Archive for Design Basics

Trees for Portland Residential Landscape Design in Woodstock neighborhood

Portland residential landscape design

Young Japanese elm in Woodstock neighborhood

Trees for Portland Residential Landscape Design in Woodstock neighborhood

One September afternoon while in Portland’s Woodstock neighborhood I  drove by a former client’s home. My clients had moved, and I was curious to see how the design (installed a dozen years ago) had held up. Once clients move I rarely have continuance with the landscape.  

This drive by is a mixed bag.

Shade Tree for the backyard

Affordable Landscaping Portland

The shade tree for the back yard is absolutely perfect, and exactly what I had envisioned. This is the part of drive bys I like the best. I used a Japanese Elm – Zelkova serrata variety called ‘Wireless’ because it’s one of the few shade trees that is compatible with lawn and ‘Wireless’ is the perfect shape and size to provide shade for city landscapes.

Their leaves are smaller than most shade trees and allow dapples of sunlight through the canopy to the lawn while filtering out the heat. The exaggerated vase shape of the tree also allows light to come in under the tree in the morning and late afternoon.  This tree provides shade to the south facing deck and the back of the house. It will get over 30’ wide at the top. It matures at 25’ tall so it is a tree that will be wider than it is tall.

If you are a discerning shade aficionado you will say hmmm…… the shade tree doesn’t have low branches so how can you sit on the back deck and have dinner without being blinded by the south sun? We kept a mature mixed hedge at the back of the property and it will block those dinner hour sun rays. The shade tree will filter the hottest sun of the day.

Privacy Screen Planting for side yard

Garden Design PortlandLess successful is the privacy screen planting for the side yard.  I used a narrow variety of Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus ‘Franz Fontaine’) to block the view of the neighbor’s driveway and their vehicles and also to create an attractive view from the bedroom Affordable Landscaping Portlandwindows. For the design to be functional, the Hornbeam would need to be pruned once or twice a year to become a 10’ narrow wall of thick leaves. The maintenance did not happen since my clients moved.  Now the side yard privacy screen is wildly out of scale and the charm is gone.

Boulders Create Opportunity in Portland Landscape Designs

Bright blue Navel Wort Omphaloides cappadocia graces this stacked boulder wall in NW Portland's Willamette Heights.

Bright blue Navel Wort – Omphaloides cappadocia ‘Cherry Ingram’ graces this dry stacked boulder wall in NW Portlands’ Willamette Heights. Clients love this plant!

Boulders create opportunity in Portland landscape designs.

As a Portland landscape designer I love boulders. They are so versatile and especially helpful with complex small urban properties. New construction properties in the city are always on difficult lots now unless they are a tear down. The lots are either very narrow, an unusual shape or steep. The easy lots were built on years ago. They are a good challenge for experienced designers. Clients are often completely baffled about their options.

Usable space

One of  the big issues with these properties is creating usable space for my clients. A pretty landscape that can’t be used for entertaining even 4 adults is not functional in my opinion. Boulders help the designer create level, functional and usable areas.  Boulders also bring nature into urban environments and add visual drama to the views from the home. A well placed boulder brings a sigh of relief to me, it’s hard to explain but I think it is the touch of nature that I feel.

Designer directed boulder placement for this new construction home in NW Portland.

I loved directing the boulder placement and designing the stairs for this Willamette Heights home in NW Portland.

Boulders retain the hillsides to allow the designer to carve out interesting walkways, stairs and planting areas above them. The spaces between the boulders create planting pockets which when thoughtfully planted result in layers of softening greenery. Planting the pockets creates another way to balance the proportions of hard surface to plant material.  I love being able to use plants that are fussy about drainage in boulder crevices that I cannot use without copious soil preparation in flat properties.  The bonus of being able to stand and tend the low maintenance plantings cannot be praised enough as my older clients will attest to.

Landscape Design in a Day water feature in Raliegh Hills SW Portland

This water feature with a large drilled Montana Mud boulder has a dry return so it is safe for a front yard with no child proof fence.

Water

Boulders and water are natural partners and I love to create simple low-maintenance water features using drilled rock and echo chambers. It’s an easy way to offset traffic noise and provides water for birds, bees and possibly your dog too.  With a dry return instead of a high maintenance pond there is no mud so Fido won’t get to roll in the mud and bring it in to share w your sofa or carpet.

