Archive for small back yard

Dog Joy – Shady City Backyards with Dogs

Dog joy – Shady City Backyards with Dogs

Is your small city backyard a mud pit? This blog is dedicated to the family dog. It’s time to stop getting mad at your dog for bringing all that mud and dirt into your house.  They can tell we are mad at them. They must wonder what they’re doing wrong. We don’t really expect them to go outside and not get their feet dirty do we?

Roxy laying in the flower bed

Even dogs like to sit outside and enjoy the flowers. Roxy has a synthetic lawn.

Let me spell it out.  Two scenarios come to mind.  1st   When you moved to this house, there was reasonable lawn but over the past few years (or months) you can’t seem to keep it thriving anymore.  There could be many reasons for this but my favorite is the former home owner had the lawn replaced just before she put it on the market.  2nd  A.  Trees grow and provide more and more shade as they mature.  Lawns require sun.  You haven’t noticed how much sun you have lost over the course of the entire day.  Even 5 years is plenty to change the environment in your backyard.  Sun is the number 1 food for lawns, not fertilizer.  B.  Tree roots take up an insane volume of water and transpire it out through their leaves.  Your lawn needs lots of water and it isn’t getting it no matter how much you water.   Over time your lawn has lost the two things it requires to grow and thrive.  You can replace it, you can reseed the bare spots, but without enough sun and enough water it will not thrive.

So I say give it up.  Happiness and a mud free yard await your consideration if you can let go of the lawn as you once thought of it.

You may not realize there are accommodations that can be made or that your landscape designer can create a solution for this situation.

I swear I would not bring this up if I didn’t have solutions, and this issue comes up in about half of my landscape designs each year.

Fiber ex cedar chip path

Fiber Ex cedar chips make a great alternative for a lawn and are more affordable than using a synthetic product.

Lawnless Backyard

You don’t have to have a lawn in a small shady backyard. Most dogs are perfectly happy with wide paths or areas of cedar chips. You might think this would look agricultural but it doesn’t! It’s easy to take cedar chips into a Northwest Natural or Asian Style Landscape.

Professional playground cedar chips laid 4 to 6 inches deep is very effective.  My favorite product is called Fiber Ex by Rexius Forest Products.  This application will last for a decade and is more affordable than synthetic lawn.

Synthetic Lawn

Other clients are using synthetic lawn quite happily with their pets. It looks good…you don’t need to water, fertilize or mow.  It’s easy to clean up and tough enough that even large dogs can romp and play and chase the ball.  I am installing a synthetic lawn this year on my 10’ x 10’ roof garden/balcony.  We (Daizzie and I) are both going to love the convenience and I like the look of it too.

Exercise your dog at the park

Some clients with very small backyards decide to make the backyard be for people.  We hang out with our pets in the backyard and they need a potty place or two.  Exercise happens at the dog park or on walks. Those backyard designs are all about patio, entertaining space and privacy plantings, not specific dog play areas.

Uchytil dog laying in planting box

A small area of  lawn works well for this client’s dog.

Shade grass seed

They have not made a good shade turf grass.  There are seed strains out there that say they are shade tolerant but trust me…..it’s not happening.  If the shade is very light there might be some lawns that will be thick enough for people to use but they don’t cut it for dogs to play on.

Give yourself a break from the mud and look at alternatives.  If you are like these clients you will be very happy you did.

 

 

 

Swim Spa Landscape Design

The Swim Spa That Took Over The Backyard

Swim spa in small backyard

Rachael and her family like to swim even in December when this photo was taken with the blooming Camellia Sasanqua ‘Yuletide’.

Rachael and her family like to swim. They have twin toddlers who have been swimming since they were three months old. Seeing them playing like baby otters is adorable, even cuter than puppies which is saying something!

Existing Conditions

Prior to the swim spa their backyard was a pleasant place with a tiny lawn, a covered patio, and some easy-care plantings.  They also had a beloved gorgeous 36-inch diameter trunk California myrtle tree that shaded half the yard.  The new swim spa dominated the back yard and the mud from the construction process made it a poor place for toddlers to play. This new situation was beyond heading to the plant nursery to select a few new plants.  They needed a designer to re-design the backyard, create solutions for privacy and manipulate the space to maximize every inch.

Landscape Design in a Day

Rachael and I talked on the phone and we were a great fit.  We scheduled a Landscape Design in a Day, my collaborative design process, and they started preparing their base drawing and working through my landscape survey questions.   I was really looking forward to this one but it was going to be so tricky!  We met at their home one cool spring day to create the design together.

Privacy

The new 10′ x 20′ swim spa sits four plus feet above the ground making the swimmers very visible to neighbors.  They wanted privacy for themselves and in case their neighbors didn’t really want to watch them swim, for the neighbors too.

Screening plants for swim spa

Camellia Sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ helps screen swim spa.

