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Landscape Remodel for Woodlawn Neighborhood Back Yard

Woodlawn neighborhood before photo of landscape design projectLandscape Remodel for Woodlawn Neighborhood Back Yard

My new clients have a corner lot in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. They were referred by their friend Julia whose Rose City neighborhood landscape I had designed. The flow of this back yard just didn’t work.  They didn’t have anywhere to enjoy sitting outside. They tried to imagine a new design but the house and property would not cooperate. I have felt this sort of surliness from a house in the past. The house crosses its arms and says I will not let you change me. Okay that’s a little weird but this was one of those times.

Designers Site Assessment

The yard area between the driveway and kitchen door on the west side is small and well past its maximum uses. It has the back porch, a planting area with a fig tree, a basement door, a garage door and a door to the mud room and kitchen. Each door requires transportation space to access it. They were trying to use the small back porch to BBQ and sit out on but in addition to being way too small, it was hot as Hades in the summer. The sunny south side yard was narrow but had no easy access to the kitchen. The door you see above leads to the basement, not the house, so they did not use the side yard.

Landscape designers know that a great design is all about how you move through a space and this yard needed someone to treat it like the Rubik cube it was and explore what was possible.

Client Want List

split level deck maximizes space in small NE Portland back yardThey wanted a place to BBQ and sit outside in cool shade.  Their small porch radiated heat and baked in the summer. They wanted shade and plantings that would bring birds and life into the landscape, plants for low water and oh did I mention SHADE? They wanted to want to use their south side yard for something but it had no easy access to the kitchen and had an extensive french drain to work around. They wanted absolutely no lawn and any new plantings to be low maintenance.

Design Solutions

We created many different layouts for the property searching for the best use of space. We all liked the design that replaced the tiny existing porch with a multi-level deck/porch. We  took out the planting bed with the fig tree. This allowed us to add a new lower level “dining” deck all the way to the fence and put the BBQ function on the upper level. Dan could not believe how much wasted space they had in the old layout and how much room they gained in the new one. But how would we provide shade to this baking area?

Getting great shade exactly where my clients wanted it was challenging. Designing overhead cover options for the new expanded 2 level porch was going to add another 8 to 15 grand. Our obvious choices were:

an arbor with canvas shade cloth – expensive

a large retractable awning – expensive

a very large tree (price tag installed at 8 to 10 grand)

After landscape design brings life to narrow side yard

Progress photo from D & J Landscape Contractors shows our two young shade trees and the partially completed new deck

The answer came from an unexpected place.

South Side Yard to the Rescue

After Alana and I flipped several layout drawings every which way, we discovered there was a perfect spot just around the house corner begging to be a small patio. We could plant a tree between this small patio sitting area and the SW sun to provide shade the very first summer. Our clients could use their new dining deck the first year on cooler days and use the new side yard patio for hot days. This small stone patio will have shade quickly. Which left us free to purchase our primary shade tree (to shade the porch) at an affordable size. We planted a 3″ caliper tree at about 12′ feet tall.

It will be 5 years before this tree provides much cooling. They will have to use an umbrella now and in ten years they will have the shade they want.

(Alana Chau was my apprentice for this Landscape Design in a Day and is now my design associate.)

The dry well and french drains were a little tricky for us. By law, landscape designers cannot make changes to drainage or make recommendations. We had to create solutions that would not disturb the drains. We knew our favorite licensed landscape contractor, Donna Burdick, would be able to simplify some of the restrictions we were given by our clients regarding the existing drain systems. Happily, our clients decided to hire Donna of D & J Landscape Contractors for the install.  She had installed the design for their friend Julia as well. Donna was able to improve the grade and lessen the volume of water to the dry well which gave us more room for our plantings.

