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.
The 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.
Move 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.
A 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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is a classic Rose City Portland bungalow with a tiny front yard. My clients Julia and Bruce wanted a welcoming no lawn entry garden. They were planning to raise their family in this home so they wanted a landscape design for the long term. The front yard had difficult, near hostile growing conditions. Large trees to the south blocked sun and used up water and nutrients leaving little for other plants. Julia and Bruce had dealt with the greedy tree roots by installing raised beds for veggies in the front but then their new “Friends of Trees” street trees had grown to the point the veggies were not getting enough sun. The raised beds created a barrier, and made the walk to the front door too narrow. The raised beds had to go.
Our landscape design needs to solve these problems.
We need welcoming paths and walk that easily accommodate strollers and for extracting children from car seats. There was no path from the driveway to the front walk. They wanted some colorful plants and also winter interest for the front entry. They were ready to lose the raised beds and wanted to have professionals install the new front yard landscape. They wanted low maintenance in the front so they could focus their yard work efforts in the back where they have fruit trees and some edibles.
Julia and Bruce like and enjoy plants and when they have time, they like to play gardener so our planting plan needed to have spark…….but stay low maintenance in the front so they could focus their yard work efforts in the back.
Our plants need to be able to thrive in a hostile environment so the plants needed to be selected by an experienced garden designer. Our new plants will thrive in difficult light, soil full of greedy tree roots and become able to thrive with less water and little maintenance as they mature. The plants also need to be useful to birds, and insects including bees, providing food over a long period of time. Many plants will have color and interest year round and create a view from inside the house looking out the picture window. The current view was a neighbors driveway and a large number of garbage cans.
While they are not the only Portlanders who have trees blocking light, I want to point out that south facing yards with deciduous shade trees require thoughtful planting for success. I call it hot shade. There is no morning light. The afternoon light will fall between the leaves of the neighboring trees and the plants will receive dappled light for intermittent periods of time. Late afternoon the front yard will get a blast of direct hot sun for at least an hour before the street trees leaves filter the summer sun into dapples again. The dappled light will support many kinds of plants nutritionally, (remember plants eat sunlight) but the blast of full sun will toast deep shade plants leaves. There are not enough hours of light to support full sun plants. Yep not fair!
Internet authorities and plant books have lists of plants for shade and sun primarily but there is an entire universe of what I call “between plants”. For this tough little Portland front yard, I selected “shade” plants that I know will take quite a bit of sun. Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ is one such plant. The first summer its leaves will scorch and so I always tell clients what to expect so they don’t think I’m off my rocker. The second summer there will be less leaf scorch if proper watering occurs. Not every Brunnera variety will tolerate afternoon sun dappled or not but ‘Jack Frost’ will.
Closer to the sidewalk and more sun, I selected (more “between plants'”) full sun plants that I know will tolerate some shade. They don’t require 10 hours of direct sun to thrive. Most black eyed Susan (rudbeckia) are listed as full sun plants but I have used them happily in part shade areas. Those dapples of light make enough food for them. They are a perfect example of a “between plant’.
The sun was more intense and less dappled closer to the sidewalk so I placed the more sun tolerant plants there, including hens and chicks, summer flowering heather (calluna vulgaris) lavender and the strawberry tree. The strawberry tree was planted on a mound to help it thrive because it needs excellent drainage and this is a flat yard, and also to give it a head start from the big trees greedy roots. When the strawberry tree matures, the lavender will have to be removed as there will be too much shade for them at that point.
We installed a path to the front walk from the driveway. There were a few muddy small flagstones there before. We actually walked though the motions of unloading a child from a child seat to sell ourselves on the idea of making the path even wider. When the front yard is so small it can seem wrong, or at least sad, to add more hardscape and take away room for plants; but being able to get kids and their accessories out of the car without contortion is a lovely thing.
The landscape contractor, D & J Landscape Contracting, used large flagstone to create this path and it’s so exactly what my clients wanted. It’s quiet beauty and thoughtful placement of each flagstone enhances the entire entry experience.
