Archive for low maintenance landscape

Pruning Nandina easily for Portland residential landscapes

Pruning Nandina easily, the perfect low maintenance plant, for Portland residential landscapes

Low Maintenance Shrub (Nandina) for Portland Residential Landscape DesignI promised I would follow up from my last blog about Nandina domestica – Heavenly Bamboo and how seriously low maintenance they are.  I’ll give you my easy pruning trick for Nandina and you’ll be all set to use this shrub, a low maintenance year round beauty, in your Portland landscape.

What’s the problem with shearing Nandina?

If it’s so easy to prune why do we see so many sad looking Nandina out there? People try to prune them like a boxwood hedge.  Boxwoods have a typical shrubs’ woody structure and little tiny leaves.  They can be sheared and look pretty good.  Nandina are a multiple cane plant with a compound leaf composed of many oval shaped leaves.  The best way to ruin their appearance is to shear them into little round balls or squares.

Ugly Nandina in Portland Landscape Need Pruning TipRestore leggy sparse leafed Nandina plants

These photos illustrate embarrassing ugly examples of Nandina out there in commercial and residential landscapes.  These sad plants at my local bank have not been pruned at all.  If yours look this bad, hold off on tossing them.

Portland Landscape Designer's example of poor pruning techniqueWe could correct these ugly leggy Nandinas’ appearance in one year by applying the pruning technique I have illustrated here.  These Nandina domestica ‘Gulfstream’ could look amazing with regular irrigation and pruning once every year or two.

My drawing “Fix Leggy Nandina” illustrates restoring a Nandina that has developed leggy bare canes (or stems if you like).  It has no foliage at the base of the plant.

The Cool Trick to Pruning Nandina

The simplest pruning technique is to cut 1/3rd of the canes to the ground and call it done.  This technique will get you a much better plant once the new canes sprout. I control the height by selecting the tallest canes to remove.

You can take your easy pruning a step farther and select another 1/3rd of the canes and cut them at different heights.  If you only have 3 canes to work with it would look like my “Fix Leggy Nandinas” illustration and in one year it would have a new cane with leaves on it sprouting from the ground and the stem you cut back would have new stem and leaves above where you made the cut.

When to Prune Nandina

You can prune nandina any time of year here in the Pacific Northwest.  I like to remove canes to use for holiday table decoration in the winter but only from a robust plant with lots of canes.  I  prefer to do restorative pruning (such as in my illustration “Fix Leggy Nandina”) as early as March or as late as May.

How to Prune Dwarf Nandina

The technique is mostly the same, but dwarf varieties like ‘Firepower’ need almost no pruning to contain height and if they get enough sun, they rarely get leggy.  The plant can get too wide so I like to thin a few canes out at the bottom (or up to 1/3rd of my canes) every year to keep the plant from ever getting too wide. This allows the little plant to continue serving as a colorful year round foundation plant for the long term in your landscape.     Here is a good video to illustrate pruning the dwarf varieties.



Read my previous blog about Nandina “Colorful Four Season Plant”

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.


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.




Modern Landscape Design Plants for Portland

Japanese Mondo Grass great for your modern landscape.Modern Landscape Design Plants for Portland

As a Portland landscape designer I enjoy helping clients who want modern landscape design plants.

While well crafted hardscape is the key element to a successful modern style landscape, plant selection and how they are used is critical.

Here are a few things I keep in mind.  Balanced plant repetition, contrasting textures and overall shapes of plants, full season interest plantings, and low maintenance plants.  Keep in mind that the typical plants for modern style are not great for wildlife because they lack diversity.  My designs consider the clients many unique interests. A modern style design can have wildlife friendly plants included.

Here are 10 plants that work well for modern landscape design and are fairly easy to find.

Modern Landscape Design PortlandNarrow Vertical Plants

Japanese Holly ‘Sky Pencil’ – Ilex crenata (pictured)

Italian Cypress ‘Tiny Towers’ – Cupressus semptervirens

Italian Cypress ‘Swane’s Golden’ – Cupressus sempervirens

Portland Landscape Designer likes Black Mondo GrassLow Edger Plants

Black Mondo grass   –  Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’

Green Japanese Mondo grass  –  Ophiopogon japonicus

Cushion Bolax – Azorella trifurcata ‘Nana’ (Stepable Groundcover)

Hens and Chicks – Sempervivum

Other Grasses and Shrubs

Grama Grass ‘ Blonde Ambition‘ – Boutelous gracilis

American Switch Grass ‘ Shenendoah’ – Panicum virgatum

Nandina D. ‘Firepower’ – Nandina domestica (dwarf form)

Hebe (prostrate form) – Hebe Albicans ‘Sussex Carpet’  

If you are looking to update your design for a modern landscape, contact Carol and start your perfect outdoor space.


Modern NW Natural Landscape Design

Emily after backyard

Freshly installed Landscape Design in a Day. Emily says, “Carol got my desire for simplicity and my style both with the plant material and the hardscapes.”

