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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

Deck Design for West Slope Modern Home is a Perfect Fit

Before Modern Deck Design West Slope Portland Oregon

So what would you do with such a mound? This back yard was too complex for these DIYers. Check out the gully!

 

Deck Design for West Slope Modern Home is a Perfect Fit

My new clients love architecture and have a great appreciation of modern design. Their new home is a beautifully designed ultra modern split level in the West Slope neighborhood of Portland, Oregon.  If you have preconceived notions about modern toss them out right here.  Wow what a great house.  My clients wanted to design their own landscape woodland sanctuary but the problems with the unusual site, especially in the back yard, had them baffled. Finding a landscape designer who sees her clients as design partners felt just right so they contacted me for a Landscape Design in a Day. Collaboration wins the day……… Full disclosure……….this property was too difficult to create in the same time frame as my more typical Landscape Design in a Day.  It took several appointments and many more hours to reach the right design.

Before modern landscape design in West Slope Portland Oregon with designer.

Me (Carol) conferring with clients. photo by Alana Chau

Clients Wish List

Easy access to the backyard from the house

What to do with the steep mound by the back doors?

Create a large enough entertainment area that is easy to access from the house

Create privacy from the adjacent park without blocking the view into the park

Block the view of 20′ concrete wall up the hill at the rear of the property. It loomed over the property

Create a planting plan for the steep shady hillside that provides year round color, and native plants for birds

Design an edibles garden for their narrow south side yard and create easier access to it

After modern deck design in West Slope Portland Oregon

Construction progress photo

Designers ‘Take’ on Difficult Site

I’ve never seen a property like this one in 25 years of Portland landscapes. The back yard is separated into two sloped spaces, an uphill and a downhill divided by a gully.

There is no functional access from the house to the back yard. Reaching the back yard requires negotiating down a steep muddy slope. The only level area is too small to use and also skews the proportions of the house. The house feels as if it’s floating and not remotely connected to the site. How could we pull this property into an integrated whole?

It’s a tough one and deserves my Difficult Site Award. The house is truly amazing and I love the challenge of making the outsides match the value of the insides. Once we get the design just right and it is installed, the back yard will be a jewel…….and yep it’s going to be a lot of work.

modern deck stairs and planter for modern home in West Slope Portland OregonMulti Level Deck Solution

I knew a multi-level deck would solve our 3 biggest problems.

  •  Create a pleasant and functional way to access both sides of the property
  •  Make two rooms for entertaining and enjoying the out of doors
  •  It will visually integrate the house to the land
  •  The large built in deck planters add a modern element that is proportional to the 8′ tall glass doors. They bring the view of year round interest plants and visiting birds to eye level from inside the house and give us a nifty way to organize our stairs.

The house is fantastic and modern so the deck design must be up to par.  One way to do that is to give our deck interesting angles rather than a rectangle thrust straight out into space.  Another way is to repeat the color of the house exterior in the planters and to skirt the deck to match the siding of the house. Integration is the mantra for this design.

Our deck design created several functional areas. The upper deck is for BBQ and intimate seating and sets up the transportation flow to the lower deck and north side yard. The stairs down to the lower deck is set at an angle creating both interest and best use of square footage for entertaining areas. The lower deck is for larger group dining. Their stairs help handle the grade issue (hide the steep mound) and allow us to easily reach the edibles garden.

Modern Deck Design in progress for West Slope HomeMaterials

Trex Contour Chateau Grey – deck walls and planters

Cable railing

DIY Projects

Next, they tackled the deck installation which required professionals and significant expense. Now that the deck is mostly completed, boulders will be installed in a rockery style around the deck. Planting this area will follow which my clients will DIY.

The next project is the hillside. They hope to install the hillside paths and finish installing their woodland planting plan on their own. Understory trees and shrubs will soften the view of the 20′ concrete wall and provide for birds. Forest floor plants like Salal, Vancouveria and Trillium will feed birds and pollinators alike. The narrow south side yard was the only location with enough sun for the edibles garden. They installed this garden right away, satisfying their gardening itch.

Client Comments

“We are grateful that our painstaking research of local landscape designers led us to Carol and Alana.  After a preliminary questionnaire to elicit our preferences, Carol and Alana spent significant quality time assessing our space and then sitting down with us at the dining table to begin their detailed and highly-tailored design process. We look forward to seeing our plants and gardens grow over the coming years and thoroughly trust that Carol and Alana have set us down the path of greatest success.”

Thank you to my collaborators; my clients and my design associate Alana Chau. For more information on how we can help your landscape design, contact us!

 

 

Kenton Mid Century Modern Landscape Design

Kenton Mid Century Modern Landscape Design

My client Wendy, in the Kenton neighborhood of North Portland, wanted a landscape designer to help her realize a mid century modern landscape design style vision.  Her mid century modern was built in 1957.  She had a lot of ideas of her own and wanted a collaboration.

Modern landscape design in Kenton neighborhood Portland OregonKenton mid century modern landscape design specifications

She wanted to use her existing porch (which she had built herself) and her 3 Arizona Blue Cypress which were already planted.

No lawn

Dramatic colorful foliage plants (she loved yucca plants and succulents)

Low water to drought tolerant plantings that would thrive in hot baking afternoon sun

The plants to create a sense of privacy from the street without losing an inviting presence.

