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Modern Landscape Design for Family and Dogs

How to Adapt When the Modern Landscape Design Changes

Before photo of dog only back yard in Mt Tabor neighborhood needs modern outdoor entertaining areaMy new clients are a family of six, four humans and two dogs. Their home near Portland’s Mt Tabor is three stories (2 plus a daylight basement) of mid century modern. It’s what I call a sleeper home. The front facade is attractive and simple –  so walking in the door to see the remodeled interior is an exciting surprise. They clearly know good design when they see it as they worked closely with an architect to achieve the  stylish and perfectly proportioned modern interior.

Clients Wish List:

Create a backyard landscape with an inviting sitting and entertaining area, a non structured kids play area, 1 or 2 raised beds for flowers or edibles and very low maintenance plantings.  Help make the back yard for everyone, not just the dogs.

Site Description:

The property has difficult access to the back yard. The family has to walk down a flight of stairs. It’s hard on their oldest dog. The only other access means going down and out the first floor, which is not used regularly. They primarily enjoyed the outdoors from balconies on the upper floors. The view south into sky and their tree tops (13 mature conifers) was lovely from the house. The large yard was lined with huge trees creating lots of privacy and bird habitat. The center of the yard was a blank slate.

The primary activity associated with the back yard was cleaning up dog poop, avoiding it or stepping in it and mowing the wild lawn in the spring and fall. It was not irrigated in the summer.

Designers  Solutions:

After photo of modern landscape design in Mt. Tabor neighborhood of Portland OregonAs much as I love starting with the layout first, (hardscapes, patio, planting beds etc.)  we needed to solve the dog needs first and change this to a yard for the whole family. To do that we needed to control where dogs went to relieve themselves.

I needed easy access for the dogs to get to their poop area and confine them from entering the rest of the yard. This means (it’s very simple really) the dogs can fly down the stairs to their run around and poop area but they can’t get into the main back yard except with their people.

We used the existing stairs location but made dog steps off the side of the landing allowing the dogs into a large area fenced off from the rest of the yard. This area is higher than the rest of the back yard so it’s not so far down. It’s big enough for the younger dog to romp around and do perimeter fence work, less stairs for the sweet old dog, has great shade and it’s easy for humans to get in there and clean up the poop.

After close up of hardscape in modern landscaping design in Mt. Tabor neighborhoodTo reach the back yard, we go down more stairs and enter into the outdoor family entertaining area through a gate. Dogs are invited to join their humans through this gate, after all they will get to use the big back yard too, accompanied by their humans. 90% of the poo goes in the dog yard which is covered in 6″ of special cedar chips.

New large Patio pulls the family outside

The new large concrete patio was scored in large squares to pick up the modern style of the house. These lines are repeated in the dry set large square concrete pavers set into the lawn as a path. The new patio connects to the house on the basement level. This area is covered by the existing balcony on the main floor, and has a storage area for yard toys, furniture and tools.

Finished Design or so I thought?:

We had our large outdoor entertaining and sitting area, a cedar chip area for kids unstructured play, a special area for the dogs to play and to poo,  a path into a second unstructured forest(ish) play area for the kids and a covered storage area. I specified synthetic lawn to protect the large native cedar trees. They are adverse to fertilizer and excessive water which is of course what a real lawn wants.

Sad Story – Cedar Trees have Seiridium Canker:

Before photo of dog only backyard needs attractive modern outdoor entertaining area

View from the master bedroom balcony before Seiridium Canker disease caused 11 large trees to be removed.

I referred Donna Burdick of D & J Landscape Contractors. Donna came out to meet the clients and assess the site about a year after we completed the design. Several of the cedar trees had lost significant foliage and what remained was yellow. The contractor brought an arborist out to examine the trees before moving forward.

The cedar trees had a disease called Seiridium Canker. The disease was so infectious that all 11 mature Incense cedar trees would be infected in a short time and so they were all removed. The two large Yew trees were immune and unaffected. Sadly we now had plenty of sun for real lawn………..The trees, privacy and shade were gone.

