Archive for small back yard

Portland Landscape Design creates privacy for small city backyard in Woodstock neighborhood

Portland Landscape Design creates privacy for small city backyard in Woodstock neighborhood

Colorful small tree for Woodstock neighborhood backyardCase History:   Portland infill home in Woodstock neighborhood needs a professional landscape design.  The biggest problem for new infill homes with tiny yards is privacy.

Roger and Meghan, no dogs and no kids, had recently moved to Portland and purchased a new home in the Woodstock neighborhood.  Roger wanted an interesting and easy care garden to putz in, colorful plantings and no lawn.  Most of all they wanted privacy.

Solving Privacy Issues-It’s about making a beautiful view

There were bad views on all three sides of the backyard. The house behind had a visually obnoxious roof and we could see their neighbors doing their dishes quite clearly in the evening. The house to the west had a shed which was useful for some privacy, but was infested with Norway rats. The owners were elderly and not keeping up with their home. It’s tough to start making demands of your new neighbors so most of my clients don’t. The house on the other side was also a new infill house and there was no privacy between the two properties.

Portland Residential Landscape Design Woodstock neighborhood before back yard landscape designDesigners Viewpoint on Screening Plants

I needed to create beautiful views to see from inside the house and from the back patio that would simultaneously create privacy and block bad views.  The plants needed to grow quickly but not get too big for the tiny yard.  There are not a lot of plants that will slow down once they are mature.  Most will get too big too quickly.

I selected my trusty clumping bamboo-Fargesia ‘Robusta Campbell’ paired with an evergreen narrow semi dwarf Magnolia tree. The contrast between the feathery bamboo and the magnolia’s large dark green leathery leaves would have been exciting and this would have been a fast-growing solution. My clients decided against the bamboo because rats sometimes eat bamboo shoots and they didn’t want to encourage the rats to come into their yard.  I substituted drought tolerant Boxleaf Tree-Azara Microphyla for the privacy screen and they were back on track.  Azara has a tiny leaf and would contrast well with the Magnolia’s large leaf.

Intricate path design in Woodstock neighborhood Portland, ORPath as a design feature for a small yard

 

The back yard is all planting solution with a flagstone path that circles and dramatically frames a focal point planting.  The path is wide enough to walk or to pull weeds from.  Roger laid the flagstone himself.

Intricate garden path in Portland garden designPlants with vibrant spring color

I dropped by the following spring (I was next door creating a design for their neighbors) and saw the magnificent coral orange leaves of Japanese maple ‘Shaina’ with  lime gold ground cover, (Saxifraga) and peach foliage coral bell. The emerging spring foliage puts on an intense and vibrant show.  The new landscape has many seasons of beauty and the spring view is no exception.

Portland Residential Landscape Design Woodstock neighborhoodRoger and Meghan are enjoying their new home and landscape and Roger enjoyed installing the garden so much he might take it on as a second career in addition to his professional photography.  So far the rats have not caused a lot of problems………How Portland lives with, not against, its rats is a fascinating read.

Plant List

Backyard planting in Woodstock neighborhood Portland, OregonThe spring color vignette included:

Japanese maple ‘Shaina’ – Acer Palmatum ‘Shaina’

Coral Bell ‘Marmalade’-Heuchera x ‘Marmalade’

Saxifraga x urbium ‘Aureopunctata’-Saxifrages ‘London Pride Aureopunctata’

Brunnera macro. ‘Jack Frost’-Bugloss ‘Jack Frost’

 

 

Landscape Designer’s Thoughts on Firepit Placement

Landscape Designer’s Thoughts on Firepit Placement

Grant Park landscape design for back yard with gas firepit in NE Portland

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 back yard landscape design with gas firepit

It 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.

 

Strong 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

Froggy Art

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

Tying Front & Backyard Together With Modern Design

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 a modern landscaped 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 and was not a modern design.

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.

We 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.”

Portland modern backyard with edibles and herbs landscape.

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.

Before the modern landscape design.

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.

New backyard landscape designed with modern style.