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Archive for Low Maintenance Landscape Examples

Outdoor Living Landscape Design in Mt. Tabor Backyard

Outdoor Living Landscape Design has wide paths and easy access

Outdoor Living in Mt. Tabor neighborhood. Lounge area, dining area, hot tub, and chicken coop. Covered area is not installed yet. See below for finished design photo.

Outdoor Living in Mt. Tabor Backyard

These clients wanted to entertain and relax in their back yard

Matt and Nicole wanted all the classic elements for backyard outdoor living: outdoor kitchen, outdoor dining Area, and lounge area. They wanted to nix the lawn while also having open spaces for large groups to gather. They have beloved backyard chickens that need easy daily access, even in the winter. A small hot tub and a hammock were also must haves.

Mt Tabor Backyard Before Outdoor Living Landscape Design with muddy grass

Before: muddy lawn, few plants.

Designing for Outdoor Living on a City Lot

They wanted a lot of elements in a standard city lot. We needed to use every square inch wisely and have some overlapping functions. The first trick was the hot tub location. It needs to be close enough to electrical, away from basement egress windows and have some privacy. I could see that if we moved the gate, we could open up more space in the backyard and fit the hot tub into a cozy spot against the house. Fortunately, the fence needed an update anyway, so this solution was just right!

Backyard Access

The next design challenge was the lack of easy access. There is a gorgeous sun room on the back of the house but no access to the backyard. The only door to the backyard is from the basement. The primary way the family enters the backyard is the kitchen side door via the driveway. This was an important consideration for the entire design.

To make the garden to feel welcoming from all angles, we created sweeping curved lines for each of the beds. We chose crushed compacted rock for the paths. The paths needed to be easily accessible and dry all year long so that the family can collect eggs from either the basement door or driveway gate.

Hardscape Landscaping shows Flagstone, Crushed Rock Paths and Outdoor Kitchen

After: Believe it or not, this is the same angle as the “before” picture! The lawn is gone and the curved beds create a welcoming feeling from every angle.

Designing for Outdoor Living

Matt and Nicole wanted the outdoor living area to be able to accommodate a larger gathering. Therefore, I knew we would need to stack functions. Having the outdoor kitchen, dining table and lounge area together – similar to an open floor plan inside a house – allow all the functions to utilize the same open area. Friends can stand around the BBQ while someone is grilling. Or the family can easily bring out extra chairs whenever more guests arrive. They love the open feeling and flexibility of their new outdoor living space.

Hardscape Landscaping Materials

We used Bluestone (flagstone) for the dining patio surface and crushed rock for walkways and the lounge area.

The drainage was important for this project.  We chose crushed rock as the main hardscape material, which allows water to percolate through. Each disconnected downspout has either rock or water-tolerant plants to slow and sink the rain water as well. The dining area stands out with a higher end material – Variegated Lavender Bluestone. This flagstone is dry-set, (versus mortar set) which helps with drainage as well.

 

Outdoor kitchen, dining, hot tub and a lounging area fit into this Mt Tabor backyard
Lastly, I knew that the family would want to get to the hot tub without putting shoes on and gravel is not barefoot-friendly. This is overlooked more often than you might think! We made sure that the design included flagstone from the basement to the hot tub for easy, year round access.

Phase 2: Covered Dining and Landscape Lighting

Covered dining area completes Outdoor Living Landscape Design

Garden Installation by Sloan Martin. Dining and kitchen area cover was designed for construction and installed by a friend of the family.

Covered dining area completes Outdoor Living Landscape Design

Nicole and Matt worked with a friend to build the pergola.

In year 2, Nicole and Matt worked with a friend to build the pergola.

When you have a beautiful, brand new landscape, full of entertaining elements, lighting is a must! So, the homeowners added very simple string lights inside the new dining area. They also added a linear fire pit for night time ambiance. The backyard is now enjoyed after dark.

Design Review

“Thanks for all your help Carol and Alana.  We are so glad we hired you when we did.  You took all our wants and ideas to heart and the landscape design, which we love, is a true collaboration just as you say.  Thank you for helping us have our dream backyard.”

