Archive for low water plantings

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 

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

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

Willamette Heights Hillside 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 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.

Portland Landscape Designer with smaller ego

She called me looking for an experienced landscape design collaborator to help her create and install her vision. I came by to meet her and see the property. We started in the big kitchen with tall beautifully framed windows and French doors to the backyard. This room was the heart of the home. We had views into the woods which were uphill from the level yard.  The landscape was divided from the woods by a low rustic rubble rock wall. She knew what she wanted and it was not typical. For starters, she didn’t want the rustic rubble wall rebuilt or made more substantial. She wanted a large flagstone area that could be play area and entertaining area. She needed me to take her idea and make sure it didn’t end up looking like they had paved the backyard.  She wanted the man made to melt into the nature made forest.

Low Maintenance Garden Design

WM sized Ericson before black plastic wasteland

The backyard weeds had exploded and the first winter turned the yard into a mud pit. It was too shady for grass.

It is a large landscape overall. They had put in a lot of time and effort with the front yard and that was working well.  The backyard weeds had exploded and the winter rains made a mud pit. They installed 2,000 sq feet of black plastic.  The black plastic was not happy making but she didn’t have the time or the inclination to make the entire property her hobby.

The plantings needed to be simple both for style and for practicality. Since the woods were wonderful all on their own, it was the wasteland that lay between the house and that wall that would be our subject.

What’s the Style?  Minimalist NW Natural 

We want simple lines and minimal plantings to keep from distracting us from the woods. Just like the interior, the exterior can be simplified without going too modern. In the early 1900’s there was a huge social change called the Arts and Crafts movement. People were suddenly interested in native plants, hiking, sleeping outdoors…these were big changes from the Victorians who worried that night air was harmful to your health. A craftsmen house, even a grand one like this looks great with simple  NW natural style plantings.   The minimalist style of using fewer varieties of plants also makes it lower maintenance which was another top priority for her.

The pathway to the woods

something about Arah working with Landsape East and West

There are 4 different garden rooms, the path to the woods, a small lounging area, a play area and an area for a large rustic picnic table.

The pathway to Forest Park was just waiting for my attention ………I say take a good thing and make it more dramatic, bigger and make it a destination by adding other elements that enhance and point to it. There was an earthen path already but I moved it over a few feet, added rustic stone steps up to the path and a few large sitter rocks that added drama to this gateway. It’s going to be a great place to hang out for big and small people.

Make the rooms work

She wanted a big flagstone patio.  I added in the shapes of the planting beds being careful that each flagstone area was big enough to be useful as play area or sitting area. The shapes of the beds keep the flagstone patio from taking over visually and the spacing between the flagstones grew larger as it got further from the house.  The views from the window filled kitchen were kept focused on the woods by using low plantings with only a few verticals.

 The Installation Process

Erickson during backyard

My client directing placement of flagstone.

They interviewed three landscape installation companies and selected a well known company but not one I worked with. Hillside landscape designs cost more to install because there is always  additional expense for bringing materials in. Having an experienced company to manage the logistics was important.  They used a crane to deliver all the materials even the yards and yards of crushed rock. It’s wasn’t practical to bring anything up the long stairs from the street.  She worked with the contractors herself and used me for advice. She called me in to work with her contractor on the boulder placement and to fine tune the flagstone placement to ensure each area was the right shape for maximum play and entertaining space.

Client’s Comments
Her final note on the design drawing……..”I went through the plan in detail and really like it. I feel like you ‘got’ the low-key NW, drought tolerant, blend into forest part style really well. I am excited to move forward with our design.  Carol gave me referrals to 2 great landscape contractors so I was picking from a good pool. The final results are both a pleasure and a great relief.   Yes the mud is gone but more importantly now I have a large outdoor living room that is very attractive and usable.  I also look out from my kitchen and I see my design, the one I dreamed up.  Carol helped me make this vision real. I appreciated the flexibility of her Landscape Design in a Day process.”

Colorful Cape Fuchsia Makes Beautiful Summer Memories

Cracker Jack on Barnes Road roof garden

My cat loved to watch hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds love Cape Fuchsia for the nectar.  I love to use it in designs because it adds so much color, is easy to grow and the new varieties work well with modern and cottage garden styles.  This plant is a crowd pleaser and I use it frequently.

