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Portland Landscape Design creates privacy for small city backyard in Woodstock neighborhood

Portland Landscape Design creates privacy for small city backyard in Woodstock neighborhood

Colorful small tree for Woodstock neighborhood backyardCase History:   Portland infill home in Woodstock neighborhood needs a professional landscape design.  The biggest problem for new infill homes with tiny yards is privacy.

Roger and Meghan, no dogs and no kids, had recently moved to Portland and purchased a new home in the Woodstock neighborhood.  Roger wanted an interesting and easy care garden to putz in, colorful plantings and no lawn.  Most of all they wanted privacy.

Solving Privacy Issues-It’s about making a beautiful view

There were bad views on all three sides of the backyard. The house behind had a visually obnoxious roof and we could see their neighbors doing their dishes quite clearly in the evening. The house to the west had a shed which was useful for some privacy, but was infested with Norway rats. The owners were elderly and not keeping up with their home. It’s tough to start making demands of your new neighbors so most of my clients don’t. The house on the other side was also a new infill house and there was no privacy between the two properties.

Portland Residential Landscape Design Woodstock neighborhood before back yard landscape designDesigners Viewpoint on Screening Plants

I needed to create beautiful views to see from inside the house and from the back patio that would simultaneously create privacy and block bad views.  The plants needed to grow quickly but not get too big for the tiny yard.  There are not a lot of plants that will slow down once they are mature.  Most will get too big too quickly.

I selected my trusty clumping bamboo-Fargesia ‘Robusta Campbell’ paired with an evergreen narrow semi dwarf Magnolia tree. The contrast between the feathery bamboo and the magnolia’s large dark green leathery leaves would have been exciting and this would have been a fast-growing solution. My clients decided against the bamboo because rats sometimes eat bamboo shoots and they didn’t want to encourage the rats to come into their yard.  I substituted drought tolerant Boxleaf Tree-Azara Microphyla for the privacy screen and they were back on track.  Azara has a tiny leaf and would contrast well with the Magnolia’s large leaf.

Intricate path design in Woodstock neighborhood Portland, ORPath as a design feature for a small yard

Intricate path design in Woodstock neighborhood

The back yard is all planting solution with a flagstone path that circles and dramatically frames a focal point planting.  The path is wide enough to walk or to pull weeds from.  Roger laid the flagstone himself.

Plants with vibrant spring color

I dropped by the following spring (I was next door creating a design for their neighbors) and saw the magnificent coral orange leaves of Japanese maple ‘Shaina’ with  lime gold ground cover, (Saxifraga) and peach foliage coral bell. The emerging spring foliage puts on an intense and vibrant show.  The new landscape has many seasons of beauty and the spring view is no exception.

Portland Residential Landscape Design Woodstock neighborhoodRoger and Meghan are enjoying their new home and landscape and Roger enjoyed installing the garden so much he might take it on as a second career in addition to his professional photography.  So far the rats have not caused a lot of problems………How Portland lives with, not against, its rats is a fascinating read.

Plant List

Backyard planting in Woodstock neighborhood Portland, OregonThe spring color vignette included:

Japanese maple ‘Shaina’ – Acer Palmatum ‘Shaina’

Coral Bell ‘Marmalade’-Heuchera x ‘Marmalade’

Saxifraga x urbium ‘Aureopunctata’-Saxifrages ‘London Pride Aureopunctata’

Brunnera macro. ‘Jack Frost’-Bugloss ‘Jack Frost’

 

 

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.

Success with Crape Myrtle in Portland Landscape Designs

Residential Landscape Design PortlandLandscaping with Crape Myrtle in Portland

I responded to a request for help from clients in Northeast Portland who were concerned their crape myrtle trees planted two years ago were not healthy because they didn’t flower. They had done their research on crape myrtle but unfortunately not from a source familiar with their trees cultural needs or growth patterns here in the Willamette Valley.

Let me knock a few myths out of the way to save you the same unease and help get our crape myrtle trees off to a good start.

