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Colorful Backyard Garden Design in Portland

Low Maintenance Garden Design for Backyard in Woodstock Neighborhood

Client Wish List:

Low maintenance Landscape Design in Woodstock neighborhood

New Dining Area! Just waiting on the rest of the plants to make this corner complete.

Jill recently moved to Portland from an entirely different climate.  She is a gardener and knows that a different climate means an entirely different set of plants, watering strategies, and soils.  So she wanted Portland native plants to celebrate her new home in the Pacific Northwest. Getting expert advice about plants that would thrive here was her number 1 concern.  She wanted a vibrant garden with some traditional and colorful plants.  She also wanted her grandchildren, who live nearby, to enjoy playing in the backyard.

She already had a covered area for lounging adjacent to the house. She wanted to add an area for family dining, some edibles, and a play structure.

Landscape designer considers location of huge tree trunk for small back yard design in Woodstock neighborhood

Before – Doug Fir Trunk is 6′ wide at the base.

Designing around a large tree

The elephant in this room is that beautiful huge Douglas-fir. It took up a lot of space situated in the center of the backyard but to Jill it was a part of nature and she was happy to accommodate the tree.  Lawn is a poor choice near a Doug-fir and Jill did not want any lawn so we already had a good fit there.

The 6 foot diameter trunk will continue to grow so we needed to remember that as we worked toward the right design.  Many sources maintain that fir tree roots would prefer as little disturbance as possible. And we must be careful with how we water the plants around it so selecting drought tolerant planting companions was a strong consideration.  See Kym Pokorny article on stressed trees and how to care for them.

We had to address the elephant in the room first. In it’s natural habitat, the Doug-fir is surrounded by natural forest mulch and select native plants. More on the plants later. With the smaller size of the lot, the mulch around the trunk does double duty as a pathway. The color of the mulch will fade over time to blend in nicely with needles cast from the tree. It is important to only lay mulch around the tree and not up onto the tree’s trunk like a volcano.

Playground cedar chips are part of low maintenance landscape design in Woodstock neighborhood

During – Wide path designed around Doug-fir

Designing  the Dining Area near large tree roots

One way to create dining space near a large tree is to install a deck – it will have relatively low impact on the root system and allows rainwater through. A deck versus a patio is a better choice for our tree.  However, Jill was not too fond of the upkeep or cost of a deck. So we moved on to another good option – cedar chips and crushed rock. These materials also allow rainwater to soak into the ground and do not require too much excavation to be installed. And it’s easy on the budget.

Edibles in Containers

Jill initially wanted veggie beds in the soil, but due to greedy tree roots and the shade cast by the Doug-fir, we needed to employ some tricks to incorporate edibles into this yard. Three large pots or half wine barrels are designed in the sunniest part of the garden for annual veggies like tomatoes. A raised bed was designed next to the existing patio – and furthest from the Doug-fir – where part-sun veggies could thrive, such as greens and lettuces.

Flagstone path will lead through the plants to the back table.

Structure of the Garden all ready to be filled in with Plantings

play house for low maintenance landscape design has cedar chip surface

Playhouse for Grandkids

Turn Unused Side Yard into Play House Space

We turned a previously unused side yard into the perfect play area for grandchildren. Kid-approved plants like Fuzzy Lamb’s Ears lead us down the path to a play structure. As the plants grow up, this area will transform into a miniature secret garden. As a bonus, when the grandkids outgrow the space, the structure can be easily replaced with a bistro table for an afternoon tea.

Planting Plans

Jill is a plant person and we  especially had fun creating with a broad plant palette for this garden design.

Drought-tolerant plants that are native plants surround the Doug-fir such as Salal, Sword Fern and a vase shaped shrub called Oceanspray are all up to the task. 75% of the plants we selected are very low maintenance plantings.

For flower power we used well known color magnets like peony, cape fuchsia, hydrangea and more. Jill will add annuals to spice up the summer color.

