Archive for No Lawn

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.”

Cedar Mills Woodland Garden Design

Cedar Mills Woodland Landscape Design

Dave and Noelle love the dyed concrete used for the lower patio entertaining area.

I drove out to Cedar Mills in NW Portland to meet prospective landscape design clients Dave and Noelle.  They were sitting out in their large front yard on a semi private patio.  It was surrounded by large trees and was an idyllic setting.  It was early evening in late summer.  Dave opened a bottle of wine and we talked about their new home and goals for their landscape.  They were newlyweds.

Dave and Noelle are the ultimate DIYers and fearlessly tackled many aspects of remodeling their “new to them” contemporary home.  The landscape was a different story.  We all must balance the demands of work and our lives with the time it can take to DIY.

Sloped back yard before design

The clients found their sloped back yard intimidating. The backyard was a blank slate.

Dave had installed an irrigation system in the past. They knew they could probably plant and do some of the landscaping work. The design however was beyond them.  Their sloped property was intimidating.

Hills after Daves truck

Finally, a place for Dave to park his truck.

Wish List:

  • Privacy for entertaining areas and the hot tub
  • Entertaining space
  • No lawn
  • Blueberries
  • A parking area for Dave’s beloved truck
  • Paths that created access and flow around the entire property
  • Create plantings that will fit with the existing rustic woods
  • Make the best use of the space in the sloped smaller back yard
  • Create year round color in the landscape plantings
  • Planting style NW Natural
  • A weeping Japanese maple somewhere prominent for Dave.

The contemporary house backs up to a natural woods and a steep canyon.  The front yard was much larger than the back and although they had a great place to hang out in their front yard, they wanted to enjoy the views of nature in the back yard.  It was a blank slate.

As you can see from the before photos, the doors to the back yard were 2 and 1/2′ above the landscape.  The landscape then sloped down to a canyon that drops off quite steeply.   We didn’t have a nice big back yard with lots of depth.   They wanted to be able to step out of their great room with food and easily settle into a large outdoor entertaining and dining area. Noelle wanted no steps down to the new outdoor dining area.  This meant we would need to work hard for privacy from the neighbors.

Northwest Natural stone path

Rustic stone path integrates the garden rooms.

What I love about this design:

I created 3 rooms at different levels.  We added grade to create privacy and used our new raised outdoor dining area to provide screening for the lower dyed concrete patio and the lower still hot tub room.  I created a boulder rockery that surrounds the raised dining area and created lots of planting pockets.  We planted this boulder rockery to soften the effect of the large boulders.  Raising the planting beds allowed us the opportunity to improve the heavy clay soil.

As a Portland landscape designer I never miss a chance to improve our local clay soil.  Soil preparation is such a good investment.

To create privacy for the hot tub room, I placed it on the lowest level – same level as the woods and planted in front of it.  This created a view of plants from the master bedroom, not the view of the hot tub.  I’ve yet to have clients who think the hot tub itself is a thing of beauty.

Boulders create softening with planting pockets.

Boulders create softening with planting pockets.

Materials that were used in this landscape included large boulders from Gales Creek Quarry.  The patio was a dyed and textured concrete.  The new dining area surface is 24″ x 24″ concrete slabs installed onto deck framing.  The planter adjacent to the dining area is made of concrete board and planted with full season color plants such as heather and dwarf evergreen shrubs.

Other plants we used for this design:  Acer Palamatum Shaina – Japanese Maple, Vaccineum Tophat – Dwarf Blueberry, Cryptomeria Sekkan Sugi – Japanese Cedar, Pieris Japonica Little Heath  – Dwarf Lilly of the Valley shrub, specialty heather varieties, many varieties of evergreen succulents and low water ornamental grasses.

I was on site for grading and boulder work and worked closely with longtime contractor and excavator Joe Hurd.  It was a pleasure to be able to sculpt the grade into a design that made such great use of the space.  Each room was spacious and functional and flowed into the next.

Porch stone work DIY

Here’s an example of one of Noelle’s many DIY projects. She did the stone work for her front porch.

Dave and Noelle loved their new landscape.  They watched the concrete contractor create their dyed concrete patio very closely.  Our next project was a planting plan for the front yard and more grading and boulder work.  A few years later Dave and Noelle replaced the old front yard paver patio and path with new dyed concrete all by themselves.  Natch.  Fearless DIYers.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Low Water Landscape Design for Young Family

Test after

After: New design includes drought tolerant plants and street tree.

TJ and Lori contacted me via Plant Native. They had a new house and were in the process of growing their family.  I love to design the landscape where my client’s children will grow up.  Its so satisfying!  We are creating the places where important moments, family traditions and their memories will be made.  During the interview, I asked about edibles.  They laughed and said in unison “Beans”!  Green beans were important and there was clearly some family joke about them.  Their wish list was extensive  but the top 5 were curb appeal, low water use, Rain Garden for disconnected down spouts, no lawn, four season plantings and a screen to define their property form their  neighbors without resorting to a fence…….and a place for green beans.