Re-Design Time:

We had plenty of light so we nixed the synthetic lawn and selected a roll out turf called RTF. (Rhizomatous Tall Fescue)

Carol Lindsay, Portland residential landscape designer sites tree in Dog Friendly landscape design in Mt Tabor neighborhood

Carol Lindsay with specialty evergreen Holly Oak (Quercus ilex) Sam of D and J Landscape Contractors just off camera will plant the new tree.

I did more research on evergreen trees for replacement. It was important the new trees be immune to the Seiridium Canker that had killed the cedar trees. After talking to a few arborists, Steven Peacock and Chad Honyl, I selected very drought tolerant trees, able to handle the expected temperatures of summers to come. The new trees will not fix the loss of privacy soon but my clients wanted a long term solution that acknowledges the climate change and is not a quick fix.

Quercus Douglasii – Blue Oak

Quercus Ilex – Holly Oak

Cupressus glabra – Arizona Cypress ‘Blue Ice’ 

Once the new trees were selected I completely redesigned the planting plan to handle the sun and fit a landscape that had real lawn and the irrigation that would accompany real lawn. On planting day I was on hand to place the new trees and see the progress. It is still shocking to me that the large trees are gone but I love the new design and most importantly so do my clients.

Client Comments:

“We only had a rough idea what we wanted at first, and knew little about plants and trees. After we finished the Landscape Design in a Day kit, Carol and her assistant Alana came to our house and went to work. We went back and forth as she created her plan, sharing our likes and dislikes. It was a pretty easy process. 

After photo freshly planted Holly Oak - Quercus ilex in newly fenced cedar chip area for dogs.

Quercus Ilex – Holly Oak is highlighted by newly installed night lighting.

One of our goals was to build out a new area for our dogs, so they could have their own comfortable place while keeping the main backyard clean and poop-free. Carol worked all of our ideas in, and we’re delighted with the new dog area. Not only that, but our new modern patio makes our backyard much more welcoming and usable.

Landscape Design in a Day was a good fit for us because we only had to set up one on-site visit and a few conference calls to participate in the collaborative design process.

The contractor she referred us to, Donna Burdick of D & J Landscape Contractors, was excellent. We would recommend Landscape Design in a Day and D & J Contractors to anyone wanting a thoughtful, worry-free experience that results in a quality landscape.  We love our new backyard!”  Steve

Materials used:

Lawn-RTF Sod – Rhizomatous Tall Fescue

Patio – Acid etched (washed) concrete creates a beautiful finish

Lawn pavers – 18″ Mutual Materials Architectural (concrete) Slabs are flush set in the lawn. The color is called Cascade.

Dog area – The retaining walls are juniper posts, (no staining needed) with Hog Wire in fill fencing and Fiberx cedar chips

If you are looking at a modern landscape design for your yard, please contact me for more information.

Privacy for Tiny Urban Back Yard in Buckman Neighborhood

Tiny Buckman Neighborhood Backyard needs Hardscape Landscaping

After photo of tiny urban back yard in Buckman neighborhoodMy client’s 1909 house fills most of his 36’ by 100’ lot. My mission?  Transform his tiny narrow utilitarian “yard” into a private and relaxing place to be for summer. He was especially interested in finding a designer with a close working relationship with an installer.  He didn’t want to end up with a great design and no one trusty to install it.

Client want list

Before photo of tiny urban back yard in Buckman Neighborhood needing hardscape landscaping.Usable private outdoor sitting space for 2 with a meditative and natural feel

Hide the garbage cans from sitting area but keep easy access

Privacy from south and west neighbors’ windows

Very low maintenance

Dog friendly

Use plants that remind him of nature

Use the most environmental materials and low water plants.

Designers Perspective on the existing site

My client was making do with a 3’ x 3’ private sitting area. It was only private with the back of his Adirondack chair tight to the fence. The neighboring houses had large windows and “looked” down into the tiny yard and one of the garages (happily with no windows) sat on the property line and was part of the yard enclosure.

He loved the neighbor’s large and mature cherry tree. There was a high 30’ long single branch whose side branches provided cool shade all along the back of the house. They were beautiful to look up into, but the branches were too high to provide privacy. I think there is something very inviting about being under tree branches. The downside was the sticky cherry pits.

