Archive for No Lawn

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 Privacy Landscape Design In NE Portland

Happy Landscape Creating Privacy in Kerns Neighborhood

I love to create privacy landscape design solutions that integrate solutions to all the issues.  Next let me say I love this property because it’s tricky and the design is going to be all about happy outdoor living in the city. Creating a privacy landscape design for small city properties needs an experienced landscape designer to create an integrated solution.

I approach creating our design by creating a wonderful view that just happens to soften a bad view and create privacy. Designing an apartment building sized hedge or huge tree would ruin this small city back yard  for anything else.

Small City Backyard Needs More than Privacy

Designed landscaping that includes existing patio and creates privacy in Kerns neighborhood.

Our design keeps the existing concrete patio, integrates the studio and gets our shade tree started. Installation with D & J Landscape Contractors, Donna Burdick and her crew.

My clients Chris and Veronica have a small city backyard with a ginormous apartment building at their back property line.  They wanted bird friendly plants, lots of edibles, to get rid of the lawn, integrate the studio cottage and most important, create privacy from the apartment building windows.  They also wanted a place for a Catio so their indoor only cats could enjoy being outside without harming birds.

Hiding an Apartment BuildingKerns property needing privacy and wanting landscaping designed for birds.

BEFORE: apartment building looms.The apartment building near the back property line creates both privacy issues (people looking down into the back yard) and the need for blocking the view of the neglected building’s exterior – it’s very unattractive. I have a more horrible photo below so you can get a better view of very ugly.

We didn’t have enough yard for the more typical ideas on hiding such a large building.  A three story high evergreen hedge is not practical for a variety of reasons: takes too long to grow, would require expensive professional pruning often and would be rude to the people living in the apartments by cutting off all their light.  Nor did I want to use up all our square footage with a layered planting of trees.  (Which would have been rude to the trees as there isn’t enough room.)  So if we can’t hide it what can we do?

Reduce the Visual Power of the Building

First I want to decide where we will be and what we are doing when we want privacy the most.  My clients wanted  privacy for dining outdoors with family and friends, and then while puttering about with the edible plantings (Veronica is a gardener). We let blocking the apartment building from our second story window view go – it got an interior window treatment because landscape solutions for the 2nd story would take away too many choices.

Adding interesting paths and plantings will help diminish the visual power of the wall.   Expanding our existing patio into the new garden also adds more weight to the landscape.

Working with Existing Concrete Patio

Finding where in the Kerns property privacy was needed with landscape design.

Hydropressed concrete pavers extend the patio into the garden and the garden into the patio.

There were a lot of assets to work with; for example the existing concrete patio was kept (which saved sooo much money).

We used hydropressed concrete slab pavers to extend the patio into the garden and make it big enough for the end chairs of the large table.   I pulled the patio into the garden and garden into the patio by adding about ten 24″ x 24″ concrete pavers.  It did the trick!  Donna Burdick placed the pavers as designed and then we all added the last three pavers by consensus design.  [Ok the crew placed them, (they weigh about 60lbs each) and we stood around and had them try a few different configurations until we were all happy.]

Free Oversized Teak Table

Usually I don’t design around a specific piece of furniture because it is almost always short sighted but this time it worked well for us. The existing patio had to be bigger to fit their very large teak outdoor table and the new catio took up a chunk of space too.  They got the table for a very good price, (used and free), so they could have ten friends over for dining in the summer and I wanted to be sure the chairs on the end would be comfortable to use.  We moved the table and large chairs into different configurations on our design day to get it just right.

The Right Tree for Privacy in Kerns Landscape Design

Finding the perfect tree for privacy and gardening in Kerns project.

After photo:  The shed is painted to match the new studio and the existing patio is extended into the garden.  Foreground plant is a compact Strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’.

