Archive for raised beds

Safe Soil in the City

Portland landscape designer Carol Lindsay

Daizzie and I in my edibles garden

Safe soil in the city – smart and healthy practices for urban gardens

I love having a vegetable garden. It’s healthy, right? I love eating kale and I grow a lot of greens for smoothies year-round.  There are a few concerns about growing food in urban areas. Two concerns that apply to us all, city and suburban, are lead paint and lead exhaust from the past in our soils. Let’s be practical not scary about this.

Is my food safe to eat? What are the most important practices I can do and how can I keep it simple?  My garden is below Highway 30.  It’s an old heavily traveled highway so our soil has years of exposure to lead exhaust.

There’s no way I’d grow my food in the ground here.

My current garden practices

I’ve been assuming my food is safe to eat because:

Our community garden has raised beds with new clean soil from just three years ago.
I apply lots of compost at least three times a year.

Carol's winter kale

My garden supplies me with year round greens like kale.

I use an organic fertilizer. (OK it’s boxed Dr. Earth, not a truckload from Natures Needs because it’s very convenient and my garden is small.)  I don’t know what my NPK ratio is which makes me a bit of a lazy gardener but the food I like to grow does fine.  NPK being Nitrogen, Potassium, Phosphorous.  And yes I was trained as an advanced master gardener and yes that was a very long time ago………they teach you all about soil in the master gardener program.

I wash my produce, no nibbling right out of the garden bed. (OK once in a while a strawberry or tomato).

According to some experts I’m doing OK but I could do a lot better.

My improvements

  1. Soil areas next to old garages often have higher lead levels.

    Soil areas next to old garages often have higher lead levels.

    Reducing exposure to dust is the most effective thing you can do to reduce lead hazard in your landscape. It is typically in the first few inches of soil. This is the most important thing in the blog.  Mulch and compost applications cover your soil and protect it from dust with contaminants in it.    We want to keep the dust and soil off human skin and out of the mouth.  This is critical for babies and small children and good for the rest of us too.  Adding compost has many benefits for improving conditions for plants.  Adding compost at least twice a year can only benefit, there are no drawbacks.

  1. Here at my community garden, we could have put a barrier between our new soil and the existing ground soil. I can still do this once my winter Kale are done in March. I’ll have to get a tarp and dig out a lot of my soil so I’m going to install a metal grid and landscape fabric.  The grid is to keep the moles and gophers out of my raised bed. They may have brought some of the lead contaminated soil up into my new clean soil, and they caused a lot of havoc with the roots of my plants.  Some died or did not produce well because of the soil disturbance.
  1. I could improve the efficacy of washing my veggies by using a 1 percent vinegar solution instead of only using water. I’m thinking a large spray bottle under the sink could be used for my final wash. It’s got to be simple or I won’t do it.

Beyond these good soil management practices, I will need to do a Nutrient Analysis soil test to know what I need to add to my raised beds to improve the health and productivity of my vegetables and bind up any lead and keep it locked into my soil where it won’t cause problems for me.

Portland landscape designer in edibles garden

My garden is below Highway 30. It’s an old heavily traveled highway so our soil has years of exposure to lead exhaust.

Lead Soil Test

My client Katy had an older home in SE Portland.  I suggested a lead soil test.  She collected the soil and submitted samples for a lead test. She discovered the area where we wanted the kids play structure to go had high lead.  It was next to the neighbors’ garage.  Several inches of contaminated soil were removed.  She brought in new soil and playground chips and now has a safe play area for her toddlers.

What’s one new thing you could do this year to improve your landscape or edibles garden?  Get your soil tested.  I’m planning to collect soil from my vegetable garden and submit it to a lab for testing.  I’ll share that experience with you in another blog.

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.

Modern Landscape Design for City Backyard

Jen Martin knew what she wanted and has a strong sense of style but her tiny back yard in NE Portland had her stymied.