Acer Circinatum "Pacific Fire" photo from Handy Nursery

Acer Circinatum “Pacific Fire” photo from Handy Nursery is the winter view from living room

For the view from the living room window we selected a native cultivar of Vine Maple (Acer circinatum ‘Pacific Fire’) which has red twigs in winter.

Materials

Cedar chips, crushed rock and also large flagstone for the path to the dining table.

We enjoyed this design process with Jill and helped her create functional hardscape landscaping with paths and a 2nd sitting area that works well.  Now she has plantings that fit our region as well as the color she craves for summer.  And the deck?  If she decides to add the deck, she has the design for future consideration.  With our laid back NW lifestyle and regular visits from grandkids, her simple table and benches sitting on cedar chips will suffice as her second dining area for many years.

Can we help you have the backyard that fits your ideals and lifestyle?    Contact us and let’s create together.

Modern Landscape Design for Kenton Neighborhood Front Yard

Modern Landscape Design for Kenton Neighborhood Front Yard

Modern landscape design adds functional space and charm to Kenton front yard in Portland

Fun Front Garden Ready for Entertaining

Client Wish List

New homeowners Katie and Jeni enjoy chatting with their neighbors in the front yard. Before the overhaul, they would just pull some chairs and a firepit from the back and hang out on the grass.   Eventually they realized it might be nice to create a more permanent sitting area in the front, so they poured a concrete patio. They are ‘get it done’ dedicated DIYers with more than a few successful projects under their belts.   Next came the hard part – how to integrate that stark concrete into a front yard garden that’s inviting and warm.  They realized they wanted some help with the integration efforts and hired Landscape Design In A Day because of our collaborative design approach.

Kenton neighborhood home with diy concrete before garden design process

BEFORE: mismatched concrete and no privacy.

Designer’s Perspective-Alana Chau

I was so pleased to see that the new concrete was well done and a wonderful size for the amount of people they host. But it felt huge in the small front yard space, and modern landscape style always needs visual softening. There were also disconnected downspouts to contend with, 3 in total. Due to the new concrete pour, I knew at least one of these downspouts needed to be moved. Yes, in some cases downspouts can be moved!

Originally, the homeowners wanted to keep the existing retaining wall and walkway to save money.  I showed them a couple designs hoping I could offer them useful visuals that might change their minds.  I knew how fabulous it could look if we changed the front walk. So we all stood at the sidewalk and talked about the potential for something different.   A front walk that was offset gave us a much more interesting entry and dramatic spaces for plantings. As you can see, they went for it and they are so happy they did.

Hardscape Landscaping design integrates existing concrete slab beautifully

A dynamic new front walkway.

The clients have the cutest pup, Ruby, and we wanted her to have some grass to play on. In this case, the grass will perform a double duty as Ruby’s lounge area and also the walkway to the backyard. Since this path will not be used in the winter, it is an acceptable solution. (In Portland, grass is NOT a good path material if it needs to be used in winter because it becomes wet muck and does not recover well.) 

small patch of dog friendly lawn in Kenton front yard

Lawn can be used as a walkway as long as it is not used in the winter.

Hardscape Landscaping

The Materials

The new retaining wall is modular concrete block, which creates a clean look while keeping costs down. The steps were created with steel risers filled with gravel for the treads. The walkway is created using 24″ square pavers, aka architectural slabs.

Old and new concrete did not work well together in this before photo of front entry walk and courtyard

BEFORE: view from the front door.

What a difference the new hardscape landscaping makes for this Kenton home's front entry

AFTER: view from the front door. 24″ Pavers, or Architectural Slab, create a dynamic front walkway

The short wood fence allows some privacy from the street, while maintaining a friendly feel.

front yard privacy screen for Kenton front yard is a pattern of wood boards

Short fence in front yard gives patio a bit of privacy.

