Lynda and Michael live in a sweet old Northeast Portland Grant Neighborhood House. It’s a classic with a big front porch and several mature large trees including an amazing 40′ tall Japanese Maple. They raised their kids and more than one wonderful dog in this house. Their landscape adventure began with the loss of their old plum tree – okay kind of sad but it was so big it ate the backyard space. It also blocked most of the morning light. Their dining area was crammed up against the hot tub. Once the plum was gone they realized a golden opportunity had landed in their laps. They wanted a good designer to look at the possibilities and create a landscape design that would utilize every square inch of their small backyard.
They didn’t want a “perfect” garden. Lynda and Michael have some gardening chops so the plants didn’t need to be extreme low maintenance but it did need to be simple. The existing landscape was overgrown after 20 plus years. They were happy to let a lot of the plantings go so they could have a new look. They selected NW Natural and low water landscapes from my list. A touch of cottage style fit the old house nicely so that was included.
Their Wish List:
◊Privacy for dining
◊A separate room for the hot tub, their current landscape had the dining table next to the hot tub.
◊Plenty of patio space for entertaining
◊ A bit of lawn for their sweet dog Mira.
◊Michael especially wanted a water feature for the sound. The traffic sounds from NE 33rd interrupted conversations and the ability to relax in the back yard.
Water Features: Over the years I’ve noticed people have very different experiences with traffic noise and other urban background sounds. My own family is a good example; my husband can tune out background noise and carry on a conversation but I often can’t. Some people can have their TV or radio going on in the background and carry on with language based activities. Some people have filters and some people don’t.
My favorite design element, a water feature solves this problem and adds an elegant visual focal point. An echo chamber water feature triples the water noise but is safe for kids because there is no need for a pond, not even a tiny one. Standing water is dangerous for kids, birds and provides an environment for mosquitoes. Birds can drown in ponds that they can’t get out of. The echo chamber is a buried steel box, it is easy to clean and you can control the volume of water. My sister turns her water volume up so the water leaps from the pot. This is attractive but results in quite a bit of splash and the evaporation that results uses a lot of water. Other clients keep the water volume turned down so it slowly spills from the drilled rock or plumbed pot. It still makes that wonderful water sound because first the water noise is produced when water drops onto the rocks around the pot or rock. Then the water goes through the surface rocks, through the steel grid and into the chamber. As it hits the rocks that line the chamber the sound is amplified inside the box. It is so simple.
The echo chamber was designed by Lew Smith of Smith Rock on Johnson Creek Blvd. It creates more sound out of the water available so it’s also environmental. For perfection itself another small plug-in water feature, something you might pick up at Portland Nursery or Cornell Farms, as a second water sound creates the effect of a water based duet. We typically locate the 2nd small water feature in another part of the landscape. The sound of water helps people attune to their immediate environment and filter out the background noise. For the best sound I like to place the water feature near the side of the house or in this case we used the garage wall so it could be easily heard from the dining area and the hot tub room. The wall adds amplification, providing a place for the sound to spring from.
Plantings: So much of the landscape was overgrown, after all it had served for over 20 years. We kept the mature Japanese Snowbell Tree, a December blooming Chinese camellia which serves as Lynda’s view from her office. The overwintering Anna hummingbirds love this simple 7 petaled deep red camellia flower and they put on a show for 2 months. We planted easy care Beesia Deltoides near the bird bath because it will appreciate the splashes of water and has glossy heart shaped leaves that will reflect the light. Saxifraga ‘London Pride’, Hosta Sum and Substance and a mass of Wood Fern will add year round color under the Snowbell Tree. A sterile variety of Russian Olive, Eleagnus ‘Gilt Edge’ will be trained into a small evergreen tree, giving more privacy to the hot tub room and fragrance in the fall.
We will show off this garden in a blog next year when the plantings have filled in. The client, Michael Shay, is a professional photographer and has promised photos for us.