Portland Landscape Designer Alana Chau

Portland Landscape Designer Alana Chau

Hi I’m Alana

Alana Chau designs landscapes in Portland, Oregon for Landscape Design in a DayI’ve been working with Carol (Landscape Design in a Day) for a year and a half now, I suppose it’s time to make it Blog-Official! My name is Alana Chau and I love being a Landscape Designer.

I met Carol one December day at Cistus Nursery on Sauvie Island. I was a sales associate and she wanted a unique plant gift for her sister. She was the only customer there because… December… so we got to chatting. Fast forward a few years and I now design for her company, Landscape Design in a Day.

Start Out With The Fun

I like to start out with what you really want for your outdoor space. Eating area? Low Maintenance? Year-round interest? Let’s talk about what having a great yard means toSetting back a portion of this modern fence style creates perfect fit landscape design in Woodstock neighborhood in S.E. Portland you, because everyone’s “great yard” is different. I have yet to meet two homeowners who want exactly the same thing. That’s what makes this job so fun.

Then Comes the Function

New deck design makes best use of space in small Sabin neighborhood property in NE Portland.

This beautiful deck was designed to solve slope, privacy, and access issues with a Landscape Design in a Day Process.

This is where we get down to business. How does the space need to function to make your life better? How do you get to the trash bins and how do those bins get to the street? How will you get around the space to do maintenance? Is there a water issue here and a drought issue there? Don’t worry, these are not questions you need to answer, these are the questions for which we find creative solutions!

And Finally, Plants!

I love plants. It’s what got me into this career. I’m a former engineer who didn’t play well with cubicle life. I spent most of my career as a consultant before finally taking the leap and going back to school for Landscape Design. Although it’s not all sunshine and roses (there is rain, dog poo, and blackberry bushes to contend with after all), I absolutely get a kick out of helping people turn their inspirations and worries into a real live landscape that they get to enjoy.

Landscape design in Rose City Park neighborhood enhances beauty and privacy of tiny side yard.Ready to Get Going?

Of course I provide full Landscape Designs to transform your yard. But I also provide Garden Consultations and Garden Coaching at your home for those of you who don’t need the full transformation. Ask questions, learn how to correctly plant or prune, or just float some of your ideas around and get an understanding of what can work for your individual space.

If you’d like to set up some time to chat, please email me alanachau@yahoo.com or text/call 503-927-3279. I look forward to working with you!

Sloped Front Yard Landscape Design for Foster Powell Neighborhood Home

Before Landscape Design in a Day in Foster Powell residential neighborhood Portland OregonLandscape Design Solutions for Sloped Front Yard in Foster Powell Residential Home

Peter and Lynn are patient people and maybe even a little old fashioned.  They purchased their home, made some repairs and updates, waited a bit, then hired me to create a landscape design for their back yard, installed it all themselves and waited for the front yard. This took several years. They hired me again to create a design for the front yard. 

Peter isn’t a lawn guy and I’m sure in the years between projects he wanted the lawn hump in the front yard gone gone gone gone.  When one considers the age of the home (built in 1917) and the fact it has always had the lawn hump, imagine the number of times it was mowed. Past home owners used thousands of gallons of water over the years to try to keep the hump green in the summer to no avail.  The water just rolled off. Peter had no intention to continue this tradition.

A landscape design is never about a single issue. A front yard landscape design is all about integrating the home and its land, however small, into harmony. I want it to welcome its humans, their friends and family and be an asset to the neighborhood.  This landscape design, however, is going to be very satisfying when we de hump this home.

Landscape problems

Entry walk way landscape design in Foster Powell residential neighborhood Portland OregonThe front yard was not welcoming and did not match the attractive bungalow’s interior or the fantastic back yard landscape.  The overgrown shrubs had been carved into lumps decades ago and while they were healthy, they did not fit my clients landscape vision. The driveway side needed some retaining to hold the steep slope. We could not magically lose the steep slope but we could soften it. The front yard looked even shorter in depth than it was which effected the curb appeal of the home.  This home was not visually connected to its land. While the hump of grass was partially responsible, the small straight front steps and walk lined up to the door added to the effect.

The area at the top of slope was narrow and allowed only 3’ of level area to walk around the house or access the driveway. Another problem, the parking strip floods in the winter from water that originates at the top-level area of the front yard.