The privacy issues for small properties with close neighbors is often tricky.  On one side of the property it was easy.  The California myrtle and a couple of mature rhododendron would solve most of the problems on that side.  Three things would need to happen.   We needed to stop pruning back the tops of the old rhodies, they would need to be treated each year for lace bug and be irrigated.  For the last privacy hole on this side we would fill it with a New Zealand Box Tree.  I will prune it myself the first few times, Azara Microphylla to help it fit into the difficult spot that is right next to the gate.  It is needed to screen out a neighbor’s window that is on the first floor.  It’s important to use a small tree that won’t get too big for this spot and this tree was the perfect solution.

Bamboo Screen

The back-property line was difficult because the swim spa was right next to the fence.  We had only a few feet for a privacy planting and it needed to grow to 10 feet tall and very narrow in order to fit.   I used my faithful clumping bamboo up in planters. This variety of clumping bamboo, Fargesia Robusta ‘Campbell’, stands straight up so it will not weep over and interfere with the swimming. Most varieties of clumping bamboo have too much weeping and arching shape to them and don’t work well for tiny landscapes.  The planters were advantageous for many reasons.  1st we would not need to dig deep and disturb the root system of the beloved California Myrtle tree.  2nd we could use an ideal soil mixture in the planters so the bamboo would thrive.  They will grow in our local clay top soil but will do much better in a soil mix that drains well.  3rd by putting them in planters they would be taller from the beginning.

Newly installed landscape

We utilized the existing walkway which fit the client’s cottage garden style and her budget.

The privacy for the driveway side was the hardest.  We needed to screen out a second story window at the neighbors and had no planting area to do it with.  We decided to use an arbor.  It fit beautifully and we were all enthusiastic about it.  However, when all the numbers came in, the arbor wasn’t a practical choice.  When I visited recently to see how things were growing along we talked about a more affordable solution.

Before swim spa

Before – The new swim spa dominated the back yard.

Two small trees in very large pots placed strategically will be part of a future phase.  In a small yard situation like this tiny backyard we can’t afford to leave the driveway to the garage read as a driveway.   They didn’t use the small garage for parking a car.  Using furniture and pots we made this area a sunny sitting area.

Rachael says

“Hi Carol,  Nice to hear from you.  Yes we would love for you to come by and take a look.  All the Camellia Sasanqua  are blooming and they are beautiful!  The bamboo is already growing and we love our little backyard oasis.  Thank you for referring us to Scott Schultze, Tellurian Gardens.  He and his crew did a great job installing the new landscape.”

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.

Big Ideas, Small Backyard

Mr. Kim likes his grass and didn't want to see it disappear from the landscape.

Mr. Kim likes his grass and didn’t want to see it disappear from the landscape.

I met this happy couple at the Yard Garden & Patio show.  They had the best little puzzle for me to work on.  They had a small landscape and a small back porch.  They needed it to expand somehow to add a hot tub, a dining entertaining area and keep their cozy covered family coffee hang out a great place….hmm.  They had areas of grass that didn’t do well due to lack of sun.  Betsy liked to garden and had a successful edibles garden but it took up a lot of room.  Their dog, Mr. Kim the pug, was happy and liked grass because he loves to poop, well he does, it’s his big thing in life…… so while we could take away some grass to meet our goals, we had to leave enough to keep him happy.  We needed privacy plantings for using the hot tub that looked and felt friendly to the neighbors.  It needed to be tall to block the neighbors’ second story bedroom view but the planting space was too narrow for a hedge.

Lastly, a fine ironwork of art made by Betsy’s brother needed a place of prominence in the landscape.

The perfect place for the special art work. The iron art work looks great on the wall.

They called me after the show and I remembered them instantly.  I was so pleased to work with them.  I didn’t actually know of course, how I would help them, it was very small and there were a lot of “built ins” we couldn’t move such as a long rock wall and large trees whose roots were underneath the entire back yard so there would not be much changing of grade.  It was going to be tricky!

Like most Landscape Design in a Days, I could not do this without my clients.  Together we tried various layouts and narrowed it down to THE ONE that would work.  Usually I have two layouts that clients like that would work.  This one was so tough that I could only come up with one that I liked and which happily they loved.

An easy way to get some privacy.

An easy way to get some privacy.

Their carpenter was very helpful and did a great job of following our plans.  Their price tag was under 20 grand, not including the hot tub.  They ended up with two dining areas, one up in the lawn area.  We put it where the grass always died.  They love this new room.  They felt cut off from their yard and garden before the design.   Now it feels very open and gave us a great space for ornamental plantings.  The path that leads to the shed got a well placed zag in it.  The shape of the path adds interest and gave us the perfect place for a large pot.

 

Now the family has 2 places to sit and eat or enjoy a cup of coffee.

Now the family has 2 places to sit and eat or enjoy a cup of coffee.

What they got was an integrated landscape with lots of useful areas and great flow.  Their tiny yard feels spacious now.