Archive for low maintenance landscape

Sloped Front Yard Landscape Design for Foster Powell Neighborhood Home

Before Landscape Design in a Day in Foster Powell neighborhood Portland OregonSloped Front Yard Landscape Design For Foster Powell Neighborhood Home

Peter and Lynn are patient people and maybe even a little old fashioned.  They purchased their home, made some repairs and updates, waited a bit, then hired me to create a landscape design for their back yard, installed it all themselves and waited for the front yard. This took several years. They hired me again to create a design for the front yard. 

Peter isn’t a lawn guy and I’m sure in the years between projects he wanted the lawn hump in the front yard gone gone gone gone.  When one considers the age of the home (built in 1917) and the fact it has always had the lawn hump, imagine the number of times it was mowed. Past home owners used thousands of gallons of water over the years to try to keep the hump green in the summer to no avail.  The water just rolled off. Peter had no intention to continue this tradition.

A landscape design is never about a single issue. A front yard landscape design is all about integrating the home and its land, however small, into harmony. I want it to welcome its humans, their friends and family and be an asset to the neighborhood.  This landscape design, however, is going to be very satisfying when we de hump this home.

Landscape problems

Entry walk way landscape design in Foster Powell neighborhood Portland OregonThe front yard was not welcoming and did not match the attractive bungalow’s interior or the fantastic back yard landscape.  The overgrown shrubs had been carved into lumps decades ago and while they were healthy, they did not fit my clients landscape vision. The driveway side needed some retaining to hold the steep slope. We could not magically lose the steep slope but we could soften it. The front yard looked even shorter in depth than it was which effected the curb appeal of the home.  This home was not visually connected to its land. While the hump of grass was partially responsible, the small straight front steps and walk lined up to the door added to the effect.

The area at the top of slope was narrow and allowed only 3’ of level area to walk around the house or access the driveway. Another problem, the parking strip floods in the winter from water that originates at the top-level area of the front yard.

Landscape design solutions

Entry walk way landscape design in Foster Powell neighborhood Portland OregonMove the front steps to one side to create an illusion of more depth.  Add some depth to the top grade of the yard.  Replace the hump of grass (sound of applause) by placing boulders to hold the new wider level area. Add plantings to soften and partner with the boulders. Add a catch basin to collect and direct winter water into a pseudo rain garden (after consulting with a drainage expert). Create an environment where the water can percolate down deep in the soil and eliminate or greatly lessen the winter swamp in the parking strip. Using boulders on the driveway side allows us to integrate this area into the front yard, and welcome people who park in the driveway. The boulders create planting areas and the new plants add softening and interest.

Boulder retaining wall landscape design in Foster Powell neighborhood Portland OregonA steep sloped front yard landscape cannot be “fixed” with a planting plan alone. Plants are wonderful but without the grading and boulders, it will never work. Covering a steep short slope with plants would mean impossible maintenance and it would not look good no matter what was planted. The hump would still be accentuated.

As soon as our design solution went to boulders it meant that while Peter will general the job, he will not be able to DIY the boulders. They DIYed as much as they could.

Landscape design plants

Lynn likes silver and gray green leafed plants. Silver and gray foliage plants are typically sun lovers. They wanted some NW native plants in their design.

No lawn landscape design in Foster Powell neighborhood Portland Oregon

Hebe Albicans ‘Sussex Carpet’

Russian Sage, many forms of sedum, both groundcovers and upright plants like Sedum ‘Xenox’. Helianthemun, euphorbia, hebe, phlomis and manzanita were some of the low water plants used. A fig tree creates privacy to the living room window and figs to the table. I gave Lynn a NW native plant combination for brown elfin butterfly which is sedum ‘Cape Blanco’ and native huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum in this landscape.

No lawn landscape design in Foster Powell neighborhood Portland OregonHere’s one Lynn added from Xera Plants.  Brachyglottis greyi/Senecio greyi or Daisy Bush. I love the fabulous silver green evergreen foliage and the plants very low water needs.

No lawn landscape design in Foster Powell neighborhood Portland Oregon

Phlomis ‘Russeliana’ is another silver gray green foliage plant that looks good in winter too.

They used my plant broker Brian Bradshaw for many of their plants (saving more money) and installed the stairs and paths, irrigation and plantings………..beautifully. Not all of us can DIY but we can admire those who do.

I dropped by the other day and took photos. The garden is about 18 months old. “We’re very happy with the design and how everything came together.”  Peter.No lawn landscape design in Foster Powell neighborhood Portland Oregon

Portland Backyard Heaven Landscape Design Renovation

Portland Backyard Landscape Design Renovation

Before Foster Powell back yard landscape design portland OregonMaking a backyard heaven the DIY way started with Peter and Lynn contacting me for a landscape design in the Foster Powell neighborhood. While they are solid DIYers, they also believe in getting professional help where it is needed. They wanted a designer who prefers collaboration with clients.  Landscape Design in a Day creates the heart of the design with the clients at their home. This idea was appealing to them and so we found ourselves working together at the kitchen table.

Client desires

This home, built in 1917, had existing plantings and my clients had furnishings they wanted to work into the design.

After Foster Powell back yard landscape design portland OregonWe kept:

The back property line laurel hedge

The revered and large western red cedar

The old lilac trees for privacy in the summer

Their small apple tree

2 red Adirondack chairs

Foster Powell back yard landscape design with reused adirondack chairs in portland OregonA picnic table

Free standing stumps to use for fire pit seating

We removed

All of the rough lawn, trees of heaven and other invasive weeds.