Landscape design solutions

Entry walk way landscape design in Foster Powell residential neighborhood Portland OregonMove the front steps to one side to create an illusion of more depth.  Add some depth to the top grade of the yard.  Replace the hump of grass (sound of applause) by placing boulders to hold the new wider level area. Add plantings to soften and partner with the boulders. Add a catch basin to collect and direct winter water into a pseudo rain garden (after consulting with a drainage expert). Create an environment where the water can percolate down deep in the soil and eliminate or greatly lessen the winter swamp in the parking strip. Using boulders on the driveway side allows us to integrate this area into the front yard, and welcome people who park in the driveway. The boulders create planting areas and the new plants add softening and interest.

Boulder retaining wall landscape design in Foster Powell residential neighborhood Portland OregonA steep sloped front yard landscape cannot be “fixed” with a planting plan alone. Plants are wonderful but without the grading and boulders, it will never work. Covering a steep short slope with plants would mean impossible maintenance and it would not look good no matter what was planted. The hump would still be accentuated.

As soon as our design solution went to boulders it meant that while Peter will general the job, he will not be able to DIY the boulders. They DIYed as much as they could.

Landscape design plants

Lynn likes silver and gray green leafed plants. Silver and gray foliage plants are typically sun lovers. They wanted some NW native plants in their design.

No lawn landscape design in Foster Powell residential neighborhood Portland Oregon

Hebe Albicans ‘Sussex Carpet’

Russian Sage, many forms of sedum, both groundcovers and upright plants like Sedum ‘Xenox’. Helianthemun, euphorbia, hebe, phlomis and manzanita were some of the low water plants used. A fig tree creates privacy to the living room window and figs to the table. I gave Lynn a NW native plant combination for brown elfin butterfly which is sedum ‘Cape Blanco’ and native huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum in this landscape.

No lawn landscape design in Foster Powell residential neighborhood Portland OregonHere’s one Lynn added from Xera Plants.  Brachyglottis greyi/Senecio greyi or Daisy Bush. I love the fabulous silver green evergreen foliage and the plants very low water needs.

No lawn landscape design in Foster Powell residential neighborhood Portland Oregon

Phlomis ‘Russeliana’ is another silver gray green foliage plant that looks good in winter too.

They used my plant broker Brian Bradshaw for many of their plants (saving more money) and installed the stairs and paths, irrigation and plantings………..beautifully. Not all of us can DIY but we can admire those who do.

I dropped by the other day and took photos. The garden is about 18 months old. “We’re very happy with the design and how everything came together.”  Peter.No lawn landscape design in Foster Powell residential neighborhood Portland Oregon

Portland Backyard Heaven Landscape Design Renovation

Portland Backyard Landscape Design Renovation

Before Foster Powell back yard landscape design portland OregonMaking a backyard heaven the DIY way started with Peter and Lynn contacting me for a landscape design in the Foster Powell neighborhood. While they are solid DIYers, they also believe in getting professional help where it is needed. They wanted a designer who prefers collaboration with clients.  Landscape Design in a Day creates the heart of the design with the clients at their home. This idea was appealing to them and so we found ourselves working together at the kitchen table.

Client desires

This home, built in 1917, had existing plantings and my clients had furnishings they wanted to work into the design.

After Foster Powell back yard landscape design portland OregonWe kept:

The back property line laurel hedge

The revered and large western red cedar

The old lilac trees for privacy in the summer

Their small apple tree

2 red Adirondack chairs

Foster Powell back yard landscape design with reused adirondack chairs in portland OregonA picnic table

Free standing stumps to use for fire pit seating

We removed

All of the rough lawn, trees of heaven and other invasive weeds.

Design usable areas with good flow and good integration

A deck/back porch seating area, dining area for their

Large picnic table, a fire pit area

Low water plants, raised beds for edibles

Designers take

I wanted easy inviting access into the backyard.  I designed a porch that serves 4 purposes: a threshold level for BBQ with a step down to seating (where we used the red Adirondacks) and built in their raised beds.  I love that our BBQ area is large enough to comfortably pass the person doing the BBQing and to access the backyard.

Foster Powell back yard landscape design outdoor dining space in portland Oregon Before Portland backyard landscape was redesigned.At ground level I created 2 more outdoor rooms: a dining area big enough for the extra-large picnic table and a fire pit.

Honor the old native cedar tree

I placed drought tolerant plants near the old cedar tree as that would be the best compatible planting companions for the tree.

My first peek at the finished landscape design

The first time I saw the installation of the design was winter.  I was so happy to see how the planters around the deck, which make the deck seem more like a porch to me and eliminate the need for railing…………were full of tall overwintering kale still being harvested in early February. Even in winter I could see what an excellent installation they had done. Peter’s only regret with his DIY work was that he did not get the exact crushed rock we had specified and this rock would not compact.

