Archive for boulders

Boulders Create Opportunity in Portland Landscape Designs

Bright blue Navel Wort Omphaloides cappadocia graces this stacked boulder wall in NW Portland's Willamette Heights.

Bright blue Navel Wort – Omphaloides cappadocia ‘Cherry Ingram’ graces this dry stacked boulder wall in NW Portlands’ Willamette Heights. Clients love this plant!

Boulders create opportunity in Portland landscape designs.

As a Portland landscape designer I love boulders. They are so versatile and especially helpful with complex small urban properties. New construction properties in the city are always on difficult lots now unless they are a tear down. The lots are either very narrow, an unusual shape or steep. The easy lots were built on years ago. They are a good challenge for experienced designers. Clients are often completely baffled about their options.

Usable space

One of  the big issues with these properties is creating usable space for my clients. A pretty landscape that can’t be used for entertaining even 4 adults is not functional in my opinion. Boulders help the designer create level, functional and usable areas.  Boulders also bring nature into urban environments and add visual drama to the views from the home. A well placed boulder brings a sigh of relief to me, it’s hard to explain but I think it is the touch of nature that I feel.

Designer directed boulder placement for this new construction home in NW Portland.

I loved directing the boulder placement and designing the stairs for this Willamette Heights home in NW Portland.

Boulders retain the hillsides to allow the designer to carve out interesting walkways, stairs and planting areas above them. The spaces between the boulders create planting pockets which when thoughtfully planted result in layers of softening greenery. Planting the pockets creates another way to balance the proportions of hard surface to plant material.  I love being able to use plants that are fussy about drainage in boulder crevices that I cannot use without copious soil preparation in flat properties.  The bonus of being able to stand and tend the low maintenance plantings cannot be praised enough as my older clients will attest to.

Landscape Design in a Day water feature in Raliegh Hills SW Portland

This water feature with a large drilled Montana Mud boulder has a dry return so it is safe for a front yard with no child proof fence.

Water

Boulders and water are natural partners and I love to create simple low-maintenance water features using drilled rock and echo chambers. It’s an easy way to offset traffic noise and provides water for birds, bees and possibly your dog too.  With a dry return instead of a high maintenance pond there is no mud so Fido won’t get to roll in the mud and bring it in to share w your sofa or carpet.

Proportional curb appeal

When the front yard is small we need strong visual impact to offset tall facades and large driveways. There is little plantable space and often the maximum hardscape allowed by the city or county.   We need to be visually bold to offset this situation.   Raising the soil with a few well placed boulders and adding complementary dramatic plant material can give us the impact we need.

 

Garden Design for Gardeners

Japanese Maple – Acer Palmatum ‘Shindeshojo’ in Westmoreland neighborhood SE Portland Landscape Design in a Day.

Boulders solve soil problems

Here’s an example….Planting a hot colored foliage Japanese maples up in a boulder planter create excellent drainage and helps avoid the dreaded verticillium wilt which is a good example of solving multiple problems with one solution.  Flat lots with heavy clay soil can severely limit the selection of plant material that will survive.  Supporting the raised soil with boulders gives me a wider selection of plants that will thrive without fuss.  It’s not as easy to be dramatic with a limited plant palette.

Sword Fern in Sun

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

NW Natural Style

Boulders work beautifully with nw natural landscape style but it is easy to use them in modern landscape design too.   The caricature of modern design can be harsh, bleak and boring.  Paths, patios, entries and retaining walls must be carefully shaped and proportioned. Boulders bring in the relief of nature made versus man made and create an inviting atmosphere.

 

Read more about hillside landscape design.

 

Willamette Heights Hillside Landscape Design

Willamette Heights Hillside Landscape Design 

WM sized Ericson arah after backyard photos 11 2016 (7)

New boulders define the original pathway leading to Forest Park from the backyard.

