Archive for drought tolerant plantings

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.

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. 

 

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.”

 

Montavilla Bungalow Landscape Design for Entry

Montavilla Neighborhood in Portland Oregon Before Landscape Design in a Day

Montavilla Bungalow Landscape Design for Entry

This NE Portland bungalow landscape design project was a joy. My charming client had a new home that was beautifully updated on the inside but the landscape was a blank canvas and a bit rough. It needed a landscape design to address new walks, driveway and create strong presence. The large houses on either side dwarfed this sweet house. Look at the great lines of the porch!! I loved this house at first sight.

Client wish list

New driveway, low maintenance plantings, no lawn front yard, low water plantings and lots of colorful long season plants.

Landscape designer view

Everything, including front walk and driveway, needed to be carefully designed to enhance function and curb appeal. The proportions of the driveway and front walk required updating because life has changed a lot since 1940. Middle class homes in the Montavilla neighborhood had cramped narrow walkways and no pedestrian access to the front door from the driveway. People parked their one car in the driveway and entered their home through a side door. Usually the man of the house came in and hung his coat and hat on a peg on the basement wall and came in to the house via the kitchen. We are talking “Father Knows Best” era here.NE Portland Montavilla neighborhood after Landscape Design in a Day

I felt the house needed to be integrated into its land, that it was cut off and floating. We needed multiple planting levels supported by an informal rockery style wall. The levels are softened by the plantings which keeps the whole landscape integrated and inviting. Here is a designers’ trick, planting the area in front of the wall is an invitation and keeps the wall from feeling like a barrier.
Portland Residential Landscape Design in Montavilla Neighborhood

Wall plantings

Erysinium – Wallflower ‘Wenlock Beauty’ on the right, Sedum ‘Purple Emperor‘ on the left and Thymus Praecox – Red Creeping Thyme in foreground.

Driveways

I’m very picky about driveways. They need the right proportions to be a functionally usable space but still fit into the landscape not dominate it. I want to make it comfortable to get in and out of the car with groceries, kids and pets without stepping into mulch or plantings. I hate having to negotiate through awkward uncomfortable spaces.

Client Comments

“I hired Carol to create a design for my front yard and driveway replacement and to check in and work with the contractors during the installation process. Carol recommended Donna Burdick’s company D & J Landscape Contracting to implement the plan and I’m glad I chose them as well. Donna and Carol have worked together for years and speak a common language which made for a seamless experience. Carol is very flexible and can work with wishes of any level of detail. I had mostly vague, general ideas and preferences.  She was able to take those and come up with something that I loved as soon as I saw the first rough layout.”  Denise L.

Plant List

Heather – Erica carnea ‘Adrianne Duncan’

Echinacea – Cone Flower

Daphne transatlantica ‘Summer Ice’

Berginia ‘Baby Doll’

Heuchera ‘Sugar Berry’

Sedum ‘Voo Doo’

Sempervivum-Hens and Chicks ‘Royal Ruby’ and ‘Carmen’

Salvia officinialis ‘May Night’

Vaccinium ‘Sunshine Blue’ Blueberry

Carex morrowii – Sedge Grass ‘Ice Dance’

The parking strip tree is Parrotia persica – Persian Ironwood and the Gingko trees are ‘Jade Butterfly’.  I selected a dwarf tree so the colorful sun loving plants under the trees will thrive.

 

Landscape Design:  Carol Lindsay, Landscape Design in a Day

Landscape Installation:  D and J Landscape Contractors

Concrete Contractor:  Kerry Becker Concrete Company

 

 

 

 

Colorful Four Season Plant for Portland Residential Landscape Designs

North Portland residential landscape design for year round colorColorful Four Season Plant for Portland Residential Landscape Designs

I like to use Nandina as a colorful four season plant for my Portland landscape designs.

Advantages

The foliage is colorful year around.

Very low maintenance plants if you know the cool pruning tip.

They are easy to prune successfully so you can keep them for years.

Nandina varieties fit multiple diverse needs in the landscape because they can be small (18″ to 24” tall) or up to 8 feet tall.

They thrive in half or full day sun.  Deer don’t typically eat them.

Colorful Four Season Plant for Portland Residential Landscape DesignsDisadvantages

People prune it wrong and then it’s so ugly they remove them – this is so easy to avoid.

It’s not a successful shade plant and will look leggy and sparse in the shade.  They will look so bad they will be removed.

People think Nandina is drought tolerant and they don’t water it in the summer……….this ends badly.

Nandina (from China) doesn’t feed our native insects; therefore, overusing it limits food for our native bird population.  I like to select at least a few native plants for companions.

Is this plant overused? Some garden designers snub the Nandina plant because it is used in commercial landscapes. Nandina is useful to my Portland residential landscape design clients who want low maintenance landscapes.  With the right plant partners Nandina can sparkle in a home landscape.

North Portland residential landscape design for year round colorHow I Use Nandina in Garden Designs

Nandina domestica – Heavenly Bamboo (not related to Bamboo)

There is a variety of Nandina to fit every landscape:

  • 6 to 8 foot tall  ‘Moyers Red’ or 4 to 6 foot tall ‘Plum Passion’ dress and soften an expanse of fence, hide the hot tub or garbage area nicely
  • 2 to 4 foot tall ‘Sienna Sunrise’, ‘Moon Bay’ or ‘Firepower’ work well in foundation plantings and entry areas.

Use a tape measure on planting day, assume the size info on the plant tag is being modest and give your plant more room to grow.  Some varieties of Nandina will grow 3 to 4 feet wide.   To keep your Nandina from getting too wide, I suggest pruning out entire canes at the base of the plant once a year.  For varieties that are listed as 3 to 4 feet wide, plant it at least 30 inches off your path.

A new variety called ‘Blush’ is typically 24 inches tall and 18 inches wide. The evergreen leaves turn an intense claret red and hold their color for months, longer and redder than other Nandina. ‘Blush’ was designed for the southern United States where it is fully drought tolerant. In Portland, all varieties of  Nandina including ‘Blush’, requires irrigation in summer. Multiple articles on the net enthusiastically state ‘Blush’ is drought tolerant but they do not mean here in the NW.  In the high humidity of an Alabama summer I too am probably drought tolerant…..Mint Julep anyone?

North Portland residential landscape design for year round colorPlant Partners

I love to combine Nandina with textured or needled plants that contrast with the narrow Nandina leaves.  Dwarf conifers, (Pinus mugo ‘Sherwoods Compact’), heather  Erica carnea ‘Adrienne Duncan’ or ornamental grasses like  Opiopogon (black mondo grass)  work well.  NW native plants, like salal, sword fern and huckleberry give  contrast and good looks.  They also provide food for native insects and for our birds who must eat native insects for food.  Pairing Nandina with typical cottage garden plants disappoints my aesthetic; there isn’t enough leaf contrast.

How to prune Nandina

The key to success with Nandina is learning how to prune it which is all about thinning the multiple canes (or stems) of the shrub.  Read more in my next blog or check out this u tube video I found to get you started.