Archive for Garden Tips

Landscape Designer’s Thoughts on Firepit Placement

Grant Park landscape design for back yard with gas firepit in NE PortlandLandscape Designer’s Thoughts on Firepit Placement

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 in N. E. Portland gas firepit in backyard landscape designIt 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.

Grant Park back yard landscape design with gas firepitStrong 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 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.

Tips to succeeding with Manzanita in Portland Residential Landscapes 

Tips to succeeding with Manzanita in Portland Residential Landscapes 

Drought tolerant landscaping in Southeast PortlandManzanita (called Arctostaplylos – Arc toe staff eye loss) is the new cool darling plant here in Portland. The reasons why are numerous, unique “new” plant, drought tolerance, attractive in winter and all year, and there are now many diverse shapes and sizes to work with that will survive here. Years ago I only used this plant for a plant collector garden because they knew it was a crap shoot as to whether it would survive at all.   

As a Portland landscape designer I want plants that will serve many purposes in my designs. For people who are done with the overuse of Rhododendrons and Azalea and want drought tolerant plants, Manzanita is the perfect plant. Before you fall in love, I want to give you some tips for succeeding with Manzanita in Portland. They have requirements that must be met if you want them to thrive. 

Please see my previous blog “Portland Landscape Designer Advocates use of Manzanita in Xericscapes”.

Tips for succeeding with Manzanita in Portland 

Select the right site, conditions and plant companions 

Most are intolerant of summer water….clients must understand that they cannot coddle these plants, they cannot plant annuals with them for summer color, they cannot fertilize, they cannot water these plants after they are established or they will die.

Ground cover manzanita in Raleigh HillsPlant on a berm 

In many Portland landscapes planting on a berm will be necessary to avoid root rot. You will see bermed soil areas here even in parking strips. Portland parking strips (the 4’ wide ones) are a popular place for many of the new smaller types of Manzanita and for drought tolerant or xeric styled plantings. Most of the Manzanita I am using are too wide for a 30” parking strip. 

Planting companions

Planting companions must have the same no water requirements because it’s hard to remember not to water one plant and that you must water the one next to it. If any kind of auto irrigation is used the first summer it must be disconnected, dismantled, hell-dismembered so no one accidentally waters that second summer.   

I select companions from Mediterranean or NW native plant palettes. Some mid west native prairie plants also work well with Manzanita. Herbs, ornamental grasses and xeric perennials like Penstemon or ice plant are easy companions and Heather (Calluna Vulgaris types) are one of my favorite for texture contrast.  

Buy small plants 

Drought tolerant landscape design, manzanita shrub in North PortlandIt’s best to buy small plants and they will establish faster than a larger plant with a higher survival rate. Large sizes of these plants are not available anyway. Many of these plants will be available in a 4” pot or perhaps a quart sized pot. Smaller plants make more sense in this case but don’t expect them to be inexpensive. You are paying for all the research and extensive work to create these new plants. 

Select the right Manzanita 

The trial and error approach for picking which one to buy and where to plant it is going to be very frustrating. There are quite a few new plant types to pick from and some grow very fast, some slow. Some may be pruned hard because they have a burl (what’s a burl?) and others would be ruined with such treatment. Your Portland landscape designer needs to be an expert or have access to one. If you are on your own, buying from Cistus Nursery or the retail store Xera Plants, Inc. is the best way to get the expertise you need from their very knowledgeable staff.   

I talked to Alana Chau at Cistus Nursery. Here is her list of plants that will be available that I especially liked. 

 Arctostaphylos hookeri ‘Green on Black’  18” high and can handle some clay soil. 

Arctostaphylos × media ‘Martha Ewan’ is a nice size maturing at three feet tall and it can be tip pruned. It gets wide so give it room to be 4 or 5 feet wide. 

Arctostaphylos Stanfordiana ‘Mills’ or A x ‘White Lanterns’ both at 4’ tall 

Arctostaphylos Dr Hurd’ is a curvaceous 8′ to 10’ tall small tree and is planted at the entrance to Cistus Nursery 

Arctostaphylos  mewukka or Arctostaphylos patula can be pruned heavily. (They have a burl and once established they can be pruned back to the burl, for non horticultural nerds just know this means you could plant one of these closer to your walkway than many of the other varieties because the size could be controlled without ruining the appearance of your plant.) 

(We designers get excited about plants who fit into a small landscapes so we might be more excited that this burling option than you are). 

 My manzanita guru, Paul Bonine explains about burls in his article in Pacific Horticulture, Arctostaphylos for Pacific Northwest Gardens “Some Arctostaphylos species develop an enlarged area called a burl at soil level; new shoots emerge from the burl following fire or extreme drought, or from extensive pruning to rejuvenate a plant in the garden.”

