Landscape in Irvington Neighborhood for Downsizing Boomer Clients
My clients had just moved into a bungalow on a small lot in NE Portland. They are baby boomers and were downsizing from a larger home and property. This house was charming itself with a gracious front porch and had wonderful bones. While we created a design for the entire property, this blog is about the back yard transformation.
The back yard had an existing covered dining area. It looked like a portico with the roof attached to their shed to me and was quite attractive but so badly placed. It was blocking access to the back yard. The clients wanted my direction for whether to keep it or have it demolished.
The existing landscape spaces didn’t fit together or make good use of the square footage available. They wanted good flow.
Privacy Screening for an Urban Backyard was a Priority.
They especially wanted privacy and better views from inside the house. In a larger property, creating lush green views from every window is easier with plenty of square footage between the windows and the neighbors. In small urban properties, controlling the views is more tricky to do well with typically 5′ to 10′ of space to work with. This space always has paths and other functions to perform and so is not solely available for plantings. The view of the next door neighbors multistory house and roof was especially obvious from inside the home office.
The rest of their wish list looked like this:
Two entertaining areas
A better utility area for garbage cans
A grassy area for their dog
Keep the large shade tree to the north
Poor Access to the Back Yard
This old Portland house had access from the home’s office to the back yard. Not ideal. No one wants friends and family traipsing through their office with BBQ prep and smores. The primary outdoor traffic would come from the kitchen door on the far north side which is a long ways from the activities of the back yard.
I feel when the home does not have access from a primary living room or kitchen directly into the back yard, we need to have a big reward (Carol make it magical!) when we get to the back yard. There is a psychological resistance when access doesn’t lead directly to the activity.
Given what they wanted, the key to success was integration. In this case it would involve bringing the walking surface to one grade and repeating hardscape materials. The shapes of the sitting areas, paths and planting beds needed to be one continuous flowing piece.
I replaced the deck under the Portico (covered area) with a flagstone patio, level with the rest of the yard. The flagstone is used again in the back yard to pull these previously separated areas into one. The large fire pit patio also has touches of flagstone. Using the same materials and making the walking surface the same grade did the trick. A custom wood cover allows my clients to use it for a low table instead of a heat source when desired.
Blocking View of Roof Next Door
We blocked the view of the house and roof next door with clumping bamboo. To get a height boost, custom planters were built at 36″ high so my baby boomer clients would not have to wait for years to enjoy privacy and a lush wall of green to see while working in their office.
The Kitchen Door
This little old concrete step was too big of a drop from the threshold and it wasn’t wide enough for a normal sized foot. We took the opportunity to legitimize this important family entry door by rebuilding this step with attractive materials that gave it beauty as well as function. It sets the feeling for returning home and into the kitchen which is after all the soul of any home.
This step will be used every time anyone heads to the back yard for relaxing, entertaining, and family fun.
Practicalities of Gates & Garbage Cans
We expanded the utility function of the side yard by relocating the double gate toward the front of the house. I tend to always set the gate back some from the front corner of the house, (at least a foot or two). I want all eyes on the front entry (in this case a magnificent front porch) not to the side yard. A gate parallel to the front of a house with columns often waters down the beauty of the entry to the home.
The garbage cans and recycling bins needed to be easy to roll out to the road for pick up. I had some grand ideas about plants on one side that would then switch but the gas meter location and garbage cans had other ideas.
I’m always keeping one eye on the goal. This area may be “just the side yard” but it must be attractive enough to be the introduction to the magical back yard entertaining area. In this case, the side yard had to do triple duty, block the view of tall house next door, welcome people home via the kitchen side door and make us want to keep going and see the back yard.
Back Yard Privacy
We didn’t have enough square footage of our own for back yard privacy. The trick here was to utilize some of the neighbor’s small trees “borrowing” their privacy plants. Yes it’s true a neighbor could tire of a small tree and remove it and leave a hole in our vignette but it’s worth the risk. There is nothing worse than a pile of beautiful plants fighting it out in the air space above the fence. It spoils the view for everyone. We want to see the shapes of our trees and plants, not a muddle.
Shade will Increase
The shade will increase over the years as the client’s old maple tree gets bigger. At some point the lawn will need to be replaced with synthetic lawn. However, most of the plantings I selected will make the shift to heavier shade.
My usual technique for any design is to take in the client’s desires and after careful site study create multiple layout drawings that all aim toward fulfilling those desires.
My clients were very helpful as we worked through the different layout drawings. Due to Covid we also worked over Zoom to finalize our layout. During that process we discover our priorities and so the wish list was winnowed.
When the contractors estimate comes in sometimes there is another winnowing after the design is completed. We discovered we could not alter a fence because it belonged to the neighbor. We let go of a hidden garden behind the shed and kept the existing small deck off the home office as is rather than flipping it for cost reasons.
It helps to have the design installed by a contractor who is familiar with my work and with whom I collaborate regularly.
My clients liked working with my recommended contractor Donna Burdick of D & J Landscape Contractors very much and got the benefit of our many years working together. Victor Vencill of Vencill Construction designed and built the high end custom planters and the fire pit cover. He also made corrections on their existing small deck. The three of us work together regularly and together we make an amazing problem solving team and have fun while doing so.
“We loved working with Carol. She created a beautiful design and final product. She is a great collaborator and listener. She drafted a number of versions of the landscaping design based on many conversations. We were not very experienced with landscaping and gardening, but she spent the time to educate us and listen to our perspective and style. She also understood our budget and provided a design that was beautiful and worked for our family. She continued to provide input during construction, which we very much appreciated. We now spend time every day enjoying the beautiful spaces Carol designed.”
Do you have a tricky backyard that needs privacy and thoughtful use of limited square footage? We love tricky city properties and would be happy to help you downsize your landscape to fit your new senior lifestyle.