I planted my first Cape Fuchsia, Phygelius x rectus ‘Salmon Leap’  on my roof garden in Portland’s West Hills.  It was at 900 feet and we had snow every year even though I was 5 minutes away from downtown Portland.   The house was designed so that the third floor master suite had easy access to and a view of my roof garden.  It had a hot tub that was 20 feet from my bed, a big overstuffed outdoor sofa with an overhead cover and plenty of Cape Fuchsia!  In spite of the colder winters, the Cape Fuchsia (native to South Africa) never flagged or failed in the 12 years I lived there.  I loved my roof garden and the only family members who loved it more were the 4 leggeds, Barley,  Cee Cee and Cracker Jack.  One particular day everyone was curled up on the big overstuffed sofa.  I was reading and pets were napping.  All was peaceful.  I heard a strange whirring noise.  At first I didn’t see anything unusual.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw my pets’ heads were going up and then down and then up and then down, I looked up to see a small blur. What did I see?  What was happening?

Portland roof garden

My roof garden 2006.

We were witnessing a hummingbird mating ritual.  The male made a 90 foot oval flight pattern to within an inch of his intended.  She was steadfastly ignoring him and drinking nectar from my Cape Fuchsia.  There wasn’t even a flicker in his direction.  The buzzing sound was made by his high speed downward trajectory.  It abated on the way up.   It was mesmerizing.  It was one of those wonderful garden memories that I treasure.    Just us mammals all watching the entertainment together.

If you would like to have some close encounters with hummingbirds or you just love colorful plants, the Cape Fuchsia is the perfect addition to your garden.  The best hummingbird attractors are the older varieties because they flower in the most intense coral red shades.  My favorites are ‘Devils Tears’, ‘Salmon Leap’ and ‘African Queen’, but they are too big and a bit too rowdy for a small yard.

The new varieties are more compact and a little tidier in habit.  The flower colors are available in more traditional shades.  When these new colors first came on the market I was annoyed.  I felt like they had dumbed down a great plant by removing the coral shades…….but then I saw it wasn’t an either or.  I now had more choices and that is always a good thing for a garden designer.

If you love modern landscape design style but don’t want to give up color, these new Cape Fuchsia are perfect for you.

Here are 2 new varieties from Skagit Gardens:

Croftway purple prince cape fuchsia

Skagit Gardens’ Croftway Purple Prince is an intense magenta.

Phygelius Aequalis ‘Croftway Purple Prince’ has that intense magenta color.  I think it looks really good with Black Mondo Grass………Morticia Adams where are you now?  It glows in the evening light.  ‘Croftway Purple Prince’ is cold hardy for the Pacific Northwest and listed as zone 6 Yah!

Phygelius Aequalis ‘Croftway Yellow Sovereign’ is 18 to 24 inches tall by 24 inches wide.  Many soft yellow flowers burn in full sun but ‘Yellow Sovereign’ can take the heat.

Full sun easy care yellow sovereighn cape fuchsia

Skagit Gardens’ Yellow Sovereign does not scorch in full sun.

Barbara Ashmun, Portland garden writer has a great article about Cape Fuchsia’s.

I don’t tend to use the older varieties of Cape Fuchsia in front yards as the winter appearance is a little ragged.  If you love this plant like I do, simply cut it to the ground in mid December for a tidy look.

Hummingbirds Favorite Summer Flower

Portland Garden Designer Loves Colorful Cape Fuchsia

Phygelius with Phormium from ANLD tour

Phygelius planted along side Phormium. Picture from ANLD garden tour.

Cape Fuchsia, Phygelius, is a colorful, low maintenance long blooming summer flower for the Pacific Northwest.  I use it in landscape designs for clients who love color and watching hummingbirds.  It’s a personal favorite of mine.

If you are a person who wants a very tidy landscape that looks perfect all year long, this is not your plant.  I consider this plant to be low maintenance.  The winter appearance is not tidy but clients who love the color and the show simply cut it to the ground in December.  It can spread some.  In the spring if the plant is taking more territory than you want, simply pull on the stem that is straying.  Pull it out of the ground and cut the root off near the mother plant.  It is very easy, I promise.  Give it lots of sun, decent soil and water the first year.  It will need less water the following year.  Some clients water it about once every two weeks.

By the way, there is nothing wrong with needing a calm and low maintenance landscape.  We are all unique and a plant that makes one person feel delight can make another person feel claustrophobic.  I notice clients who grew up in climates where plants tend to be sparser can feel uncomfortable with the full flush of plantings possible here.

Morris after back yard

Mass planting of strong plant colors and a path help to break up the lines of the pool.

The first time I used this plant was for Art and Linda in SW Portland.  They had a 1960’s swimming pool in the backyard that dominated.  It visually ate the backyard.  They wanted a cottage garden style with lots of color.  My design solution successfully put the pool in a subordinate position to the landscape.  I created some great paths and shapes for the planting beds that broke up the lines of the pool visually.  We needed masses of strong plant color in the backyard to offset the powerful aqua rectangle.   I’m not a big color wheel garden designer but colors like coral and salmon are opposite the wheel from aqua. The Cape Fuchsia flowers are perfect for this situation because they flower in these colors and they flower all summer, hitting their stride during hot weather.  My clients enjoy hanging out by the pool and are entertained by the antics of hummingbirds.  Hummingbirds are strongly attracted to the hot coral red tones of the Cape Fuchsia.