Proportional curb appeal

When the front yard is small we need strong visual impact to offset tall facades and large driveways. There is little plantable space and often the maximum hardscape allowed by the city or county.   We need to be visually bold to offset this situation.   Raising the soil with a few well placed boulders and adding complementary dramatic plant material can give us the impact we need.

 

Garden Design for Gardeners

Japanese Maple – Acer Palmatum ‘Shindeshojo’ in Westmoreland neighborhood SE Portland Landscape Design in a Day.

Boulders solve soil problems

Here’s an example….Planting a hot colored foliage Japanese maples up in a boulder planter create excellent drainage and helps avoid the dreaded verticillium wilt which is a good example of solving multiple problems with one solution.  Flat lots with heavy clay soil can severely limit the selection of plant material that will survive.  Supporting the raised soil with boulders gives me a wider selection of plants that will thrive without fuss.  It’s not as easy to be dramatic with a limited plant palette.

Sword Fern in Sun

NW Native Sword fern – Polystichum munitum has upright fronds in sun and horizontal low fronds in shade.

NW Natural Style

Boulders work beautifully with nw natural landscape style but it is easy to use them in modern landscape design too.   The caricature of modern design can be harsh, bleak and boring.  Paths, patios, entries and retaining walls must be carefully shaped and proportioned. Boulders bring in the relief of nature made versus man made and create an inviting atmosphere.

 

Read more about hillside landscape design.

 

Collaborative Landscape Design for Portland Bungalow

After Landscape Design in a Day Front yard

The new plantings complement and enhance the house colors which was my clients top request.

I recently got this great email from my client Cathy.  She said “Hi Carol,  People stop on a regular basis and ply Greg and I for info on who did the landscape design.  We both often blank on your name but Greg did remember your company name today.  Anyway, the inquiries are frequent enough I feel I should have your business cards on hand to pass out.  So please feel free to send me some.”

Classic NE Portland bungalow needs thoughtful no lawn landscape plan.

Classic NE Portland bungalow needs thoughtful no lawn landscape plan.

Garden designers love to be asked for our cards, especially under these  happy circumstances.

I had created a design for the back yard a few years prior.  Cathy was so pleased with the results she called me back to design the front.  She had a list of priorities for me and at the top was her concern about selecting plant colors to work with the dark plum brown foundation.  Cathy had put a lot of effort into paint color selection for her bungalow including historic research.  The plum brown was a very powerful color and I was excited to work with it.

Mail carrier flagstone path

Friends and family and the postal carrier love using the new path to the side door.

Another unusual feature of the house is that it has two front doors.  The family tended to use the side front door and so did the friendly neighborhood mail carrier.  When we made a beautiful stone path to the side front door there was a lot of joking about how much the mail carrier would like his new path.

With me it’s always a collaborative process.  I wanted to add drama to the front walk so when I suggested we offset the front steps Cathy thought about it and vetoed that idea.  So to add interest I brought in boulders, set them back from the walk so there would be room to place interesting plants as companions to the boulders.

Rock garden plants

Here is an example of the colors we used to complement the plum brown foundation.

 

This made the design even better.   I loved Cathy’s existing rock garden and selected a similar style of plantings around the public sidewalk.  So this helped integrate what was left of the old garden into the new design.  The best thing about the design is how beautiful it makes the house look.

 

Cathy used my plant broker, Homescaper, to purchase her plants.  He worked closely with Cathy’s contractor, Tellurian Gardens who installed the landscape.  Now my only job is to drive by and deliver a nice stack of business cards and ooh and aah.

Diversity of Dogwoods Part II

Portland Landscape Designer Appreciates Diversity of Dogwood Trees

The diversity of dogwoods is well illustrated by these two trees:  Cornus Kousa ‘Summer Gold’ and Cornus Controversa ‘June Snow’.

Summer Gold dogwood

Bright cream flowers are backed by colorful variegation of ‘Summer Gold’ dogwood. Photo courtesy of Heritage Seedlings

Korean Dogwood ‘Summer Gold’

I love ‘Summer Gold’ partially because it’s so different from other dogwoods.   ‘Summer Gold’ has narrow bright green and gold leaves and an upright narrow shape.  The shape fits into urban settings much better than a round headed typical dogwood.

Traditional dogwoods (Cornus Florida and Cornus Kousa) have a wide oval solid green leaf and a  20′ or more wide round canopy.   ‘Summer Gold’ was created by local Crispin Silva who is a delight.  His curiosity and enthusiasm about plants has inspired many people in Portland including me. People here refer to his plants as “Crispin’s Creations”.