The Raingarden

A downspout was moved so that it could outlet into a new pseudo rain garden area where red-twig dogwood shrub and juncus, a type of rush (similar to ornamental grass)  will help us manage that water with their deep root systems. The City of Portland encourages rain gardens, but we recommend diy’ers doing a bit of research first.  Here’s a helpful publication: How to Build a Raingarden from City of Portland.

Plant Diversity

There is a wide variety of plants in this small front yard.  Rain garden plants, edibles and interesting textural ornamentals make up our landscape design plant list.

There is an edible theme going on in this garden too. Two raised beds, plus fruit trees; one Fuyu persimmon, and two columnar apple trees.

Pottery softens the concrete patio area for Kenton front yard

To soften a large concrete area, without sacrificing usable space, we added a fun and eclectic arrangement of potted plants, including a dwarf Japanese Maple with great fall color.

The Hardscape Landscaping is Softened with Pots

We had a lot of fun with pots on the large patio.  I designed some of them – such as a dwarf Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Fjellheim’) and a funky conifer (Cedrus deodara ‘Feelin’ Blue’). I call it funky because the foliage is fantastically textural, very blue and oddly its’ foliage grows in a variety of directions.  The homeowners designed others, including one with carnivorous plants! This was a true collaboration and it was fun to see which parts the homeowners wanted to take off and run with.

solar night lighting with architectural slab front walk in Kenton front yard

Solar lighting adds fun and safety. Also seen here is Cedrus deodara ‘Feelin’ Blue’ in a pot, which is especially valuable for winter structure.

Rounding out the plants are some fun evergreens for winter structure, including a shrubby Manzanita (Arctostaphylos bakeri ‘Louis Edmunds’), and a New Zealand shrub better known as a houseplant (Sophora prostrata ‘Little Baby’).

Let’s transform your front yard with a collaborative design process that explores the potential of your existing landscape and home.   Contact us and let’s create together.

 

 

A Pollinator Garden Paradise

Designing a Garden for Bees & Birds

Concrete pavers on the angle create more useable space in this mid century backyard garden home in Portland Oregon

Some boulders were moved to frame the dining area.

Client Wish List

Before photo of garden design for mid century home in Roseway neighborhood portland oregon

Before. Lumpy, overgrown mess!

Doreen and Sam wanted a no-grass pollinator paradise in their backyard. They are successful vegetable and fruit gardeners and wanted to maintain that function in the new garden without sacrificing beauty. The side yard is flat and had been used by the previous owners for dining, but Doreen and Sam really wanted a dining area in the backyard. While they knew this complete transformation would require new materials, they also wanted to re-use any materials we could and, of course, watch the budget whenever possible.

 

 

Landscape Design Drawing for Roseway neighborhood Portland garden.

Landscape Design Drawing

Designer’s Perspective

 

before photo of existing boulder for Roseway neighborhood landscape design

Before: This huge mossy boulder became the focal point and the second large rock was kept as a step to the upper garden. Perfect fit!

In order to create a flat dining area in the backyard, we needed to carve into the existing land and some soil needed to be removed. For a bit of fun, and to take advantage of a FANTASTIC existing boulder (more on that later), I put the new patio on an angle. Sam likes straight edges and Doreen likes curves, so we pulled off a bit of both by having two areas – an angular dining spot and a curved and casual sit spot. Check out the design to see how the two spaces interacted from an aerial (birds-eye) view:

The Boulders

There were at least 9 large boulders on site, haphazardly placed probably when the home was built. One was too large to reasonably move, so I designed around it! This boulder became the focal point and transition piece between the side yard, new patio, and path to the veggie garden. Overall, 4 large boulders were kept in place and 5 were repositioned.

modern patio with two seating areas fits this NE Portland Mid Century home pollinator garden design.

New Modern Backyard Patio with Architectural Slab and Mossy Boulders

The Plants

Here is the entire list of plants for this project.

Roseway neighborhood plant list for garden design.

