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Archive for low maintenance landscape

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

Sloped Front Yard Landscape Design for Foster Powell Neighborhood Home

Steep sloped front yard with lawn Foster Powell neighborhood before landscape designLandscape Design Solutions for Sloped Front Yard in Foster Powell Residential Home

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.

Landscape problems

Steep sloped front yard entry landscape design solution Foster Powell NeighborhoodThe 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.

Landscape design solutions

Entry path from driveway in Foster Powell Landscape DesignMove 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.

Boulders and attractive plants replace steeply sloped lawn in Foster Powell front yardA 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.

Landscape design plants

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.

Hebe albicans 'Sussex Carpet' in Mount Tabor neighborhood of Portland Oregon

My favorite hebe for Portland, Oregon

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.

No lawn landscape design in Foster Powell residential neighborhood Portland Oregon

Phlomis ‘Russeliana’ is another silver gray green foliage plant that looks good in winter too.

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.No lawn landscape design in Foster Powell residential neighborhood Portland Oregon

Portland Backyard Landscape Design Renovation in Foster Powell Neighborhood

Portland Backyard Landscape Design Renovation

Foster Powell Backyard Before Landscape Design Portland Oregon

Before Landscape Design

Making a backyard heaven the DIY way started with Peter and Lynn contacting me for a landscape design in the Foster Powell neighborhood. While they are solid DIYers, they also believe in getting professional help where it is needed. They wanted a designer who prefers collaboration with clients.  Landscape Design in a Day creates the heart of the design with the clients at their home. This idea was appealing to them and so we found ourselves working together at the kitchen table.

Client desires

This home, built in 1917, had existing plantings and my clients had furnishings they wanted to work into the design.

Foster Powell Backyard after landscape design using existing elements and plants in Portland OregonWe kept:

The back property line laurel hedge

The revered and large western red cedar

The old lilac trees for privacy in the summer

Their small apple tree

2 red Adirondack chairs

Existing Red Adirondack Chairs to use in the new backyard landscape design in Foster Powell backyard landscape design in Portland OregonA picnic table

Free standing stumps to use for fire pit seating

We removed

All of the rough lawn, trees of heaven and other invasive weeds.

They wanted

Design usable areas with good flow and good integration

A deck/back porch seating area, dining area for their

an improved fire pit area

Low water plants, raised beds for edibles

Designers take

I wanted easy inviting access into the backyard.  I designed a porch that serves 4 purposes: a threshold level for BBQ with a step down to seating (where we used the red Adirondacks) and built in their raised beds.  I love that our BBQ area is large enough to comfortably pass the person doing the BBQing and to access the backyard.

Foster Powell backyard landscape design with picnic table in Portland Oregon

We kept the existing apple tree and it is thriving next to red umbrella.

Foster Powell back yard with existing apple tree before landscape design in Portland OregonAt ground level I created 2 more outdoor rooms: a dining area big enough for the extra-large picnic table and a fire pit.

Honor the old native cedar tree

I placed drought tolerant plants near the old cedar tree as that would be the best compatible planting companions for the tree.

My first peek at the finished landscape design

The first time I saw the installation of the design was winter.  I was so happy to see how the planters around the deck, which make the deck seem more like a porch to me and eliminate the need for railing…………were full of tall overwintering kale still being harvested in early February. Even in winter I could see what an excellent installation they had done. Peter’s only regret with his DIY work was that he did not get the exact crushed rock he requested from the local rock yard.  The delivered product would not compact.

I loved how before the design, with the landscape more than a bit rough, Peter and Lynn would still sit out in the backyard even though they had no stairs from the house yet.  We are all different but when you love being outdoors, having a fabulous backyard is very important.  This garden calls them to come be outdoors.  Time spent in this gardenly backyard and memories made are relished.

Clients comment and link to their front yard landscape design

Peter says , “We’re very happy with the design and how everything came together.”  Please see the front yard design we created together a few years after the back yard was installed.  Sloped front yard landscape design for foster powell neighborhood home.

If you like to do it yourself but need a plan, contact me to make an appointment and start the landscape design process!

Resistance is Futile-Plants that take over your landscape

Resistance is Futile-Plants that take over your landscape.

 

This blog is about attractive plants that take over your landscape.  They are tempting and for sale at most garden centers.

Star Trek The Next Generation came out 20+ years ago but I was busy building my landscape design practice and raising a stepdaughter so I missed the whole thing.

Maybe I’m just going to seed as I recently watched all seven seasons in short order. I encountered the Borg and was impressed with their ability to take over a universe. The Borg remind me of certain plants that will happily assimilate your entire garden and need to be avoided. 

Here’s a list of plants that are as devastating as the Borg and good at propagating their own kind without any assistance. They have an aggressive spreading growth habit and yet they are still sold at most nurseries and garden centers in spite of their thuggish nature. Be warned.

Foliage of houttynia 'Chamelon', is an aggressive spreader in Portland Oregon gardens.

Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’ Photo Source

Here is a beauty of a beast: Houttuynia

Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’ –  I’ve never known anyone who (once it was planted ever managed to get rid of it. It is famous for aggressive roots that will grow through other plants and overpower them. It can seed although it hasn’t in any of my clients gardens because I never use it.  Look at how cute the variegated leaf  is!

