Archive for Before and Afters

Swim Spa Landscape Design

The Swim Spa That Took Over The Backyard

Swim spa in small backyard

Rachael and her family like to swim even in December when this photo was taken with the blooming Camellia Sasanqua ‘Yuletide’.

Rachael and her family like to swim. They have twin toddlers who have been swimming since they were three months old. Seeing them playing like baby otters is adorable, even cuter than puppies which is saying something!

Existing Conditions

Prior to the swim spa their backyard was a pleasant place with a tiny lawn, a covered patio, and some easy-care plantings.  They also had a beloved gorgeous 36-inch diameter trunk California myrtle tree that shaded half the yard.  The new swim spa dominated the back yard and the mud from the construction process made it a poor place for toddlers to play. This new situation was beyond heading to the plant nursery to select a few new plants.  They needed a designer to re-design the backyard, create solutions for privacy and manipulate the space to maximize every inch.

Landscape Design in a Day

Rachael and I talked on the phone and we were a great fit.  We scheduled a Landscape Design in a Day, my collaborative design process, and they started preparing their base drawing and working through my landscape survey questions.   I was really looking forward to this one but it was going to be so tricky!  We met at their home one cool spring day to create the design together.

Privacy

The new 10′ x 20′ swim spa sits four plus feet above the ground making the swimmers very visible to neighbors.  They wanted privacy for themselves and in case their neighbors didn’t really want to watch them swim, for the neighbors too.

Screening plants for swim spa

Camellia Sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ helps screen swim spa.

The privacy issues for small properties with close neighbors is often tricky.  On one side of the property it was easy.  The California myrtle and a couple of mature rhododendron would solve most of the problems on that side.  Three things would need to happen.   We needed to stop pruning back the tops of the old rhodies, they would need to be treated each year for lace bug and be irrigated.  For the last privacy hole on this side we would fill it with a New Zealand Box Tree.  I will prune it myself the first few times, Azara Microphylla to help it fit into the difficult spot that is right next to the gate.  It is needed to screen out a neighbor’s window that is on the first floor.  It’s important to use a small tree that won’t get too big for this spot and this tree was the perfect solution.

Bamboo Screen

The back-property line was difficult because the swim spa was right next to the fence.  We had only a few feet for a privacy planting and it needed to grow to 10 feet tall and very narrow in order to fit.   I used my faithful clumping bamboo up in planters. This variety of clumping bamboo, Fargesia Robusta ‘Campbell’, stands straight up so it will not weep over and interfere with the swimming. Most varieties of clumping bamboo have too much weeping and arching shape to them and don’t work well for tiny landscapes.  The planters were advantageous for many reasons.  1st we would not need to dig deep and disturb the root system of the beloved California Myrtle tree.  2nd we could use an ideal soil mixture in the planters so the bamboo would thrive.  They will grow in our local clay top soil but will do much better in a soil mix that drains well.  3rd by putting them in planters they would be taller from the beginning.

Newly installed landscape

We utilized the existing walkway which fit the client’s cottage garden style and her budget.

The privacy for the driveway side was the hardest.  We needed to screen out a second story window at the neighbors and had no planting area to do it with.  We decided to use an arbor.  It fit beautifully and we were all enthusiastic about it.  However, when all the numbers came in, the arbor wasn’t a practical choice.  When I visited recently to see how things were growing along we talked about a more affordable solution.

Before swim spa

Before – The new swim spa dominated the back yard.

Two small trees in very large pots placed strategically will be part of a future phase.  In a small yard situation like this tiny backyard we can’t afford to leave the driveway to the garage read as a driveway.   They didn’t use the small garage for parking a car.  Using furniture and pots we made this area a sunny sitting area.

Rachael says

“Hi Carol,  Nice to hear from you.  Yes we would love for you to come by and take a look.  All the Camellia Sasanqua  are blooming and they are beautiful!  The bamboo is already growing and we love our little backyard oasis.  Thank you for referring us to Scott Schultze, Tellurian Gardens.  He and his crew did a great job installing the new landscape.”

Portland Rain Garden Fixes Front Yard Lake

edited-mccann-after-front-yard

Winter view after drainage and landscape design was installed.

