Archive for No lawn back yard

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.

North Portland Residential Landscape Design for Shade

North Portland Residential Landscape Design for Shade

Chris and Jennifer of North Portland contacted me for help with their large shady back yard.

Problems

They were overwhelmed with the high maintenance of lawn under huge trees. They wanted a back yard for entertaining a large family (with lots of adult kids and future grand kids).  They wanted to DIY and had a strict budget, so spending 20 grand on a concrete patio was not realistic. Views over the fence included other neglected yards and they had a large (evil) tree of heaven that had to go. Many plants had died or looked leggy and sun starved.

The back yard was longer than deep and made creating a design on their own more difficult.

Solutions

My best contributions were getting the shapes of the new rooms to work with their long but shallow yard. Introducing them to the concept of using cedar chips as their primary surface for entertaining and paths was a perfect fit also. It looks great with their NW Natural style landscape, it’s affordable and it’s very easy to care for. If you get the right kind of chips you can even use a leaf blower on them and they don’t blow away.

We tucked different outdoor rooms into the perimeter of the landscape and kept the existing small concrete patio as a spacious entry to the house and the BBQ center. No more trying to fit a dining table on it as they had done before the design.

Selecting low water plants

The plant selection was also critical.  Shade plants had to survive on the water the big trees would let them have so our palette needed to be all low water plants. We used a lot of sword ferns and kept native plants wherever possible. On the south end we used one of my favorite little evergreen trees, Boxleaf Azara – Azara Microphylla. They planted them up on a berm which made them taller and helped do a faster job of screening out the neighbors garage wall.  Planting Azaras up on a berm prevents root rot since these plants do not tolerate poor drainage.

DIY installed

Their DIY install of the landscape turned out fantastic. They loved their back yard. When change came along, and they had to put their house on the market, the yard was another major asset and selling point. These photos, which they took, are from their marketing page.

I especially love the hammock room. The fire pit patio is clearly the largest entertaining area and is used for lounging with or without a fire. Their fire pit patio is a crushed rock surface, not cedar chips.

The chips continue around to the side yard gate and match the rest of the now low maintenance landscape.

“Carol understood us and got our style for a NW Natural landscape design for our North Portland yard.  We were very happy that she surpassed our expectations for low maintenance, no lawn, great textured plantings, backyard design.  She understood that we wanted to do some of the work ourselves and helped us make a beautiful-yard-on-a-budget a reality.”

 

Outdoor Pee Pad for Dog – A Landscape Designer’s Solution

Portland dog friendly landscape design pee proof lawnOutdoor Pee Pad for Dog – A Portland Landscape Designer’s Solution

I live on a floating home and when my dog has to go pee or poop, the parking lot is a long ways away.  My perfect solution to living on the river with a dog, is synthetic lawn on my small garden balcony.  I have the advantage over most people with a deck or balcony because we designed the house to have a small roof garden with real soil.  It was easy to add the synthetic lawn over the existing soil.  Not only was it easy, when my dog pees on her synthetic lawn, the rain rinses it into the soil so it doesn’t smell.  In the summer when there is no rain I rinse the grass using a garden hose.  As you can see Daizzie likes to lay on her grass so it is used for more than an outdoor pee pad.  I enjoy sitting out there with her or drinking coffee from my outdoor sofa.

When she poops on her synthetic lawn it is easy to pick up unless she has diarrhea and then I do need to rinse with my garden hose.  The dog poop always goes in the garbage because I don’t want to add nitrogen to the river, I mean come on, just because it’s dog poop doesn’t mean it isn’t raw sewage.

Portland Landscape Design dog pee lawnAnother solution is a raised bed for grass.  My client Sherry has small dogs and no lawn except for this tiny patch.  She just replaces the grass in her raised bed occasionally.

Portland is a city that is very dog friendly.  As a Portland landscape designer I have lots of wonderful opportunities to create dog friendly landscape designs.  I consider it one of my best job benefits.

Portland Landscape Designer and River Life

Portland Landscape Designers floating home

After Bob transforms the single story floating house and boat tender.

As a Portland landscape designer I’m in and out of 2 or 3 homes a week.  It’s fun to see how people live so I figure it’s only fair to share how I live and many people are curious about living in a floating home.  I can also brag about my partner Bob’s amazing design/build skills by sharing the before and after photos.

Weather

There are a lot of wonderful things about living on the water but watching the river and the weather play together is the best.  Most of the time they play nicely but sometimes, like last winters snow, was quite challenging.  Too much snow on one side of the house creates a tip and after a day or two of the eggs cooking on one side of the pan everyone gets a little crabby including our cat Cracker Jack.

The best part is that everything in the sky, clouds, sunrise colors, and geese heading south is duplicated in the water.  This includes the eclipse in August of 2017.  There’s a photo that got away.  The wind typically doesn’t rock the house, usually it’s a boater going by too fast creating a wake that rocks the house, but when we have gusts and white caps, I swear I can feel the soul of the wind.    Weather is intimate down on the water.

Wildlife

We have a resident blue heron who likes to scare people at dusk by flying low and silent until he is just overhead of an unsuspecting landscape designer trudging down the dock toward home.  He makes that low gruff and very loud Heron squack.  This is followed by another loud noise or two as I retrieve my belongings from where I threw them when I was startled out of my revere.  So far I’ve never tossed my car keys in the water but its been a close thing.  Car keys go in ones’ pocket upon departure from the car.