‘June Snow’ can be the single tree in your backyard because she has it all, grace, fall color, and an amazing floral display.

‘June Snow’ Dogwood matures at 30′ tall and spreads to 40′ wide. She has an arching shape and while bigger than typical dogwoods She has the most graceful silhouette even in winter.  I use her to create light shade for medium to medium small landscapes.  Too big for your typical row house back yard that is only 20′ wide, with another ten feet she can be the single beloved tree.  She was introduced by J. Frank Schmidt Company also near Portland, Oregon.

Her branch structure is incredibly graceful and open.

Cornus 'June Snow'

‘June Snow’ dogwood at Portland’s Legacy-Emanuel Hospital in The Children’s Garden.

When she flowers in June these flat topped clusters (which often exceed 6 inches) seem to float above the foliage.  The fall color on ‘June Snow’ can compete with any dogwood. The color show starts with orange yellows and moves into intense purple red and purple as fall deepens.  The fruit that develops from the flower clusters are quite tiny and not messy.  The local birds will eat them.

Studying trees is what Portland landscape designers do so we can bring you the best choices.  Ok and we are geeky about plants.   Read more about dogwood trees….. Diversity of Dogwoods Part 1

 

 

 

 

Diversity of Dogwoods Part I

Cornus Kousa 'Satomi' at Joy Creek Nursery.

Cornus Kousa ‘Satomi‘ at Joy Creek Nursery.

Diversity of Dogwoods – Part I

Dogwoods are a very large family.  There are twiggy shrub dogwoods whose hot colored stems light up the winter landscape.  There is a dogwood who blooms in March with yellow flowers and makes an edible fruit.  There are semi evergreen dogwoods we are experimenting with here in Portland.  This is the kind of knowledge homeowners need their designers to be up to date on.  When a client asks me for a dogwood I know its the visual and emotional impact of the flowers they are thinking of.  Designers think through the details to find the right variety for the clients size of yard and environment so our clients don’t have to.  Landscapes come in all different sizes and environments and now so do Dogwoods.

Plant designers have been busy improving our old-fashioned dogwood tree into a garden designers dream tree. Our old dogwood varieties have problems that plant designers have been working on for 40 years.

Cornus-Kousa 'Satomi' Intense pink flowers. Photo by Randall C. Smith, courtesy of Great Plant Picks

Cornus Kousa ‘Satomi’  Intense pink flowers.  New on the scene, ‘Little Ruby’  is a deeper pink. Photo by Randall C. Smith, courtesy of Great Plant Picks

They are improving drought tolerance, disease resistance (okay not sexy but important!)  and cold hardiness.  They’ve created new shapes that fit better into the urban environment.

What is sexy or desirable are the improvements made to the flowers.  Let’s admit it, where dogwoods are concerned,  we want even pinker flowers.   Everyone wants more color than nature supplies on her own. There are darker shades of more intense pink red.

Cornus Kousa 'Venus' has large dogwood flowers

Cornus Kousa ‘Venus’ has large white flowers which are 6 to 7 inches across.

Varieties such as ‘Little Ruby’  showcase the new strong colors.   ‘Little Ruby’ is wider than tall.  She is  plump and round headed and can be used in the landscape as a shrub or small tree.

Another new variety is called ‘Starlight’.  This cross is from our own native Pacific Northwest Dogwood;  the shape is upright and more narrow.  It works for your small yard or as a street tree. There’s a beautiful ‘Starlight’ in the courtyard of the Edith Green federal building in downtown Portland as an example of a tree perfect for urban life.

Cornus Kousa 'Starlight' dogwood

‘Starlight’ dogwood is a cross from our Pacific Northwest native dogwood. The narrow shape is perfect for urban life. http://landscapeplants.oregonstate.edu/plants/cornus-starlight

 

‘Venus’ features ginormus white flowers which are 6″-7″ across.  Like ‘Starlight’ they produce little to no  fruit unlike the many Korean dogwoods hybridized and sold in the last 15 years.  In fact even Friends of Trees offer messy Korean dogwoods.  I confess I make a TSKK TSKK when I see the huge mess they make on the sidewalks. In the fall they drop a large raspberry colored fruit.  Friends of Trees is a fabulous organization and many clients have been happy to purchase an inexpensive tree and learn how to care for their tree.  I would use the fruitless varieties near walkways and for small yards and save the old fashioned fruiting types for large properties.