Portland Rain Garden Fixes Front Yard Lake

Cindy and Chris were house shopping in Eastmoreland Portland, Oregon.  Chris found the house and brought Cindy to take a look.  The curb appeal was so bad she gave it the thumbs down and would not even go in the house. After looking at several other houses which just didn’t work for them, her husband talked her into going back.  She went inside and fell in love with everything but the front yard.  There was edited-mccann-before-front-yardone big problem which wasn’t apparent at the time of purchase and might not have been bothersome if the house was in Arizona.  Water!!! Water in the basement, and large puddles of winter rain water in the front yard drowned plants and lawn alike.  As the years passed the problem worsened.

I’m married to a designer/remodeler and while he is a creative and competent professional, he can get a little pale talking about the complexities of finding a water leak.  It can be very tricky even when you have solved these types of problem in many different situations for years.  Its nothing one should ever be arrogant about.

Rain garden clears away winter water from entry patio. My client and I were so pleased to be rid of the muddy winter lake - she built it herself!

Rain garden clears away winter water from entry patio in Wilsonville.  I used Dwarf Red Twig Dogwood in this design as well as Cindy’s.

Rain Garden Solution

Cindy is a figure it out, research the heck out of it kind of person. She talked to lots of different contractors, asked great questions and decided that a rain garden was going to be part of the solution for the water problems in her home.  She took classes from the City of Portland and researched rain gardens.  She determined the volume of water her roof and downspouts needed to handle using the formulas she learned in the class.  Her solution was to install larger gutters and downspouts and have a dry well dug and installed to handle the overflow.

Front Yard Make Over

Cindy was not prepared to take on the front yard alone.  She decided to hire a landscape designer she could collaborate with.  I am not licensed to design drainage solutions.  Cindy knew that.  I was hired to create a landscape plan with her that would create beauty and curb appeal and hide all views of the mechanical water solutions.

How I did it

I design for beauty of the landscape and to enhance the appearance and the welcoming energy of the home.  I don’t like seeing irrigation valve boxes, irrigation heads and tubing, or drainage hardware.  It’s ugly.

I started by creating a beautiful natural shaped berm in the front landscape:

  1. It would create a second level which helps to add drama and contrast to the      otherwise flat yard.
  2. We used the excess soil we would dig up to do the dry well.  It’s a terrible thing to waste good top soil so we didn’t!!
edited-monrovia-bloodgood

Upright dark purple ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese Maple. Photo courtesy of Monrovia Nursery

3. They wanted a Japanese Maple.  Cindy and Chris loved the up right (not the weeping form) of dark purple leafed ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese Maple.  Japanese Maples, Acer Palmatum, are much healthier here in the Pacific Northwest when they are planted up on a berm.  The raised soil keeps their roots from getting soaked in our winter rains.  Dryer roots helps to avoid the dreaded verticillium wilt which kills so many of our beautiful maples here. Plantings on the berm under the Japanese Maple would be highlighted because they are on a higher grade in the lawn.

We tucked a few boulders in the berm.  We added multi sized river rock over the top of the dry well and made it look like an attractive dry stream bed that fit into the berm nicely and as per Cindy’s plan would direct water to the dry well.

Cindy loves the evergreen Ink Berry shrub. It's great for wet areas.

Cindy loves the  Inkberry shrub. It’s great for wet areas.

Plantings for Wet Areas

We still had a wet area near the dry well that needed plants. Cindy loved the evergreen Inkberry and Kelsey’s Dwarf Red-Twig, Cornus Sericea ‘Kelseyi’ shrubs I used.  She had never seen the Inkberry, Ilex Glabra ‘Shamrock’  before. It’s the only evergreen shrub I use for low wet areas. Other typical small evergreen shrubs like Azaleas and Pieris get root rot and cannot be used in wet area applications.

Drought tolerant evergreen arbutus unedo

Strawberry tree, Arbutus Unedo adds a little touch of Italia to the stucco house.  Photo courtesy of Richie Steffen, Great Plant Picks

We selected classic foundation plants to frame the house, added a large pot and Strawberry Tree, Arbutus Unedo ‘Compacta’  to pick up a little Italian style on the south side and we were finished!

