Archive for Before and Afters

Willamette Heights Hillside Landscape Design

Willamette Heights Hillside Landscape Design 

WM sized Ericson arah after backyard photos 11 2016 (7)

New boulders define the original pathway leading to Forest Park from the backyard.

Willamette Heights Hillside Garden Design

The Willamette Heights neighborhood of NW Portland is special for many reasons. The architecture of the grand old houses, views of the city, Mount Hood and that it is surrounded by Forest Park.  There is a simple 2 lane bridge for traffic in and out of the hillside neighborhood.  It feels private. My clients happened to have a path that leads into a secluded part of the park from their backyard. It’s an old neighborhood with serious garden history. It was the playground for the famous landscape architects Wallace Huntington and Barbara Feeley. I’ve been privileged to create many residential landscape designs in this neighborhood including the restoration of the Bertha Cooper Garden, renamed Cooper Phillips Garden in honor of the builder that saved it from destruction.

My client grew up here.  She and her husband bought a beautiful craftsmen house (1905) about a mile away from her childhood home with views and a private path into Forest Park. She had the clearest vision for what she wanted that I have come across. Her first priority was finding a designer who would fully understand her ideas and hold true to them in the design.

Portland Landscape Designer with smaller ego

She called me looking for an experienced landscape design collaborator to help her create and install her vision. I came by to meet her and see the property. We started in the big kitchen with tall beautifully framed windows and French doors to the backyard. This room was the heart of the home. We had views into the woods which were uphill from the level yard.  The landscape was divided from the woods by a low rustic rubble rock wall. She knew what she wanted and it was not typical. For starters, she didn’t want the rustic rubble wall rebuilt or made more substantial. She wanted a large flagstone area that could be play area and entertaining area. She needed me to take her idea and make sure it didn’t end up looking like they had paved the backyard.  She wanted the man made to melt into the nature made forest.

Low Maintenance Garden Design

WM sized Ericson before black plastic wasteland

The backyard weeds had exploded and the first winter turned the yard into a mud pit. It was too shady for grass.

It is a large landscape overall. They had put in a lot of time and effort with the front yard and that was working well.  The backyard weeds had exploded and the winter rains made a mud pit. They installed 2,000 sq feet of black plastic.  The black plastic was not happy making but she didn’t have the time or the inclination to make the entire property her hobby.

The plantings needed to be simple both for style and for practicality. Since the woods were wonderful all on their own, it was the wasteland that lay between the house and that wall that would be our subject.

What’s the Style?  Minimalist NW Natural 

We want simple lines and minimal plantings to keep from distracting us from the woods. Just like the interior, the exterior can be simplified without going too modern. In the early 1900’s there was a huge social change called the Arts and Crafts movement. People were suddenly interested in native plants, hiking, sleeping outdoors…these were big changes from the Victorians who worried that night air was harmful to your health. A craftsmen house, even a grand one like this looks great with simple  NW natural style plantings.   The minimalist style of using fewer varieties of plants also makes it lower maintenance which was another top priority for her.

The pathway to the woods

something about Arah working with Landsape East and West

There are 4 different garden rooms, the path to the woods, a small lounging area, a play area and an area for a large rustic picnic table.

The pathway to Forest Park was just waiting for my attention ………I say take a good thing and make it more dramatic, bigger and make it a destination by adding other elements that enhance and point to it. There was an earthen path already but I moved it over a few feet, added rustic stone steps up to the path and a few large sitter rocks that added drama to this gateway. It’s going to be a great place to hang out for big and small people.

Make the rooms work

She wanted a big flagstone patio.  I added in the shapes of the planting beds being careful that each flagstone area was big enough to be useful as play area or sitting area. The shapes of the beds keep the flagstone patio from taking over visually and the spacing between the flagstones grew larger as it got further from the house.  The views from the window filled kitchen were kept focused on the woods by using low plantings with only a few verticals.

 The Installation Process

Erickson during backyard

My client directing placement of flagstone.

They interviewed three landscape installation companies and selected a well known company but not one I worked with. Hillside landscape designs cost more to install because there is always  additional expense for bringing materials in. Having an experienced company to manage the logistics was important.  They used a crane to deliver all the materials even the yards and yards of crushed rock. It’s wasn’t practical to bring anything up the long stairs from the street.  She worked with the contractors herself and used me for advice. She called me in to work with her contractor on the boulder placement and to fine tune the flagstone placement to ensure each area was the right shape for maximum play and entertaining space.

Client’s Comments
Her final note on the design drawing……..”I went through the plan in detail and really like it. I feel like you ‘got’ the low-key NW, drought tolerant, blend into forest part style really well. I am excited to move forward with our design.  Carol gave me referrals to 2 great landscape contractors so I was picking from a good pool. The final results are both a pleasure and a great relief.   Yes the mud is gone but more importantly now I have a large outdoor living room that is very attractive and usable.  I also look out from my kitchen and I see my design, the one I dreamed up.  Carol helped me make this vision real. I appreciated the flexibility of her Landscape Design in a Day process.”

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.