Design usable areas with good flow and good integration

A deck/back porch seating area, dining area for their

Large picnic table, a fire pit area

Low water plants, raised beds for edibles

Designers take

I wanted easy inviting access into the backyard.  I designed a porch that serves 4 purposes: a threshold level for BBQ with a step down to seating (where we used the red Adirondacks) and built in their raised beds.  I love that our BBQ area is large enough to comfortably pass the person doing the BBQing and to access the backyard.

Foster Powell back yard landscape design outdoor dining space in portland Oregon Before Portland backyard landscape was redesigned.At ground level I created 2 more outdoor rooms: a dining area big enough for the extra-large picnic table and a fire pit.

Honor the old native cedar tree

I placed drought tolerant plants near the old cedar tree as that would be the best compatible planting companions for the tree.

My first peek at the finished landscape design

The first time I saw the installation of the design was winter.  I was so happy to see how the planters around the deck, which make the deck seem more like a porch to me and eliminate the need for railing…………were full of tall overwintering kale still being harvested in early February. Even in winter I could see what an excellent installation they had done. Peter’s only regret with his DIY work was that he did not get the exact crushed rock we had specified and this rock would not compact.

I loved how before the design, with the landscape more than a bit rough, Peter and Lynn would still sit out in the backyard even though they had no stairs from the house.  We are all different but when you love being outdoors, having a fabulous backyard is very important.  This garden calls them to come be outdoors.  Time spent in this gardenly backyard and memories made are relished.

Clients comment and link to their front yard landscape design

Peter says , “We’re very happy with the design and how everything came together.”  Please see the front yard design we created together a few years after the back yard was installed.  Sloped front yard landscape design for foster powell neighborhood home.

If you like to do it yourself but need a plan, contact me to make an appointment and start the landscape design process!

Resistance is Futile-Plants that take over your landscape

Resistance is Futile-Plants that take over your landscape.

 

This blog is about attractive plants that take over your landscape.  They are tempting and for sale at most garden centers.

Star Trek The Next Generation came out 20+ years ago but I was busy building my landscape design practice and raising a stepdaughter so I missed the whole thing.

Maybe I’m just going to seed as I recently watched all seven seasons in short order. I encountered the Borg and was impressed with their ability to take over a universe. The Borg remind me of certain plants that will happily assimilate your entire garden and need to be avoided. 

Here’s a list of plants that are as devastating as the Borg and good at propagating their own kind without any assistance. They have an aggressive spreading growth habit and yet they are still sold at most nurseries and garden centers in spite of their thuggish nature. Be warned.

Foliage of houttynia 'Chamelon', is an aggressive spreader in Portland Oregon gardens.

Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’ Photo Source

Here is a beauty of a beast: Houttuynia

Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’ –  I’ve never known anyone who (once it was planted ever managed to get rid of it. It is famous for aggressive roots that will grow through other plants and overpower them. It can seed although it hasn’t in any of my clients gardens because I never use it.  Look at how cute the variegated leaf  is!

Aggressive Japanese Bloodgrass in Portlands' Raleigh Hills residential landscape design

Japanese Bloodgrass, Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’, can spread indefinitely

Japanese Bloodgrass Spreads

Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’ or ‘Rubra’- Japanese blood grass is a spreader but it can be dug out and eventually (as in years of work later) be banished but don’t sacrifice your time to this plant…you will be sorry!!

Aggressive Ribbon Grass in NW Portland parking lot is well contained by boulders.

Ribbon Grass, Phalaris arundinacea

Ribbon Grass is on the Fence

Ribbon Grass, Phalaris arundinacea, is a plant that can be very difficult to eradicate but if a designer suggests it for a contained area that doesn’t mean they are a newbie.  It is planted in a parking lot that I frequent. It’s been trapped there over 9 years and has not escaped. I myself have never used it in a design but it is very very low maintenance.   Here is an article regarding success in killing the ribbon grass. 

Front yard of North Portland Row House is lost to Aspens aggressive growth habit.

This stand of Aspens (Populus tremuloides) started out as one trunk!

Aspen Trees

Aspen trees, Populus tremuloides, are beautiful in a forest but not good for tiny city plotsOne tree will become many and fill your soil space with invasive roots that lift walkways, invade foundations and water lines and leave companion plants with no water or nutrition. See this great article from designer pal Beth Goodnight regarding the evils of aspen and some alternative suggestions.

Keep Mint in a Pot

If mint gets away from you – you will never get rid of it. Some people plant it in a pot and keep it on a concrete patio. The roots can escape from the pot and once it spreads in your soil you will have it forever so I never set my pot of mint into a planting bed. I like having mint for soups but it is strictly a container plant. 

Japanese Anemone in Portlands' Grant Park neighborhood in low maintenance residential garden design.

Japanese Anemone is beautiful but travels fast

Japanese Anemone and Bishops Weed in the Right Spot Only

Japanese anemone, Anemone sp., should only be used by experts. This one is very very seductive and over the top beautiful. It travels by root which is the problem. I like to use it in very low maintenance planting plans/landscape designs and in parking strips where it is easily contained. It doesn’t seem to invade the lawn so I’ve used it in plant borders too.

Bishops weed, Aegopodium podagraria, should be planted by people who know exactly what they are in for. It can be contained in the parking strip or a low maintenance planting where you have nothing but shrubs. Large shrubs with bishops weed as a ground cover can be a functional landscape choice. If I use it I have a rule:  You are not allowed to ever give a start of it to a friend.      

There are, of course, many plants besides my short list that should be avoided or used with caution. These plants are the stars of this blog because they are so attractive, tempting and readily available at your local garden center.

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.

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.

Many varieties require a lot of sun and will look leggy and sparse in the shade.  They will look so bad they will be removed. Some varieties will take more shade so you have to know which is which.  Best practice is to plant in at least 4 hours of strong sun.

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.