After removing the arbor we were able to create an outdoor sitting area.

After removing the arbor we were able to create a multiple use outdoor area.

Jen's tiny backyard with an arbor didn't allow much room for anything else.

Before: Jen’s tiny backyard with an arbor didn’t allow much room for anything else.

Jen wanted play space for her kids, room for growing veggies and more privacy.  The view of her neighbor at her kitchen sink seeing Jen at her kitchen sink was not acceptable!  She had a  sophisticated entertainment area which she wanted to keep but she also wanted room for her kids play structure.  She needed to make every inch of her back yard count.

There was an arbor that gave drama and beauty to the back yard.  It was part of what sold them on the house and yet the first thing I said to remove.  The location of the dramatic arbor ruined the usability of the small yard.

CatWe settled in at the kitchen counter along with her young (but helpful)  Norwegian Forest Cat and created a half dozen “flow” designs as part of her Landscape Design in a Day.  The best design made itself clear and then we created a planting plan that fit her goals and style.

 

“I’ve worked with landscape architects and designers in the past and have had mediocre experiences. Carol’s “Design-in-a-Day” process is brilliant. She is so efficient making the process accessible both from a time commitment and a financial perspective. Her process drives the results and for me that looked like a very smart design using a super small space and the resources that we had. And, Carol herself is lovely. What I enjoyed the most in working with her is that she did not push her design style or preferences at all – she listened, respected and worked with my aesthetic. I think this trait is rare for designers. I would highly recommend Carol.”

jen mrtin after backyard 2

After:  With the new layout there is room for edibles, herbs and the kids play structure.

 

I could not believe how quickly they installed the new design.  Her brother did all the concrete work which was intricate and extensive.  I designed unusual openings for plants in the patio floor that emphasized the modern style Jen loves but I’m sure it wasn’t easy to frame and pour.

jen martin before backyard 2

Before Landscape Design in a Day

 

 

Jen got her clumping bamboo plants from the Bamboo Gardens.  We were torn about whether to use arborvitae to create the privacy between the two kitchen windows but I was concerned there would not be enough light for arborvitae.  The clumping bamboo prefers part shade so was a perfect fit.  The roots can be trusted (unlike running bamboo) and it created a  softening texture for the tiny landscape. (And let’s face it, Arborvitae is over used.)

We both enjoyed the process of creating a design for the back yard so when Jen hired me to return and create a plan for the front landscape I was pleased to be able to tie it all together.

jen martin after back yard corner

After: Clumping bamboo softens intersection of garage and concrete wall.

 

 

jen martin before back yard corner

Before privacy solution of bamboo in planters.

Planters Are a Designer’s Best Friend

I use large built in planters to solve a variety of landscape problems and here are 5 of my favorites.

hendrickson planter 8 23 2012

The Hendrickson planter is about creating privacy for the living room window.  Their Willamette Heights house is 12 feet from the public sidewalk and they live near a park so there’s lots of foot traffic.  Juniper Communis ‘Gold Cone’, semi dwarf Oakleaf Hydrangea Quercifolia, ‘Sykes Dwarf’, California lilac ‘Concha’ (Ceanothus) purchased as a tree form at Kinens Big Phat Plants. This is a specialty wholesale only grower who shapes his plants beautifully before selling which is why I love to purchase a focal point plant such as the California Lilac tree from him.

AndersonAnderson planter with an arbor creates a visual barrier between the neighbors’ utility side yard and the Anderson’s driveway.  The kids play in the driveway and the adults use the planter for edibles so this area has become an important part of their yard. It also adds dramatic curb appeal to the entry.