Aggressive Japanese Bloodgrass in Portlands' Raleigh Hills residential landscape design

Japanese Bloodgrass, Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’, can spread indefinitely

Japanese Bloodgrass Spreads

Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’ or ‘Rubra’- Japanese blood grass is a spreader but it can be dug out and eventually (as in years of work later) be banished but don’t sacrifice your time to this plant…you will be sorry!!

Aggressive Ribbon Grass in NW Portland parking lot is well contained by boulders.

Ribbon Grass, Phalaris arundinacea

Ribbon Grass is on the Fence

Ribbon Grass, Phalaris arundinacea, is a plant that can be very difficult to eradicate but if a designer suggests it for a contained area that doesn’t mean they are a newbie.  It is planted in a parking lot that I frequent. It’s been trapped there over 9 years and has not escaped. I myself have never used it in a design but it is very very low maintenance.   Here is an article regarding success in killing the ribbon grass. 

Front yard of North Portland Row House is lost to Aspens aggressive growth habit.

This stand of Aspens (Populus tremuloides) started out as one trunk!

Aspen Trees

Aspen trees, Populus tremuloides, are beautiful in a forest but not good for tiny city plotsOne tree will become many and fill your soil space with invasive roots that lift walkways, invade foundations and water lines and leave companion plants with no water or nutrition. See this great article from designer pal Beth Goodnight regarding the evils of aspen and some alternative suggestions.

Keep Mint in a Pot

If mint gets away from you – you will never get rid of it. Some people plant it in a pot and keep it on a concrete patio. The roots can escape from the pot and once it spreads in your soil you will have it forever so I never set my pot of mint into a planting bed. I like having mint for soups but it is strictly a container plant. 

Japanese Anemone in Portlands' Grant Park neighborhood in low maintenance residential garden design.

Japanese Anemone is beautiful but travels fast

Japanese Anemone and Bishops Weed in the Right Spot Only

Japanese anemone, Anemone sp., should only be used by experts. This one is very very seductive and over the top beautiful. It travels by root which is the problem. I like to use it in very low maintenance planting plans/landscape designs and in parking strips where it is easily contained. It doesn’t seem to invade the lawn so I’ve used it in plant borders too.

Bishops weed, Aegopodium podagraria, should be planted by people who know exactly what they are in for. It can be contained in the parking strip or a low maintenance planting where you have nothing but shrubs. Large shrubs with bishops weed as a ground cover can be a functional landscape choice. If I use it I have a rule:  You are not allowed to ever give a start of it to a friend.      

There are, of course, many plants besides my short list that should be avoided or used with caution. These plants are the stars of this blog because they are so attractive, tempting and readily available at your local garden center.

Pruning Nandina easily for Portland residential landscapes

Pruning Nandina easily, the perfect low maintenance plant, for Portland residential landscapes

Low Maintenance Shrub (Nandina) for Portland Residential Landscape DesignI promised I would follow up from my last blog about Nandina domestica – Heavenly Bamboo and how seriously low maintenance they are.  I’ll give you my easy pruning trick for Nandina and you’ll be all set to use this shrub, a low maintenance year round beauty, in your Portland landscape.

What’s the problem with shearing Nandina?

If it’s so easy to prune why do we see so many sad looking Nandina out there? People try to prune them like a boxwood hedge.  Boxwoods have a typical shrubs’ woody structure and little tiny leaves.  They can be sheared and look pretty good.  Nandina are a multiple cane plant with a compound leaf composed of many oval shaped leaves.  The best way to ruin their appearance is to shear them into little round balls or squares.

Ugly Nandina in Portland Landscape Need Pruning TipRestore leggy sparse leafed Nandina plants

These photos illustrate embarrassing ugly examples of Nandina out there in commercial and residential landscapes.  These sad plants at my local bank have not been pruned at all.  If yours look this bad, hold off on tossing them.

Portland Landscape Designer's example of poor pruning techniqueWe could correct these ugly leggy Nandinas’ appearance in one year by applying the pruning technique I have illustrated here.  These Nandina domestica ‘Gulfstream’ could look amazing with regular irrigation and pruning once every year or two.

My drawing “Fix Leggy Nandina” illustrates restoring a Nandina that has developed leggy bare canes (or stems if you like).  It has no foliage at the base of the plant.

The Cool Trick to Pruning Nandina

The simplest pruning technique is to cut 1/3rd of the canes to the ground and call it done.  This technique will get you a much better plant once the new canes sprout. I control the height by selecting the tallest canes to remove.

You can take your easy pruning a step farther and select another 1/3rd of the canes and cut them at different heights.  If you only have 3 canes to work with it would look like my “Fix Leggy Nandinas” illustration and in one year it would have a new cane with leaves on it sprouting from the ground and the stem you cut back would have new stem and leaves above where you made the cut.

When to Prune Nandina

You can prune nandina any time of year here in the Pacific Northwest.  I like to remove canes to use for holiday table decoration in the winter but only from a robust plant with lots of canes.  I  prefer to do restorative pruning (such as in my illustration “Fix Leggy Nandina”) as early as March or as late as May.

How to Prune Dwarf Nandina

The technique is mostly the same, but dwarf varieties like ‘Firepower’ need almost no pruning to contain height and if they get enough sun, they rarely get leggy.  The plant can get too wide so I like to thin a few canes out at the bottom (or up to 1/3rd of my canes) every year to keep the plant from ever getting too wide. This allows the little plant to continue serving as a colorful year round foundation plant for the long term in your landscape.     Here is a good video to illustrate pruning the dwarf varieties.

 

 

Read my previous blog about Nandina “Colorful Four Season Plant”