Archive for Low Maintenance Landscape Examples

Modern Entry Landscape for Portland Hillside Home

Modern style fencing creates courtyard style landscape design for West Hills home in Portland Oregon . Dyed concrete walls and wood fence

A modern fence creates a stylish entry and enclosure for the dog.

Modern Entry for Portland Hillside Home

Unique Front Entry Needed a Creative Solution

My client has a good design eye and she loves modern architectural style and modern style landscapes. However, her new home in Portland’s West Hills had a boatload of difficulties and she wanted a collaborative garden designer who would value her vision and strive to enhance it.

The first view of the house as you approach from the street is the roof.  It’s a classic landscape problem for hillside homes.  This is as far from welcoming as you can get.  You can’t see the front door at all.   The amazing view is in the back and the front yard is small, shallow and often below the road.

Basset Hound with Echinacea flower in his teeth Portland Oregon

Basset Hounds are adorable, but not made for multiple flights of stairs! Source

Courtyard for Curb Appeal

An modern styled entry courtyard would solve curb appeal, make a private sunny sitting area and give us an architecturally interesting entry appeal.  I was prepared for hours of preliminary design to create the perfect enclosure for the courtyard. Instead my client found a photo that was the perfect inspiration and the design came to life.

Courtyard is Dog Friendly

My client loves her dog.  We needed to accommodate the family Basset hound.  The entry area is the only easily accessible outdoor place for the dog.  The idea of a Basset hound with such short legs going down three sets of stairs, so he can potty in the backyard is torturous and potentially harmful for his back and hips. The enclosed courtyard is perfect for keeping the dog safe from cars and predators.

Designer’s Solutions

The fence would cut off  views of the entry from the street even if it was a short fence.  We accepted this and made the fence an attractive, visually strong presence on its own.  We went taller with the fence to block the view of any parked cars and headlights.

The courtyard fence needed to be subordinate to the house. This meant it could not be too visually powerful.

  1. Using the concrete wall at the base of the wood fence gave us two materials which adds interest and lessened the feeling of height from the street view. The height also steps down to follow the slope which makes softens the effect of it’s length.
  2. The fence line also steps back (or bumps out) to break up what would otherwise be a long straight line. Each section that steps back is the length of the 10 foot long entry windows. By repeating the 10 foot length in the fence sections, we easily integrate the house and courtyard fence.
  3. Repeating a line that is prominent in the architecture of the house in the landscape is a classic way to integrate the two together. The step back also creates valuable planting space along the inside of the courtyard walls.
  4. We removed the 1970’s  brick facade on the house entry and replaced the tired aggregate and brick concrete walk with mortar set square  paving stone.

Before photo of entry landscape in West Hills neighborhood of Portland, Oregon

Plantings for the Courtyard Walls.

The plantings for the exterior of the courtyard walls (out on the street side) are tricky. The first section has crushed rock. It’s designed for guest parking. The other step back sections create room for a mass planting of  evergreen ornamental grass.  Carex Morrowi ‘Ice Dance’ was the most low maintenance option.

The entry gate area plantings are very simple and rely on two pots, one larger, one smaller and a very low bright lime colored evergreen ground cover to go around the pots such as cushion bolax, Azorella trifurcata ‘Nana’ . The  charcoal colored dyed concrete base of the fence needs the relief of  bright and light colored plants.

We created the planting plan for the courtyard interior, and designed an echo chamber water feature to enhance the entry experience and to enjoy while sitting outside on sunny days.

overgrown entry landscape in west hills neighborhood of Portland, OregonThe existing rockery style walls inside the courtyard were built with stone that was too small.  It doesn’t look great with the new modern style. Our design replaces 1/3rd of the retaining wall with large boulders. It is surprising to see that large boulders look and feel so good even in small spaces.  Small rock jumbled together to make a wall is rarely attractive and is far from a modern style landscape.

The final touches of the design are still in progress and I am looking forward to seeing the plantings completed.

 

Resistance is Futile-Plants that take over your landscape

Resistance is Futile-Plants that take over your landscape.

 

This blog is about attractive plants that take over your landscape.  They are tempting and for sale at most garden centers.

Star Trek The Next Generation came out 20+ years ago but I was busy building my landscape design practice and raising a stepdaughter so I missed the whole thing.

Maybe I’m just going to seed as I recently watched all seven seasons in short order. I encountered the Borg and was impressed with their ability to take over a universe. The Borg remind me of certain plants that will happily assimilate your entire garden and need to be avoided. 

Here’s a list of plants that are as devastating as the Borg and good at propagating their own kind without any assistance. They have an aggressive spreading growth habit and yet they are still sold at most nurseries and garden centers in spite of their thuggish nature. Be warned.

Foliage of houttynia 'Chamelon', is an aggressive spreader in Portland Oregon gardens.

Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’ Photo Source

Here is a beauty of a beast: Houttuynia

Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’ –  I’ve never known anyone who (once it was planted ever managed to get rid of it. It is famous for aggressive roots that will grow through other plants and overpower them. It can seed although it hasn’t in any of my clients gardens because I never use it.  Look at how cute the variegated leaf  is!

Aggressive Japanese Bloodgrass in Portlands' Raleigh Hills residential landscape design

Japanese Bloodgrass, Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’, can spread indefinitely

Japanese Bloodgrass Spreads

Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’ or ‘Rubra’- Japanese blood grass is a spreader but it can be dug out and eventually (as in years of work later) be banished but don’t sacrifice your time to this plant…you will be sorry!!

Aggressive Ribbon Grass in NW Portland parking lot is well contained by boulders.