Veronica and Chris wanted a tree that would break up that bad view and also block people in the apartment building from seeing into the kitchen and outdoor dining area.  Sure they wanted some shade too but also enough sun to grow edibles and while this seems contradictory… by using a semi dwarf Japanese elm tree we will get light shade.  Lower light edibles like currents and blueberries will do well

The tree was purchased already limbed up to allow sunlight in under the tree. We also get filtered sunlight through the smaller leaves of this tree.  (and yes I did agonize a bit over the tree selection and the landscape contractor) Donna Burdick spent a lot of time to find me the perfect tree in a big enough size. Our special tree is called Zelkova serratta ‘ City Sprite’, a Japanese elm.

Including privacy for backyard patio in Kerns neighborhood landscape design.

Carol Lindsay trying to interest kitty in her car keys. Kitty was unimpressed. Client Veronica to left and in foreground is the salvaged large teak table in NE Portland backyard.

Native Plants Help Integrate the ADU into the Landscape

The adu/studio needed plantings that would connect it with the backyard. I wanted the foundation area above the retaining wall planted with lots of easy care native sword ferns and flowering fringe cup, a native perennial, Tellima grandiflora beloved by bumble bees.  Once the plants are mature we won’t see the block wall.

Catio Creates Safe Haven for Birds and Indoor Cats

The new Catio creates a safe outdoor room for my clients indoor cats. The cats access their new sun bathing room from the basement window and can express how they feel about birds without harm.

Existing Japanese Snowbell Tree Helps with Privacy Landscape Design

Kerns property in need of privacy landscape design from next door apartment building.

BEFORE: this is the ghoulish view of the apartments exterior wall from our 2nd story.  A small lawn and  a few plants were not powerful enough to gain our attention.

The existing Japanese Snowbell on the left was a little damaged but a jewel in the rough that Chris and Veronica loved.  I was excited we had it to work with. With proper pruning, (provided by Anne Taylor of Living Elements), it will become a master piece and help soften more of the wall.  Using an established tree shaves years off the time it will take to soften the view of the apartment building with a new tree.

Vine Structure Visually Softens Wall

New and existing plantings used for privacy and to cover up large next door building in Kerns.

The interesting paths and plantings diminish the power of the apartment wall…..when we are inside the backyard. Note the small rain garden with boulders off the back path. And existing trellis with vine growing on it.

Here is one more way to diminish the lower view of the apartment building.  We can’t grow anything right against the wall as it is not our property but we can distract the eye. We will add a 2nd vine and a sturdy structure/trellis.  These structures will be placed inside my clients property (so several feet off the apartment wall).  The existing trellis, built by Chris, is planted with an evergreen vine called Akebia.  This vine is an evil scourge in the southern united states but lovely and useful here in the Pacific Northwest. Akebia vine needs a strong growing structure, the tiny sheet of trellis pictured on the right is temporary and would never support our vine properly.

Know What Works from Where

A reminder, from our view out the 2nd story bedroom these two vine covered structures won’t help but while we are down in the garden they make a significant difference.

In our photo the privacy landscape design is freshly installed and already the paths and plantings diminish the power of the apartment wall.

Client Review

“We liked Carol’s approach. She took the time to understand what we each wanted and helped us make good choices.  I was surprised at how much the new garden helps me not notice the apartment building in the summer and fall.  I expected that the design would center on hiding the ginormous wall and could only hope that somehow I could have all the other features I wanted too. 

We all wanted an evergreen tree for our screen tree for a year round block of the apartment building wall but the trees that would work were either going to get so huge it would spoil the light or had to be purchased so small Chris and I just could not face planting a tree that was only 24″ tall.  This in reference to the Manzanita Carol suggested as an evergreen tree option.  The elm ‘City Sprite’ once planted on the berm is already at 15 feet tall one year out from planting day.  It works and should continue to create shade and soften the view of the apartment building better every year.

A year after the landscape design and the clients love the privacy and outdoor living in Kerns.

