Archive for small back yard

Landscape Designer’s Thoughts on Firepit Placement

Grant Park landscape design for back yard with gas firepit in NE PortlandLandscape Designer’s Thoughts on Firepit Placement

A Portland residential landscape designer shares her thoughts about placing a firepit.

My client Lisa had a dream about sitting out in her garden even when it’s cold.  I was enthusiastic until I heard she wanted a fixed location firepit.  I’m a little nervous about long term commitments when they come to firepits.  I’ve seen too many whose poor placement ruined the flow of the entire back yard.  It can be awkward to use and too expensive to remove and correct.

The Firepit Must Be Integrated into the Design

The fire pit must be visually subordinate to the overall garden design.  It’s easy to get excited about a firepit and forget about the other purposes of the backyard.

Grant Park in N. E. Portland gas firepit in backyard landscape designIt must be integrated into the design and must work well with the other functions of an outdoor living room. For instance, there has to be ample room between the firepit area and the dining area or it feels clunky and cramped.  Lisa’s dining table is on her deck so we had no crowding issues.

Watch out for Pointing Corners

When the firepit is a square or a rectangle we need to be sure the corners are not pointing at the door to the house. Walking toward a strong point doesn’t feel inviting, it’s a basic feng shui principle that is very powerful and I keep a “sharp” eye out to avoid this problem in all my designs.

Grant Park back yard landscape design with gas firepitStrong Contrast

I prefer the materials for the firepit and the patio hardscape have strong contrast.  The patio surface is square concrete pavers so we went with a multiple sized natural stone for the firepit walls.  This is important.  It will look outright bad in my opinion, if this contrast is not factored into material choices.

Visual Integration

The way I made the firepit subordinate visually was easy since Lisa is a serious gardener……….by which I mean she is knowledgeable but very serious about having fun with her plants. There are 4 rooms to this garden. The firepit, the bird sanctuary patio, the existing rustic deck, and the raised sun garden. The plants weave in and out of these rooms softening the entry to each room and integrating them into one garden. I also love how the angle of the firepit wall leads the eye straight to the bird sanctuary patio.

We worked closely with D & J Landscape Contractors and NW Natural gas company for Lisa’s gas firepit. She met with the gas company and made the final decisions. The result is fabulous. It’s large enough to provide real heat and the ambiance it creates is so welcoming.

 

Landscape East & West, a large local landscape installation company has a blog regarding fire pits.

Dog Joy – Shady City Backyards with Dogs

Dog joy – Shady city backyards with dogs

Is your shady city backyard with dogs a mud pit? This blog is dedicated to dog joy.  It’s time to stop getting mad at your dog for bringing mud and dirt into your house.  They can tell we are mad even if we try to hide it.  After all, 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.

Typically the failed lawn is not your fault.  Let me spell out the facts as a Portland residential landscape designer sees them.

Re-sale Lawn

When you  bought this house, there was a thriving lawn.  You cannot get it to look as good as it did when you moved in.  There could be many reasons, but my favorite is what I call the re-sale lawn;  the former home owner had new lawn installed to put the house on the market.  It looked good just long enough to get the house sold.  Your dog has contributed to the demise of the lawn but that was only part of the problem.

Tree Canopies and Roots

Trees grow and provide more and more shade as they mature.  Lawns require sun.  Even 5 years of tree canopy growth is enough to reduce the sunlight.  Sun is the number 1 food for lawns. Your lawn is sun starved.

Tree roots take up an insane volume of water.  Your lawn needs lots of water, which you provide but it is going to the trees.

Over time your lawn has lost the two things it requires to grow and thrive.  You can replace it, reseed the bare spots, fertilize 6 times a year but it won’t work.  Happiness and a mud free yard await your consideration if you can let go of the backyard lawn as you once thought of it.

Your landscape designer can create a solution for a shady city backyard.

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 lawn alternative.

No Lawn Dog Friendly Landscape in the Backyard

Playground Cedar Chips

You don’t have to have a lawn in a small shady backyard. Many dogs are perfectly happy with wide paths or areas of cedar chips.  It’s easy to incorporate cedar chips into an attractive Northwest Natural or Asian Style Landscape.

Professional playground cedar chips laid 4 to 6 inches deep is very effective.  My favorite is Fiber Ex by Rexius Forest Products, will last for years and is my most affordable solution.  The chips work well with even with large dogs and you can’t get much bigger than Newfoundland dogs.  My clients Kurt and Jackie are still thrilled with their cedar chip areas for their back yard (going on a decade now). I will note that multiple large active dogs in small yards will kick up mounds or holes in the cedar chip applications which requires raking it back out semi-regularly.

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.    Even large dogs can romp and chase the ball.  It’s easy to clean up dog poo.  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.

Exercise your dog at the park

Some clients with very small backyards decide to make the backyard be for people and to hang out with our pets.  They  (the dogs) need a discreet potty place but exercise and leaving liquid social messages for other dogs, happens at the dog park or on walks. The landscape design focuses on entertaining areas, privacy and plantings.

Uchytil dog laying in planting box

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

Shade grass seed

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 small dogs and people to use but  typically shade and dogs means mud without intervention.

Give yourself a break and look at lawn alternatives or contact me for a dog friendly landscape design that will make you happy and give your dog joy.

 

 

 

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.