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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.

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.

Landscape Remodel for Woodlawn Neighborhood Back Yard

Affordable Landscape 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.

Woodlawn neighborhood before photo of landscape design project

 

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 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

A year later and the affordable landscaping of this Portland home is filling in nicely.

One year later, plants are filling in so nicely. Japanese Forest Grass in the foreground. Hot Lips Salvia, Geranium, and a Manzanita in the background.

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.)

Drainage

Side yard has grown from the starter plantings in this Portland home.

Flagstone patio in the side yard.

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 situation and lessen the volume of water to the dry well which gave us more freedom within the design and 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, lavender 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, Zelkova 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.

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

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.

more complicated. They lost their existing fig tree to the new dining deck –  it was extra sweet to find the perfect spot for a dwarf fig tree in the new driveway entry 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

Affordable landscape plants Japanese Forest Grass & geranium in Portland home.

Mossy rock boulders raise this planting bed. Japanese Forest Grass and Geranium pop against the freshly painted garage.

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.

For more information on how I can help you with affordable landscaping at your home, fill out my contact form.

 

 

Laurelhurst Neighborhood Home Gets a New Backyard

Updated Hardscape With Existing Native Oregon Plants

Laurelhurst home landscape design creates functional space and room for plants.

Beautiful new backyard for this Laurelhurst Home

Clients Wish List

This client is a gardener extraordinaire. She had several beloved existing plants to work into the design, and a list of favorite plants.  The planting plan would be a collaborative design effort that would ensure her garden was colorful and encouraged hummingbirds and pollinators to visit.  The planting plan would be focused on summer and fall with full season interest plants situated for views from important windows.  Everything else would be for enjoying while outdoors.  She wanted her new garden to be a place that she could live in all summer and fall.

Her current backyard was not a friendly place to be in although it had beautiful plantings.  The existing sitting area was a narrow and awkward small deck.  Happily, it was old and rotting, so designing a comfortable sitting area right off the kitchen door didn’t mean removing a deck that still had years of life in it. She also wanted a bit more privacy on that upper deck.

She wanted a patio that could be multi-purpose –  seating or BBQ station or lounging with rooms for colorful plants in pots like Cuphea (Firecracker Plant).  Cuphea attracts hummingbirds like crazy in the summer and she always has a pot or two to enjoy.

Kebony Fence and gate updated teh hardscape for Laurelhurst neighborhood home.

Gate solution – Kebony instead of wood graces this Victor Vencill fence design in Laurelhurst neighborhood.

 

Designers Perspective

We love designing for city proprieties.  One of the challenges of the site is the short distance between the corner of the garage and the corner of the house. This is a classic spacial problem we often encounter with houses in old Portland neighborhoods like Laurelhurst.  It’s tricky for homeowners to figure out how to get a comfortable access path into the back yard without crowding out a useful back porch space.  We needed a ground level gate,  comfortable access to the garage and a big enough upper deck to accommodate a 4-person table.  The solution was a gate that opened out toward the driveway and also relocated the stairs to the house further away from this congested area.

Privacy

To create privacy for the upper deck from the neighbor’s yard, we designed a planter (flush with the deck).  Clumping bamboo will brighten the deck and provide the privacy needed.

Laurelhurst home gets creative and functional backyard landscape design

Before lower deck ate up space for plantings.

The large lower deck was ripped out and we opted for a smaller flagstone patio. The patio is at the same level as the garden and gives more space for plants, which this homeowner is keen on. The two materials also creates visual appeal by providing different colors and textures for different garden “rooms”.

Stairs Matter

Because the sliding glass door is so much higher than the backyard, 6 steps are needed to get down to ground level.  The key to increasing useful space that is more inviting is to stretch out our 6 steps and turn them.

Updated patio hardscape gets creative in Laurelhurst neighborhood, Portland, Oregon

After Design-Flagstone patio and Kebony deck creates functional space for two sitting areas.

While having stairs go straight isn’t wrong, we made a landing to easily access the stone patio on one side and the path for strolling through the lush and colorful hummingbird garden on the other.  Our client liked this simple and unique solution. If you turn right, you get to a lovely stone patio. If you turn left, you get to stroll through the beautiful hummingbird garden.

 

Laurelhurst back yard remodel before new hardscape with patio and fence.

Before – With the old deck removed, it’s easy to see how much space was wasted with the old layout.

Around the corner into the side yard, we opted for a budget friendly  low fence. We selected  Fi Bar cedar chips from Mt Scott Fuel for our path and for around the plants.  A generous helping of cedar chips makes for good weed suppression.  The plantings here will be seen from the dining room.  We used a few larger native shrubs to bring butterflies and other beneficial creatures.

Landscape design creates clients dream garden in Laurelhurst neighborhood with new fence, path and patio hardscape.

After photo-final day of installation. Notice the borrowed view of the neighbors trees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plants

The client’s must-have plants included an assortment of salvias,  natives and other pollinator plants.

Salvia Guarantica 'Black and Blue' is just one of the plants kept from the original garden in Laurelhurst neighborhood backyard garden.

One of the Homeowner’s Salvia plants – She loves to share clumps with friends and neighbors.