Test before

Before Landscape Design in a Day

We solved the curb appeal issue by designing the parking strip as if it were part of the front yard.  This added needed depth and gave the large front facade of the house the feel of a much larger front yard.  The rain gardens had boulders with interesting plantings that added drama to the scene.

Test parking strip

True Dwarf Pines and herbs brighten parking strip.

parking strip stepables anderson

Elfin Pink Thyme acts as stepables for flagstone path.

The parking strip was 8′ wide so was treated as an extension of the front yard, and we need that 8′!  The house with such a tiny front yard floated.  The new design integrated the parking strip into the front yard and “planted” the house visually.

Typically no designer would select the driveway for family quality time.  As we worked together it became clear that the deep spacious driveway was the perfect place for the edibles garden and play space.  The driveway got a privacy treatment,  a large arbor set within a stone planter.    The planter acts as art, adds curb appeal, and visually softens the size of the driveway .  It’s a functional divide between the properties and it can be seen from inside the house, replacing the view of the neighbors side yard and house wall.  Guess what they grow on the curved iron trellis – Green Beans.  People tall and short sit on the planter cap to garden and talk or play.

photo (82)

Stone planter with an arbor.  Click here to see more stone planter options.

My Top 5 Stepable Plants for Paths

Thymus Praecox 'Coccineus' in North Portland parking strip

Creeping Thyme (Thymus Praecox ‘Coccineus’) in Portland parking strip

I pick plants for my clients very carefully and especially stepable plants for growing between flagstone.   There are so many plants called stepables and it is easy to select the wrong one, a plant that will cause problems.

Most people don’t want to trial and error plants. They want to know it will the first time so they consult someone like me for guidance.

Here’s how I think about selecting stepable plants.

Hernaria Glabra 'Green Carpet'

Step on those ground covers! That’s why they call them stepables.

I want a plant that doesn’t grow higher than 1″ tall so people won’t  trip over the plant. To keep the plants low they should be stepped on frequently as it will keep them more dense and shorter.  What you don’t want is for them to mound up to a 3″ hill and many of the stepables will do this so good selection is important.  What do I mean by frequently?  Walking on them daily is fine, but at least once or twice a month be sure to step firmly onto the plant.  My grandson Rain helped me plant my flagstone patio.  I went in the house briefly and his friend came running in and said “I keep telling him they’re stepables not stompables.”  I looked up to see my grandson stomping on the freshly planted ground covers.  The plants did survive but I don’t recommend stomping on them.

Leptinella 'Platt's Black'

‘Brass Buttons’ is the mauve toned ferny ground cover.

I want a plant that doesn’t spread too fast and grow over the flagstone quickly.  If you plant a type of stepable that grows too vigorously you will have to be constantly cutting the plant off of the flagstone.  Untended it will completely cover your flagstone.

 Azorella Trifurcata 'Nana'

Cushion Bolax is one of my favorites.

Most of these plants require good drainage in order to grow thickly and repel weeds.  If they don’t grow thickly weed seeds will thrive.  I only use a few varieties of stepables for light shade or morning sun and afternoon shade.

 

Here is my favorites list:

Leptinella with star creeper

Here’s a close up of  ‘Platt’s Black’ Brass Buttons with Star Creeper.

Part shade/part sun:  Leptinella squalida –  New Zealand Brass Buttons.   The variety I prefer is ‘Platt’s Black’.  The other variety of Brass Buttons I like, ‘LePrinella P. Verdigris’ is a bit fast.

Mentha requienii –  Corsican Mint  This is a crowd pleaser because it smells good when you step on them.  This plant does need good drainage, shade and soil that is too wet in the winter will kill this plant.

Plants for sun:

Thymus Serpyllum ‘Elfin’ or ‘Elfin Pink’  – I love this plant and it is truly a flat mat if you step on it.  It does get weeds growing into the middle so it’s not maintenance free, but only garden magazines talk about maintenance free landscapes.

Thymus Serphyllum 'Elfin' or 'Elfin Pink' is a crowd pleaser for hot sunny areas.

Thymus Serphyllum ‘Elfin’ or ‘Elfin Pink’ is a crowd pleaser for hot sunny areas.

Stachys Densiflora ‘Alba’ – Alba Lambs Ear   First of all this plant looks nothing like silvery furry lambs ear.  The leaves are fully evergreen, dark green and leathery.  I love this plant because it doesn’t let weed seeds in.  Plant it on the edges of your path unless you plan to step on it every day, otherwise it will mound up.  It takes full sun easily and the flowering period is fantastic!

Azorella Trifurcata ‘Nana’ – Cushion Bolax   I have this plant at my vacation house.  It occasionally has a dandelion sprout in the middle, but rarely any other kind of weed and I find it to be very low maintenance.

My dog Barley looking at freshly planted Cushion Bolax ground cover.

My dog Barley looking at freshly planted Cushion Bolax ground cover.

I love the texture.  It goes through a change where the little needles feel like a plastic carpet (which sounds bad but is fun) and then it softens into a pettable surface.  The yellow flowers are tiny and cute.

There are a bazillion plants that are called stepables.  I have not trialed them all. Read more…