Archive for native plants

Larry’s Forest Landscape Letter

Adding a Forest to the Trees

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

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

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

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.

 

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

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.

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 andlater 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

Rubus Parvifolia-Thimble Berry, great for Portland bumble bees

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

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 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.

 

 

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.

 

 

Tips for Planting Under Mature Trees

Planting Under Mature Trees in Portland Landscapes

Flowering Tree with plantings underneath

Fatsia Japonica, Beesia and Hosta thrive under Japanese Snowbell Tree in NE Portland.

A designer pal of mine asked for some help with selecting plants to grow under large mature trees.  Here is what I have learned over many years.  Also a thank you to Bruce Hegna (Nature Nurture Landscape Design) for his contributions to the list and Stacey Stewart, Eden’s Gate Garden Design.

 

Carol’s rules for planting under big trees

  1. Do no harm to your big trees roots.  Please don’t chop into them, bury them with additional soil or treat suckers with herbicides. They may see you coming but they cannot run away.
  2. Plants competing with mature tree roots will grow very slowly. Two or three times as slow as plants who do not have tree root competition.  Patience is a requirement.
  3. Up close to the tree trunk where there are so many large woody roots is the hardest place to plant with success.   Also, the size of root ball for your new plants will need to be smaller close in to the trunk so you don’t damage your trees roots. And yet….see #4
  4. A larger sized plant will establish with a higher percentage of success than the tiny sized plants. (Which isn’t fair but I did not make up these rules, nature did)
  5. When you discover a root where you want to put a plant try splitting the root ball of your new plant so the new plant is straddling the root. This can work surprisingly well in fall and winter, but not in the heat of July.
Lush plantings under mature trees in Portland Landscape Design

Plants thrive with morning sun only in hillside garden in NW Portland’s Willamette Heights neighborhood.

Plants to grow under mature trees

Morning sun and afternoon shade under deciduous trees

Under 3’ tall plants:  Sword Fern,-Polystichum munitum, Bishops Hat-Epimendium ‘Sulpereum’ ‘Frohnleiten’,  Hardy Geranium-Geranium Macrhorhizum,Creeping Oregon Grape-Mahonia repens, Hellebore, Hosta

Taller shrubs:  Osmanthus, Japanese Aralia-Fatsia, Huckleberry- Vaccinium ovatum

Understory trees:  Variegated Red Twig Dogwood Shrub- Cornus S. ‘Hedgerows Golden, ‘Vine Maple-Acer circinatum, Rhamnus Variegata, (Variegated Italian Buckthorn) Azara microphylla, Russian Olive. Eleagnus ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’

Woman with Sequoia Tree

Carol Lindsay communing with a grove of Sequoia trees – nothing grows here.

Deep shade is the most difficult.  It’s much easier to grow plants with some dappled light coming through deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves in the fall). Here is a deep shade landscape of mine in Portland.

Naturescape Portland Oregon Native Plants

Evergreen Huckleberry used as a screen in SW Portland.

Huckleberry used as drought tolerant planting under mature tree in Portland.

Huckleberry Hedge at the edge of a shade garden in NW Portland.

Plants to grow under limbed up fir trees

These plants are getting direct sun for part of the day

Plants Under 3’ Tall:

Mahonia repens (needs some shade), Sword Fern, Tellima grandiflora, (Fringe Cup), Ceanothus t. ‘Kurt Zadnik”, groundcover California Lilac, Abelia ‘Rose Creek’, cold hardy Hebe, a variety of hardy geranium groundcovers like Geranium x cantabriginense and more.

Taller plants:  Corylus cornuta, (native hazelnut),  Holodiscus discolor, (Ocean Spray), Vaccinium ovatum, (Native Huckleberry) Acer Circinatum, (Vine Maple and please be sure you have room for the Vine Maple to 10’ wide and more)  Azara microphyllya, (Box leaf Azara Chinchin) Mahonia (Tall Oregon Grape).

Most of these plants are drought tolerant or low water but you will be watering them carefully, not too much or too often but regular water is a must under such difficult conditions. After many years most of these plants will require less frequent watering.

Hardscape design Sellwood Moreland Garden Design in Portland

Freshly installed Landscape Design in a Day. Emily says, “Carol got my desire for simplicity and my style both with the plant material and the hardscapes.”

After care for plants growing under mature trees

  1. Drip irrigation-you will need to water the new plants so they actually get some of the water.  This means a long slow watering practice such as what you can achieve with drip irrigation.
  2. Top dress with a mulch rather than push the plants with fertilizers. Add mulch around the new plants twice a year or at least once unless they are a plant like California lilac or Manzanita, (they do not tolerate any fertilizer or rich mulch).
  3. I’ve had great success with dressing just the crowns of the plants with tiny crushed rock such as quarter ten crushed rock. Plants that had not grown in years had a growth spurt when I started adding crushed rock around the plant.  (Great tip from Maurice Horn—Joy Creek Nursery.)

There is still some trial and error but I hope you will be inspired to try underplanting your big trees.  You can have successful, healthy and attractive plants under and near many kinds of large mature trees.