Carol Lindsay and her client Veronica enjoying the garden about a year after the installation. Erysimum (wallflower), blueberry shrub and daylilly are in the foreground with Zelkova s. ‘City Sprite’, the semi dwarf Japanese elm to the right. Far left is new Catio. Photo by Alana Chau

The design process was perfect for us and we appreciated digging into our property’s assets by measuring and drafting the existing backyard layout and answering the preferences survey.  Also her referral to D & J Landscape Contractors, Donna Burdick was a gift.  She told us she wanted us to have her favorite landscape contractor so she would not have to worry.  No worries, and the installation was mostly fun, although it was pretty dusty since it was installed in summer, but every day we could see our new back yard heaven emerging. 

The contractor was on board to help us save money without being cheap.  There are a lot of little touches in the landscape from Donna Burdick which were not on the drawing but had been discussed with Carol so they were a great team – we even have a small rain garden.

This was a good experience and we are enjoying the results every day.”  Ver0nica and Chris N.E. Portland

For more information on how you can include privacy in your yard, contact us with your landscaping needs.

 

 

 

 

 

Outdoor Living Landscape Design in Mt. Tabor Backyard

Outdoor Living Landscape Design has wide paths and easy access

Outdoor Living in Mt. Tabor neighborhood. Lounge area, dining area, hot tub, and chicken coop. Covered area is not installed yet. See below for finished design photo.

Outdoor Living in Mt. Tabor Backyard

These clients wanted to entertain and relax in their back yard

Matt and Nicole wanted all the classic elements for backyard outdoor living: outdoor kitchen, outdoor dining Area, and lounge area. They wanted to nix the lawn while also having open spaces for large groups to gather. They have beloved backyard chickens that need easy daily access, even in the winter. A small hot tub and a hammock were also must haves.

Mt Tabor Backyard Before Outdoor Living Landscape Design with muddy grass

Before: muddy lawn, few plants.

Designing for Outdoor Living on a City Lot

They wanted a lot of elements in a standard city lot. We needed to use every square inch wisely and have some overlapping functions. The first trick was the hot tub location. It needs to be close enough to electrical, away from basement egress windows and have some privacy. I could see that if we moved the gate, we could open up more space in the backyard and fit the hot tub into a cozy spot against the house. Fortunately, the fence needed an update anyway, so this solution was just right!

Backyard Access

The next design challenge was the lack of easy access. There is a gorgeous sun room on the back of the house but no access to the backyard. The only door to the backyard is from the basement. The primary way the family enters the backyard is the kitchen side door via the driveway. This was an important consideration for the entire design.

To make the garden to feel welcoming from all angles, we created sweeping curved lines for each of the beds. We chose crushed compacted rock for the paths. The paths needed to be easily accessible and dry all year long so that the family can collect eggs from either the basement door or driveway gate.

Hardscape Landscaping shows Flagstone, Crushed Rock Paths and Outdoor Kitchen

After: Believe it or not, this is the same angle as the “before” picture! The lawn is gone and the curved beds create a welcoming feeling from every angle.

Designing for Outdoor Living

Matt and Nicole wanted the outdoor living area to be able to accommodate a larger gathering. Therefore, I knew we would need to stack functions. Having the outdoor kitchen, dining table and lounge area together – similar to an open floor plan inside a house – allow all the functions to utilize the same open area. Friends can stand around the BBQ while someone is grilling. Or the family can easily bring out extra chairs whenever more guests arrive. They love the open feeling and flexibility of their new outdoor living space.

Hardscape Landscaping Materials

We used Bluestone (flagstone) for the dining patio surface and crushed rock for walkways and the lounge area.

The drainage was important for this project.  We chose crushed rock as the main hardscape material, which allows water to percolate through. Each disconnected downspout has either rock or water-tolerant plants to slow and sink the rain water as well. The dining area stands out with a higher end material – Variegated Lavender Bluestone. This flagstone is dry-set, (versus mortar set) which helps with drainage as well.

 

Outdoor kitchen, dining, hot tub and a lounging area fit into this Mt Tabor backyard
Lastly, I knew that the family would want to get to the hot tub without putting shoes on and gravel is not barefoot-friendly. This is overlooked more often than you might think! We made sure that the design included flagstone from the basement to the hot tub for easy, year round access.