Dog Friendly

After photo close up of hardscape landscaping stone planters with privacy tree just installed Buckman Neighborhood

Look closely for the ‘Pacific Fire’ Vine Maple privacy tree with coral red tiny trunk

Many city dogs spend a lot of time on walks and at the park so the small yard would not be his primary exercise or potty area.  Initially we talked about using my happy dog cedar chips as an easy care and affordable surface, but we decided flagstone would be easier for cleaning up the sticky cherry pits and be better for re sale value.

Creating a private sitting area

How small can you go? I prefer an 8 x 8-foot minimum area to fit a 36” table w 4 chairs. While space for 2 was fine with my client, we agreed space for 4 would add re sale value.

Where should our sitting area go?

The narrow back yard was eliminated because there were too many unknowns as to what we could do with the exterior of the neighbors’ garage. So, we circled back to the side yard for our private area. There were many problems to solve to make this area work.

After photo in Urban Back yard Buckman Neighborhood with hardscape landscaping

Carol LIndsay, Landscape Design in a Day

This was the widest area available at 8’ x 9’, just right for our private sitting area but it had the disconnected downspout extension sticking out into the walking area by a foot. It was a trip hazard. The path to the front yard and garbage cans cuts through this area. Once I remembered my client took out his garbage from the front door, I was confident we could make our sitting area on the side.

My privacy solution was multi-purpose

I used two large stone planters at 18” high with a wall cap for sitting.  Our screening plant material is planted at 18” above grade and gives our plants a boost so they will be tall enough to create some privacy in the first two years. Another advantage to the planters is our plants won’t be competing with the mature cherry tree roots.

We needed privacy screening in the 8 -10-foot range but for summer months only. Most people don’t sit out in their courtyard here in Portland in the winter months. It’s important to know whether I want evergreen or deciduous screening. If I only want summer privacy, I can use a deciduous small tree. They provide privacy faster because they are typically round headed and make screening right where we want it.  An evergreen conifer is very narrow at the top, so it takes years to get the screening where we want it and there are very few small fast growing leafed evergreen trees for shade.

Privacy from kitchen back door window

I did want evergreen for the view from kitchen. I used shade tolerant Azara microphylla – Box leaf tree.  It’s one of very few leafed evergreens with the right shape that is fast growing.   The attractive stone planters add an inviting presence from the tiny back porch and make a second sitting area.

Hiding the garbage cans

I created two wood screens to hide the garbage that can be walked around, setting them 6 feet apart makes for a very comfortable access.  The simple screens match the existing fence.

After photo of hardscape courtyard for tiny urban back yard in Buckman neighborhood

Before photo of tiny urban back yard in Buckman Neighborhood

Trip hazard solved

The trip hazard downspout extension had to go away. It stretched across the only access path area between the kitchen door and the new private sitting area. Happily, Donna Burdick D & J Landscape Contractors was able to design a solution.  She installed one of the new flow wells.  Now the water from the downspout goes under the stone path and into the flow well unobtrusively.  The flow well has a tiny little cap for cleaning out. These kinds of solutions allow us to use the square footage available to the client.

This garden design is very simple, and the solutions consist more of hardscape then they do from plants. This is perfect for my client.  Over ‘gardenifying’ this landscape would not have been in his best interests. Having said that, I will be happy when the small trees, ferns and ground covers mature and bring more life to the courtyard. On planting day, it looks a little skimpy on the planting side of our design.

The cool back yard area was not neglected even though it may never become a sitting area for my client.  We created 2 different design ideas for the 7’ deep back yard.  Both added a small tree to block the large window on the far end of the corridor like yard and this planting area was installed.  Halfway through the installation he learned the neighbor was remodeling the old garage which sits on the property line into an ADU.  Our client decided not to change anything else there. Once it’s finished, he may consider integrating the back yard into the new landscaping.

Client Comments

“From the concept and design through implementation, I really appreciated Carol’s understanding of my needs and desires, and her ability to think outside the box on my behalf for a solution for a small tight space that suited me. The design kit, survey and phone interviews gave me a sense of ownership of the project. Carol’s expectations and availability were clear. My advice is to spend some time on the kit and bring your ideas to vet with Carol. Seeing the outcome, my only regret is that I didn’t commit to this project years earlier”.  Ben

I love challenging landscapes.  Contact me with your twisty little yard and let’s find a great design that makes best use of your property. Whether small or large, your landscape can be made to suit your lifestyle with hardscape and landscaping. Go to my Contact Page for more info.