Are you ready to create a backyard for entertaining? Contact us today.

North Portland Landscape Design Tips for Modern Ranch Front Yards

Curb Appeal Tips for North Portland Mid Century Modern Ranch Front Yards

Here are three landscapes where we focused on the treatment of the front porch and steps, downspouts, railing, columns and brick planters of mid century ranch homes in Portland.

Let’s make your homes best feature the dominant visual experience.  To me curb appeal is not just for selling your home, it’s what you see every time you return home.  These are some simple ways to increase your home’s curb appeal right at the front door.  (Other LDIAD blogs will share information and examples about front walks as part of curb appeal or plantings, but not this one).

Modern ranch curb appeal starts at the front door.

I especially loved this design process with a creative spirited client in North Portland.

Modern Landscape Style Curb Appeal

After       Mid century modern entry in Kenton now has excellent curb appeal. The dark porch floor makes the brick façade on the house look amazing. The downspout and vertical railing simply disappear instead of distracting.

Kenton neighborhood ranch style curb appeal in North Portland after Landscape Design in a Day

The brick looks rich with the new simple color scheme.  A white downspout and the white original vertical railing was painted black to make them all but invisible.  The only white left is the windows and trim around the door.  Even the porch is stained a dark shade but the face of the steps is a warm shade.  That was my clients idea which I think is genius.  The original brick now looks right at home.  Simplicity and contrast are so helpful.

Pots placed at the base of the downspout and vertical rail interrupt the power of a vertical line.  Everything on this house is about a horizontal line, typical to mid century style.

Here are lessons from this design:

Portland Ranch Style Home wants a change

Before    Vertical railing and downspout match the trim of this mid century modern ranch house in Kenton neighborhood

Tip:  Treat the downspouts as background not trim. Match the body color of the house where possible.

Tip:  Use contrast to bring out the exterior details we want people to see and mute details we don’t want to see.

Brick Accents

If you have brick façade on the house, evaluate its worth to you.  Some of the brick was just cheap where other brick is unusual and well worth working with.  All the builders copied other builders and many put the planters on the ranch houses for visual interest without much thought. It was a thing.  This is especially prevalent in homes built in the early years of ranch style homes.  Ranch houses were mass produced and remain the most predominate style of house in the united states particularly 1945 to 1970.

Options:  Find a color for the body of the house that enhances the brick. It’s easier to paint the house. If the brick is ugly, remove it and replace with a different material that is interesting and adds good looks to your home.  Change it to siding. The siding could even be a group of attractive vertical cedar panels.  Even painting the brick (a last resort) might be worth doing if it’s really unattractive and you don’t want to replace it.  Put rocks in the top of the planter or grow succulents or if in the shade, other incredibly tough plants like our native sword fern.

Mid Century Brick Planters

So what about those mid century homes with brick planters?

Modern design update for Portland ranch home.

Mid-century modern ranch brick planter with river rock instead of plants.  A custom iron screen adds interest.  This was a great solution for this brick centric front entry in N.E. Portland.

I often say these planters are where plants go to die. Let me confess to a deep frustration because my clients rarely ever have plants that thrive in them.  I tried adding new drainage, changing out all the soil with potting soil, (a big job btw) and still never got the plants to look healthy and front yard attractive.  Adding polymers to the soil to increase moisture holding capacity was somewhat successful but only lasted a few years. I question the environmental stewardship of polymers in soil.

Deep Overhang Creates Dry Shade

Mid century modern ranch always has a deep overhang so these planters occupants must be hand watered even in the winter….who is going to do that?  I have successfully grown sword fern in them and clients who want to putter grow annuals in them but with difficulty. The soil is as dry as a stone and usually filled with leftover soil from from when the foundation was dug. They were meant for seasonal annuals at best. We want them to look good year round since they are front and center and they never do.  Aaargh.

Tip:  Don’t be afraid to change some of the original features if they don’t work.