Colorful Plants for Portland Winter Landscapes-New Zealand Pepper Plant

Colorful plants for Portland Winter Landscapes-New Zealand Pepper Plant    Cedar Hills residential landscape design Drimys Lanceolata is the perfect evergreen shrub

I enjoy a good hit of colorful plants year-round but especially in winter. The rest of the year has so many plant choices here in Portland it’s almost too easy for a garden designer. Winter has fewer selections for colorful plants and is a better challenge. Drimy Lanceolata – New Zealand Pepper Plant is not a new plant for designers but probably new to most homeowners. 

What’s so special about New Zealand Pepper Plant? 

It’s the foliage!

I love this plant for its visually delicious, red accented colored evergreen foliage. The spruce green leaf is set off by the dark red stems and red lines in the leaf. The new growth stem tips are more of a zippy coral red and when mature, they fade to dark Portland residential landscape designer's favorite coral bell plant, Heuchera 'Blackberry Crisp'burgundy.

Color echo: I find repeating the color of the stems and leaf “trim” with an underplanting in the same hue to be very satisfying. Using a burgundy Heuchera like ‘Blackberry Crisp’ with New Zealand Pepper plant illustrates the idea of a color echo nicely.

Versatile size

It’s very versatile size wise. It can grow into a “shree” (large shrub/small tree 8’ tall), or be maintained as a 3’ tall shrub. It’s easy to prune if you understand the basics and while I strongly suggest hand clipping, if you’ve grown it into a large shrub, it can be sheared with a small power trimmer.  The blades need to be small and sharp since you don’t want to chew up your plant leaves.  Don’t cut back into the old wood.  Typically it will have to grow some new foliage before it looks beautiful again. 

Year round colorful foliage in NE Portland landscaping. Photo taken in winter.

While the landscape is where Drimys shines the best, it is excellent for flower arrangements anytime of the year but especially useful in winter when choices are limited. It smells aromatic and the leaves and berries were used in the colonial days of Australia as a flavoring but apparently has a carcinogen in the oil of the leaf.  While small amounts are probably not harmful………………I would skip adding this to your salad. 

Best practices

Plant in raised or well-drained soil out of the range of lawn sprinkler heads. Water once a week deeply with a drip system or soaker hoses.  I’ve placed it in full sun but it works well with some direct sun or lots of lightly dappled shade (under the edges of a tree’s canopy).  It is not a shade or deep shade plant.    

Good drainage is a must. It will die if planted in a low spot or in heavy mucky clay soil. 

Colorful year round foliage shrub in Wiltshire Beaumont neighborhood N. E. PortlandEast winter wind can burn leaves

In Portland’s east counties in particular, the cold east wind may desiccate the foliage.  If I’m concerned about cold winter wind I will place it on the west side of the house in well-drained soil.   I have it growing quite happily in landscape designs in NE Portland, close in SE Portland and Beaverton.

Contact me, Carol Lindsay, when you are ready for an interesting full season planting plan (and hardscapes) for your home.

Plant partners:  a spring flowering heather like Erica carnea ‘Addrianne Duncan’, Heuchera (coral bell), Sedum x ‘Purple Monarch’, tiny leafed Hebe odora- boxleaf hebe like and American Switch grass -Panicum virgatum ‘Hanse Herms’

 

Drought Tolerant Landscaping with Manzanita Plants in Portland

Drought Tolerant Landscaping with Manzanita Plants in Portland

Why am I excited about using Manzanita in my Portland landscape designs? 

Manzanita shrub in Arbor Lodge landscape - Landscape Design in a DayIt’s the water

To advocate the use of Manzanita is to advocate the use of drought tolerant plants. Happily we landscape designers are encountering more clients these days who want a low water landscape or want a completely drought tolerant yard. I can advise about the site conditions drought tolerant plants require and select attractive plants that meet the curb appeal test in addition to drought tolerance.   

Unique look 

Manzanita flowering in Woodlawn neighborhood of Portland - Garden DesignIt’s a new look for the landscape. My younger clients are done with  rhododendrons and azaleas, which are somewhat over used here. While Manzanita has attractive flowers, it is the whole package, foliage color, shape of plant, bark color and flower that is creating the popularity. I’m especially happy with the boost these plants give to the winter landscape. 

Fusion of modern style with NW Natural  

These plants are too naturalistic for formal landscapes but they look great with modern and craftsmen homes.  Style-wise Manzanita fit nicely with NW natural,  Mediterranean or even a southwestern look.  We get strong foliage contrast with  leaf blades (Yucca or ornamental grass), tiny needles like dwarf conifer,  heather (calluna type), lavender or fat leafed succulents like hens and chicks or sedum palmeri or other sedums.