Mission Accomplished

I talked with Cindy recently.  “The front yard is thriving.  I’m so happy every time I look at it.”  The design has stood the test of time.  It’s been 10 years since we installed the design. The only thing she changed was replacing her Johnny Jump Ups Violas for Black Mondo Grass. Mission accomplished, she loves her front yard!

Cindy and I created the design together in a day.  It was a simple design meant to be low maintenance with full season interest.  Her landscape contractors installed the design, I came by and placed the plant material for the contractors and it was done.  Voila!

 

Hummingbirds Favorite Summer Flower

Portland Garden Designer Loves Colorful Cape Fuchsia

Phygelius with Phormium from ANLD tour

Phygelius planted along side Phormium. Picture from ANLD garden tour.

Cape Fuchsia, Phygelius, is a colorful, low maintenance long blooming summer flower for the Pacific Northwest.  I use it in landscape designs for clients who love color and watching hummingbirds.  It’s a personal favorite of mine.

If you are a person who wants a very tidy landscape that looks perfect all year long, this is not your plant.  I consider this plant to be low maintenance.  The winter appearance is not tidy but clients who love the color and the show simply cut it to the ground in December.  It can spread some.  In the spring if the plant is taking more territory than you want, simply pull on the stem that is straying.  Pull it out of the ground and cut the root off near the mother plant.  It is very easy, I promise.  Give it lots of sun, decent soil and water the first year.  It will need less water the following year.  Some clients water it about once every two weeks.

By the way, there is nothing wrong with needing a calm and low maintenance landscape.  We are all unique and a plant that makes one person feel delight can make another person feel claustrophobic.  I notice clients who grew up in climates where plants tend to be sparser can feel uncomfortable with the full flush of plantings possible here.

Morris after back yard

Mass planting of strong plant colors and a path help to break up the lines of the pool.

The first time I used this plant was for Art and Linda in SW Portland.  They had a 1960’s swimming pool in the backyard that dominated.  It visually ate the backyard.  They wanted a cottage garden style with lots of color.  My design solution successfully put the pool in a subordinate position to the landscape.  I created some great paths and shapes for the planting beds that broke up the lines of the pool visually.  We needed masses of strong plant color in the backyard to offset the powerful aqua rectangle.   I’m not a big color wheel garden designer but colors like coral and salmon are opposite the wheel from aqua. The Cape Fuchsia flowers are perfect for this situation because they flower in these colors and they flower all summer, hitting their stride during hot weather.  My clients enjoy hanging out by the pool and are entertained by the antics of hummingbirds.  Hummingbirds are strongly attracted to the hot coral red tones of the Cape Fuchsia.

Morris before back yard

Art and Linda’s back yard needed some color to offset the aqua of the pool water.

My favorite planting combination for this design was Panicum Virgatum, American Switch Grass ‘Heavy Metal’ with the Phygelius x recta ‘Devils Tears’.   They are a perfect contrast combination! The Switch Grass blade is a fine silvery blue texture.  It contrasts with the Cape Fuchsia’s dark green leaf and hot colored tubular flowers.  The inside of the tube is a mellow lemon yellow but mostly the hummingbirds are the ones who see this.

Phygelius picture from Joy Creek

Phygelius ‘Salmon Leap’.   Janet Loughrey photo from Joy Creek Nursery

If you research this plant on the internet, you may think Cape Fuchsia are not cold hardy here since they are native to South Africa.  Many plant authorities also say these plants need a lot of water.  I don’t agree.  I have grown them at 900 feet on a roof garden and only watered them every two weeks.  They were successful for 12 years and were still there when I moved.

I’m always advocating for low water use so planting Cape Fuchsia with American Switch Grass results in a very low water landscape pairing.

While I love the old fashioned varieties, the new varieties  are shorter and flower in softer more traditional colors.  This has made the Cape Fuchsia a more versatile plant that works well for small properties and containers.  The only drawback to the new varieties  is the softer colors.   When you select a softer color you lose some of the hummingbird magnet effect but you still get a great plant.  Check out other great hummingbird plants.