Ribbon Grass, Phalaris arundinacea

Ribbon Grass is on the Fence

Ribbon Grass, Phalaris arundinacea, is a plant that can be very difficult to eradicate but if a designer suggests it for a contained area that doesn’t mean they are a newbie.  It is planted in a parking lot that I frequent. It’s been trapped there over 9 years and has not escaped. I myself have never used it in a design but it is very very low maintenance.   Here is an article regarding success in killing the ribbon grass. 

Front yard of North Portland Row House is lost to Aspens aggressive growth habit.

This stand of Aspens (Populus tremuloides) started out as one trunk!

Aspen Trees

Aspen trees, Populus tremuloides, are beautiful in a forest but not good for tiny city plotsOne tree will become many and fill your soil space with invasive roots that lift walkways, invade foundations and water lines and leave companion plants with no water or nutrition. See this great article from designer pal Beth Goodnight regarding the evils of aspen and some alternative suggestions.

Keep Mint in a Pot

If mint gets away from you – you will never get rid of it. Some people plant it in a pot and keep it on a concrete patio. The roots can escape from the pot and once it spreads in your soil you will have it forever so I never set my pot of mint into a planting bed. I like having mint for soups but it is strictly a container plant. 

Japanese Anemone in Portlands' Grant Park neighborhood in low maintenance residential garden design.

Japanese Anemone is beautiful but travels fast

Japanese Anemone and Bishops Weed in the Right Spot Only

Japanese anemone, Anemone sp., should only be used by experts. This one is very very seductive and over the top beautiful. It travels by root which is the problem. I like to use it in very low maintenance planting plans/landscape designs and in parking strips where it is easily contained. It doesn’t seem to invade the lawn so I’ve used it in plant borders too.

Bishops weed, Aegopodium podagraria, should be planted by people who know exactly what they are in for. It can be contained in the parking strip or a low maintenance planting where you have nothing but shrubs. Large shrubs with bishops weed as a ground cover can be a functional landscape choice. If I use it I have a rule:  You are not allowed to ever give a start of it to a friend.      

There are, of course, many plants besides my short list that should be avoided or used with caution. These plants are the stars of this blog because they are so attractive, tempting and readily available at your local garden center.

Tips to succeeding with Manzanita in Portland Residential Landscapes 

Tips to succeeding with Manzanita in Portland Residential Landscapes 

Drought tolerant landscaping in Southeast Portland

Manzanita (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.

Plant on a berm 

Ground cover Manzanita in Raleigh Hills

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 tolera

nt 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 

It’s best to buy small plants and they will establish faster

Drought tolerant landscape design, Manzanita shrub in North Portland

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’

 

Wire Vine – Friend or Foe

Garden Design PortlandWire Vine – Friend or Foe?

Do you have a structure you need to cover and don’t mind occasional pruning?

Do you like plants with interesting color, texture and tiny leaves?  I have your plant.  Wire vine – Muehlenbeckia

Here are 4 ways to use wire vine.

Wire vine on an arbor and gate.

This entry gate has a definite hobbit landscape feel to it.  The wire vine growing on this rustic gate and arch creates a very unique look and is very easy care. All they need to do is trim it. It is mindless easy pruning and if it gets away from you it’s easily remedied by whacking it back to about 6” tall. If you don’t like trimming plants on a regular basis, this is not your plant. (Muehlenbeckia Complexa in photo)

Wire vine cascading down a wall

Garden Design PortlandHere is a photo showing a hot tub surrounded by a rock wall. It’s just a rubble style rock wall so no one painstakingly picked which rock to go where for the art form. It’s good looking with wire vine planted at the top of the wall.  The results are a cascading curtain of delicate looking foliage. The burgundy black stems add color to the winter view from the hot tub and softens the view of the wall. Another benefit, they don’t have to pull weeds out of the rock crevices because the wire vine does not share well with other plants. No weeding sounds like low maintenance to me. (Muehlenbeckia axillaris ‘Nana’ in photo)

Garden Design Portland

Wire vine as ground cover is only for hobby gardeners

Only use wire vine as ground cover if you are happiest out playing (working) in your garden.  Wire vine will try to grow right over the other plants and climb up the trunk of this lovely June Snow Dogwood (pictured). This photo of Muehlenbeckia axillaris is from a designer pals personal landscape.

Two kinds of wire vine

There are two kinds of wire vine and I find they get mixed up often at nurseries much to my annoyance. One is evergreen with slightly larger leaves  –  Muehlenbeckia Complexa. It’s also called Garden Design PortlandMuehlenbeckia complexa ‘Big Leaf’. This plant is less cold hardy than the smaller leafed type so could die in a bad winter but I’ve had it last for years in some client’s gardens.

Garden Design PortlandMuehlenbeckia axillaris ‘Nana’ has the smallest leaf but is not evergreen. In late fall the leaves turn a bronze orange (which is attractive) and fall. This wire vine will become drought tolerant and tolerates freezing temperatures best.

Sun or light shade

I grow wire vine in a variety of sun situations. They don’t thrive in deep shade.  I plant them in full morning sun or a mix of am and pm sun. I’ve placed it in full west facing afternoon sun where it gets dappled shade from trees or shrubs by 3 pm.

I would not grow it on my house but a garden shed is fair game.

Trim often or cut back by 4/5th’s at least once a year.  How you trim it depends on what you are using it for. If I grew it on a gate, I’d treat the stems and leaves as if they were fur and just shear it back to 1″or 2” thick.  If it’s in a pot I’d cut all the stems back to 2″ at least once a year.