Strong red brick tends to read as colonial instead of modern. There is a style of home called Colonial Ranch and you will see lots of strong red brick accents. Original brick planters or ugly brick façade are not the holy grail of a mid century modern ranch.  Be willing to consider alternatives unless the brick is attractive rather than garish.

Planting Success in Brick Planters?

Please send me a photo if you -happy homeowner- have managed to grow plants in them year round that add to the beauty of your front yard.  I’ll be happy to acknowledge your skills. If you keep the planters, take out the soil, add drain rock at the bottom. Replace the soil  or greatly amend it. Add a drip system to water the plants unless you have concerns about getting water in your basement.  My strong suggestion…..get rid of those plant killing planters or fill them with attractive stone like my clients in NE Portland did.

Tip: Exterior details of your house are more visually powerful than plants for enhanced curb appeal.

Sleek Modern Entry and Planters for Portland Ranch Style House

Ranch Style in Portland gets curb appeal Before Photo

Before: original brick planters disappoint the new home owners who want a sleek modern style for their front landscape and entry.

 

 

Modern update of landscape planter.

Phormium and Hens and Chicks fill this replacement modern concrete planter for the entry of a mid century ranch home in Portland.

 

Modern Landscape Style for Portland Home includes Front Porch and Planters

Curb appeal success after modern entry design is installed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Portland home also had its old brick planters removed and new smart modern concrete planters were installed with drip irrigation.  The new concrete landing of the front porch was greatly enlarged and steps opened on both sides. What a difference it made.

Overlook Neighborhood Home wants a curb appeal landscape design

Columns wrapped in cedar distract from the lines of this home in North Portland

Front Porch Columns needed help to achieve curb appeal for this 1990’s Overlook Neighborhood Bungalow Want to be.

While a mid century ranch typically does not have columns, changing this exterior detail fits right in with simple changes you can make to improve your homes curb appeal.  This client in North Portland’s Overlook neighborhood is a gardener and wanted a new look for her front yard landscape to achieve better curb appeal. She also wanted help with what to do with the columns on the house.  Her thinking had been to match the cedar siding on the second story by wrapping the columns for the porch in cedar.  She didn’t like the effect and wanted help with what to do.

Overlook Neighborhood Home in North Portland with updated columns for curb appeal

Treating the columns to match the body color of the house creates an attractive and elegant effect to this homes entry.

My suggestion, which she implemented right away, was to paint the columns the same color as the body of the house. This treatment put the columns back in their subordinate place as a supporting exterior detail. Then we had fun re-designing the plantings in the front yard…..designing around the obvious keeper plants and removing what didn’t work.  She had a Viburnum tinus that had grown into such an attractive large tree I almost didn’t recognize it.  Typically this common plant is a shrub.

Tip: Columns are a supporting exterior detail not a primary and need to be simple.

The change in the columns made a bigger immediate contribution to curb appeal, where our re-designed planting plan took a few years to make an impact.

My next blog will show dramatic examples of how changing the location, shape or materials of front walkways gives a house loads of curb appeal and increases the welcoming energy of your home.

Alana Chau and I love plants and creating planting plans. We know that making your home feel welcoming and looking great from the curb requires vision that includes your home and its exterior circumstances and details….not just plants.

Contact us for a collaborative and satisfying design process that integrates your home and landscape.

 

Affordable Landscape Design for DIY Budget

Portland Affordable Landscaping Using Existing Plants

Portland affordable landscaping integrating existing plants.

DIY front entry makeover

Priscilla knew she would be doing a majority of the work herself, so the design needed to be DIY friendly and affordable landscaping.  She needed a designer who understood that.  She selected Landscape Design in a Day and was all set for her on site design day with me, Alana Chau.  Priscilla is possibly the best sport when it came to her landscape design process. The day before we were set to meet, I tore my ACL playing soccer. Yes, I know, adults playing soccer are just asking to get injured. Luckily, Priscilla graciously rescheduled for a few weeks later.

Client Wish List

Priscilla and her family live on a gently sloping corner lot with a beautiful river birch (Betula nigra) as the main focal point. There were two other established trees and, to my delight, they wanted all of these trees to be part of the final design. They all seemed to be in great shape. The family wanted to keep a large amount of the grass for the kids. As is often the case for corner lots, the majority of space and sun for grass is the front yard.  There would be kids playing in the front yard as well as the backyard.