Phase 2: Covered Dining and Landscape Lighting

Covered dining area completes Outdoor Living Landscape Design

Garden Installation by Sloan Martin. Dining and kitchen area cover was designed for construction and installed by a friend of the family.

Covered dining area completes Outdoor Living Landscape Design

Nicole and Matt worked with a friend to build the pergola.

In year 2, Nicole and Matt worked with a friend to build the pergola.

When you have a beautiful, brand new landscape, full of entertaining elements, lighting is a must! So, the homeowners added very simple string lights inside the new dining area. They also added a linear fire pit for night time ambiance. The backyard is now enjoyed after dark.

Design Review

“Thanks for all your help Carol and Alana.  We are so glad we hired you when we did.  You took all our wants and ideas to heart and the landscape design, which we love, is a true collaboration just as you say.  Thank you for helping us have our dream backyard.”

Are you ready to create a backyard for entertaining? Contact us today.

Creating Privacy with Plants for Small N.E. Portland City Landscapes

Privacy landscape design for NE Portland city home makes front yard dining work beautifully

The lush beauty of clumping bamboo creates privacy for a front yard dining patio in SE Portland.

Privacy Designs for Small City Landscapes

I like to use clumping bamboo for my small city properties to achieve privacy and to screen out unattractive views.  Here are 3 small city landscapes that make good use of clumping bamboo.

Private Entry Garden in Busy Hawthorne Neighborhood

These clients created a private entry garden on a very busy street. They used a clumping bamboo with a strongly arching, almost weeping structure called Fargesia sp.’ Rufa’.  The need for a feeling of an oasis around the home in their friendly neighborhood outweighed the need for security. The front gate discourages uninvited visitors. Neighbors cannot see into the front yard and the clients cannot see the sidewalk or the cars.

From inside the home they look out their windows to see curtains of green and it is very restful.  The back yard is so small that they tend to do most of their outdoor dining and entertaining in the front yard where the privacy is perfect for intimate gatherings.

NE Portland Home gets Kitchen Window Privacy

backyard privacy landscape design in NE Portland with clumping bambooEveryone spends lots of time at the kitchen sink.  My NE Portland clients had their kitchen window lined up perfectly with the neighbor’s kitchen window.  The lots in this neighborhood are small, 5,00 square feet and less.  This tiny city back yard needed privacy and needed it fast.

We wanted our privacy screen to be at most 10’ tall with a very upright growth habit to preserve space.  In a yard this small we needed every useable inch!  We used the clumping bamboo named Fargesia robusta ‘Campbell’ again and if we had used a weeping form like the ‘Rufa’ that would have been a mistake for obvious reasons. The client and her brother are very talented and installed everything including the new concrete patio.

Privacy for Irvington Back Yard with Clumping Bamboo

These clients in Irvington neighborhood wanted privacy and also wanted to screen out the house and roof of the large house next door.  The home office also had a large window looking out onto the 10’ wide side yard and into a view dominated by the neighbors overly large roof.

Clumping Bamboo in tall wood planters creates privacy landscape fast for NE Portland home.I want solutions that work, not solutions that make work.

They specified screening that was going to be 15’ tall and evergreen.  They also wanted low maintenance.  It was on the north side and even if we wanted arborvitae, I was concerned we would not have enough light for them to thrive and maintaining them at 15’ was going to take a long time and then require professional pruning as well.  There were lots of plants people typically use for this situation and they are all going to be high maintenance and potentially trespass onto their neighbors air space and light.

Backyard landscape gets a privacy boost with planters and clumping bamboo in N.E. Portland

Fargesia ‘Campbell’ clumping bamboo in Irvington neighborhood creates privacy.

This was a perfect place for clumping bamboo.  To get the plants at the 15’ mark we had custom planters that were 30” above the grade built.  This would give our plants a boost so they won’t have to wait as long for the screening.