Willamette Heights Hillside Garden Design

The Willamette Heights neighborhood of NW Portland is special for many reasons. The architecture of the grand old houses, views of the city, Mount Hood and that it is surrounded by Forest Park.  There is a simple 2 lane bridge for traffic in and out of the hillside neighborhood.  It feels private. My clients happened to have a path that leads into a secluded part of the park from their backyard. It’s an old neighborhood with serious garden history. It was the playground for the famous landscape architects Wallace Huntington and Barbara Feeley. I’ve been privileged to create many residential landscape designs in this neighborhood including the restoration of the Bertha Cooper Garden, renamed Cooper Phillips Garden in honor of the builder that saved it from destruction.

My client grew up here.  She and her husband bought a beautiful craftsmen house (1905) about a mile away from her childhood home with views and a private path into Forest Park. She had the clearest vision for what she wanted that I have come across. Her first priority was finding a designer who would fully understand her ideas and hold true to them in the design.

Portland Landscape Designer with smaller ego

She called me looking for an experienced landscape design collaborator to help her create and install her vision. I came by to meet her and see the property. We started in the big kitchen with tall beautifully framed windows and French doors to the backyard. This room was the heart of the home. We had views into the woods which were uphill from the level yard.  The landscape was divided from the woods by a low rustic rubble rock wall. She knew what she wanted and it was not typical. For starters, she didn’t want the rustic rubble wall rebuilt or made more substantial. She wanted a large flagstone area that could be play area and entertaining area. She needed me to take her idea and make sure it didn’t end up looking like they had paved the backyard.  She wanted the man made to melt into the nature made forest.

Low Maintenance Garden Design

WM sized Ericson before black plastic wasteland

The backyard weeds had exploded and the first winter turned the yard into a mud pit. It was too shady for grass.

It is a large landscape overall. They had put in a lot of time and effort with the front yard and that was working well.  The backyard weeds had exploded and the winter rains made a mud pit. They installed 2,000 sq feet of black plastic.  The black plastic was not happy making but she didn’t have the time or the inclination to make the entire property her hobby.

The plantings needed to be simple both for style and for practicality. Since the woods were wonderful all on their own, it was the wasteland that lay between the house and that wall that would be our subject.

What’s the Style?  Minimalist NW Natural 

We want simple lines and minimal plantings to keep from distracting us from the woods. Just like the interior, the exterior can be simplified without going too modern. In the early 1900’s there was a huge social change called the Arts and Crafts movement. People were suddenly interested in native plants, hiking, sleeping outdoors…these were big changes from the Victorians who worried that night air was harmful to your health. A craftsmen house, even a grand one like this looks great with simple  NW natural style plantings.   The minimalist style of using fewer varieties of plants also makes it lower maintenance which was another top priority for her.

The pathway to the woods

something about Arah working with Landsape East and West

There are 4 different garden rooms, the path to the woods, a small lounging area, a play area and an area for a large rustic picnic table.

The pathway to Forest Park was just waiting for my attention ………I say take a good thing and make it more dramatic, bigger and make it a destination by adding other elements that enhance and point to it. There was an earthen path already but I moved it over a few feet, added rustic stone steps up to the path and a few large sitter rocks that added drama to this gateway. It’s going to be a great place to hang out for big and small people.

Make the rooms work

She wanted a big flagstone patio.  I added in the shapes of the planting beds being careful that each flagstone area was big enough to be useful as play area or sitting area. The shapes of the beds keep the flagstone patio from taking over visually and the spacing between the flagstones grew larger as it got further from the house.  The views from the window filled kitchen were kept focused on the woods by using low plantings with only a few verticals.

 The Installation Process

Erickson during backyard

My client directing placement of flagstone.

They interviewed three landscape installation companies and selected a well known company but not one I worked with. Hillside landscape designs cost more to install because there is always  additional expense for bringing materials in. Having an experienced company to manage the logistics was important.  They used a crane to deliver all the materials even the yards and yards of crushed rock. It’s wasn’t practical to bring anything up the long stairs from the street.  She worked with the contractors herself and used me for advice. She called me in to work with her contractor on the boulder placement and to fine tune the flagstone placement to ensure each area was the right shape for maximum play and entertaining space.