 

Cedar Mills Woodland Garden Design

Cedar Mills Woodland Landscape Design

Dave and Noelle love the dyed concrete used for the lower patio entertaining area.

I drove out to Cedar Mills in NW Portland to meet prospective landscape design clients Dave and Noelle.  They were sitting out in their large front yard on a semi private patio.  It was surrounded by large trees and was an idyllic setting.  It was early evening in late summer.  Dave opened a bottle of wine and we talked about their new home and goals for their landscape.  They were newlyweds.

Dave and Noelle are the ultimate DIYers and fearlessly tackled many aspects of remodeling their “new to them” contemporary home.  The landscape was a different story.  We all must balance the demands of work and our lives with the time it can take to DIY.

Sloped back yard before design

The clients found their sloped back yard intimidating. The backyard was a blank slate.

Dave had installed an irrigation system in the past. They knew they could probably plant and do some of the landscaping work. The design however was beyond them.  Their sloped property was intimidating.

Hills after Daves truck

Finally, a place for Dave to park his truck.

Wish List:

  • Privacy for entertaining areas and the hot tub
  • Entertaining space
  • No lawn
  • Blueberries
  • A parking area for Dave’s beloved truck
  • Paths that created access and flow around the entire property
  • Create plantings that will fit with the existing rustic woods
  • Make the best use of the space in the sloped smaller back yard
  • Create year round color in the landscape plantings
  • Planting style NW Natural
  • A weeping Japanese maple somewhere prominent for Dave.

The contemporary house backs up to a natural woods and a steep canyon.  The front yard was much larger than the back and although they had a great place to hang out in their front yard, they wanted to enjoy the views of nature in the back yard.  It was a blank slate.

As you can see from the before photos, the doors to the back yard were 2 and 1/2′ above the landscape.  The landscape then sloped down to a canyon that drops off quite steeply.   We didn’t have a nice big back yard with lots of depth.   They wanted to be able to step out of their great room with food and easily settle into a large outdoor entertaining and dining area. Noelle wanted no steps down to the new outdoor dining area.  This meant we would need to work hard for privacy from the neighbors.

Northwest Natural stone path

Rustic stone path integrates the garden rooms.

What I love about this design:

I created 3 rooms at different levels.  We added grade to create privacy and used our new raised outdoor dining area to provide screening for the lower dyed concrete patio and the lower still hot tub room.  I created a boulder rockery that surrounds the raised dining area and created lots of planting pockets.  We planted this boulder rockery to soften the effect of the large boulders.  Raising the planting beds allowed us the opportunity to improve the heavy clay soil.

As a Portland landscape designer I never miss a chance to improve our local clay soil.  Soil preparation is such a good investment.

To create privacy for the hot tub room, I placed it on the lowest level – same level as the woods and planted in front of it.  This created a view of plants from the master bedroom, not the view of the hot tub.  I’ve yet to have clients who think the hot tub itself is a thing of beauty.

Boulders create softening with planting pockets.

Boulders create softening with planting pockets.

Materials that were used in this landscape included large boulders from Gales Creek Quarry.  The patio was a dyed and textured concrete.  The new dining area surface is 24″ x 24″ concrete slabs installed onto deck framing.  The planter adjacent to the dining area is made of concrete board and planted with full season color plants such as heather and dwarf evergreen shrubs.

Other plants we used for this design:  Acer Palamatum Shaina – Japanese Maple, Vaccineum Tophat – Dwarf Blueberry, Cryptomeria Sekkan Sugi – Japanese Cedar, Pieris Japonica Little Heath  – Dwarf Lilly of the Valley shrub, specialty heather varieties, many varieties of evergreen succulents and low water ornamental grasses.

I was on site for grading and boulder work and worked closely with longtime contractor and excavator Joe Hurd.  It was a pleasure to be able to sculpt the grade into a design that made such great use of the space.  Each room was spacious and functional and flowed into the next.

Porch stone work DIY

Here’s an example of one of Noelle’s many DIY projects. She did the stone work for her front porch.