Echinacea P 'Ruby Giant' at Terra Nova test gardens added to Roseway neighborhood design.

Bring on the Butterflies! Echinacea p. ‘Ruby Giant’

We were going for a bit of the meadow look in the main, sunny part of the garden. This includes many ornamental grasses and pollinator plants.  Echinacea, Agastache and Salvia, oh my!

Hosta flowering in June in Roseway neighborhood backyard garden.

Hosta are known for their bold leaves, but the bloom is surprisingly attractive to bees and butterflies.

There is also a dry shade part of the garden, created by a very large maple. For this situation, we added hostas, ferns and geraniums.

We arranged for all the plants to arrive right before the client organized a “work party”. I helped place the plants and a handful of gracious friends helped the clients put everything in the ground. Many hands make light work!

Planting crew installs pollinator garden design in Roseway neighborhood backyard

Planting Day!  A crew of friends made fun and  fast work of planting.

The Cloud Wall

I would be remiss not to mention this fun and whimsical addition by the client. The light blue wall in the back was a drab concrete, and visible from their living room sliding doors. They painted clouds! I smile when I see it and I’m sure they do too. And a special thank you to our clients who supplied several photos for this blog.

“Last night, Sam and I sat at our picnic table after dinner, enjoying the evening and watching a hummingbird feed on the flowers in our garden.

modern landscape design is enhanced with large rustic boulder and pollinator garden plants in Portland, Oregon

Fun and whimsical painted wall has clouds.

Our scruffy backyard has been transformed, and we could not have done it without Alana’s help.  While we thought we had a pretty good idea of what we wanted, she saw potential that we did not. The design process was efficient, collaborative and enjoyable. The resulting landscape provides a variety of spaces, plantings and views that we plan to enjoy for many years.” – Doreen, Homeowner

Let’s transform your backyard with a collaborative design process that explores the potential of your existing landscape and home.   Contact us and let’s create together.

St. Johns Front Yard with Rain Garden

Colorful Low Maintenance Landscape Update In St. Johns

St. Johns Portland front yard low maintenance landscape update.

New Front Garden

Clients Wish List

Terry and Connie wanted a carefree front yard with nice curb appeal. After new construction finished next door, they felt motivated to update their mess of a front yard (their words, not mine!). One main objective for the project was to fix the transportation. Wobbly pavers and stairs that were too close to the driveway caused issues each time they parked in the driveway. No one wants dents on the driver side door!

Before low maintenance landscape update in St Johns.

Before

As for the garden, he wanted a bit of grass while she wanted none. Both wanted a plant palette that is low on maintenance and high on color.

Designers perspective

I helped the homeowners decide between lawn or no-lawn by discussing the “why”. He wanted lawn for ease of maintenance and to cut down on weeding. She wanted no lawn for the look of a colorful front garden. After collaborating and tweaking the design several times, we settled on no-lawn but with ample walking paths. This appeals to both parties because the paths are low maintenance and make it easy to reach from all sides of the bed for weeding. On top of that, I selected plants that are particularly good at suppressing weeds. More about the plants below.

New matched hardscape in this St Johns front yard update.

During – Construction by D&J Landscape Contractors

I solved several issues through fencing in this design. The front fence provides a separation between road and home. It remains inviting and interesting because of the see-through slats and low 42″ height. A matching 6′ fence hides the garbage cans and shed in the side yard.

New low front yard fence uses existing azalea in St Johns front yard update.

Low Front Yard Fence with Azalea Peeking Through

The disconnected downspout dumped directly into the yard, which caused too much water in the winter, a classic problem in Portland. The new rain  garden provides the perfect solution for excess winter water and also creates a beautiful focal point which can be seen from the front porch.

Rain garden added to fix water problems in this landscape update.

Rain Garden

Installation

We referred the project to D&J Landscape Contractors.  The low fence was installed by Rick’s.

Plants

The established Vine Maple (Acer circinatum) is a beautiful old tree and was able to stay with minimal pruning.

