Archive for dry stream bed

Lawn Do Over for Portland Landscapes

Landscape Design in a Day's newly installed RTF grass.

Landscape Design in a Day’s newly installed RTF grass with dry stream bed.

This is the year for rethinking the lawn. As a Portland landscape designer many of my new clients want to make big changes in their landscapes.  I am recommending clients replace their old lawns with new and improved grass varieties.

My Lake Oswego clients, George and Marcia, contacted me completely discouraged about their front yard. I met them in the fall after our particularly hot and horrid summer of 2015. They had spent their entire summer watering and watering their lawn.  It wasn’t dead on the October day that I came to their home but as you can see it was quite unattractive.

Uplands Neighborhood of Lake Oswego

Damaged Lake Oswego lawn

They decided it was time to hire a designer and start over with their landscape. It is a typical Lake Oswego landscape with heavy clay soil, fir trees nearby with thirsty roots, and drainage problems.

Before we even started the landscape design process, I was able to share information about a new lawn grass that uses less water and is more durable than the grass (perennial rye grass blends) we have been using for the last 30 years.  Working closely with Kevin Schindler of Autumn Leaf Landscaping Inc. we replaced their old lawn with Rhizomatous Tall Fescue (RTF) grass and designed a naturalistic dry stream bed that also solves the drainage problems.  Solving the drainage problems also enhances the health of the grass.  Even RTF grass doesn’t do well in a boggy winter soil.  George and Marcia are very pleased with the appearance and performance of the new grass.  They love their new dry stream bed and how it has pulled together the entire front yard, giving it a dramatic focal point.

They are no longer slaves to watering.

Installation day at George and Marcia’s Lake Oswego home.

This year several of my clients have taken out their old grass and installed RTF.   From a distance it looks like any lawn, in fact it looks more uniform because it grows so thickly that it tends to crowd out weed grasses much better than our perennial rye grass does.  My Lake Oswego clients especially appreciate the fact that RTF tolerates more sun and heat and if they did decide to let it go dormant, it will come back beautifully.  RTF can even handle a south facing lawn with reflected heat from a sidewalk.  This is the most difficult place to successfully grow grass so Portland landscape professionals are embracing this new product.

It is available as a roll out turf product (sod) and as seed.  Kuenzi Turf & Nursery

After Landscape Design in a Day Front yard

Rose City Park Neighborhood

No grass lawn

West Portland Park  Neighborhood

Other clients want no lawn designs, thinking it will be lower maintenance.  No lawn will mean lower water usage but replacing a lawn with paths and plants does not promise low maintenance. Even the fairly new minimalist style using 90% round river rock and 10% plants isn’t as low maintenance as you think. Someone has to blow dust and debris out of the river rock frequently to prevent weeds from building up.  Many clients simply don’t want to mow any lawn and are fine with the first two years of extensive weeding that is needed to get a no lawn front yard established.  For a lot of people, however, weeding is the least favorite gardening chore.

Synthetic Lawn Installed in front yard

Newly installed synthetic lawn in Parkrose Heights neighborhood

Other clients are installing synthetic lawn.  Before you sneer at the idea of fake grass (which I did when I first heard about it), check out these photos of my Southeast Portland clients Bob and Norma Bleid.  They gave themselves a retirement gift, front and back synthetic lawn.  No water, no chemicals, no fertilizer; it is the ultimate low maintenance landscape lawn.

Early fall is a particularly good time to install a new lawn or landscape.  With a good irrigation system landscapes can be installed any time of the year.  As a Portland landscape designer I am not fond of July or August installations, I know my clients will be “nervous nellys”  seeing their plants’ leaves droop, scorch and burn in the summer sun.  The fall rains typically do a beautiful job of providing the moisture needed to get plants (including grass) well established.  This eliminates the stress and worry of summer planting.

 

 

 

Portland Rain Garden with Year Round Color

Portland Rain Garden Plants with Year Round Color

Rain garden landscape design in Raliegh Hills Portland Oregon

Downspout disconnect rain garden in Raliegh Hills. Landscape Design in a Day and D & J Landscape Contracting

As a Portland landscape designer I like my rain garden designs to have year round color. Many Portlanders have  rain gardens in the front yard so it’s important to have year round color.   Without careful plant selection rain garden plantings can look forlorn in the winter months with no leaves or color present.  I love a good hit of color to offset our typically gray winter season.

To select plants for a rain garden I start by thinking about the areas of a rain garden that have different degrees of wetness. There are fewer evergreen plants that work well in the wettest areas and a wider range of plants for the sides and the top which are less wet. Knowing which plants will thrive in this situation ensures I select the right plant for the right place.

