My new clients love architecture and have a great appreciation of modern design. Their new home is a beautifully designed ultra modern split level in the West Slope neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. If you have preconceived notions about modern toss them out right here. Wow what a great house. My clients wanted to design their own landscape woodland sanctuary but the problems with the unusual site, especially in the back yard, had them baffled. Finding a landscape designer who sees her clients as design partners felt just right so they contacted me for a Landscape Design in a Day. Collaboration wins the day……… Full disclosure……….this property was too difficult to create in the same time frame as my more typical Landscape Design in a Day. It took several appointments and many more hours to reach the right design.
Easy access to the backyard from the house
What to do with the steep mound by the back doors?
Create a large enough entertainment area that is easy to access from the house
Create privacy from the adjacent park without blocking the view into the park
Block the view of 20′ concrete wall up the hill at the rear of the property. It loomed over the property
Create a planting plan for the steep shady hillside that provides year round color, and native plants for birds
Design an edibles garden for their narrow south side yard and create easier access to it
I’ve never seen a property like this one in 25 years of Portland landscapes. The back yard is separated into two sloped spaces, an uphill and a downhill divided by a gully.
There is no functional access from the house to the back yard. Reaching the back yard requires negotiating down a steep muddy slope. The only level area is too small to use and also skews the proportions of the house. The house feels as if it’s floating and not remotely connected to the site. How could we pull this property into an integrated whole?
It’s a tough one and deserves my Difficult Site Award. The house is truly amazing and I love the challenge of making the outsides match the value of the insides. Once we get the design just right and it is installed, the back yard will be a jewel…….and yep it’s going to be a lot of work.
I knew a multi-level deck would solve our 3 biggest problems.
The house is fantastic and modern so the deck design must be up to par. One way to do that is to give our deck interesting angles rather than a rectangle thrust straight out into space. Another way is to repeat the color of the house exterior in the planters and to skirt the deck to match the siding of the house. Integration is the mantra for this design.
Our deck design created several functional areas. The upper deck is for BBQ and intimate seating and sets up the transportation flow to the lower deck and north side yard. The stairs down to the lower deck is set at an angle creating both interest and best use of square footage for entertaining areas. The lower deck is for larger group dining. Their stairs help handle the grade issue (hide the steep mound) and allow us to easily reach the edibles garden.
Trex Contour Chateau Grey – deck walls and planters
Next, they tackled the deck installation which required professionals and significant expense. Now that the deck is mostly completed, boulders will be installed in a rockery style around the deck. Planting this area will follow which my clients will DIY.
The next project is the hillside. They hope to install the hillside paths and finish installing their woodland planting plan on their own. Understory trees and shrubs will soften the view of the 20′ concrete wall and provide for birds. Forest floor plants like Salal, Vancouveria and Trillium will feed birds and pollinators alike. The narrow south side yard was the only location with enough sun for the edibles garden. They installed this garden right away, satisfying their gardening itch.
“We are grateful that our painstaking research of local landscape designers led us to Carol and Alana. After a preliminary questionnaire to elicit our preferences, Carol and Alana spent significant quality time assessing our space and then sitting down with us at the dining table to begin their detailed and highly-tailored design process. We look forward to seeing our plants and gardens grow over the coming years and thoroughly trust that Carol and Alana have set us down the path of greatest success.”
Thank you to my collaborators; my clients and my design associate Alana Chau. For more information on how we can help your landscape design, contact us!
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.
The 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.
Move 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.
A 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.
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.
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.
Here’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.
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.
My clients, Dan and Patti, moved to Portland to be close to family, especially their grandchildren. The previous owner of this sweet 1920 bungalow in the Irvington neighborhood had used the backyard primarily as a place to park a large RV. The shed was located to face the driveway and a concrete pad for parking the RV was the main focus of the backyard. My new clients like to live and entertain in their back yard. They would be providing childcare for a handful of grand kids several days a week so room for kids to run and play was critical but knew they didn’t want any lawn.
The collaborative style of a Landscape Design in a Day was very attractive to them. They were happy to measure and draft their existing property for me. Most clients do their own measuring. If the lot is sloped or especially difficult, we will do the measuring and drafting. We talked about their goals and possibilities of their site. Their backyard abuts a large Portland park. They can watch movies that are played in the park from their backyard. They enjoy the sound of soccer games and kids playing. The park also provides two large shade trees near the property line that are well placed and provide cooling and privacy. As we talked we created a scope for the landscape design.
Integrate functional play space for the kids into a garden design
They didn’t want the landscape to look like a play yard
Keep the large shed (more about the shed later)
A large custom-built sandbox
(They had a construction design for a big sand box to incorporate into the design.)
Outdoor dining for large fourth of July family gatherings and summer birthdays
A lounging area for just the two of them with a heat source
Lots of flower power and foliage leaf color for Patty who loves the NW green foliage but misses the colorful exuberance of a sunny California flower garden
Existing Shed: There was a large existing shed and when they said they wanted to keep it but were willing to relocate it, I breathed a sigh of relief. The sheds existing location was a roadblock to a successful use of the space. I’m happy to accommodate my clients requests unless the request conflicts with having what they want. It’s my job to know when someone’s good idea is going to be a problem so I would have gone into my best persuasive methods but happily I did not have to.
The outdoor dining room: The sheds new location made a perfect wall that defined the dining room and gave us a place to hang a buffet board that would serve food and beverages for both the lounging and dining room area. It helps with screening out an unwanted view.
I added further definition to the dining room with a stone planter that also separated the large (very cool) sandbox from the dining area.
