Front Yard Thrives With Low Maintenance Rain Garden
Cindy and Chris were house shopping in Eastmoreland Portland, Oregon. Chris found the house and brought Cindy to take a look. The curb appeal was so bad she gave it the thumbs down and would not even go in the house. After looking at several other houses which just didn’t work for them, her husband talked her into going back. She went inside and fell in love with everything but the front yard. There was one big problem which wasn’t apparent at the time of purchase and might not have been bothersome if the house was in Arizona. Water!!! Water in the basement, and large puddles of winter rain water in the front yard drowned plants and lawn alike. As the years passed the problem worsened.
I’m married to a designer/remodeler and while he is a creative and competent professional, he can get a little pale talking about the complexities of finding a water leak. It can be very tricky even when you have solved these types of problem in many different situations for years. Its nothing one should ever be arrogant about.
Rain Garden Solution
Cindy is a figure it out, research the heck out of it kind of person. She talked to lots of different contractors, asked great questions and decided that a rain garden was going to be part of the solution for the water problems in her home. She took classes from the City of Portland and researched rain gardens. She determined the volume of water her roof and downspouts needed to handle using the formulas she learned in the class. Her solution was to install larger gutters and downspouts and have a dry well dug and installed to handle the overflow.
Front Yard Make Over
Cindy was not prepared to take on the front yard alone. She decided to hire a landscape designer she could collaborate with. I am not licensed to design drainage solutions. Cindy knew that. I was hired to create a landscape plan with her that would create beauty and curb appeal and hide all views of the mechanical water solutions.
How I did it
I design for beauty of the landscape and to enhance the appearance and the welcoming energy of the home. I don’t like seeing irrigation valve boxes, irrigation heads and tubing, or drainage hardware. It’s ugly.
I started by creating a beautiful natural shaped berm in the front landscape:
- It would create a second level which helps to add drama and contrast to the otherwise flat yard.
- We used the excess soil we would dig up to do the dry well. It’s a terrible thing to waste good top soil so we didn’t!!
3. They wanted a Japanese Maple. Cindy and Chris loved the up right (not the weeping form) of dark purple leafed ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese Maple. Japanese Maples, Acer Palmatum, are much healthier here in the Pacific Northwest when they are planted up on a berm. The raised soil keeps their roots from getting soaked in our winter rains. Dryer roots helps to avoid the dreaded verticillium wilt which kills so many of our beautiful maples here. Plantings on the berm under the Japanese Maple would be highlighted because they are on a higher grade in the lawn.
We tucked a few boulders in the berm. We added multi sized river rock over the top of the dry well and made it look like an attractive dry stream bed that fit into the berm nicely and as per Cindy’s plan would direct water to the dry well.
Plantings for Wet Areas
We still had a wet area near the dry well that needed plants. Cindy loved the evergreen Inkberry and Kelsey’s Dwarf Red-Twig, Cornus Sericea ‘Kelseyi’ shrubs I used. She had never seen the Inkberry, Ilex Glabra ‘Shamrock’ before. It’s the only evergreen shrub I use for low wet areas. Other typical small evergreen shrubs like Azaleas and Pieris get root rot and cannot be used in wet area applications.
We selected classic foundation plants to frame the house, added a large pot and Strawberry Tree, Arbutus Unedo ‘Compacta’ to pick up a little Italian style on the south side and we were finished!
I talked with Cindy recently. “The front yard is thriving. I’m so happy every time I look at it.” The design has stood the test of time. It’s been 10 years since we installed the design. The only thing she changed was replacing her Johnny Jump Ups Violas for Black Mondo Grass. Mission accomplished, she loves her front yard!
Cindy and I created the design together in a day. It was a simple design meant to be low maintenance with full season interest. Her landscape contractors installed the design, I came by and placed the plant material for the contractors and it was done. Voila!