Morris before back yard

Art and Linda’s back yard needed some color to offset the aqua of the pool water.

My favorite planting combination for this design was Panicum Virgatum, American Switch Grass ‘Heavy Metal’ with the Phygelius x recta ‘Devils Tears’.   They are a perfect contrast combination! The Switch Grass blade is a fine silvery blue texture.  It contrasts with the Cape Fuchsia’s dark green leaf and hot colored tubular flowers.  The inside of the tube is a mellow lemon yellow but mostly the hummingbirds are the ones who see this.

Phygelius picture from Joy Creek

Phygelius ‘Salmon Leap’.   Janet Loughrey photo from Joy Creek Nursery

If you research this plant on the internet, you may think Cape Fuchsia are not cold hardy here since they are native to South Africa.  Many plant authorities also say these plants need a lot of water.  I don’t agree.  I have grown them at 900 feet on a roof garden and only watered them every two weeks.  They were successful for 12 years and were still there when I moved.

I’m always advocating for low water use so planting Cape Fuchsia with American Switch Grass results in a very low water landscape pairing.

While I love the old fashioned varieties, the new varieties  are shorter and flower in softer more traditional colors.  This has made the Cape Fuchsia a more versatile plant that works well for small properties and containers.  The only drawback to the new varieties  is the softer colors.   When you select a softer color you lose some of the hummingbird magnet effect but you still get a great plant.  Check out other great hummingbird plants.

 

Dwarf Mugo Pine – Get the Right Plant!

Pinus Mugo 'Sherwoods Compact'

Textured trio of ‘Sherwoods Compact’ dwarf pine, Sempervivum (hen and chick), Arabis (rock cress)

For success in the landscape (which I define as “right plant right place”), it’s important to get the exact plant specified by your designer.

Early in my career I specified three dwarf Mugo Pine.  I wanted a uniform pin cushion shape to contrast with ornamental grasses and succulents.  I wanted the pines to stay small, and contrast with the grasses that would be two thirds bigger. This was my vision.  What happened instead was three dwarf Mugo Pine ‘Nana’ grew into three different shapes and heights!  None of them stayed small.  The fact is plants grown from seeds can be as variable as your siblings.  My brother and I have blue eyes, my sister has green eyes, I’m a redhead my brother a brunette and my sister’s a blonde.

I learned that seed grown dwarf pines are variable, only plants grown from cuttings of a named cultivar could be trusted.  I knew this in theory but the industry was deceptive in labeling.  I now knew to avoid any dwarf conifer called ‘Nana’!  That was a secret code word for seed propagated.

Pinus Mugo 'Slowmound' is another favorite trusted dwarf pine

Pinus Mugo ‘Slowmound’ is another favorite trusted dwarf pine

Then I was told that ‘Pumilo’ was a named variety and it stayed low.  I was tricked again.  The industry was also using seeds from ‘Pumilo’, not cuttings to produce a more affordable and (profitable) dwarf Mugo Pine. For many years I did not use any Mugo Pine at all, mainly because I was disgusted.

When specific size and shape uniformity are needed always select plants grown from cuttings or tissue culture.  People who work at retail nurseries are sometimes ignorant of these finer points.

These days I need dwarf evergreens, particularly pines, for my clients because they are true low maintenance.  They are low water, no pruning or candling required, they take hot full sun even next to concrete, and they look great year round.  These true dwarf pines won’t get too tall in 10  years.  So I had to find sources and growers I could trust.

The varieties I use and where I get them:

Oregon Small Trees is a private wholesale nursery/grower.  The owner, Dave Leckey and his daughter, grow all of their plant material from cuttings.  It takes many years to grow dwarf plants to a good size for the landscape.  I also specify plants grown by Iseli Nursery and another resource is Buchholz & Buchholz Nursery.  None of these resources are retail, you have to buy their plants through a plant broker or in the case of Iseli, those plants can be found at Portland Nursery, Cornell Farms and Farmington Gardens.

Notice the fine texture of this needled pine.

Notice the fine texture of this needled pine.

Pinus Mugo ‘Sherwoods Compact’ is a favorite of my clients, they love the texture of the needles.  I like Pinus Mugo ‘SlowMound’ a bit better for some designs.  It’s a darker green.  My favorite miniature Mugo Pine is called ‘Donna’s Mini’ and I’ll spend more money to get a larger tiny plant when I use ‘Donna’s Mini’.  It grows less than 1 inch a year in ideal circumstances.