New side yard patios create faster shade for clientsThe Side Yard Comes to Life

By adding a small stone patio along the side of the house and making a raised garden bed for the plants, we gave our clients a reason to enjoy their side yard which previously had been a dead zone. Dan says, “it’s so much better being back here because it is so much more alive. Now there are birds and bees in the garden.”  This planting area includes pollinator friendly cone flower, lavander and nearby native plants such as vine maple, ocean spray, salal and sword fern. We included a manzanita for hummingbirds and winter flowers.

Trees 

I confess I agonized over the selection. I wanted to use a Kentucky Coffee tree for its fast shade and strong wood but could not find one big enough to start with. I also toyed with an unusual evergreen oak but it grew too slowly. I finally went with a Japanese Elm, Zelkoua serrata ‘City Sprite’ because I could find it in the perfect size for planting and it would not get too wide for the space between the garage and the second story of the house. The “surprise patio” tree is a Cornelian Cherry, proper name is Cornus Mas and it is an unusual form of dogwood. It’s a wonderful tree for birds, handles hot sun well or part shade and will be a smaller round headed tree.

After residentail landscape design creates spacious and welcoming entry

Welcome home entry area has room to move an attractive gate and a (white tag) dwarf fig tree.

The Family Entry

Before driveway leaves little room for entry to the back yard

Before our Landscape Design in a Day process, the driveway space is a little tight.

The driveway didn’t have enough room to get out of the car comfortably because of the location of the fence and gate. I have to comment that my clients were fine with the tight access from the car. I am the one that felt it was too tight. It was hard for them to believe that giving up 18″ of their precious deck dining area could possibly be smart. However, they were  sure they only needed room for 4 people on the dining deck and that 90% of the time it would be 2. That gave me a stronger reason to gently push my idea about a spacious entry area from the driveway. Christie was the one who parked in the driveway and I think maybe she thought I was nuts at first. Happily they went for adding the additional space to the driveway area which gave us room to set the new gate at a welcoming 45 degree angle. They still had comfortable access into their new back yard whether carrying groceries or something more complicated. They lost their existing fig tree to the new dining deck –  it was extra sweet to find the perfect spot for a fig tree in the new design.

Materials used in the design

Variegated Lavender Blue stone for the dry set flagstone patio and path

Cedar decking 2 x 6

Deck stain brand is Storm – color is cedar

1/4″ minus compacted crushed rock for the paths

Woodlawn home gets Mossy rock delivery for new landscapeMossy rock for the raised planting bed -It has a rustic feel to it that I like and it will moss up nicely.  It also has the advantage of being lighter than basalt so easier for the contractors to bring in and use.

Check out the beautiful gate!!!

Cable railing for the deck; Dan says the open cable railing makes the whole garden feel like one space including the deck. He loves it.

 

 

 

Sloped Front Yard Landscape Design for Foster Powell Neighborhood Home

Steep sloped front yard with lawn Foster Powell neighborhood before landscape designLandscape 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

Steep sloped front yard entry landscape design solution Foster Powell NeighborhoodThe 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 path from driveway in Foster Powell Landscape DesignMove 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.

Boulders and attractive plants replace steeply sloped lawn in Foster Powell front yardA 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.

Hebe albicans 'Sussex Carpet' in Mount Tabor neighborhood of Portland Oregon

My favorite hebe for Portland, Oregon

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.

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 Landscape Design Renovation in Foster Powell Neighborhood

Portland Backyard Landscape Design Renovation

Foster Powell Backyard Before Landscape Design Portland Oregon

Before Landscape Design

Making 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.

Foster Powell Backyard after landscape design using existing elements and plants in 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

Existing Red Adirondack Chairs to use in the new backyard landscape design in Foster Powell backyard landscape design 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.

They wanted

Design usable areas with good flow and good integration

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

an improved 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 backyard landscape design with picnic table in Portland Oregon

We kept the existing apple tree and it is thriving next to red umbrella.

Foster Powell back yard with existing apple tree before landscape design in Portland OregonAt 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 he requested from the local rock yard.  The delivered product 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 yet.  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

Ceanothus grown as a tree in Willamette Heights entryCalifornia 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.