Her favorite salvias include S. guaranitica, S. microphylla, and S. patens.

Big native shrubs included Red-Flowering Current (Ribes sanguineum) and Dwarf Vine Maple (Acer circinatum ‘Pacific Fire’).

Besides the salvias, we added the Yuletide Camellia (Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’), which is like hummingbird candy in winter. It is positioned perfectly so that the clients can see it through their sliding glass door in the winter where it will flower for months.

Installation

Large curve in path will allow room for Adirondack chairs in Laurelhurst neighborhood backyard.

Designer/Contractor Team Alana Chau, Associate Designer LDIAD with Sam from D & J Landscape Contractors.

We referred the installation of the garden to D&J Landscape Contractors .

Materials

The client introduced us to a product called Kebony – a wood that is grown sustainably and treated with a natural preservative. It is made from pine instead of the more commonly used cedar.

Kebony has been used in Europe for many years and is now available in the US. It starts as a warm brown that will take on silver tones as it ages.  The installation of the product might cost about 25% more but according to their website, it requires no maintenance and has a 30 year warranty!

The railing is stainless steel cabling by Precision Rail of Oregon.

The patios were made using irregular bluestone flagstone and compacted crushed rock.

FiBar cedar chips were used for the side yard path.

Contact us

Would you like to create an inviting backyard to watch the hummingbirds and relax?  We would love to work with you.  Call us at 503-223-2426 or use our contact form.

No Lawn Backyard for the Whole Family

Concordia Backyard Re-Design

 

Concordia hardscape landscaping with multiple outdoor rooms.

New Sitting Area Has Easy Access to the New Garage Home Office.

Clients Wish List

Josh and Gina lived in this NE Portland home in the Concordia neighborhood for many years before deciding it was time to hire a landscape designer to redo the backyard. They wanted to convert the garage into an office, redo the back porch and add a hot tub. The kids were growing out of the trampoline and the family wanted more plants for interest as well as to create strategic privacy for the hot tub.

The office and hot tub were part of phase 1 installation and the new porch, which is in a slightly different location than the old porch, will be phase 2.  The design process needed to create a plan that could function nicely during the transition and be a perfect fit after the new porch was installed.

Designers Perspective

Before hardscape landscaping in Concordia neighborhood

Before

The family wanted to be able to eat outside, have a chicken coop, and enjoy a new hot tub – all within a normal-sized urban backyard. We created the feel of separation with two raised planter boxes. These were offset to create different sized spaces and add depth to the garden.

We decided to put the hot tub in a sheltered location so that we would only need to create a privacy screen for one view. We accomplished this with a tree and evergreen vine.

Concordia hardscape landscaping clint with some DIY client additions.

During

New Home Office

Since the old garage was now the office, it would be accessed most frequently from the back of the house instead of the driveway. So we bumped the fence out into the driveway and created a small seating area outside the office. Josh loves the calming, repetitive style                                                                                                                                                                      of a Japanese Garden

Hardscape landscape plans for DIY clients in Concordia.

After- Flagstone Patio with Walkways

We selected plants for this area that would give him this feel on the way to his new office without being too different from the rest of the garden. Once the plants grow up, this little seating area will feel like a separate room from the rest.

Phase 1

For most projects, it is possible to create a design for a phased installation without sacrificing the overall look. This design needed to function for both the old porch and the new porch, which will be about 10 feet to the North. We solved this with  thoughtful use of hardscape materials. During phase one, the space for the future porch is dressed with gravel and pots where they can have fun with veggies this summer. Also, we made sure the contractor did not install the flagstone to fit right up against the existing old porch. That way, when the old porch is removed, they will be able to add additional matching flagstone to the new porch so that it looks seamless.

Malus transitoria 'Golden Raindrops' is the 3 season tree the hardscape landscaping clients will see from their kitchen.

Malus ‘Golden Raindrops’. The gravel is a placeholder for the phased installation of the porch.

 

Plants

The focal point tree is Malus ‘Golden Raindrops’. The family has only had it in the ground for 6 months and already they are delighted by the changes of the seasons.

Color added with Camellia sasanqua to hardscape landscaping in Concordia.

Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’

The Japanese Maple is Acer palmatum ‘Seiryu’ and is surrounded by short sedges and evergreen ground covers. In a planter nearby, bamboo completes this mini feeling of zen.

We added the Camellia  sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ for those brilliant red flowers in the winter.

Materials

The hardscape is made from irregular basalt flagstone, dry set with generous spacing for creeping evergreen ground covers.

Client’s Reflections

“Josh and I feel so lucky to have found Alana to design our dream garden oasis. It would have taken us years to plan what she masterfully designed in a day! We were not ready to do everything at once, but with a professional design plan customized to our liking, we were able to move forward with a plan. (Even though it has been implemented in stages and mostly diy!) She offered support through the entire process, from the very beginning design stage to follow up after our phased installation.                                                                                                                We would highly recommend her services to anyone who is interested in quality and creative landscape design.” 

Seiryu Japanese Maple for Japanese landscaping appeal with hardscape.

Seiryu Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum

 

Contact us

Would you like to create a multi-functional backyard that extends your home into the landscape?  We would love to work with you.  Call us at 503-223-2426 or use our contact form.