My new client Emily contacted me with two problems.  One – she needed a landscape design for her new home that would be pleasing and fit her space and her style.  She wanted to enjoy being outdoors in her small backyard in the summer.  She knew she didn’t want lawn and she wanted entertaining space.  She had a small terrace outside the kitchen door which is certainly big enough for a cuppa coffee, but it didn’t feel naturalistic and certainly wasn’t big enough to entertain.

Two – no matter what sort of landscape design we did she would need regular landscape maintenance.  In addition to finishing school, she spends a significant amount of time in France with family.  Lots of people say they need low maintenance.  Emily really needed low maintenance and a professional gardener who would not trim her Japanese maples into lollypops in her absence.

Dziedzic before backyard

Spring of 2016 Emily’s new landscape was overrun with weeds.

When she called me late spring of 2016 her landscape was completely overrun with weeds, and her plants (recently planted fall of 2015) were struggling.   Emily is an affectionado of minimalist design. Her ultra modern Westmoreland home is designed for renting out the bottom floor and she has a tenant. Emily loves ferns and Japanese maples. She prefers green leaves to the overly colorful variegated designer plants. She loves a woodsy naturalistic style for her plantings but wanted a minimalist modern style for any hardscaping.

Tough Environment for plants – Dry Shade

Three huge maple trees in neighboring landscapes created deep to dappled shade.  In summer they took all the water and in winter they buried the landscape in pounds of wet mucky leaves.   Fall clean up with Oregon Bigleaf maple starts in December.  It is not the romantic vision of a person wearing a light sweater whistling and raking up dry pretty leaves. You’re wearing rain gear and using a shovel lifting up pounds and pounds of wet muck.   Many plants would simply rot and die.  I would need to carefully select plants that can survive being buried by such a deluge of leaves. This was a tough environment for plantings.

Dziedzic acer-japonicum-aconitifolium

Emily loves Japanese maples. We selected Acer Aconitifolium ‘Full Moon’ Japanese maple for her shaded backyard.

Design Decisions

On our design day we focused on the backyard. She had one window on the second floor (the kitchen window) and I selected a special Japanese maple, two king-size ferns and some small evergreen shrubs to see in winter. The Japanese maple has both a hot spring leaf color and strong red fall color.  It was a lovely if obvious choice.   Her downstairs tenant had an egress window so I kept the plantings low to keep all the available light.

Privacy Plantings

To create privacy between properties we used three small evergreen trees with tiny leaves to contrast with the Oregon Bigleaf maple.  The rest of the plants were selected for summer interest because they would not be seen in the winter from the house.

Materials create the style

Dziedzic during back yard

Brian of D & J Landscape Contractors placing HydraPressed concrete slabs for woodland modern garden.

When I am designing a modern landscape, materials are everything.  The new modern landscape design, which is actually not all that new anymore, can become a cliché of itself.  Straight line paths without proportional balance look uninviting and cold. We used a warm gray HydraPressed concrete slab that is the epitome of modern style and will last forever if properly installed. We created two patio spaces and connected them with wide paths.  It looks like one space with plants flowing in between. This is a lot of hardscape for a backyard so you might think it would look harsh. Plantings will cover every square inch of soil and create such a lush and full complement so that the patios are fully integrated visually.  It’s a balancing act between hardscape and planted space.  Another help toward a serene and simple look is the lack of lawn.  Lawn, patio and plantings in such a narrow landscape wood tend to create a busy feeling and of course lawn would not thrive in such a shaded woodsy environment.

100 shades of green

It was important to honor Emily’s love of green leafed plants but in order to achieve the lushness needed to integrate the design, I had to find a way to provide a variety of textures (leaf shape, sheen, shade of green, habit of plant branches, etc.).   My ideal for Emily’s garden is that you could take a picture of it with black-and-white film and it would still look incredibly beautiful because of the contrasting textures and varying shades of green.

Garden Design for Gardeners

Japanese maple – Acer Palmatum ‘Shindeshojo’

Because Emily loves Japanese maples she will have a succession of seasonal color changes to entertain her from spring to fall. The plantings we used are fairly low water once mature but it would be difficult to establish the plantings without irrigation because the huge Oregon Bigleaf maples roots will steal water from the new plants. With Emily’s school schedule and traveling, an irrigation system was necessary for long-term success.  No one wants to saddle their tenant with the job of hand watering the landscape.

Emily’s comments

Dziedzic backyard during wheel barrow

August of 2016 was too hot to transplant Emily’s favorite maple. The contractor and I redesigned the hardscape layout so we could leave her existing maple undisturbed.

Emily is very happy with the design “I absolutely love the garden and am so excited about it.  It’s wonderful.”

Willamette Heights Hillside Landscape Design

Willamette Heights Hillside Landscape Design Portland, Oregon

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

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

Hillside Residential 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 Portland, Oregon 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. Read More →