For a little winter drama we planted a red twig dogwood in an attractive pot for the entry pizzazz. There is enough sun (remember those dapples!) to allow the twigs to go a dark red in the winter and have green and cream leaves for spring through summer and a bit of fall color. If the twigs are in too much shade, there will not be pretty red twigs in winter and that would not produce the drama we want for winter.
Too often these narrow planting beds next to a house have vine maple or other small trees planted in a 36″ wide bed. This turns out badly because soon it will have to be deeply whacked just so people can use the walkway. This will happen with my red twig dogwood too unless we cheat.
This is one tough plant and a great performer but it is not a forever carefree solution because it will get too big. They will have to remove the shrub/small tree red twig dogwood from the pot every 3 years and whack at least 1/3rd to 1/2 of the roots off or it will crack a glazed ceramic pot. You can plant it in a plastic pot and not have to root prune it. Then in perhaps 5 to 7 years you will have to cut the pot off the plant, root prune the plant and put it in a new pot.
‘Listens to what you want (bird habitat, hosting, kids play area, privacy, interior views, etc.) and then draws up plans to fit your needs. Happy to refine the plans until it fits just right.
Great knowledge of plants. Chooses ones to accentuate your favorite season and colors.
Easy to work with. Had great references for contractors and where to source materials for a self completed project.’ Bruce and Julia
Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’ Dwarf Strawberry Tree will become our focal point for the front entry and our picture window view.
This large shrub or small tree looks wonderful in winter with its red “strawberries” and yes the fruit drop can be a little messy. If you are a neat nik pass on this plant. My clients loved the color of the bark, color of the berries and are prepared to deal with some fruit drop. Butterflies use this plant for a host so don’t be alarmed if you see a large number of one kind of caterpillar on it. Do nothing and enjoy the show. The berries don’t taste good to people but some birds will eat them if hard pressed.
This tree will have a sinuous cinnamon barked trunk and branches and will become the focal point. Because it is evergreen it will also provide my clients with a view of something other than the driveway and garbage cans across the street from their picture window. It’s all about the shape of the small tree so I suggest either no pruning or having a pro come and visit every five years. It’s very low water needs and will tolerate the hot sun and reflected heat from the driveway and sidewalk too so it fits our site perfectly.
Arbutus Unedo Compacta – Dwarf Strawberry Tree
Azorella Trifurcata ‘Nana’ – Dwarf Cushion Bolax
Brunnera Macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ – Siberian Bug gloss
Calluna Vulgaris – Summer Heather
Carex Morrowii ‘Ice Dance’ – Evergreen Grass
Daphne Odora ‘Marginata’ – Variegated Winter Daphne (existing)
Erica Carnea – Spring Heather
Rudbeckia f. ‘Little Goldstar’ – Dwarf Black Eyed Susan
Polystichum Munitum – Native Sword Fern (existing and new plants)
Saxifraga ‘London’s Pride’ – Groundcover
Sedum ‘Cape Blanco’ – flower food for brown elfin butterfly and groundcover for landscape
Sempervirens – Hens and Chicks
Vaccinium Ovatum – Huckleberry (existing) host for brown elfin butterfly
Does this Portland residential project inspire your front yard? Contact me to see how I can help your landscape design.
My client has a good design eye and she loves modern architectural style and modern style landscapes. However, her new home in Portland’s West Hills had a boatload of difficulties and she wanted a collaborative garden designer who would value her vision and strive to enhance it.
The first view of the house as you approach from the street is the roof. It’s a classic landscape problem for hillside homes. This is as far from welcoming as you can get. You can’t see the front door at all. The amazing view is in the back and the front yard is small, shallow and often below the road.
An modern styled entry courtyard would solve curb appeal, make a private sunny sitting area and give us an architecturally interesting entry appeal. I was prepared for hours of preliminary design to create the perfect enclosure for the courtyard. Instead my client found a photo that was the perfect inspiration and the design came to life.