St Johns landscape update uses existing Vine Maple.

Look how the new landscape highlights that Vine Maple!

Other plants in good shape and able to stay were the Azalea, Rhododendron, and Fatsia.

The new tree is an Evergreen Magnolia.

Low maintenance landscape update with evergreen magnolia.

Evergreen Magnolia anchors this garden bed.

Groundcovers are very integral to the continuity of this design. The gold highlights are Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’) and Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Variegatus’). The purple contrast is Heuchera ‘Purple Petticoats’. The evergreens that ground the look are Inkberry (Ilex glabra) and Geranium (G. cantabrigiense ‘Crystal Rose’).

Materials

The new walkway is Variegated Bluestone, and the mossy boulders were brought in to give the garden a nice established feel.

Contact us

Would you like to create a welcoming entry experience that makes your house look and feel it’s best?  We would love to work with you.  Call us at 503-223-2426 or use our contact form.

Modern Landscape Design for Family and Dogs

How to Adapt When the Modern Landscape Design Changes

Before photo of dog only back yard in Mt Tabor neighborhood needs modern outdoor entertaining areaMy new clients are a family of six, four humans and two dogs. Their home near Portland’s Mt Tabor is three stories (2 plus a daylight basement) of mid century modern. It’s what I call a sleeper home. The front facade is attractive and simple –  so walking in the door to see the remodeled interior is an exciting surprise. They clearly know good design when they see it as they worked closely with an architect to achieve the  stylish and perfectly proportioned modern interior.

Clients Wish List:

Create a backyard landscape with an inviting sitting and entertaining area, a non structured kids play area, 1 or 2 raised beds for flowers or edibles and very low maintenance plantings.  Help make the back yard for everyone, not just the dogs.

Site Description:

The property has difficult access to the back yard. The family has to walk down a flight of stairs. It’s hard on their oldest dog. The only other access means going down and out the first floor, which is not used regularly. They primarily enjoyed the outdoors from balconies on the upper floors. The view south into sky and their tree tops (13 mature conifers) was lovely from the house. The large yard was lined with huge trees creating lots of privacy and bird habitat. The center of the yard was a blank slate.

The primary activity associated with the back yard was cleaning up dog poop, avoiding it or stepping in it and mowing the wild lawn in the spring and fall. It was not irrigated in the summer.

Designers  Solutions:

After photo of modern landscape design in Mt. Tabor neighborhood of Portland OregonAs much as I love starting with the layout first, (hardscapes, patio, planting beds etc.)  we needed to solve the dog needs first and change this to a yard for the whole family. To do that we needed to control where dogs went to relieve themselves.

I needed easy access for the dogs to get to their poop area and confine them from entering the rest of the yard. This means (it’s very simple really) the dogs can fly down the stairs to their run around and poop area but they can’t get into the main back yard except with their people.

We used the existing stairs location but made dog steps off the side of the landing allowing the dogs into a large area fenced off from the rest of the yard. This area is higher than the rest of the back yard so it’s not so far down. It’s big enough for the younger dog to romp around and do perimeter fence work, less stairs for the sweet old dog, has great shade and it’s easy for humans to get in there and clean up the poop.

After close up of hardscape in modern landscaping design in Mt. Tabor neighborhoodTo reach the back yard, we go down more stairs and enter into the outdoor family entertaining area through a gate. Dogs are invited to join their humans through this gate, after all they will get to use the big back yard too, accompanied by their humans. 90% of the poo goes in the dog yard which is covered in 6″ of special cedar chips.

New large Patio pulls the family outside

The new large concrete patio was scored in large squares to pick up the modern style of the house. These lines are repeated in the dry set large square concrete pavers set into the lawn as a path. The new patio connects to the house on the basement level. This area is covered by the existing balcony on the main floor, and has a storage area for yard toys, furniture and tools.