I loved how before the design, with the landscape more than a bit rough, Peter and Lynn would still sit out in the backyard even though they had no stairs from the house.  We are all different but when you love being outdoors, having a fabulous backyard is very important.  This garden calls them to come be outdoors.  Time spent in this gardenly backyard and memories made are relished.

Clients comment and link to their front yard landscape design

Peter says , “We’re very happy with the design and how everything came together.”  Please see the front yard design we created together a few years after the back yard was installed.  Sloped front yard landscape design for foster powell neighborhood home.

If you like to do it yourself but need a plan, contact me to make an appointment and start the landscape design process!

Kenton Mid Century Modern Landscape Design

Kenton Mid Century Modern Landscape Design

My client Wendy, in the Kenton neighborhood of North Portland, wanted a landscape designer to help her realize a mid century modern landscape design style vision.  Her mid century modern was built in 1957.  She had a lot of ideas of her own and wanted a collaboration.

Modern landscape design in Kenton neighborhood Portland OregonKenton mid century modern landscape design specifications

She wanted to use her existing porch (which she had built herself) and her 3 Arizona Blue Cypress which were already planted.

No lawn

Dramatic colorful foliage plants (she loved yucca plants and succulents)

Low water to drought tolerant plantings that would thrive in hot baking afternoon sun

The plants to create a sense of privacy from the street without losing an inviting presence.

She planned to DIY the entire landscape

Collaborative landscape design process

On our Landscape Design in a Day appointment, we walked around the property and talked, and I sat down to draw. I created 2 different conceptual drawings that fit Wendy’s specifications.  About halfway through our day I presented the drawings, she looked them over and selected my first offering.  We worked together on the details and I designed planting plan with my client.

Before modern landscape design in Kenton neighborhood Portland OregonModern landscape design in Kenton neighborhood Portland OregonWe reworked some basic details for the existing front porch. I had her paint the downspout the body color of the house. Such a simple but very effective thing. She also replaced a white wood post with a period metal filigree post. It looks really smart now!

Good bye Lawn – Hello Plants

The new planting beds are shaped so we have an open view of the porch from the street, from the driveway side and directly in front. The west side view is screened by a curved bed that showcases the 3 cypress.

Three years later her Arizona cypress has grown and nearly tripled in size. This summer photo shows the blue foliaged Cypress with flowering soft yellow helianthemum ‘Wisely Primrose’, a rock rose. Burgundy foliaged hens and chicks, euphorbia and heathers complete this bed. Modern landscape design in Kenton neighborhood Portland Oregon

Euphorbia – perfect hot sun plant

The front border in summer is a billow of euphorbia flowers and tall sedum, a variety called ‘Xenox’.   Euphorbia is perfect for a hot sun situation and fits with all the low water needs plants.  This photo shows the flowering euphorbia in mid June at the perfect time for pruning it. I mention this because this plant is only low maintenance if it does not seed and only looks good in winter if it is pruned in early to mid June.  If this is not done, people will wonder why their designer suggested it as it will seed about and look very very ugly in the winter instead of delightful.

Euphorbia Chharachais 'Rudolf' in modern landscape design in Kenton neighborhood Portland OregonWhen we prune the euphorbia flowers stems all the way at the base, the remaining young foliage gets sun (because the billow of flowers and flowering shoots are gone) and will grow thick evergreen shoots and leaves. It will become very attractive again in just a few weeks.  These leaves will carry all the way through the rest of summer, into winter until the next early summer flowering. Next early summer (early to mid June) the flowering shoots will be cut all the way to the ground again.  If you don’t want to prune them correctly, don’t plant them.  

Wendy’s installation phase

Wendy is what I call a “No Fear DIY er” after all she built her own porch. She also installed the landscape design.  This included grading, extensive soil preparation and path building.  She purchased her plants through my plant broker and planted everything as well.  I’m always delighted when people use my broker because this means when I drive by someday, I will see the design we created.  Going to the nursery, which is wonderful fun, can also be the downfall of many a design.  Too much plant substitution happens and the substituted plants (not the ones I picked) get too big, spread aggressively, or are not in the right place so fail from too much or not enough sun.

Modern landscape design in Kenton neighborhood Portland Oregon

Calluna vulgaris heather

It was lovely to drive by and take these photos on a drop by, (I was not able to get a hold of her prior………..hence the hose is still out.)  The landscape (front garden really) looks great and is holding up well.  I had worried about this hot sun garden last summer,  2018 was such a scorcher.  Her blue cypress will rapidly grow too big but they will be wonderful for another 3 to 5 years……. which she felt was worth it.  Aren’t they beautiful?