Rain Garden Planting Design in Raliegh Hills, Portland, Oregon

Southwest Hills Portland Rain GardenPlantings used: Miniature Golden Sweet Flag is a 4″ tall chartreuse evergreen blade. Use the Latin name,  Acorus gramineus ‘Minimus Pusillus Aurea’, to get the right plant. The evergreen narrow gold tufts form a somewhat flattened pinwheel which adds interesting texture. It will take standing water that drains away so it’s perfect for the wettest areas of a rain garden.  If the area is a lake for a week at a time, that is too wet. Miniature Sweet Flag is unique because it also thrives in dryer sunny areas.  I don’t use it in heavy shade designs.

Portland garden design evergreen ground cover

Beesia

False Bugbane – Beesia deltophylla has glossy evergreen heart shaped leaves. It’s a perfect companion plant for the narrow blades of the Miniature Gold Sweet Flag; together they make a perfect year round color  combination. The Beesia would die planted in the lowest wettest area so I plant it above the Golden Sweet Flag in a rain garden.

Designers know Compact Inkberry Holly – Ilex Glabra ‘Compacta’,  will survive temporary standing water but there are few if any other choices for the Pacific Northwest.   I’ve used Compact Inkberry Holly,  on the sides of a rain garden.  It works as a house foundation planting too. Don’t be fooled by the word “compacta”.  It will happily grow to 4′ tall. Fortunately you can prune this shrub once or twice a year and keep it 2’ by 2’.

North Portland Rain Garden Landscape DesignNot convinced about wet soil and evergreen shrubs? I will restrain myself to listing just 5 evergreen that die a sad little death in overly wet winter soil:  Azaleas, Escollonia, Pieris, Rhododendron, and a variety of conifers to include expensive little dwarf Hemlocks.  Ouch!

Portland Landscape Designer creates rain garden design for courtyard entry.

New rain garden design gets rid of the winter lake in this entry courtyard. My client built it herself.

Portland Courtyard Rain Garden Planting Design

A winter lake flooded this small entry courtyard every year for weeks at a time.  My client installed her own rock and plantings from my design but had the pipe that carried away the water installed by professionals. After the rain garden was installed we added two vine maple on either side.  The vine maple trees on either side of the rain garden would be dead instead of showing their glorious fall color.  Vine maple hate poor drainage and prove it by promptly dying.

Dwarf 16″ tall red twig dogwood “shrublets” Cornus Sericea ‘Kelseyi’ and a 12″ tall Golden Sweet Flag called Acorus gramineus ‘Aurea’ adds interest and year round color.

Get the Right Plant

Lots of people love red  twig dogwood.  It’s a great plant for year round color and its important to get the right plant!

Some varieties of dwarf red twig dogwood get 6′ tall.  Other red twig dogwood can get 15′ tall.  Cornus sericea ‘Kelseyi’  is 12″ to 18″ tall. This dwarf dogwood variety has short colorful red twigs in winter but can get unattractive fungal leaf spots in spring.  I don’t know of a dwarf variety of red twig dogwood that is free from spring fungal leaf spots.  It’s a very useful plant.  Life is too short for spraying plants with chemicals and really dear reader, who has time to intelligently apply fungicides?

Willamette Heights Hillside Garden Design

Hillside garden with dry stream bed in NW Portland.

NW Portland Hillside Dry Stream Bed Plantings

This hillside garden was designed to be seen from the master bedroom.  There is a lot of water that moves through this hillside so it has a dry stream bed to collect the water with a drain at the bottom.  It doesn’t have any plants inside the winter water area so I don’t consider it a true rain garden.  The plants were installed behind a low retaining wall which is hidden by the plants foliage which spills over the walls. These clients are gardeners so I use a wider variety of plantings for their design than I would for non gardeners.  Ferns carry the garden for 9 months of the year. Evergreens such as native Oregon Oxalis – Oxalis organa, Japanese Soloman’s Seal Polygonatum Falcatum  (evergreen Soloman’s Seal), Hardy Geranium – Geranium Macrorrhizum  and Carex grass provide year round color.  Toad Lilly – Tricyrtis hirta, provides exotic color in the fall.  Out of all these plantings only the Carex grass can handle excessively wet winter soil.

Alameda Landscape Design Rain Garden

Designers Garden Tour Barb Hilty Design

Portland Industrial Modern Style Rain Garden

Landscape Designer Barb Hilty designed this rain garden using no plants at all.  The full season interest relies on the ornamental rain chain, the shape of the steel boxes and the black rock to carry the day year round and allow this home owner to disconnect the downspouts in style.