We created a large curved berm which serves 3 functions:
1. The path around the berm is great for kids running around.
2. We created a kids play area behind the berm. Their grandparents added a sun sail to protect them from the hot sun and to make it feel even more like a fort or hidey hole. The corner area is big enough for many kid activities.
3. Berming up the soil makes it a perfect place to plant Japanese Maples. They can get verticillium wilt here in Portland but rarely do when planted on a berm.
The spacious lounging area is conveniently located off the back door.
In addition to using colorful plants in the backyard, the south side of the backyard has an edibles area and flowers for cutting.
They hired my favorite landscape contractor Donna Burdick to install and Donna and I worked together on various issues for a fantastic installation experience.
“We are thrilled with the designs she created for both our front and backyards, which were executed and installed by D & J Landscape Contractors (another highly recommended company). The yards have been transformed into welcoming, beautiful spaces that we appreciate every day, whether we’re looking at our new views out the windows, or enjoying dinner outside”.
We used mutual materials for the patio pavers and the paths were compacted 1/4 minus crushed rock with steel edging. The soil was prepped and irrigation was installed. The stone planter walls are mortar set basalt locally sourced.
Here are a few of the more colorful plants we used
Coreopsis ‘Big Bang’
Fuschia magellinica – Hardy fuchsia ‘Golden Gate’ and ‘Beacon Red’ and ‘Double Otto’
Heuchera – Coral Bell ‘Purple Petticoat’, ‘Lime Marmalade’, ‘Havana’, ‘Paris’ and ‘Fire Chief’ for hot foliage colors and flowers
Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ Japanese Forest Grass- stone planter
Berginia C ‘Baby Doll’ – stone planter
Hosta ‘Halcyon’ (blue foliage)
A trio of classic Peony, ‘Sarah Bernhardt’, ‘Red Charm’ and ‘Duchess de Nemours’
Dicentra ‘Goldheart’ – gold leafed bleeding heart
Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’-gold leafed mexican orange shrub
If you’re looking in the Portland area for a new landscape, contact me to see how we can work to design your property.
My client Sherry has been in her new home and garden for about 5 years now. She has kept me informed about her garden adventures so I’m sharing them with you. It’s great to see people having fun with edibles and her garden and experience show how much you can learn over time and the rewards of yumminess that result. Here are excerpts lightly edited for clarity.
My garden is thriving. Be careful what you wish for. You know that fig we transplanted from the old house that I didn’t think would make it has thrived. I had to learn how to prune it for fruit production. At first I pruned it in the winter then I learned that I had to wait until after the late spring early summer harvest to prune it. This way the tree can put on new growth for next years crop. I didn’t know that figs only grow on last year’s new growth. I’m not sure what variety I have, it has green skin and pink flesh. The July harvest is plentiful but determinate—all fruit ripening over in a 2 week period. I had to give a lot away to neighbors and the food bank to keep from wasting them. The fall crop was small so I have taken to doing the pruning in late summer which impacts the fall crop drastically….which is fine.
This year (2017) I had a large enough fall crop to take fig sample into my weight watchers group. I opened a few eyes on their yumminess Few had enjoyed fresh figs, fully ripened, right off the tree. These figs are my new summer pleasure. I pruned right after the first big harvest this year instead of waiting ’til later in the summer. There was enough new growth to produce a modest harvest in fall too.”
Here is my berry harvest schedule: We start in April with the Honeyberries-great in yogurt or muddled in a sparkling vodka drink.
May brings the early hood strawberries followed by the blueberries and then raspberries. Salal – a native evergreen shrub I love to eat the bitter but flavorful berries that set in late summer.
Now in August I am still enjoying a few blueberries as I planted some late varieties to extend the harvest and the day neutral (or ever bearing) strawberries provide an evening appetizer after I park the car. Once the raspberries were done, the OSU Thornless blackberries kicked in and will continue into late September.”
The blueberries are great. I have 4 different varieties and recently I moved them so they are closer together. My husband’s favorite is called ‘Peach Sorbet’. It’s an evergreen with purplish leaves in the winter and green leaves in the summer. Produces a large harvest, great flavor, medium to large berries. It was planted 3 years ago, and I collected fruit for 8 weeks this year. I surrounded the plant with a structure covered with bird netting because the birds (should be eating the seeds we provide them and) need to leave the blueberries for me and my husband. Another variety, ‘Top Hat’ is a prolific dwarf bush with small blueberries that pack a lot of flavor in such a small package.”
Espaliered Asian Pears
“I set it up with 2 grafted varieties in 2 rows, but this year I added the third top row because I had the room on the fence. One year I had a very low production rate due to the wet spring causing poor pollination even though the pear trees are near my extensive mason bee hosting program. To combat this I have learned how to hand pollinate and this was so successful that in 2017 I had to provide extra support to the limbs because the weight of the fruit was threatening to damage my tree’s structure. I harvested 99 Asian Pear – 100% success rate!!
I don’t use pesticides so I wrap nylon socks with kaolin clay around each fruit after it gets about an inch in diameter. This is an organic method to stave off coddling moth. I also take off all but one flower from each fruit spur so I get fewer pears but they are bigger. We started getting good harvests in 2016 about 4 years after we planted our trees. Check out my photo…….was I proud or what?”
Sherry is a Clackamas County master gardener and enjoys her garden on an 8,000 sq foot lot in Milwaukie. She has a tiny lawn for their dogs so the rest of the garden is dedicated to entertaining space, plants, edible plants, mason bees and love.