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Drought Tolerant Landscape Design for Small Portland Front Yard

Creating A Dream Portland Front Yard with Drought Tolerant Plants

Drought tolerant front yard landscaping in Portland.

Bold Front Garden with Exciting Plants

Jazz up the Entry of this Modern Style Home

Ashley and family had just taken down two huge trees in the front yard. As they stared at the piles of mulch from grinding the stumps, they thought “now what”? They didn’t like their front walk, in fact they didn’t like hardly anything in the front yard except the front porch and a Japanese maple.  Ashley had ideas and favorite plants, but needed some direction and a design. They hired Landscape Design in a Day to make their dream front yard a reality.

Before Portland landscape design.

BEFORE: two large trees had just been removed

After Portland property removed nuisance trees they wanted a drought tolerant landscape.

BEFORE: Two trees wreck havoc on city sidewalk and must be removed.

The Japanese Maple was the only plant to keep in the front yard. It was poorly shaped and looking sad due to the big trees that had been crowding it, but we knew it could be an asset.  (Update) The clients have restored the tree with professional pruning and appropriate watering and 2 years later it is now the focal point of the entry.

Modern Style Hardscape Landscaping – Widen the Entry

The first objective is to create a better looking entry to the home.  We worked with the existing porch but changed the entry area dramatically.  Next we took a look at how to create more room for the family to get out of the car in the driveway. Getting a car seat out of a skinny Portland driveway is no treat, and creating a generous entry to the front door feels wonderful to use.  Dry-set Architectural slab with no gap creates an open level entry with fabulous curb appeal.  Brian of Mortar and Petal installed the design expertly.  We were able to achieve this transformation without replacing the existing driveway which would have been prohibitively expensive for a family who had just paid to remove 2 huge trees and replace their city sidewalk.

Modern design for special drought tolerant landscape plants.

DURING: Hardscape includes architectural slab, basalt boulders and steel raised beds

Raised Beds for Drought Tolerant Special Plants

Ashley wanted some special needs plants like Agave, which require extremely good drainage in order to survive our wet winters. Sometimes this can be accomplished by creating a berm, or tucking the desert plants under a deep eve. A third strategy, and the one that we employed here, is to create raised beds with a special soil/rock mix for drainage. The steel beds add to the modern landscape style and will look even more beautiful over time as the patina of the steel changes.  The warm rust reds echo the orangish tone of the cedar deck and front door.

Drought tolerant landscape during Portland winter.

AFTER: With the right design elements and enough evergreen, a front garden can look great even in winter, seen here on a sunny late-winter day.

Winter Wet, Summer Dry Plants

It surprises some people that you can use some classic rain garden plants, such as Juncus grass, in normal conditions. This Juncus creates a perfect vertical element that goes well with the dwarf mugo Pine in the background.  It’s a low water tolerant plant and a classic rain garden plant.

Drought tolerant landscape plants: Mugo pine and Juncus grass.

March Garden: Juncus grass, basalt boulder, Mugo Pine, architectural slab

Other plants in this garden include:

Yucca filamentosa ‘Bright Edge’

Ice plant, Delosperma

Heathers, Calluna and Erica

Several Agave’s, picked out by Ashley and doing great in the raised beds

Blue Fescue, Festuca idahoensis ‘Siskiyou Blue’

California Fuchsia, Epilobium ‘Bowman’ (a fabulous hummingbird plant)

Several sedums, including Sedum ‘Fulda Glow’

Drought tolerant landscape plants: blue fescue, sedum fulda glow and California fuchsia are so colorful

August Garden: California Fuchsia (Epilobium ‘Bowman’) Blue Fescue (Festuca idahoensis ‘Siskiyou Blue’), and Sedum ‘Fulda Glow’ below the boulders

Drought Tolerant Landscape Design

Creating a drought tolerant garden can be achieved in many different styles – Mid-Century Modern, Curvy, Native.  There is a bit more soil prep and hand watering to set it all up, but the long term garden is very low-maintenance and saves money on your water bill!

Ready for a drought-tolerant garden makeover? Contact us today!

Entry Garden for Ranch Style in Cully Neighborhood

Drought tolerant garden design in North Portland

My client Laurie had lived in her 1950’s ranch style home for over a decade and was only the 2nd owner. She removed all the lawn and added exuberant plantings that hid much of the house from the neighborhood. She loved lavender and (so do bumble bees) so much so her mail carrier would not use the front walk because of the generous number of happy bees. She loved her garden but over time the now overgrown plantings were not working for her NE Portland drought tolerant garden design transforms entry landscapeanymore.   It was time for professional solutions and a complete change.

