

Taller type heather must be pruned thoughtfully every year but mostly one never needs to prune these shortie Calluna vulgaris – Scotch Heather.  I have plants Calluna vulgaris ‘White Lawn’ that are over 10 years old.  I’ve let one heather spread out and moved any hens and chicks that got in the way.  I have a patch that is over 15 years old and it’s about 24″ wide now.  I like it that wide and I still have room for plenty of hens and chicks.

Drought tolerant Calluna Vulgaris heather in Portland landscape.

My large two foot swath of Calluna vulgaris ‘White Lawn’ gets little to no water at my vacation home. This is what I call a “shortie” heather.

If you are still with your heathers in ten years, you can choose to either referee so the heather doesn’t totally bury the hens and chicks as it matures by carefully pruning out a section of the heather or….You could be a lazy gardener and just let the heathers grow over the top of the hens and chicks since by then you will have lots and lots of the hens and chicks.  I love the combo so I have done a little of both. Just realize that the section you cut out of the heather will not grow back.

Happily hens and chicks are so easy to transplant.  Sometimes I pick little chicks off the mother plant and tuck them into a cooler spot in the ground even with no roots on them at all and often they root and thrive – they are that easy to transplant. Learn more about hens and chicks.

 

Drought tolerant Sempervivum Carmen Hen and Chick pictured in Portland.

Exquisite foliar texture on this Sempervivum –  hen and chick called ‘Carmen’.

Finding the Shortie Heathers to Buy

So perhaps I’ve convinced you that these shorties heathers are just right for adding full season color and interest to your low water landscape.  Where to buy them?

Highland Heathers – Janice Linewebber can u.p.s. right to your door. If her web site is not updated just e mail her at [email protected]  Ask her if she has any Calluna vulgaris that grows only 3 or 4 inches tall.  She will probably ask if you are my client…I love these little shortie Calluna vulgaris heathers so much in my designs.

Heaths and Heathers is mail order and while there are threats of retirement….so far we can still order from her. She is also on Facebook as Heaths and Heathers Nursery and is in Washington.  Ask her for substitutions as she has some shortie heathers I’ve never grown or used. A shortie is 4″ or under when mature.

There is a large wholesale grower in the area called Little Prince that sometimes grows these heathers. Therefore, I have found them at Cornell Farms and Portland Nursery at times.

Drought tolerant Sempervivum arachinoides called 'Pekinense' grown by Little Prince

Top marks for this Sempervivum arachinoides called ‘Pekinense’ grown by Little Prince and photo by Little Prince as well.

Contact Us for a Thoughtful Drought Tolerant Landscape Design

We love to create landscape plans that are low maintenance and can support our environment. Plants help cool the soil, absorb carbon and provide food for pollinators and other life. They also make your home welcoming and attractive.  Contact us if you want a low maintenance landscape design that is interesting, colorful and can be an asset to your home and community.

Irvington Low Maintenance Front Yard Welcomes Her People Home

Low maintenance plantings and boulders for Irvington neighborhood.

Flowering Front Yard with Boulders and New Plantings Create Charm and hold the Slope

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…

After Irvington curb appeal landscape design corrected front concrete walk

Simple concrete walk is possible after removing old Rhododendron

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.

Before Irvington low maintenance curb appeal landscaping.

Before: new concrete walkway ends abruptly to avoid tree trunk and roots.

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.

Tree blocks beautiful old house before landscaping update.

Before: overgrown rhododendron tree was blocking path access and hiding the best asset, the front porch.

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.

Boulders help with low maintenance landscaping on front yard slope in Irvington.

After: Boulders and dense planting to hold slope and play up the porch.

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.

Storm damage prior to curb appeal landscaping update in Irvington.

During: An ice storm brought a tree down on the landscape.

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.

Special front yard landscaping for Manzanita in Irvington neighborhood.

Heat loving Manzanita (Arctostaphylos bakeri ‘Louis Edmonds) has a special planting pocket with extra drainage to ensure the plant thrives.

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.

Container planting for curb appeal landscaping update in Irvington.

Container planting includes Sun Rose (Helianthemum ‘Henfield Brilliant’) and New Zealand Flax (Phormium ‘Black Adder’)

Contact Us

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.

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.