We love  to create designs that work with your mature trees.  Contact us and tell us all about what you want in your landscape—503-223-2426 or use our contact page on our web site.

 

Native Garden Design in Portland

Native Garden Design Gardening for Birds

NW Garden design for birds

Two lounge chairs have the perfect view of the new bird friendly garden and water feature.

Gardening for Birds

Alan and Paula’s home backs to a wildlife haven, a park managed by the city. Before Landscape Design in a Day, they set up many bird feeders and thoroughly enjoyed watching the various species visit.  From day one, we knew this would be a garden for the birds. Our mission is to make better places for the humans to enjoy watching the birds.  They already loved their back yard but spent all their time up on their deck.  They wanted a professional garden designer who would care about their desires and have the skills to pull it all together.   We knew we would create multiple sitting areas that get our clients out into the property and bring more of what birds love to the property to entice them to visit and further enhance bird watching.

Portland backyard designed to attract more birds.

Before Design in a Day the deck was the sit spot.

Portland backyard invites clients to garden to watch birds.

After: Lounge chairs invite us to sit and enjoy watching the birds.

Better views into a native garden design

The homeowners spend a lot of time in an office that looks directly into the barren side garden toward the park. The foreground view was rough lawn and a lot of fence. That window led some of the important design decisions, such as where to put the focal point water feature. Now every outdoor sit spot AND the indoor office chairs can see and hear the cascading water.

Water – Bring the birds in – native garden design

Native plants are important, but the best feature to attract birds and keep them coming back is water. This naturalistic water feature brings so much delight to the homeowners. In our native garden design, a large pre-drilled boulder is placed on a steel box called an echo chamber, which is then covered in smaller stones to hide the chamber. The echo chamber under the boulder amplifies that beautiful bubbling water sound so that it can be heard from the deck and inside the office.

Gardening for birds requires a water source to attract wilidlife.

The homeowners water feature attracts and provides for birds year-round. Photo taken by Alan M.

Shelter and safety for birds

The next item needed for a bird paradise is shelter – usually in the form of trees. All birds need to be able to hide from sky predators like hawks and ground predators like cats.

We kept plants low around the water feature with native plants like Indian plum nearby for fast escape. The  birds also use the top of the fence to survey for ground predators like cats. (Keep birds safe with a catio.)  The adjacent park provides perfect trees for nesting. This park already had an upper canopy of native Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) and Doug Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) as well as a mid canopy of Vine Maple (Acer circinatum) and others. Paula and Alan provide fresh water and food plants plus their multiple feeding stations of seed,  suet and more.

This Portland garden attracts wildlife with bird food and water.

Deer visit this garden from the adjacent park.

Gardening for Birds

Native garden design – plants that provide food for birds

Of course, the last big element to attract birds to the yard is food. For example, the homeowners love the band-tailed pigeon visitors, so we were sure to add native Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa). These birds also love madrone berries but we didn’t have the right spot in our native garden design for madrone but there was a large 50′ tall madrone 500′ away in the park. Perfect for band-tails and also for band-tail pigeons here are other native plants that provide food for birds; Indian Plum (Oemleria ceraciformis), and Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia). Paula and Alan also maintain multiple feeding stations of various seeds, suet and more.

NW native plant for birds

Indian Plum (Oemleria ceraciformis), is one of the first PNW natives to bloom often as early as March.

A nw native plant that provides food for the birds.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) is an important food for birds. The berry is a good backyard snack for people as well, if you can beat the birds to it.

Hardscape Landscaping Construction

The hardscape landscape was completed by Lewis Landscape. Check out the amazing execution of the stairs and wall we designed.

Before the garden was redesigned to attract more birds.

Before: Old wood wall was crumbling, stairs were skinny and uninviting.

Hardscape is part of the garden design in this Portland backyard.

During: Building the new curved wall and more inviting stairs.

Portland backyard gardening for birds.

After: the finished hardscape landscaping results in open, wide stairs in the perfect location to allow easy access to lower garden.

The old wall and stairs were falling apart, which gave me the perfect opportunity to redesign it entirely. The old stairs were too narrow and right up against the underbelly of the deck.  It was fine for a utility work area but not for a sit spot. The new design creates the opportunity to create two comfortable sit spots where the homeowners can enjoy their natural surroundings.  Room for plants and the new wide stairs make movement between the spaces gracious and inviting.

Client Testimonial

“Carol and Alana, I cannot tell you how much we enjoy the yard.  The path we asked you to widen just enough to contain pots (to which you added more width to) became big enough to put two lounge chairs and a little table.  This is now our favorite sitting spot.”

“The water feature was perfectly placed as we can see it from the deck, from the yard, (some from the dining room) and very well from the office.  The birds LOVE it – all from bandtailed pigeons to hummingbirds.  We get the biggest kick out of watching them enjoy it.  Not to mention, the sound is perfect and the natural look goes well with the our new more woodsy landscape.”

“We love the yard, the steps, the new plants, the walkways, the fountain and so do the birds and bees and woodland creatures.  It was a perfect design for us.”

“Creating our own base map of our yard (with the kit) made us better design partners. We felt like we helped create our paradise too.”

