Willamette Heights Hillside Landscape Design
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
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
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
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.
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.”