  1. Crape myrtle are drought tolerant so don’t ever water them. Not so!

Latest wisdom is to water them deeply with a drip irrigation or soaker hose once every 10 days. Touch the soil with your hands down a few inches to ensure you are not over watering. It should be moist and then as you get closer to the time to water again it should be almost dry. When they have been growing for ten years in your landscape they might become very low water needs.

I like to design plant companions for the crape myrtle that have the same water needs. In this garden I have crape myrtle with Chinese Camellia – Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ and American Switch grass-Panicum virgatum ‘Shenendoah’. The clients added ground cover sedum.  None of the plants near the tree need to be watered more than once a week ever after except perhaps for their first summer. A splash of hose water once a week is not at all what I am talking about, I am talking about slowly applied water and preferably drip system or soaker hose.

  1. Fertilize if you want a lot of flowers, that’s true for all plants, right? Not so!

First off, nothing is true for all plants. There are plenty of plants that are harmed by fertilizer so tuck that behind your ear for a future conversation. We typically have fertile soil here in the Willamette Valley, so I would never fertilize crape myrtle beyond adding garden compost to the soil once a year as a top dressing. Adding fertilizer will work against your goal of having flowers.A  young crape myrtle in SE Portland landscaping.

  1. You must dead head (pinch off) all the spent flowers. No way!!

If I had to deadhead crape myrtle flowers, it would take a bazillion hours and eventually a ladder.  Nope, you don’t need to deadhead. When your tree is young, and you get a heavy crop of flowers you might want to thin out some flowers to prevent the young branches from breaking.

  1.  Flower timing will depend on our summer temperatures. True.

It’s got to be hot enough and stay warm even at night to kick off the flowering of crape myrtle here in the Willamette Valley. If we have a cool June which we do sometimes, the flowers will be delayed until it’s been warm enough for long enough. For a deeper dig into crape myrtle read what Paul Bonine says in Pacific Horticulture magazine.  He’s my expert! 

Sleep-Creep-Leap

These clients came from California, a climate where plants grow fast. They were not familiar with the saying “Sleep-Creep-Leap” which describes typical plant growth for the first three years.

A  crape myrtle in the late Portland summer. Photo by Carol LindsayOnce roots are well established many plants grow fast and then after many years, they slow their growth. Just to be perverse, some plants grow slowly when young and then after they are a decade old, they grow much faster. It depends on the genetic makeup of each plant as to its growth rate.  Generally, it takes 3 years of root growth in a plant to get to leap.

Patience in our culture is a revolutionary idea. Contact me if you have more questions on your landscaping.

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.”

 

Native Plants for Small City Landscapes

Native Plants for Drought Tolerant City Landscaping

NW Native plant Sword fern is drought tolerant.

NW native plant Sword fern can be planted in less than ideal soil with good results.

People dream of a landscape that will need no watering.  Sometimes because they think it will be less work but more likely these days they recognize that water or the lack of it is a problem that will continue to grow.  Like the Brits in World War II they want to do their bit to help with a very real problem.

One way to have a no water landscape is to use NW native plants that are drought tolerant.  Here are some tips to help you have more success.

What size of plants to plant

They will establish better with a bigger root ball.  Expect 15 to 20 percent of your plants to fail.  Try not to take it personally.  Natives are a little more particular than other plants.  Use 2 gallon sized plants not 4 inch or 1 gallon for best results with native plants like Salal-Gaultheria shallon, Ocean Spray-Holodiscus discolor, Huckleberry-Vaccinium ovatum, Current-Ribes sanguineum or the favorite native of all, Vine Maple-Acer circinatum.

Sword fern can be smaller

If you are planting Sword fern Polystichum munitum, save your money and buy smaller plants, like a 1 gallon.  Sword fern can also be planted in less than ideal soil with good results.  It’s the only NW native plant that doesn’t need careful soil preparation.  I’ve transplanted it from my woods and had it play dead for over one full year.  It came up the second year and was back to a three foot wide fern by the third year.  Fascinating.  This plant can be killed but one would have to work at it.  It can tolerate summer water and will look more attractive watered when planted in a sunny area.  In shady areas it has looked quite attractive without a drop of summer water by the third year.

Pacific Madrone for drought tolerant landscaping.

Pacific Madrone – Arbutus menziesii
has recently been approved for City of Portland street trees.