Caveats:  The plants will make some leaf debris year-round but especially in the spring. The plants will require regular irrigation forever.  They are not drought tolerant.  And even with a few minuses, let me tell you, this is a lot less work than other options for a 15′ screen.

Clumping bamboo, in particular Campbell’s Variety, is an excellent choice for small city back yard and privacy solutions. For an even taller clumping variety consider Fargesia robusta ‘Green Screen’.  It is more likely to top out above 15’ tall.  Clumping bamboo do not need to be contained in a planter.  In this case, the planter is there to boost height and to have other plants in it to complement the clumping bamboo.

For more information about clumping bamboo see Bamboo Garden web site.

Looking for attractive and thoughtful solutions for privacy in your small city property?  We love tricky city backyards! Contact us.

 

 

 

North Portland Landscape Design Tips for Modern Ranch Front Yards

Curb Appeal Tips for North Portland Mid Century Modern Ranch Front Yards

Here are three landscapes where we focused on the treatment of the front porch and steps, downspouts, railing, columns and brick planters of mid century ranch homes in Portland.

Let’s make your homes best feature the dominant visual experience.  To me curb appeal is not just for selling your home, it’s what you see every time you return home.  These are some simple ways to increase your home’s curb appeal right at the front door.  (Other LDIAD blogs will share information and examples about front walks as part of curb appeal or plantings, but not this one).

Modern ranch curb appeal starts at the front door.

I especially loved this design process with a creative spirited client in North Portland.

Modern Landscape Style Curb Appeal

After       Mid century modern entry in Kenton now has excellent curb appeal. The dark porch floor makes the brick façade on the house look amazing. The downspout and vertical railing simply disappear instead of distracting.

Kenton neighborhood ranch style curb appeal in North Portland after Landscape Design in a Day

The brick looks rich with the new simple color scheme.  A white downspout and the white original vertical railing was painted black to make them all but invisible.  The only white left is the windows and trim around the door.  Even the porch is stained a dark shade but the face of the steps is a warm shade.  That was my clients idea which I think is genius.  The original brick now looks right at home.  Simplicity and contrast are so helpful.

Pots placed at the base of the downspout and vertical rail interrupt the power of a vertical line.  Everything on this house is about a horizontal line, typical to mid century style.

Here are lessons from this design:

Portland Ranch Style Home wants a change

Before    Vertical railing and downspout match the trim of this mid century modern ranch house in Kenton neighborhood

Tip:  Treat the downspouts as background not trim. Match the body color of the house where possible.

Tip:  Use contrast to bring out the exterior details we want people to see and mute details we don’t want to see.

Brick Accents

If you have brick façade on the house, evaluate its worth to you.  Some of the brick was just cheap where other brick is unusual and well worth working with.  All the builders copied other builders and many put the planters on the ranch houses for visual interest without much thought. It was a thing.  This is especially prevalent in homes built in the early years of ranch style homes.  Ranch houses were mass produced and remain the most predominate style of house in the united states particularly 1945 to 1970.

Options:  Find a color for the body of the house that enhances the brick. It’s easier to paint the house. If the brick is ugly, remove it and replace with a different material that is interesting and adds good looks to your home.  Change it to siding. The siding could even be a group of attractive vertical cedar panels.  Even painting the brick (a last resort) might be worth doing if it’s really unattractive and you don’t want to replace it.  Put rocks in the top of the planter or grow succulents or if in the shade, other incredibly tough plants like our native sword fern.

Mid Century Brick Planters

So what about those mid century homes with brick planters?

Modern design update for Portland ranch home.

Mid-century modern ranch brick planter with river rock instead of plants.  A custom iron screen adds interest.  This was a great solution for this brick centric front entry in N.E. Portland.

I often say these planters are where plants go to die. Let me confess to a deep frustration because my clients rarely ever have plants that thrive in them.  I tried adding new drainage, changing out all the soil with potting soil, (a big job btw) and still never got the plants to look healthy and front yard attractive.  Adding polymers to the soil to increase moisture holding capacity was somewhat successful but only lasted a few years. I question the environmental stewardship of polymers in soil.