Using existing large trees help make landscaping affordable.

A mighty River Birch, Betula nigra, in winter

Big Trees

Working around well established trees is always a blessing and a curse. For anyone who has been to a brand new housing development where all the trees are skinny twigs and there is no good shade to be found, you know why an established tree is a blessing. Big trees also make the whole neighborhood look and feel good.  If you add the wildlife benefit of stately trees, you can understand why I encourage people to take care of and keep their big trees if at all feasible. The curse, of course, is the roots. And river birches are known for large roots right near the surface. Plants and lawn have a difficult time competing with these types of roots.

Portland home in need of affordable landscaping.

BEFORE

Garden Rooms Design Concept

This lawn was doing reasonably well considering the root competition but other plants would be difficult to get established. Instead of trying to create a garden bed around the birch, I decided to use the vertical weight of the birch tree to create separate garden “rooms” in the front garden. This allowed us to create an entry courtyard.  The courtyard idea fits the style of the home nicely by playing to the 4 low living room windows.  The birch divides the outdoor courtyard entry garden from the street frontage garden room nicely.

Keeping the DIY request in mind, we didn’t change the front walkway.  We worked with the existing walk and front door concrete pad.   Instead, I created the feeling of a wider entry with 2 circular shaped sweeps of decorative rock to either side of the front door.  We promise to get a better photo of the sweeps as they were a great idea for a difficult space and Priscilla and I are more than a bit pleased with our sweeps of decorative rock and the overall effect on this tricky entry.

Hardscape Landscaping Materials

Boulders from American Landscape Supply, delivered.

Decorative gravel from Oregon Decorative Rock.

Planting Plan

Choosing Plants

The 4 sections of beautiful mid-century windows are only a foot off the ground, and these are the only windows for the living room. We wanted to see greenery at ground level even in the cruelest month.  I knew we needed to showcase the windows along with the front entry door and I did not want to block any light whatsoever. Plant material was therefore kept low, with year-round interest.

Year long interest of coral bells helps with affordable landscaping.

Heuchera ‘Forever Purple’, Coral Bells

Geranium ‘Rozanne’, Lavender ‘Goodwin Creek’ and Heuchera ‘Forever Purple’ are repeated throughout the landscape.

Witch hazel adds winter interest for Portland home landscaping.

Witch hazel, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’

A winter-blooming witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’) graces the kitchen window on the opposite side of the house.

A DIY trellis for this Portland home supports a clematis.

Up-cycled trellis for Clematis ‘Polish Spirit’ from old windows

Clematis ‘Polish Spirit’ is positioned between two existing camellia hedges on an up-cycled trellis made from old windows.

 

Landscape Design Review

Priscilla’s Thoughts on Working with Alana

“My design experience with Alana and Landscape Design in a Day was outstanding and worth Every. Single. Penny! Here are some highlights that I think will be helpful for you to know about working with Alana:
• She took my opinions seriously and incorporated them into the design.
• Took our budget into mind—I need something that is affordable, but beautiful.  To get the final look you want, you may have to do the work in stages if you are on a budget—if you can embrace that, she can help you.
• She considered the seasons when plants would be blooming and not, so that there is never a time when the garden is completely bare of leaves and flowers. She also considered our gardening skill—not incorporating plants that require detailed, meticulous care.”

~Priscilla

Are you interested in improving your front yard through a collaborative design process? Contact us today!

Colorful Backyard Low Maintenance 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 with low maintenance plantings around the fir.

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 is a low maintenance plant.

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.

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.

 

 

 

2021 Update!

The Garden is looking beautiful as the plants grow in fat and happy.

Rain Garden filters the runoff from the roof, through a disconnected downspout and soaks into the ground. Acorus and Ilex surround the boulders.

Plants are filling in nicely: Heather, Mugo Pine and Geranium. The Magnolia anchors the bed, bermed up with boulders.