Landscape Designer:  Carol Lindsay of Landscape Design in a Day

Landscape Contractor:  Donna Burdick of D & J landscape Contractors

 

Materials used

Planters-Concrete pavers with an 8” concrete cap

Sitting area surface – Variegated Lavender Blue Stone Flagstone mortar set

Garbage can area surface – Fiberx Cedar Chips

Wood screens to hide garbage cans were built to go with the existing fencing and are simple cedar boards.  Our client plans to use an oil to preserve the wood once the dry weather arrives.

Flow well

 

Plants

Acer circinatum ‘Pacific Fire’

Azara microphylla – Box leaf Azara

Pacific Northwest Native Plants: Vaccinium ovatum – Huckleberry, Polystichum munitum – Sword Fern, and Dicentra formosana – Bleeding heart, various maidenhair fern and groundcovers

No Lawn Back Yard Landscape Design in Grant Park

Grant Park back porch and patio need a re design.

Before landscape design

Read More →

Water Features for Dog Friendly Landscapes

Dog friendly water feature in Willamette Heights neighborhood Portland Oregon

Jack and his water bowl

Water Features for Dog Friendly Landscapes

Lots of dogs love water.  It’s just a fact of life.

And sometimes, or maybe all of the time, when I have clients with a furry friend, the dogs “opinions” are part of the equation when designing a new landscape for the whole family.  There are many aspects of  a landscape design to consider when creating a compatible situation for two species.  Water features are one aspect.  People and dogs want to enjoy the water feature but they have different ideas about what is fun.  For people the sound of water can make a landscape feel like a garden and has a way of taking a space and turning it into a place.  Dogs have different ideas.

I started using echo chambers to create water features for my clients some 20 years ago when the echo chamber (designed by local Lew Smith) was a new thing.  They were safe for kids and easier to care for but then I saw how much the dogs loved them and that if I planned well most dogs could interact with the echo chamber water feature without harming it or themselves.

Take Jack Hofmann, a dog who knew a good thing when he saw it.

Jack and his Echo Chamber

I was hired to create a new entry design for a sweet old Portland craftsman home.  Technically the water feature was designed and placed to enhance the  new entry and to see it from inside the dining room.  Now Jack is kind of a one person dog, so he never fawned over me, much as I would have liked that. He would remember me politely when I came to check on his guardians landscape but when the water feature was installed, he claimed it immediately as his own and posed for me. He knows where his new toy came from.

I wasn’t the only one smitten by Jack’s photo. I was interviewed for an article in Houzz (check it out!) and his mug was featured in  “Protecting Your Pet From Your Yard and Your Yard From Your Pet”  a comprehensive article about dog friendly landscapes.

Jack’s “water bowl” is pottery plumbed into an Echo Chamber, which is a steel box under the pottery.  It creates an easy to care for water feature with great sound and because it has a dry return instead of a pond, it’s safer for kids.  There is no pond to worry about or a liner you need to keep safe from dog claws.  Read more about Echo Chambers in this blog post.

Water Feature for dog friendly landscape Portland, Oregon

This black lab thinks the water feature was set up to quench her thirst.

Zoey’s Spitting Frog Fountain

Some dogs specifically like to drink the water and make a game of it.  Does your dog love it when you get out the garden hose?  Your dog would love a water feature.  Zoey, a plump black lab loves water. This frog spitter fountain is an  inexpensive water feature that pleases people and the pups.  It’s safe for kids because no pond. The water pump recirculates the water through the frog and is under the round rock surface safe from doggy attention.

Remember to design access to the water for the dog and for kids too. If you plant all around it, expect those plants to be trampled.

Water Feature hydrant for dog friendly landscapeFireplug Water Feature

My client Patrick is a retired firefighter. He plumbed an old fire hydrant to use with his echo chamber.  The water feature was specifically designed for his dogs to drink out of.  The dogs loved their fire hydrant water feature and their new back yard which had two fences running parallel at the back property line.  This plant-less space between the fences was their  daily race way.