Client’s Comments
Her final note on the design drawing……..”I went through the plan in detail and really like it. I feel like you ‘got’ the low-key NW, drought tolerant, blend into forest part style really well. I am excited to move forward with our design.  Carol gave me referrals to 2 great landscape contractors so I was picking from a good pool. The final results are both a pleasure and a great relief.   Yes the mud is gone but more importantly now I have a large outdoor living room that is very attractive and usable.  I also look out from my kitchen and I see my design, the one I dreamed up.  Carol helped me make this vision real. I appreciated the flexibility of her Landscape Design in a Day process.”

Cedar Mills Woodland Garden Design

Cedar Mills Woodland Landscape Design

Dave and Noelle love the dyed concrete used for the lower patio entertaining area.

I drove out to Cedar Mills in NW Portland to meet prospective landscape design clients Dave and Noelle.  They were sitting out in their large front yard on a semi private patio.  It was surrounded by large trees and was an idyllic setting.  It was early evening in late summer.  Dave opened a bottle of wine and we talked about their new home and goals for their landscape.  They were newlyweds.

Dave and Noelle are the ultimate DIYers and fearlessly tackled many aspects of remodeling their “new to them” contemporary home.  The landscape was a different story.  We all must balance the demands of work and our lives with the time it can take to DIY.

Sloped back yard before design

The clients found their sloped back yard intimidating. The backyard was a blank slate.

Dave had installed an irrigation system in the past. They knew they could probably plant and do some of the landscaping work. The design however was beyond them.  Their sloped property was intimidating.

Hills after Daves truck

Finally, a place for Dave to park his truck.

Wish List:

  • Privacy for entertaining areas and the hot tub
  • Entertaining space
  • No lawn
  • Blueberries
  • A parking area for Dave’s beloved truck
  • Paths that created access and flow around the entire property
  • Create plantings that will fit with the existing rustic woods
  • Make the best use of the space in the sloped smaller back yard
  • Create year round color in the landscape plantings
  • Planting style NW Natural
  • A weeping Japanese maple somewhere prominent for Dave.

The contemporary house backs up to a natural woods and a steep canyon.  The front yard was much larger than the back and although they had a great place to hang out in their front yard, they wanted to enjoy the views of nature in the back yard.  It was a blank slate.

As you can see from the before photos, the doors to the back yard were 2 and 1/2′ above the landscape.  The landscape then sloped down to a canyon that drops off quite steeply.   We didn’t have a nice big back yard with lots of depth.   They wanted to be able to step out of their great room with food and easily settle into a large outdoor entertaining and dining area. Noelle wanted no steps down to the new outdoor dining area.  This meant we would need to work hard for privacy from the neighbors.

Northwest Natural stone path

Rustic stone path integrates the garden rooms.

What I love about this design:

I created 3 rooms at different levels.  We added grade to create privacy and used our new raised outdoor dining area to provide screening for the lower dyed concrete patio and the lower still hot tub room.  I created a boulder rockery that surrounds the raised dining area and created lots of planting pockets.  We planted this boulder rockery to soften the effect of the large boulders.  Raising the planting beds allowed us the opportunity to improve the heavy clay soil.

As a Portland landscape designer I never miss a chance to improve our local clay soil.  Soil preparation is such a good investment.

To create privacy for the hot tub room, I placed it on the lowest level – same level as the woods and planted in front of it.  This created a view of plants from the master bedroom, not the view of the hot tub.  I’ve yet to have clients who think the hot tub itself is a thing of beauty.

Boulders create softening with planting pockets.

Boulders create softening with planting pockets.

Materials that were used in this landscape included large boulders from Gales Creek Quarry.  The patio was a dyed and textured concrete.  The new dining area surface is 24″ x 24″ concrete slabs installed onto deck framing.  The planter adjacent to the dining area is made of concrete board and planted with full season color plants such as heather and dwarf evergreen shrubs.

