Archive for hellstrips

Ornamental Grass in the Landscape

Low Maintenance Grass for Your Landscape Design

Low maintenance xeriscape landscape design with good grasses.

Good grass like Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Little Bunny – Dwarf Fountain Grass is drought tolerant along with Stepable Thymus praecox ‘Elfin Pink, a nearly flat Thyme groundcover.

Designers love to use ornamental grasses to add structure and seasonal interest. They have instant appeal and we designers are suckers for plants that soften pathways and make a dramatic statement.  They are a staple in modern landscape style. However, grasses have a bad reputation.

Grasses for those Who Hate Weeding

I’ve had to reassure more than one new client the grasses I use don’t spread or reseed. My years of experience with plants means I’m slow to use the untested new plants, including grasses.  I’ve seen too many new industry introductions (plants) that looked like a good thing turn into thugs after a few years in a garden. Most of my clients say weeding is the worst of the outdoor chores so I shun plants with potential for adding weeding to the maintenance list.

Researching New Plant Material

 Low maintenance landscape design using Salvia Raspberry Delight Bouteloua BlondeAmbition

Salvia ‘Raspberry Delight’ with Good Grass Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ Photo credit High Country Gardens

I’m writing this blog during my winter break when I research new plants and prepare for another busy year designing Portland gardens. I confess to being a teeny bit bored with my tried and true grasses.

I was quizzing a couple of my landscape designer buddies about new ornamental grasses.  I discovered they are sticking to the tried and true grasses and not using any new risky plants in their designs either. Here I was thinking they might be experimenting with new plants and that I was getting behind! Nope they are nervous nellies about using an unknown too.  We see what happens when a client buys some cute new plant only to have it take up a forever place all over the property…

Beautiful Bad Grass? – Mexican Feather Grass

Edited Mexican Feather Grass

Beautiful bad grass – Mexican Feather Grass Stipa tenuissima. Photo credit Proven Winners

Designers are concerned about grasses that seed and make weed problems for our clients.  The Mexican Feather (Stipa tenuissima) Grasses are highly desirable because they are so finely textured the slightest breeze sends them into graceful sway. They are over the top beautiful! They can seed some or a lot and they are the darlings for xeriscape or low water gardens.  This grass is perfect for many dry and hot natural areas in California and (so naturally enough) it is on their noxious weed list.

This Bad Grass is so good in Modern Design

I don’t use Mexican Feather Grass but I have wanted to…they are unique, beautifully blowzy and are a stunner for modern minimalist designs.   I have a local gardener pal who has them in her large Portland modern garden design to fantastic effect. People who are gardeners with a capital ‘G’ may keep up with weeding out the unwanted grass seedlings. Still, all it would take is a distraction, health problem, or too much overtime, and this grass would be seeding into a new planting bed at your property and then your neighbors! Part of hiring an experienced designer is the safety margin we bring to the design process.

Beautiful Good Grass: Blue Grama ‘Blonde Ambition’ 

Low maintenance plant Blonde Ambition for Portland landscape design.

Bouteloua Gracilis or Blue Grama Grass ‘Blonde Ambition’ moves in the breeze like living art.

Bouteloua gracilis or Blue Grama Grass ‘Blonde Ambition’ relieves my boredom in a flash and is a great substitute for the wildly popular Mexican Feather Grass. Discovered by David Salman of High Country Gardens, this plant has all the drama of Mexican Feather Grass but won’t seed around.   It’s very dramatic looking with a flower head that juts to one side like an eyebrow.  It’s evergreen and moves beautifully in the breeze so it’s not just a plant, it’s living art.

A Great Drought Tolerant Grass: ‘Shenandoah’ Switch Grass

Switch Grass Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ is a colorful Good Grass.

Another great grass for our Pacific Northwest landscapes is Switch Grass. Although there are many varieties,  Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ is a lot of fun…for a grass. It emerges in the green tones, then quickly adds red coloring throughout the summer. The tiny garnet seeds are nice and airy, followed by a great fall show. To top it off, this grass is well-behaved and drought tolerant once established.

Low Maintenance Landscape

Grasses can be very useful additions to a low maintenance landscape. For the ones listed here, cut the plant down in February to a few inches tall, scuff the crown of the plant and pull away any loose grass stalks from the crown.  It will thrive in a lighter soil mix with lots of sun.  It prefers no fertilizer, low water and can be fully drought tolerant after established.  To kill these grasses, plant them in heavy clay and over water them.  I’m excited about adding these good grass to xeriscaping planting plans in the coming year.

If you are looking for low maintenance landscape design, contact me to learn more about grasses for your Portland area garden.

Plantings for Parking Strips

This article describes a very attractive but low maintenance planting and hardscape design for a parking strip in NE Portland.

Making great access across a strip for dry, non-muddy feet is practical and provides an attractive low maintenance landscape that adds tons of curb appeal to your home. This is effectively demonstrated by my design at NE 35th and Stanton.

Easy Care Parking strip adds curb appeal

!st year planting at parking strip NE Portland

The strip faces west, and people rarely park there.  The strip, which has mature suckering ornamental pear trees, create some cool for my client’s house in the summer, but are difficult to plant under because of root mass.  The trees also don’t share water or nutrients and have small but abundant leaf drop in the fall.  Selecting underplantings that don’t have to have every pear leaf removed prior to winter is simply smart and pays back every year in less work.

After creating a soft shape of practical hardscape, I selected a combination of plants that  will create interest for the entire year.  My client doesn’t have to think much about the plants because they are automatically irrigated with a drilled emitter tube system that is underground.  The irrigation also helps the plants compete with the pear tree roots. Over time, even in difficult conditions, the plants will need less and less water.  My client takes her weeding seriously, so even in the very first year, this planting is already filling in.  The style is very Northwest – natural and serene and adds to the curb appeal of the entire landscape.  By the third year, the weeding should be quite minimal as the plants have already spread and thickened, discouraging weeds effectively.

There are several things that need to be considered prior to designing an attractive solution for that difficult parking strip in front in your home.  On the top of the list are:     1) the sun direction;  2) whether you have trees in your strip and; 3) whether people often park near the strip.  Other things that are equally important to consider are the utilities near the strip – such as water meters, downspout connection to the street, electric and gas lines, fireplugs, and lastly, the rights of people, especially that of your neighbors to park and access the sidewalk. Remember that the parking strip actually belongs to the city or county.

Typical design issues such as soil preparation, irrigation, and what style of planting that will look best with your home also figures in.  A parking strip is the foreground view of your home, so it matters what it looks like year round. And last, but most important, is how it will look in the internet photo when it is time to sell your home.

For more on parking strip gardens – check out Kym Pokorny’s article by clicking on the link below.  The featured designs don’t seem to be low maintenance. However,  they are quite beautiful and fun. Click on the following link to read her article.  http://blog.oregonlive.com/kympokorny/2010/08/design_parking_strips_for_beau.html