The Big Rock

Standard poodles and the neighbors kids loved the big rock (Montana Mud 8′ across) water feature which was a focal point for a home in Raliegh Hills.   I would find tiny little plastic toys and tennis balls tucked here and there, evidence of neighbor kids and tennis ball obsessed poodles who played in this water feature.  My clients thought this was adorable and loved how this unusual water feature looked with their NW Natural style front yard.

Water feature for dog friendly landscape in Raliegh Hills Portland Oregon

A fun water feature for two poodles.

 

For many people, life is better with a dog and designing a happy outdoor life for two species, not just one, is what makes happiness for this designer too.

 

Mud Free Dogs-Dog Friendly Landscape Designer

Options for Dog Friendly Landscaping in Portland Oregon

In my years working with my clients designing dog friendly yards, I’ve come up with many strategies to prevent my client’s dogs from bringing the outside in.  In the summer it might be a stick which you can easily throw, and in the fall; it’s a few leaves. But here in Portland, Oregon, winter and spring means mud. And mud is not so easy to stop at the door.  So is it even possible to have a mud free dog in Portland, Oregon?  The solution starts with your  experienced dog friendly landscape designer.

Mud Free Newfoundland Dogs

Cedar chips are recommended by dog friendly landscape designer

Sweet puppy Luna napping in the cedar chips

The changes we made to the landscape for Jackie and Kurt in Tigard have saved hours of grooming and large dog bathing.  Their Newfoundlands are now clean and free of mud and can come in to the family room and hang out with their humans. This was a side benefit of their Landscape Design in a Day.

Their old house comes with huge magnificent old Douglas Fir trees and lots of shade. Where there was shade, there was mud. Prior to installing our landscape design, the dogs could not come into the house at all because they were extremely muddy. I was hired to design a new entry and garden for the front yard and to provide garden coaching for the backyard. No one was talking about having mud free dogs. They could not imagine it enough to ask for it.

It’s my job to solve landscape problems for the entire family. Kurt and Jackie used my special cedar chips to create a mud free woodland “floor” in their Douglas Fir Forest. It’s beautiful even now, ten years later, the dogs are clean and poop is easy to scoop even in the winter.

cedar chips for dog play yard in Portland, Oregon

Elana and her brother play in a cedar chip yard just for them and are mud free.

Play Yard for Rhodsesian Ridge Backs

Cedar chips also worked well for another client with two large dogs, Rhodesian ridge backs. We created an enclosed area with plenty of room to rough house, so they were very happy in their new play yard.  They didn’t track mud in the house (which made their guardian and my client happy) and other spaces around the property  now have a far more aesthetically pleasing garden design. Heads up: If you have 2 large dogs who love to wrestle and chase, the cedar chips will eventually hill up in  some areas and you will need to rake it out to keep a flat play space for the pups.

Raised Beds Create Running Paths for Poodles Back Yard

round wood edging defines cedar chip path in Portland, Oregon

The short wood edging provided enough to keep two standard poodles down the right path.

Yet another family had full sized standard poodles. Poodles are smart and they have a lot of energy.   Many times, dogs (and the landscape plants) benefit from having clear paths installed to circle around and around and around. It’s a lovely way to  play chase and get lots of exercise without the hard impact on their hips and backs that concrete or pavers do.  A simple 12 inch raised bed can often be enough to point the pups in the right direction and build their running patterns. Once the plants fill in,  most pups will stay on the paths and keep their feet mud free. In this scenario, you may need to protect your plants for the first growing season with a temporary barrier like a short wire fence or use plants that are either tough enough to handle tromping or can slightly repel the dogs because of smell.

Plant Tip:  Hardy Geranium leaves (Geranium macrorrhizzum) smells like cedar if bruised.  Dogs will play near by happily but don’t walk or lie in it because of the smell.    I would never use plants with an odor that would hurt or cause discomfort to a dogs sensitive nose.

Hardy geranium and sword fern are two of my favorite dog friendly landscape plants for Portland Oregon.

Sword fern and hardy geranium in a raised bed work well for a dog friendly planting.

Creating landscape designs for dogs and their guardians is a joy and one of the perks of my profession.  Read more ‘Protecting Your Yard from Your Pet and Your Pet from Your Yard’ on Houzz for an interview with your dog friendly landscape designer Carol Lindsay written by Gwendolyn Purdom. And make an appointment for your own dog friendly landscaping!