Archive for outdoor living

North Portland Residential Landscape Design for Shade

North Portland Residential Landscape Design for Shade

Chris and Jennifer of North Portland contacted me for help with their large shady back yard.


They were overwhelmed with the high maintenance of lawn under huge trees. They wanted a back yard for entertaining a large family (with lots of adult kids and future grand kids).  They wanted to DIY and had a strict budget, so spending 20 grand on a concrete patio was not realistic. Views over the fence included other neglected yards and they had a large (evil) tree of heaven that had to go. Many plants had died or looked leggy and sun starved.

The back yard was longer than deep and made creating a design on their own more difficult.


My best contributions were getting the shapes of the new rooms to work with their long but shallow yard. Introducing them to the concept of using cedar chips as their primary surface for entertaining and paths was a perfect fit also. It looks great with their NW Natural style landscape, it’s affordable and it’s very easy to care for. If you get the right kind of chips you can even use a leaf blower on them and they don’t blow away.

We tucked different outdoor rooms into the perimeter of the landscape and kept the existing small concrete patio as a spacious entry to the house and the BBQ center. No more trying to fit a dining table on it as they had done before the design.

Selecting low water plants

The plant selection was also critical.  Shade plants had to survive on the water the big trees would let them have so our palette needed to be all low water plants. We used a lot of sword ferns and kept native plants wherever possible. On the south end we used one of my favorite little evergreen trees, Boxleaf Azara – Azara Microphylla. They planted them up on a berm which made them taller and helped do a faster job of screening out the neighbors garage wall.  Planting Azaras up on a berm prevents root rot since these plants do not tolerate poor drainage.

DIY installed

Their DIY install of the landscape turned out fantastic. They loved their back yard. When change came along, and they had to put their house on the market, the yard was another major asset and selling point. These photos, which they took, are from their marketing page.

I especially love the hammock room. The fire pit patio is clearly the largest entertaining area and is used for lounging with or without a fire. Their fire pit patio is a crushed rock surface, not cedar chips.

The chips continue around to the side yard gate and match the rest of the now low maintenance landscape.

“Carol understood us and got our style for a NW Natural landscape design for our North Portland yard.  We were very happy that she surpassed our expectations for low maintenance, no lawn, great textured plantings, backyard design.  She understood that we wanted to do some of the work ourselves and helped us make a beautiful-yard-on-a-budget a reality.”


Landscape Design for tiny steep backyard

Sango Kaku Japanese Maple set into boulder wall

Sango Kaku Japanese Maple

Big ideas for tiny steep back yard

My new clients were from southern California and now lived in Ridgefield, Washington.  They were  new to the Northwest.   They loved their new home and neighborhood and believed all their difficult small back yard needed was the right designer.

Their lot was challenging.

Their lot was challenging.

The Bodes wanted to make Ridgefield feel like home.   Their list was extensive and precise – their lot was tiny and challenging.  It was one of those small and steep up hill lots.  The builder gave them a slice of level land by building a high utilitarian block wall.  This divided the yard into half and neither half was big enough to do much with.  It’s great that people understand that a good designer can work miracles.  I was flattered they chose me to bring their new outdoor home to life.  It was not going to be easy.

Side yard transformed to easy access edibles garden

Side yard transformed to easy access edibles garden

Lauren and Kathryn’s wish list went like this:

•Large covered outdoor area for year round entertaining

•Covered hot tub room

•Dwarf fruit trees and raised beds for edibles – this was a serious hobby for them

•Convenient access to smoker and BBQ

•Water feature to see from inside the great room for year round enjoyment

•A Sangu Kaku Japanese maple-because they loved it so

They hired me after looking at several designers and we met early one fall morning.  As soon as I saw their lot I knew I’d recommend D & J Landscape Contractors for the installation.  We had teamed up for a similarly difficult site.   Although I am a Portland landscape designer I have several Ridgefield Washington landscape design clients.  See Mastersons swamp to paradise blog.

The Bodes and I  worked together to create their plan using my landscape design in a day process.

Before back porch addition

The basic grading was completed so the back porch addition could be built.

The big items were first.  For seamless outdoor living the thing to do was extend the roof of the house for the cover.  Not inexpensive but an important priority.  We made the ceiling high in this addition so it would add light to the great room and make it feel bigger.  Adding onto the existing small back porch rather than adding a new covered area elsewhere in the landscape kept it simple.  With all the items we needed to add, it would be easy to turn this tiny yard into a hodgepodge.

After back porch addition

After back porch addition


Next the harsh straight wall dividing the landscape in half had to go.    The design broke the steep slope into three levels.   Using naturalistic boulders artfully placed changed this landscape completely.  This is where I have to stop bragging about my spatial skills and brag about the landscape contractor.  It isn’t financially practical or practical in any manner to draw a design that precisely places every boulder.  Sometimes I am on site during construction and I work closely with the excavator to place the boulders but even then it is a very collaborative effort.  Donna Burdick and Brian Woodruff of D & J landscape Contractors  took the design and brought it to life.  It was such a tough site that we were planning to have me on site to help with the artistic efforts but the fall weather was threatening and if they had waited for me, they would have lost an opportunity to install until the next year.  We met on site once and they ran with it……beautifully.

The perfect spot for the smoker.

The perfect spot for the smoker.

A place was made for the smoker just on the edge of the covered back porch.  Nestled among the boulders it sits at a height that makes it an easy reach.

Now that we had created usable space it was easy to nestle the gazebo and tot tub into a curve of the boulder walls.  The hot tub feels private and there is good access.  It is planted beautifully.


The gazebo nestled into the boulder walls to create it's own private hot tub room.

The gazebo nestled into the boulder walls to create it’s own private hot tub room.


Lauren and Kathryn are get it done people.  Lauren built the hot tub gazebo using a kit, designed and built a potting table and storage cabinet for the back porch.  It was such a pleasure to visit them and hear how much they love their new outdoor heaven.

Their easy access raised beds are a delight to use and to behold.

The water feature, a drilled rock with the hidden echo chamber under it is beloved by their young nieces, they love to play in it.  The sound calls them outdoors.

They are home.

Sometimes I feel a little like Santa Claus –  All the boys and girls deserve a wonderful outdoor heaven to play in.