She wanted a designer who would listen to her ideas and be easy to collaborate with. She found Landscape Design in a Day and from the first phone call we were having fun.  We had to make ourselves stop “design riffing”  to do the paperwork and set up our appointment.

Incorporate the ADU into Landscape Design

Integrate her landscape design around the ADU so it looks like one landscape for her home and the ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit).

A welcoming and comfortable walk to the front door and a separate entry walkway for ADU/studio building on the property.

Create an attractive and more professional drainage solution.  The 60’ long black pipe handling downspout water was fully visible on the surface of the front yard had to go.

No lawn.

Edit her existing plants and keep the best plants that fit into the new vision.

Select colorful interesting plantings to satisfy her gardeners heart that use little water. Use enough evergreen plants for winter cheer without sacrificing the lushness of spring and summer flowers and foliage colors.

Drip irrigation system so she could be frugal with water and have healthy plants.

Pollinator plants.

Include some plants typical to New Mexico where she grew up.  Must have prickly pear please.

Client wanted parking on the south side yard and easy paths to the house.

Incorporate boulders where possible

Designers Assessment and Solutions

I saw several issues in addition to my clients list

Entry needs a landscape update in NE Portland.The Front Door Entry Was Disappointing

I created a new front porch to give a boost to the overall appearance of the house and as a sit spot.  Initially most clients don’t consider what a difference changing the entry will make to the overall landscape.

She had the typical midcentury built in brick planters by the front door that kill every plant ever planted in them.  The planters, in addition to basically being a plant cemetery, took up too much room around the front door, making the entry feel cramped. To create a welcoming entry I knew the planters and aged cracked concrete porch must go.  We brought in Victor Vincill to design a wall treatment to replace the brick planter.  There was no siding under the brick. Victor used a vertical panel of warm cedar to add drama and to side the area where the brick planters had been.

With the new updated entry I wanted to open the house up to the neighborhood without losing too much privacy. We removed some beautiful but overgrown plants including smoke trees. We were not able to keep the hot pink flowering cistus as they do not transplant well but we added several into the new design.  Laurie loves them as do I.

There were several trees on the property I wanted to incorporate into the design:  a Japanese maple planted in honor of Laurie’s dad, a dogwood and a maple tree planted by her brother and a smoke tree. The rest of the plants needed to go, which can be a hard thing, but seeing how the proposed landscape would look Laurie was enthusiastic about clearing much of  the slate.

South Side Garden becomes SW Style

North Portland home in need of drought tolerant landscaping. Newly planted drought tolerant garden design in N PortlandLaurie wanted a fully drought tolerant garden on the south side that could defend itself against neighborhood foot traffic and dogs. Since this was the south side it was a perfect place to explore the more Arid and New Mexico style plantings. It was well over 100’ long and narrow.

I knew a bermed planting bed shape would create proportional mass for this corner lot garden. It is an especially long lot line.

I wanted to make a view for the south office window even though it had heavily curtained windows.  I felt Laurie would enjoy opening the curtains for morning light and seeing shrubs with butterflies and birds visiting it. I selected a fast growing large variety of California Lilac for her view which fit nicely with her New Mexico planting theme.

The Ugly Black Drainage Pipe Goes By Bye

N Portland ranch home gets landscape updateDesigner contractor collaboration (Donna Burdick, LCC) worked with me to discover the best drainage system.  We used a rain garden as a focal point for the front yard. It solves the drainage problem (bye bye black pipe!) and is an asset to the overall design and property.

Hardscape Landscaping in North Portland

Dyed Concrete with a sand finish for the new angled steps and porch

Vertical cedar siding solution for house façade replaces brick planters and adds interest

Compacted crushed rock paths with steel edge has dry set large flagstones to carry the eye through the garden

We used my special cedar chip for the woodsy garden path and sitting area for the ADU

Design Review

Drought tolerant landscape in N Portland“I want to thank you again for your incredible design sense and plant recommendations.  We are so happy with our south and front yard – we walk around it every evening, we sit on the new front porch and find so much solace and peace in it.  Our neighbors also love it and frequently comment.  The world needs more beauty and joy right now!! And how about my beautiful prickly pear (Nopales).  It’s grown exponentially from two pads to many!!!”

Laurie

 

2021 Update!

Drought tolerant landscape design includes cactus.

Cactus growing in the gravel garden. The plants in this section evoke the Desert Southwest, a special locale for this homeowner.

drought tolerant landscape design includes california lilac and italian cypress.

California Lilac and Italian Cypress growing happily in this gravel garden in NE Portland.

drought tolerant landscape design includes boulders

A stone step, leads to the crushed rock path. Ice plant is starting to creep nicely over the step and boulders.

If you love the drought tolerant and SW inspired landscaping, contact us for an appointment.

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.

 

 

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