My client loves her dog. We needed to accommodate the family Basset hound. The entry area is the only easily accessible outdoor place for the dog. The idea of a Basset hound with such short legs going down three sets of stairs, so he can potty in the backyard is torturous and potentially harmful for his back and hips. The enclosed courtyard is perfect for keeping the dog safe from cars and predators.
The fence would cut off views of the entry from the street even if it was a short fence. We accepted this and made the fence an attractive, visually strong presence on its own. We went taller with the fence to block the view of any parked cars and headlights.
The plantings for the exterior of the courtyard walls (out on the street side) are tricky. The first section has crushed rock. It’s designed for guest parking. The other step back sections create room for a mass planting of evergreen ornamental grass. Carex Morrowi ‘Ice Dance’ was the most low maintenance option.
The entry gate area plantings are very simple and rely on two pots, one larger, one smaller and a very low bright lime colored evergreen ground cover to go around the pots such as cushion bolax, Azorella trifurcata ‘Nana’ . The charcoal colored dyed concrete base of the fence needs the relief of bright and light colored plants.
We created the planting plan for the courtyard interior, and designed an echo chamber water feature to enhance the entry experience and to enjoy while sitting outside on sunny days.
The existing rockery style walls inside the courtyard were built with stone that was too small. It doesn’t look great with the new modern style. Our design replaces 1/3rd of the retaining wall with large boulders. It is surprising to see that large boulders look and feel so good even in small spaces. Small rock jumbled together to make a wall is rarely attractive and is far from a modern style landscape.
The final touches of the design are still in progress and I am looking forward to seeing the plantings completed.
If your hillside home is in need of a remodel, make an appointment today!Contact
This NE Portland bungalow landscape design project was a joy. My charming client had a new home that was beautifully updated on the inside but the landscape was a blank canvas and a bit rough. It needed a landscape design to address new walks, driveway and create strong presence. The large houses on either side dwarfed this sweet house. Look at the great lines of the porch!! I loved this house at first sight.
New driveway, low maintenance plantings, no lawn front yard, low water plantings and lots of colorful long season plants.
Everything, including front walk and driveway, needed to be carefully designed to enhance function and curb appeal. The proportions of the driveway and front walk required updating because life has changed a lot since 1940. Middle class homes in the Montavilla neighborhood had cramped narrow walkways and no pedestrian access to the front door from the driveway. People parked their one car in the driveway and entered their home through a side door. Usually the man of the house came in and hung his coat and hat on a peg on the basement wall and came in to the house via the kitchen. We are talking “Father Knows Best” era here.
I felt the house needed to be integrated into its land, that it was cut off and floating. We needed multiple planting levels supported by an informal rockery style wall. The levels are softened by the plantings which keeps the whole landscape integrated and inviting. Here is a designers’ trick, planting the area in front of the wall is an invitation and keeps the wall from feeling like a barrier.
I’m very picky about driveways. They need the right proportions to be a functionally usable space but still fit into the landscape not dominate it. I want to make it comfortable to get in and out of the car with groceries, kids and pets without stepping into mulch or plantings. I hate having to negotiate through awkward uncomfortable spaces.
“I hired Carol to create a design for my front yard and driveway replacement and to check in and work with the contractors during the installation process. Carol recommended Donna Burdick’s company D & J Landscape Contracting to implement the plan and I’m glad I chose them as well. Donna and Carol have worked together for years and speak a common language which made for a seamless experience. Carol is very flexible and can work with wishes of any level of detail. I had mostly vague, general ideas and preferences. She was able to take those and come up with something that I loved as soon as I saw the first rough layout.” Denise L.
Heather – Erica carnea ‘Adrianne Duncan’
Echinacea – Cone Flower
Berginia ‘Baby Doll’
Heuchera ‘Sugar Berry’
Sedum ‘Voo Doo’
Sempervivum-Hens and Chicks ‘Royal Ruby’ and ‘Carmen’
Salvia officinialis ‘May Night’
Vaccinium ‘Sunshine Blue’ Blueberry
Landscape Design: Carol Lindsay, Landscape Design in a Day
Landscape Installation: D and J Landscape Contractors
Concrete Contractor: Kerry Becker Concrete Company