We have regular visits by Stellar sea lions especially when the salmon are running.  They are curious and a bit snoopy.  No photos but great stories of sea lions stealing from fisher folk in boats and on the bank.

Portland Landscape Designer moves to the river

Before floating home re-design and remodel,  a sweet house waiting to become our home

I’ve enjoyed our old goose couple for many years now but haven’t been able to get a hold of her eggs for artistic flights of fancy for a few years.  We have otters who mate under our house every late spring.  This ritual goes on for about 5 days.  It is not quiet.  We have bats and mud swallows and they have a schedule for coming in the spring and leaving in late summer or fall.  The diving birds come in mid fall and stay for a good part of winter.  There are two kinds of owls and a particular owl couple who sit on each end of the marina and talk half the night.  Their hoots are mostly pleasant sounding. There is quite a menagerie and I feel so close to nature here.

Practicalities of River Life

Yes, we schlep our groceries and everything else down to our floating home with a rolling cart.  One lives very close to ones’ neighbors down here but so far its been a happy chummy place when you want chums and plenty of privacy when you don’t.  I’ve met amazing and dearly memorable people.

Blue Heron entertains Portland landscape designer

Our Blue Heron is a poser.

Once we get home we don’t want to leave so most of the time we don’t.  Why would we leave to go somewhere when we can be here?

Checking flotation.

Portland landscape designers' view of fall fisherman in red boat

My view in fall.

Growing greens above ground

Growing greens above ground

Portland Landscape Designer paints eggs.

Felix and Oscar are not pleased with their eggs.

Best of all I have a wonderful view of Sauvie Island and the river.  I’m sure the river has a very positive influence on my  life to include my Portland landscape designs.

Floating Home buried by the snow of January 2017

Floating Homes with snow

Dog Joy – Shady City Backyards with Dogs

Dog joy – Shady city backyards with dogs

Is your shady city backyard with dogs a mud pit? This blog is dedicated to dog joy.  It’s time to stop getting mad at your dog for bringing mud and dirt into your house.  They can tell we are mad even if we try to hide it.  After all, we don’t really expect them to go outside and not get their feet dirty do we?

Roxy laying in the flower bed

Even dogs like to sit outside and enjoy the flowers. Roxy has a synthetic lawn.

Typically the failed lawn is not your fault.  Let me spell out the facts as a Portland residential landscape designer sees them.

Re-sale Lawn

When you  bought this house, there was a thriving lawn.  You cannot get it to look as good as it did when you moved in.  There could be many reasons, but my favorite is what I call the re-sale lawn;  the former home owner had new lawn installed to put the house on the market.  It looked good just long enough to get the house sold.  Your dog has contributed to the demise of the lawn but that was only part of the problem.

Tree Canopies and Roots

Trees grow and provide more and more shade as they mature.  Lawns require sun.  Even 5 years of tree canopy growth is enough to reduce the sunlight.  Sun is the number 1 food for lawns. Your lawn is sun starved.

Tree roots take up an insane volume of water.  Your lawn needs lots of water, which you provide but it is going to the trees.

Over time your lawn has lost the two things it requires to grow and thrive.  You can replace it, reseed the bare spots, fertilize 6 times a year but it won’t work.  Happiness and a mud free yard await your consideration if you can let go of the backyard lawn as you once thought of it.

Your landscape designer can create a solution for a shady city backyard.

I swear I would not bring this up if I didn’t have solutions, and this issue comes up in about half of my landscape designs each year.

Fiber ex cedar chip path

Fiber Ex cedar chips make a great lawn alternative.

No Lawn Dog Friendly Landscape in the Backyard

Playground Cedar Chips

You don’t have to have a lawn in a small shady backyard. Many dogs are perfectly happy with wide paths or areas of cedar chips.  It’s easy to incorporate cedar chips into an attractive Northwest Natural or Asian Style Landscape.

Professional playground cedar chips laid 4 to 6 inches deep is very effective.  My favorite is Fiber Ex by Rexius Forest Products, will last for years and is my most affordable solution.  The chips work well with even with large dogs and you can’t get much bigger than Newfoundland dogs.  My clients Kurt and Jackie are still thrilled with their cedar chip areas for their back yard (going on a decade now). I will note that multiple large active dogs in small yards will kick up mounds or holes in the cedar chip applications which requires raking it back out semi-regularly.

Synthetic Lawn

Other clients are using synthetic lawn quite happily with their pets. It looks good…you don’t need to water, fertilize or mow.    Even large dogs can romp and chase the ball.  It’s easy to clean up dog poo.  I am installing a synthetic lawn this year on my 10’ x 10’ roof garden/balcony.  We (Daizzie and I) are both going to love the convenience and I like the look.

Exercise your dog at the park

Some clients with very small backyards decide to make the backyard be for people and to hang out with our pets.  They  (the dogs) need a discreet potty place but exercise and leaving liquid social messages for other dogs, happens at the dog park or on walks. The landscape design focuses on entertaining areas, privacy and plantings.

Uchytil dog laying in planting box

A small area of  lawn works well for this client’s dog.

Shade grass seed

There are seed strains out there that say they are shade tolerant but trust me…..it’s not happening.  If the shade is very light there might be some lawns that will be thick enough for small dogs and people to use but  typically shade and dogs means mud without intervention.

Give yourself a break and look at lawn alternatives or contact me for a dog friendly landscape design that will make you happy and give your dog joy.