New kinds of Manzanita to use in landscapes 

Drought tolerant Manzanita in Portland garden design as foundation plant.The fact that we now have more than one kind of Manzanita we can use can be laid at the feet of a handful of people who have crossed different kinds of Manzinita to produce plants that can thrive in our rich Willamette Valley soils.  They then tested the plant in different soil conditions and identified the plants that can handle life in an non irrigated garden or landscape.

When I started my Portland landscape design practice in the 1990’s there was a native Manzanita tree from the Oregon coast that “sometimes” survived here. They are so beautiful that I was tempted.  Still “sometimes” was not good enough for my designs.  I needed cold hardy Manzanita ground covers, shrubs, and small trees that would thrive here in the Willamette Valley and there weren’t any. Now I have them!!! 

Less weeding 

This benefit could take some time to realize.  Manzanita leaves contain a substance that discourages weeds. Leaves that shed from the plant should be left in place. It takes several years for these small leaves to build up enough of the substance in your soil to be effective. 

Pruning tip

Portland Residential Landscape DesignerrOne of the common mistakes with Manzanita is to underestimate the width of the shrubs and small trees. Most cannot be pruned heavily and can be rendered so unattractive by pruning that tries to contain them, they will be removed. If you have no pruning skills (and most people don’t) be sure to place these plants where they have room to mature with yearly tip pruning only. 

Where to find these plants? 

While Xera Plants, Inc. and Cistus Nursery are the primary resource for retail, there are the Hardy Plant Society Sales (spring and fall) and tried and true mail order plant resources. If you are wanting drought tolerant landscaping and need a landscape designer contact me, I love to design with Manzanita. 

 

How A Garden Helps Your Family By Helping Bees

Portland Residential Landscape Designer How A Garden Helps Your Portland Family By Helping Bees

As a parent, you work hard to help your family. That means you have to look out for their welfare. And believe it or not, that includes helping bees.

These insects do a lot for your family, but they are disappearing at an alarming rate. Thankfully, your family can support bees by creating a garden. Not only will this help them thrive, it’s fun for you and your children. But first, you need to understand why a dwindling bee population is a problem.

Bees Are Vital To Your Food Supply

The secret to why bees are so important is one word: cross-pollination. This is when pollen from one plant gets to a new plant. Pollination is what creates seeds to grow a new generation.

This is where bees come in. As they fly from flower to flower, they cross-pollinate plants. National Honey Bee Day tells us that 50%-80% of the food supply depends directly or indirectly on pollination by bees. Some of the crops that depend on bees for new seeds each year are apples, watermelons, coffee, strawberries, and even plants used by cattle as food.

That’s why this is a big problem for your family. Without bees and pollination, many foods your family enjoys will either get very expensive or disappear altogether.

Creating A Bee-Friendly Garden

Affordable Landscaping Portland

Lavandula stoeches ‘Winter Bee’

Thankfully, your family can do something to keep those foods on the table. It starts with a garden.

Bees need flowers for food. The more flowers they can find, the healthier they can become. This leads to more bees, helping their numbers get back to where they used to be. That’s why your family can help by creating a garden at home that bees will love.

Beverly Bees has several tips for helping your garden work for this.

  • You can pick flowering herbs (basil, mint, sage), flowering vegetables (broccoli, cucumbers, strawberries), or just flowers.
  • Group the same plants together in the bed to make them more attractive to bees.
  • Pick plants that bloom at different times of the season so bees have a constant food supply.
  • Late winter and early spring plants are harder for most people to plan for.  Here is Carol’s blog about flowers for winter bees.

When you visit your local garden supply store, it might help to know some terms about gardens and landscaping in general. HomeAdvisor.com has a great glossary of these terms so you know what you’re talking about.

Health Benefits Of Gardening

Garden Design Portland Designing a garden will help bees stay healthier, but your family will benefit from it as well. Organic Life explains five surprising ways gardening can help your family’s health:

  1. Reducing stress and anxiety.
  2. Decreasing risks of heart disease and diabetes.
  3. It improves happiness.
  4. It cuts the risk of Alzheimer’s by half.
  5. It improves sleep.

Gardening can also improve everyone’s self-esteem. This activity reduces cortisol in the body, which helps you feel better about yourself. In fact, just seeing your garden growing can help people feel like they did something helpful.

A Garden For Bees And Your Family

If too many bees disappear, a lot of food your family enjoys will get more expensive or even vanish. That’s why building a garden to feed bees can help. Plus, just making a garden can do wonderful things for your family. Who’s ready to get dirty? Make an appointment to start designing your Portland garden.