Deep Overhang Creates Dry Shade

Mid century modern ranch always has a deep overhang so these planters occupants must be hand watered even in the winter….who is going to do that?  I have successfully grown sword fern in them and clients who want to putter grow annuals in them but with difficulty. The soil is as dry as a stone and usually filled with leftover soil from from when the foundation was dug. They were meant for seasonal annuals at best. We want them to look good year round since they are front and center and they never do.  Aaargh.

Tip:  Don’t be afraid to change some of the original features if they don’t work.

Strong red brick tends to read as colonial instead of modern. There is a style of home called Colonial Ranch and you will see lots of strong red brick accents. Original brick planters or ugly brick façade are not the holy grail of a mid century modern ranch.  Be willing to consider alternatives unless the brick is attractive rather than garish.

Planting Success in Brick Planters?

Please send me a photo if you -happy homeowner- have managed to grow plants in them year round that add to the beauty of your front yard.  I’ll be happy to acknowledge your skills. If you keep the planters, take out the soil, add drain rock at the bottom. Replace the soil  or greatly amend it. Add a drip system to water the plants unless you have concerns about getting water in your basement.  My strong suggestion…..get rid of those plant killing planters or fill them with attractive stone like my clients in NE Portland did.

Tip: Exterior details of your house are more visually powerful than plants for enhanced curb appeal.

Sleek Modern Entry and Planters for Portland Ranch Style House

Ranch Style in Portland gets curb appeal Before Photo

Before: original brick planters disappoint the new home owners who want a sleek modern style for their front landscape and entry.

 

 

Modern update of landscape planter.

Phormium and Hens and Chicks fill this replacement modern concrete planter for the entry of a mid century ranch home in Portland.

 

Modern Landscape Style for Portland Home includes Front Porch and Planters

Curb appeal success after modern entry design is installed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Portland home also had its old brick planters removed and new smart modern concrete planters were installed with drip irrigation.  The new concrete landing of the front porch was greatly enlarged and steps opened on both sides. What a difference it made.

Overlook Neighborhood Home wants a curb appeal landscape design

Columns wrapped in cedar distract from the lines of this home in North Portland

Front Porch Columns needed help to achieve curb appeal for this 1990’s Overlook Neighborhood Bungalow Want to be.

While a mid century ranch typically does not have columns, changing this exterior detail fits right in with simple changes you can make to improve your homes curb appeal.  This client in North Portland’s Overlook neighborhood is a gardener and wanted a new look for her front yard landscape to achieve better curb appeal. She also wanted help with what to do with the columns on the house.  Her thinking had been to match the cedar siding on the second story by wrapping the columns for the porch in cedar.  She didn’t like the effect and wanted help with what to do.

Overlook Neighborhood Home in North Portland with updated columns for curb appeal

Treating the columns to match the body color of the house creates an attractive and elegant effect to this homes entry.

My suggestion, which she implemented right away, was to paint the columns the same color as the body of the house. This treatment put the columns back in their subordinate place as a supporting exterior detail. Then we had fun re-designing the plantings in the front yard…..designing around the obvious keeper plants and removing what didn’t work.  She had a Viburnum tinus that had grown into such an attractive large tree I almost didn’t recognize it.  Typically this common plant is a shrub.

Tip: Columns are a supporting exterior detail not a primary and need to be simple.

The change in the columns made a bigger immediate contribution to curb appeal, where our re-designed planting plan took a few years to make an impact.

My next blog will show dramatic examples of how changing the location, shape or materials of front walkways gives a house loads of curb appeal and increases the welcoming energy of your home.

Alana Chau and I love plants and creating planting plans. We know that making your home feel welcoming and looking great from the curb requires vision that includes your home and its exterior circumstances and details….not just plants.

Contact us for a collaborative and satisfying design process that integrates your home and landscape.