Archive for Design Basics

Landscape Designer’s Thoughts on Firepit Placement

Landscape Designer’s Thoughts on Firepit Placement

Grant Park landscape design for back yard with gas firepit in NE Portland

A Portland residential landscape designer shares her thoughts about placing a firepit.

My client Lisa had a dream about sitting out in her garden even when it’s cold.  I was enthusiastic until I heard she wanted a fixed location firepit.  I’m a little nervous about long term commitments when they come to firepits.  I’ve seen too many whose poor placement ruined the flow of the entire back yard.  It can be awkward to use and too expensive to remove and correct.

The Firepit Must Be Integrated into the Design

The fire pit must be visually subordinate to the overall garden design.  It’s easy to get excited about a firepit and forget about the other purposes of the backyard.

Grant Park back yard landscape design with gas firepit

It must be integrated into the design and must work well with the other functions of an outdoor living room. For instance, there has to be ample room between the firepit area and the dining area or it feels clunky and cramped.  Lisa’s dining table is on her deck so we had no crowding issues.

Watch out for Pointing Corners

When the firepit is a square or a rectangle we need to be sure the corners are not pointing at the door to the house. Walking toward a strong point doesn’t feel inviting, it’s a basic feng shui principle that is very powerful and I keep a “sharp” eye out to avoid this problem in all my designs.

 

Landscape Design in a Day Portland Oregon

Grant Park back yard landscape design with gas firepit

Strong Contrast

I prefer the materials for the firepit and the patio hardscape have strong contrast.  The patio surface is square concrete pavers so we went with a multiple sized natural stone for the firepit walls.  This is important.  It will look outright bad in my opinion, if this contrast is not factored into material choices.

Visual Integration

The way I made the firepit subordinate visually was easy since Lisa is a serious gardener……….by which I mean she is knowledgeable but very serious about having fun with her plants. There are 4 rooms to this garden. The firepit, the bird sanctuary patio, the existing rustic deck, and the raised sun garden. The plants weave in and out of these rooms softening the entry to each

Froggy Art

room and integrating them into one garden. I also love how the angle of the firepit wall leads the eye straight to the bird sanctuary patio.

We worked closely with D & J Landscape Contractors and NW Natural gas company for Lisa’s gas firepit. She met with the gas company and made the final decisions. The result is fabulous. It’s large enough to provide real heat and the ambiance it creates is so welcoming.

Landscape East & West, a large local landscape installation company has a blog regarding fire pits.

Trees for Portland Residential Landscape Design in Woodstock neighborhood

Portland residential landscape design  in Woodstock

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 design in residential Woodstock.

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

Residential Garden Design Portland, Oregon Woodstock neighborhood.Less 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 Portland residential trees.windows. 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.

Make an appointment to start your Portland residential landscaping with designer Carol.

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

Rose City Park neighborhood of Portland, Residential Landscape design for bungalow

The new plantings complement and enhance the house colors, which fulfilled 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 in Rose City Park neighborhood needs thoughtful no lawn landscape plan.

Before: 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.

Rose City Park Portland Oregon bungalow 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 Rose City Park neighborhood of Portland, Oregon

Here is an example of the colors we used to complement the plum brown foundation. Plants include Sedum ‘Fulda Glow’, Lavendar, Gold Leafed Spirea

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.

 

Rose City Park neighborhood of Portland, Oregon Xeriscape planting plan for Hellstrip Parking Strip

White Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Blue Oat Grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens), some sedums and creeping thyme are holding there own in this NE Portland parking strip.

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