Paula M

 

 

Please note our clients provided to us most of the after photos in this blog.

Are you ready to create a garden full of life? Contact us today to learn about our collaborative design process.

Front Yard Landscape Designs in NE Portland

Four Portland Front Yards Get Landscape Makeover

Pathways are an opportunity to connect your house to the land.

Before front yard landscape redesign.

BEFORE: the front yard detracts from the charming Irvington neighborhood bungalow.

Front yard landscape make over.

AFTER: adding a large concrete landing matches the proportions and value of the home.

Front yard landscape design in Portland neighborhoods.

Front yard plants are filling in the new design. (2nd year) See Back Yard Design Story

These clients in the Irvington neighborhood had a pretty dinky underwhelming entry path from the sidewalk that did nothing for their home.  The 2 huge street trees towering over their home meant the lawn under the trees would never be attractive and besides these clients were retired and the mower needed to be banished.

A new stone landing was installed along with a stone veneer on the porch steps and porch floor.   The humpy lawn was removed, gentle grading commenced to include adding boulders and new NW Natural Style plantings.   Now the entry of this Irvington home sparkles.  The back yard is designed for outdoor living and has a large patio, outdoor dining room and play area for grandkids.  Installed by D and J Landscape Contractors.

Before landscape design redid the front yard.

BEFORE:  This Grant Park neighborhood house didn’t have the right path.

Portland landscape design with new entry path and colorful plantings at the front porch.

The new path is all 90 degree angles and much wider. See more of this project

A New Entry Path Leads the Design for this Historic Georgian Home

Pennisetum alocuroides 'Little Bunny' a dwarf fountain grass shows its late summer blooms in a Portland front yard

Colorful plants in Grant Park includes Little Bunny Fountain Grass

This landscape re-design is an example where changing the entry walk made a dramatic difference to the curb appeal of this historic Georgian style home.  This house (in Grant Park of NE Portland) seemed to loom over its land.  My clients wanted the landscape design to complement their home. Now the new entry walk (and driveway) has the right proportions and fits with the strong architectural style of the home.   The landscape design puts the focus back on the marvelous front porch.

Front yard landscape design with water feature.

Rain Garden in St Johns – Ranch House

 

Rain Gardens in St Johns

Before front yard landscape redesign.

Before: No front walk leaves ranch house cut off from the neighborhood.

This modern ranch needed a front walk.  My clients were done with walking up the narrow driveway.  The new front walk from the public sidewalk also improved access from the new wider driveway. Gardeners paths integrate this landscape beautifully instead of lawn.  A rain garden works as an accent to the overall NW Natural Style landscape and handles water from a disconnected downspout.  We carefully kept the old and lovely vine maple for privacy to the living room window, a mature Fatsia japonica, and several tree like rhododendrons.  Some of the new plants in this design are:

Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’

Erica Carnea-Spring flowering heather

Brunnera m. ‘Jack Frost’-azure blue flowering groundcover with silver and green leaves

Spirea japonica-low maintenance easy care summer flowering shrub

Pinus mugo ‘Sherwoods Compact’ a specialty dwarf pine

This design was installed by D and J Landscape Contracting 

 

Rain Garden Becomes the Focal Point

Portland front yard landscape design with rain garden

When my client Amy and I work together I take her design ideas and make them work. This is our 3rd project together in St. Johns Portland, Oregon.

Landscape design for Portland front yard.

This modern craftsmen style home in St Johns belongs to a serious DIY client of many years.  She wanted a working rain garden as the focal point of her front landscape and no lawn.

We worked together on a Landscape Design in a Day to refine her front yard design, rain garden design and add paths and plantings.  She acted as her own general contractor and managed the installation.  The crew she hired was inexperienced but she was able to guide them.  While working with them was quite a bit more work than she expected, she prevailed and the installation finished well with attractive boulder and stone placement.  The rain garden handles most of the rain off her front roof.  We also made a wide spot in the path for her neighbors to get out of their car into her path.  Like many city properties there wasn’t much room between houses. The photo shows her freshly installed plantings fall of 2020.

Some of the key plants for the rain garden are Gold Sweet Flag – Acorus gramiense ‘Ogon’,  Inkberry – Ilex glabra ‘Shamrock’ and Juncus ‘ Blue Arrows’ – a cultivated variety of a native rush.

Privacy Landscape Design and Modern Curb Appeal in Kenton Neighborhood

Portland neighborhood front yard landscape design.

Kenton neighborhood small front entry needs to gather guests from the sidewalk, the driveway and provide a small seating area for homeowners.

Portland modern front yard landscape design.

This very modern landscape design provides access to the house from both driveway and sidewalk and creates a semi private spot to sit.

This simple modern landscape design gave this Kenton neighborhood home much more than curb appeal.  There is a hidden seating area in addition to easy access from the driveway and the public sidewalk. Our clients didn’t need a lot of privacy, but enough to avoid accidental eye contact from walkers by.  Clients acted as general contractor and used M and J Landscape from Salem for the install.  Alana Chau designed this landscape and placed plants.  See more of this project.