Madrone must be smaller

Madrone-Arbutus menziesii is perfect for a no water landscape and is very picky about how and  where it is planted.  This is because unlike most trees it has a tap root so it does not thrive in a pot for long.  In the past I’ve only successfully planted a 6 inch tall plant. Recently friends of trees has found a way to grow them to about 5′ feet tall and plant them in parking strips.  They are a needed plant for hosting rare butterflies so if this succeeds it will be very exciting. Two important tips for success with your new Madrone; water sparingly the first summer, and do not ever fertilize.  After the first summer is over, never water your Madrone again.  Don’t plant anything else within ten feet that needs summer water and don’t prune your Madrone.  It’s a beauty that requires planned neglect for success.  At this time I do not have a retail source for the larger Madrone.  If you want one, buy the 6″ size at a native plant sale.  They grow surprisingly fast.

Native Oregon drought tolerant Vine Maple with Single Trunk.

Vine maple with single trunk fits small city landscapes. Multiple stemmed trees will get too wide.

Vine Maple-Acer Circinatum

The most typical mistake I see in small city landscapes is multi stem Vine maples horribly disfigured with poor pruning because they got too big. Most small city landscapes are not big enough for a multi stem or clump version of Vine maple – Acer circinatum.  Instead I select a single trunk Vine maple from one of my wholesale growers.  A single trunk tree will not get too wide.

When to plant NW native plants

Plant in fall for best results with native plants.  Planting in late winter and early spring works almost as well.  Planting in mid spring or summer will require more summer watering and some natives have an adverse reaction to summer water but their roots are not established well enough to go without water for the first summer so it’s a dilemma.

Avoid this dilemma by planting in the fall or early spring.

Native Huckleberry used in drought tolerant landscaping.

Evergreen Huckleberry used as a screen in SW Portland.

Evergreen Huckleberry comes in two sizes (sort of)

Evergreen Huckleberry-Vaccinium ovatum is almost like two different plants.  Planted in a sunny area it grows slowly to 4’ tall and perhaps 3’ wide.  While it will continue to grow and get a little  bigger each year, it’s very slow growing.  Compare it with the same plant in part shade to heavily dappled shade and it grows faster and is often in  the 6 to 8 foot tall by as wide.  People use the berries in muffins, pancakes and jam.  The flavor is mild from plants in low elevations and more flavorful in higher elevations.  Birds will eat them but don’t tend to use them for baked goods.

Soil Preparation

Most NW Native plants need well prepared soil.  Some need fertile soil, some need a sandy soil but almost all of them need well drained soil.  I find most directions on how to prepare soil for NW natives quite complex.  It is doable.  If you are DIY, here is a web site that might be helpful.  http://plantnative.org/how_siteprep.htm

NW Native Flowering Current for drought tolerant landscaping.

Flowering current – Ribes sanguineum is a spring pick me up for people and nectar for hummingbirds.

How to Kill your plants

Plant too deep – Dig the hole several inches deeper than the root ball of the new plant.  Plant them in the lowest area of your property.

Water them every day their first summer.  They might live a few months but will die in their first winter even if you only over watered them in the summer.

Best Practice

Dig the hole twice as wide but only as deep as the root ball of the new plant.  Plant 1” too high and bring soil to the plant.  Water carefully the first summer.  A slow soak rather than daily light sprinkles of water is best.   Mulch the plant in the fall and spring, don’t fertilize.

Drought tolerant native Sword Fern in Sun.

NW Native Sword fern – Polystichum munitum has upright fronds in sun and horizontal low fronds in shade.

Mix of NW Native Plants and Non Native Plants

As a Portland landscape designer, when I have clients who want no water landscapes, I tend to mix other plants with NW native plants.  My list for a full sun area might look like this:  Spanish lavender, dwarf Manzanita groundcovers,  Oat grass, heather, California lilac, true dwarf pines, smoke tree, madrone,  Grama grass, dwarf Fountain grasses, Rosemary, Hebe, stepables like Elfin Pink Thyme.

If you are looking for drought tolerant landscaping, contact Carol for more information on Oregon native plants.