Drought tolerant plant list

Modern landscape design in Kenton neighborhood Portland Oregon

Yucca in a North Portland garden design

Rock Rose

Pacific Mist

Manzanita

California Lilac

Yucca ‘Color Guard’

Euphorbia Char ‘Humpty Dumpty’

Sedum ‘Xenox’

Hens & Chicks

Dwarf Pines

Heather

Echinacea

Contact me if you would like to discuss a modern landscape for your yard.

Selecting Dwarf Apple Trees for Small City Landscapes

Dwarf Apple Tree (Liberty ) with fruit in Cedar Hills Portland Landscape Design

Dwarf Liberty Apple Tree after pruning with fruit

Selecting Dwarf Apple Trees for Small City Landscapes

Recently I specified apple trees for a client with a small yard. I chose ‘Liberty’ for disease resistance and flavor and ‘Akane’.  Along with the name of the apple I wanted, I also specified which dwarfing root stock.  Why should we care about what root stock my apple tree is grafted on?  The first step to success in selecting dwarf apple trees for small city landscapes is picking the right root stock.  I define success as planting fruit trees that stay small but produce lots of fruit and are easy to care for. I picked an EMLA 26 for the ‘Liberty’ and an EMLA27 for the ‘Akane’ which we put into a container.

Dwarf Apple Tree Selection Tip

Please do not buy an apple tree with a tag that only says dwarf.  If the tag does not identify the specific root stock you have no idea how big the tree will be.  Given the small yards most people have these days….not knowing the size your tree will grow to is a mistake that will cause you grief literally as you remove a tree that you cannot manage just when it’s finally producing lots of fruit.

Why Plant Dwarf Apple Trees?

There are many excellent reasons to plant a dwarf apple tree grown on specialized root stock.

  1. Dwarf trees are compact.  If you are a beginner, you probably are in love with having a garden and want everything, all at once. Dwarf trees give you more room for “everything;” because they don’t use much room in the back yard.  Semi dwarf can be 18′ feet tall or more……..that is not small.
  2. Portland area landscape design with Dwarf Liberty Apple Tree pruned in Cedar Hills Oregon.

    Liberty Apple Tree pruned by homeowner

    Smaller trees make picking and thinning the fruit easier.  Dwarf trees produce lots of easy-to-reach fruit. This is very important, especially during the first few years, when you thin (pick off) half or more of the immature fruit so your tree can develop the strong wood it needs for a long and fruitful life. Some apple varieties require you pick all the flowers off for a couple of years which would be hard to do on a ladder.

  3. Spraying is easier, too.  When you learn how to spray the tree with a dormant oil, it will be so easy to completely coat the stems and the areas where the buds will break because you will be able to reach them. Check out this Spring Spraying of fruit tree coating a [watch video] tree with a dormant oil spray.
  4. Modern dwarf fruit tree rootstocks help you avoid common problems.  Please, please, please, don’t buy a tree with a label that just says “dwarf apple” or “mini pear” on the label.  The impulsive buy may cause you to miss all the fruits of recent horticultural progress.  Some root stocks in addition to dwarfing the size of the tree, allow your tree to thrive in heavy clay, you won’t get that from a non-specified root stock.  Instead, make sure that it tells you which specific rootstock the tree is grafted to. For example the label could say something like “EMLA 27 creates a 4-to-6-foot tall and wide tree, grows well in containers, tolerates clay soils and is resistant to rot and other diseases.”
  5. Espaliered apple tree in Milwaukie Oregon landscape design.Pruning a smaller tree is physically less work. You won’t even need a ladder.  Brainy Garden has a video on pruning dwarf fruit trees.  Pruning is not a no brainer.  Many sources conflict with each other on how much you should prune…..so best is a class from a local nursery or through the Home Orchard Society.  Not pruning promises that your little trees will rip and tear their branches from the weight of too many apples, so get some help.

Resources for Dwarf Apple Trees

This list of modern rootstocks and their characteristics gives you an idea of  how critical (and cool) it is to select the right root stock for your fruit tree.  I could come up with some more reasons, but you can see how dwarf fruit trees are perfect for how most of us live and garden—in smaller yards with less time but no less plant lust.   RainTree Nursery, One Green World or Burnt Ridge Nursery are three sources for special rootstock apple trees and more.

Landscape design includes dwarf apple trees 'Sentinel' take little space planted against the south wall in NE Portland.

Sentinel Apple Trees take little room in this south facing garden.

Don’t want to figure out which rootstock?

Talk to an expert at one of these specialty growers:   RainTree Nursery, One Green World or Burnt Ridge Nursery or The Home Orchard Society.  Portland Nursery (503-231-5050) has a specialist on staff who orders their fruit trees and they will be knowledgeable about root stocks.   Call ahead to be sure their expert is in.