Other plants we used for this design:  Acer Palamatum Shaina – Japanese Maple, Vaccineum Tophat – Dwarf Blueberry, Cryptomeria Sekkan Sugi – Japanese Cedar, Pieris Japonica Little Heath  – Dwarf Lilly of the Valley shrub, specialty heather varieties, many varieties of evergreen succulents and low water ornamental grasses.

I was on site for grading and boulder work and worked closely with longtime contractor and excavator Joe Hurd.  It was a pleasure to be able to sculpt the grade into a design that made such great use of the space.  Each room was spacious and functional and flowed into the next.

Porch stone work DIY

Here’s an example of one of Noelle’s many DIY projects. She did the stone work for her front porch.

Dave and Noelle loved their new landscape.  They watched the concrete contractor create their dyed concrete patio very closely.  Our next project was a planting plan for the front yard and more grading and boulder work.  A few years later Dave and Noelle replaced the old front yard paver patio and path with new dyed concrete all by themselves.  Natch.  Fearless DIYers.

 

 

Collaborative Landscape Design for Portland Bungalow

After Landscape Design in a Day Front yard

The new plantings complement and enhance the house colors which was my clients top request.

I recently got this great email from my client Cathy.  She said “Hi Carol,  People stop on a regular basis and ply Greg and I for info on who did the landscape design.  We both often blank on your name but Greg did remember your company name today.  Anyway, the inquiries are frequent enough I feel I should have your business cards on hand to pass out.  So please feel free to send me some.”

Classic NE Portland bungalow needs thoughtful no lawn landscape plan.

Classic NE Portland bungalow needs thoughtful no lawn landscape plan.

Garden designers love to be asked for our cards, especially under these  happy circumstances.

I had created a design for the back yard a few years prior.  Cathy was so pleased with the results she called me back to design the front.  She had a list of priorities for me and at the top was her concern about selecting plant colors to work with the dark plum brown foundation.  Cathy had put a lot of effort into paint color selection for her bungalow including historic research.  The plum brown was a very powerful color and I was excited to work with it.

Mail carrier flagstone path

Friends and family and the postal carrier love using the new path to the side door.

Another unusual feature of the house is that it has two front doors.  The family tended to use the side front door and so did the friendly neighborhood mail carrier.  When we made a beautiful stone path to the side front door there was a lot of joking about how much the mail carrier would like his new path.

With me it’s always a collaborative process.  I wanted to add drama to the front walk so when I suggested we offset the front steps Cathy thought about it and vetoed that idea.  So to add interest I brought in boulders, set them back from the walk so there would be room to place interesting plants as companions to the boulders.

Rock garden plants

Here is an example of the colors we used to complement the plum brown foundation.

 

This made the design even better.   I loved Cathy’s existing rock garden and selected a similar style of plantings around the public sidewalk.  So this helped integrate what was left of the old garden into the new design.  The best thing about the design is how beautiful it makes the house look.

 

Cathy used my plant broker, Homescaper, to purchase her plants.  He worked closely with Cathy’s contractor, Tellurian Gardens who installed the landscape.  Now my only job is to drive by and deliver a nice stack of business cards and ooh and aah.

Hidden Craftsman Gem

Before:  Hidden Craftsman Gem

I think before and after photos are fun to look at.  Here is a home on SW 52nd in Portland that went on the market and needed some serious curb appeal to attract buyers.Vshyha buller  before for blog

Their interior designer, Mary Tongue, from HOMEmakers of Oregon hired me for my Landscape Design in a Day process.

The craftsman home had no front walk. Guests walked up the sloped driveway.  The bank of lawn and overgrown plants hid the porch and more importantly, the house did not look inviting.

 

After:  Warm and Inviting Entry

Vskyha Bueller smaller after copy

We crafted an inviting entry path – as well as a four season plant palette – adding instant curb appeal.

Now the house looks and feels friendly and welcoming!  It’s a much better match for the unbelievable charm and beauty of the interior.

I created the design, placed the boulders and stone steps with my expert install team.  We crafted an inviting entry path – as well as a four season plant palette – adding instant curb appeal.  I placed the plants and the clients performed the planting work themselves.