 

G Mac in peeled pole raised bed

The Coles….here we use green peeled logs to make a raised beds/planter.  We wanted raised beds so the plants would be safe from the dogs (two very smart and active standard poodles) who fly through paths.  I chose the peeled logs because they fit into the woodsy Northwest natural setting of this property. I also had the specialty cedar chips laid at 6″ deep.  It’s too shady for lawn and other medium encourages fleas and doesn’t last.  It’s the perfect dog friendly solution for a shady back yard. The plants pictured are native Sword Fern and Hardy Geranium, Geranium Macrorrhizum ‘Mrs. Ingwersen’ also have a woodsy look.

mickelsen planter 2012Michaelson’s planter – this stone planter gives us the opportunity to jazz up the curb appeal of this bungalow in NE Portland.  It’s about creating a dramatic and colorful entry experience and visually softening the foundation below the front porch. Helianthemun ‘Henfield Brilliant’ billows over the cap of the planter.

 

KNIGHT after courtyard 1

Knight – here is a very modern patio and it would be nothing without these planters.  We chose planters rather than at grade planting beds because of ginormous tree roots that invaded all the planting beds.  There was no room to even dig holes for new plantings.  Gardening will be easier for my client who is approaching an age where bending down to tend the ground is a less attractive idea. Read more.

Long Lasting Wood for Raised Vegetable Boxes

Raised veggie bed from juniper wood

Juniper wood in the garden.  Photo by Sustainable Northwest Wood.

I have clients who only want to build their raised vegetable planters once.  Juniper wood is a great resource for gardeners who want their raised beds to last forever. Juniper wood can last 30 to 50 years in direct contact with moist soil!

 

Why Use Juniper?
Because Juniper is a hardwood, it is insect and rot resistant, and doesn’t require any special chemical treatments, its longevity is unmatched, outlasting redwood and cedar beds by decades. Though indigenous, Juniper has become an invasive species throughout Central Oregon, threatening grassland habitat and destroying the ecosystem.

Pre-built Options
Restoration Juniper Project (video from OPB) is a company that builds lasts forever planter boxes out of Juniper wood.  It’s a triple win because:

1.  Uses strong wood from the invasive juniper species and sales of Juniper wood helps restore threatened native habitat in Central Oregon.

2.  Profits support Growing Gardens, a local non-profit, that teaches children and families how to feed themselves by building gardens and providing support during the learning process.

3.  Wood can last 50 years so you only build once.

JuniPlanter
JuniPlanterGrowing Gardens recently unveiled a DIY planter box made from Juniper, JuniPlanter. In support of the Restoration Juniper Project, they’ve designed a kit that can be built in under an hour by DIY-ers. These boxes are not inexpensive, but they are made to last. The JuniPlanter has more than one model, but as an example, one of the boxes is $450.

This is a better investment for a person who knows they are going to be gardening for a long time, rather than someone just starting out.

Build Your Own
Sustainable Northwest Wood
Finding the Juniper wood and building your own would be another option.  I talked with Ryan of Sustainable Northwest Wood (SNW) in SE Portland, Oregon. Here are two options Ryan suggested for building an 18″ high 4′ x 8′ raised bed:

1.  Make your box 18” high using three 2” x 6” (would take 9 boards).  Each board at current prices would be $10.00 each so it would cost you $102.75 for the juniper wood for one planter at 4’ wide by 8’ long. They have a corner piece you buy for $12.75 that you can cut to create your corners so you only need one.

2. This option cost more when using 6” x 6” wood.  You will need 9 boards at $28.00 each. The cost for one juniper wood planter will be $252. You won’t need a corner piece because the 6 x 6 is strong enough for corners and the whole planter is heftier and better for sitting on.

Ryan’s Construction Tips:

  • Pre-drill all holes.
  • Use stainless steel lag bolts to use for fasteners.

Designing three Landscape Design in a Days per week, raised planter boxes go in every one of my designs.  Everyone wants them! Materials we prefer to use include:

  • Corrugated sheet metal with wood supports
  • Livestock water troughs
  • Stacked rock
  • Wood
  • Recycled concrete rubble

Schedule your Landscape Design in a Day consultation today with Carol.