Finished Design or so I thought?:

We had our large outdoor entertaining and sitting area, a cedar chip area for kids unstructured play, a special area for the dogs to play and to poo,  a path into a second unstructured forest(ish) play area for the kids and a covered storage area. I specified synthetic lawn to protect the large native cedar trees. They are adverse to fertilizer and excessive water which is of course what a real lawn wants.

Sad Story – Cedar Trees have Seiridium Canker:

Before photo of dog only backyard needs attractive modern outdoor entertaining area

View from the master bedroom balcony before Seiridium Canker disease caused 11 large trees to be removed.

I referred Donna Burdick of D & J Landscape Contractors. Donna came out to meet the clients and assess the site about a year after we completed the design. Several of the cedar trees had lost significant foliage and what remained was yellow. The contractor brought an arborist out to examine the trees before moving forward.

The cedar trees had a disease called Seiridium Canker. The disease was so infectious that all 11 mature Incense cedar trees would be infected in a short time and so they were all removed. The two large Yew trees were immune and unaffected. Sadly we now had plenty of sun for real lawn………..The trees, privacy and shade were gone.

Re-Design Time:

We had plenty of light so we nixed the synthetic lawn and selected a roll out turf called RTF. (Rhizomatous Tall Fescue)

Carol Lindsay, Portland residential landscape designer sites tree in Dog Friendly landscape design in Mt Tabor neighborhood

Carol Lindsay with specialty evergreen Holly Oak (Quercus ilex) Sam of D and J Landscape Contractors just off camera will plant the new tree.

I did more research on evergreen trees for replacement. It was important the new trees be immune to the Seiridium Canker that had killed the cedar trees. After talking to a few arborists, Steven Peacock and Chad Honyl, I selected very drought tolerant trees, able to handle the expected temperatures of summers to come. The new trees will not fix the loss of privacy soon but my clients wanted a long term solution that acknowledges the climate change and is not a quick fix.

Quercus Douglasii – Blue Oak

Quercus Ilex – Holly Oak

Cupressus glabra – Arizona Cypress ‘Blue Ice’ 

Once the new trees were selected I completely redesigned the planting plan to handle the sun and fit a landscape that had real lawn and the irrigation that would accompany real lawn. On planting day I was on hand to place the new trees and see the progress. It is still shocking to me that the large trees are gone but I love the new design and most importantly so do my clients.

Client Comments:

“We only had a rough idea what we wanted at first, and knew little about plants and trees. After we finished the Landscape Design in a Day kit, Carol and her assistant Alana came to our house and went to work. We went back and forth as she created her plan, sharing our likes and dislikes. It was a pretty easy process. 

After photo freshly planted Holly Oak - Quercus ilex in newly fenced cedar chip area for dogs.

Quercus Ilex – Holly Oak is highlighted by newly installed night lighting.

One of our goals was to build out a new area for our dogs, so they could have their own comfortable place while keeping the main backyard clean and poop-free. Carol worked all of our ideas in, and we’re delighted with the new dog area. Not only that, but our new modern patio makes our backyard much more welcoming and usable.

Landscape Design in a Day was a good fit for us because we only had to set up one on-site visit and a few conference calls to participate in the collaborative design process.

The contractor she referred us to, Donna Burdick of D & J Landscape Contractors, was excellent. We would recommend Landscape Design in a Day and D & J Contractors to anyone wanting a thoughtful, worry-free experience that results in a quality landscape.  We love our new backyard!”  Steve

Materials used:

Lawn-RTF Sod – Rhizomatous Tall Fescue

Patio – Acid etched (washed) concrete creates a beautiful finish

Lawn pavers – 18″ Mutual Materials Architectural (concrete) Slabs are flush set in the lawn. The color is called Cascade.

Dog area – The retaining walls are juniper posts, (no staining needed) with Hog Wire in fill fencing and Fiberx cedar chips

If you are looking at a modern landscape design for your yard, please contact me for more information.