Dave and Noelle loved their new landscape.  They watched the concrete contractor create their dyed concrete patio very closely.  Our next project was a planting plan for the front yard and more grading and boulder work.  A few years later Dave and Noelle replaced the old front yard paver patio and path with new dyed concrete all by themselves.  Natch.  Fearless DIYers.

 

 

Landscape Design for tiny steep backyard

Sango Kaku Japanese Maple set into boulder wall

Sango Kaku Japanese Maple

Big ideas for tiny steep back yard

My new clients were from southern California and now lived in Ridgefield, Washington.  They were  new to the Northwest.   They loved their new home and neighborhood and believed all their difficult small back yard needed was the right designer.

Their lot was challenging.

Their lot was challenging.

The Bodes wanted to make Ridgefield feel like home.   Their list was extensive and precise – their lot was tiny and challenging.  It was one of those small and steep up hill lots.  The builder gave them a slice of level land by building a high utilitarian block wall.  This divided the yard into half and neither half was big enough to do much with.  It’s great that people understand that a good designer can work miracles.  I was flattered they chose me to bring their new outdoor home to life.  It was not going to be easy.

Side yard transformed to easy access edibles garden

Side yard transformed to easy access edibles garden

Lauren and Kathryn’s wish list went like this:

•Large covered outdoor area for year round entertaining

•Covered hot tub room

•Dwarf fruit trees and raised beds for edibles – this was a serious hobby for them

•Convenient access to smoker and BBQ

•Water feature to see from inside the great room for year round enjoyment

•A Sangu Kaku Japanese maple-because they loved it so

They hired me after looking at several designers and we met early one fall morning.  As soon as I saw their lot I knew I’d recommend D & J Landscape Contractors for the installation.  We had teamed up for a similarly difficult site.   Although I am a Portland landscape designer I have several Ridgefield Washington landscape design clients.  See Mastersons swamp to paradise blog.

The Bodes and I  worked together to create their plan using my landscape design in a day process.

Before back porch addition

The basic grading was completed so the back porch addition could be built.

The big items were first.  For seamless outdoor living the thing to do was extend the roof of the house for the cover.  Not inexpensive but an important priority.  We made the ceiling high in this addition so it would add light to the great room and make it feel bigger.  Adding onto the existing small back porch rather than adding a new covered area elsewhere in the landscape kept it simple.  With all the items we needed to add, it would be easy to turn this tiny yard into a hodgepodge.

After back porch addition

After back porch addition

 

Next the harsh straight wall dividing the landscape in half had to go.    The design broke the steep slope into three levels.   Using naturalistic boulders artfully placed changed this landscape completely.  This is where I have to stop bragging about my spatial skills and brag about the landscape contractor.  It isn’t financially practical or practical in any manner to draw a design that precisely places every boulder.  Sometimes I am on site during construction and I work closely with the excavator to place the boulders but even then it is a very collaborative effort.  Donna Burdick and Brian Woodruff of D & J landscape Contractors  took the design and brought it to life.  It was such a tough site that we were planning to have me on site to help with the artistic efforts but the fall weather was threatening and if they had waited for me, they would have lost an opportunity to install until the next year.  We met on site once and they ran with it……beautifully.

The perfect spot for the smoker.

The perfect spot for the smoker.

A place was made for the smoker just on the edge of the covered back porch.  Nestled among the boulders it sits at a height that makes it an easy reach.

Now that we had created usable space it was easy to nestle the gazebo and tot tub into a curve of the boulder walls.  The hot tub feels private and there is good access.  It is planted beautifully.

 

The gazebo nestled into the boulder walls to create it's own private hot tub room.

The gazebo nestled into the boulder walls to create it’s own private hot tub room.

 

Lauren and Kathryn are get it done people.  Lauren built the hot tub gazebo using a kit, designed and built a potting table and storage cabinet for the back porch.  It was such a pleasure to visit them and hear how much they love their new outdoor heaven.

Their easy access raised beds are a delight to use and to behold.

The water feature, a drilled rock with the hidden echo chamber under it is beloved by their young nieces, they love to play in it.  The sound calls them outdoors.

They are home.

Sometimes I feel a little like Santa Claus –  All the boys and girls deserve a wonderful outdoor heaven to play in.