She planned to DIY the entire landscape

Collaborative landscape design process

On our Landscape Design in a Day appointment, we walked around the property and talked, and I sat down to draw. I created 2 different conceptual drawings that fit Wendy’s specifications.  About halfway through our day I presented the drawings, she looked them over and selected my first offering.  We worked together on the details and I designed planting plan with my client.

Before modern landscape design in Kenton neighborhood Portland OregonModern landscape design in Kenton neighborhood Portland OregonWe reworked some basic details for the existing front porch. I had her paint the downspout the body color of the house. Such a simple but very effective thing. She also replaced a white wood post with a period metal filigree post. It looks really smart now!

Good bye Lawn – Hello Plants

The new planting beds are shaped so we have an open view of the porch from the street, from the driveway side and directly in front. The west side view is screened by a curved bed that showcases the 3 cypress.

Three years later her Arizona cypress has grown and nearly tripled in size. This summer photo shows the blue foliaged Cypress with flowering soft yellow helianthemum ‘Wisely Primrose’, a rock rose. Burgundy foliaged hens and chicks, euphorbia and heathers complete this bed. Modern landscape design in Kenton neighborhood Portland Oregon

Euphorbia – perfect hot sun plant

The front border in summer is a billow of euphorbia flowers and tall sedum, a variety called ‘Xenox’.   Euphorbia is perfect for a hot sun situation and fits with all the low water needs plants.  This photo shows the flowering euphorbia in mid June at the perfect time for pruning it. I mention this because this plant is only low maintenance if it does not seed and only looks good in winter if it is pruned in early to mid June.  If this is not done, people will wonder why their designer suggested it as it will seed about and look very very ugly in the winter instead of delightful.

Euphorbia Chharachais 'Rudolf' in modern landscape design in Kenton neighborhood Portland OregonWhen we prune the euphorbia flowers stems all the way at the base, the remaining young foliage gets sun (because the billow of flowers and flowering shoots are gone) and will grow thick evergreen shoots and leaves. It will become very attractive again in just a few weeks.  These leaves will carry all the way through the rest of summer, into winter until the next early summer flowering. Next early summer (early to mid June) the flowering shoots will be cut all the way to the ground again.  If you don’t want to prune them correctly, don’t plant them.  

Wendy’s installation phase

Wendy is what I call a “No Fear DIY er” after all she built her own porch. She also installed the landscape design.  This included grading, extensive soil preparation and path building.  She purchased her plants through my plant broker and planted everything as well.  I’m always delighted when people use my broker because this means when I drive by someday, I will see the design we created.  Going to the nursery, which is wonderful fun, can also be the downfall of many a design.  Too much plant substitution happens and the substituted plants (not the ones I picked) get too big, spread aggressively, or are not in the right place so fail from too much or not enough sun.

Modern landscape design in Kenton neighborhood Portland Oregon

Calluna vulgaris heather

It was lovely to drive by and take these photos on a drop by, (I was not able to get a hold of her prior………..hence the hose is still out.)  The landscape (front garden really) looks great and is holding up well.  I had worried about this hot sun garden last summer,  2018 was such a scorcher.  Her blue cypress will rapidly grow too big but they will be wonderful for another 3 to 5 years……. which she felt was worth it.  Aren’t they beautiful?

Drought tolerant plant list

Modern landscape design in Kenton neighborhood Portland Oregon

Yucca in a North Portland garden design

Rock Rose

Pacific Mist

Manzanita

California Lilac

Yucca ‘Color Guard’

Euphorbia Char ‘Humpty Dumpty’

Sedum ‘Xenox’

Hens & Chicks

Dwarf Pines

Heather

Echinacea

Contact me if you would like to discuss a modern landscape for your yard.

Colorful Plants for Portland Winter Landscapes-New Zealand Pepper Plant

Colorful plants for Portland Winter Landscapes-New Zealand Pepper Plant    Cedar Hills residential landscape design Drimys Lanceolata is the perfect evergreen shrub

I enjoy a good hit of colorful plants year-round but especially in winter. The rest of the year has so many plant choices here in Portland it’s almost too easy for a garden designer. Winter has fewer selections for colorful plants and is a better challenge. Drimy Lanceolata – New Zealand Pepper Plant is not a new plant for designers but probably new to most homeowners. 

What’s so special about New Zealand Pepper Plant? 

It’s the foliage!

I love this plant for its visually delicious, red accented colored evergreen foliage. The spruce green leaf is set off by the dark red stems and red lines in the leaf. The new growth stem tips are more of a zippy coral red and when mature, they fade to dark Portland residential landscape designer's favorite coral bell plant, Heuchera 'Blackberry Crisp'burgundy.

Color echo: I find repeating the color of the stems and leaf “trim” with an underplanting in the same hue to be very satisfying. Using a burgundy Heuchera like ‘Blackberry Crisp’ with New Zealand Pepper plant illustrates the idea of a color echo nicely.

Versatile size

It’s very versatile size wise. It can grow into a “shree” (large shrub/small tree 8’ tall), or be maintained as a 3’ tall shrub. It’s easy to prune if you understand the basics and while I strongly suggest hand clipping, if you’ve grown it into a large shrub, it can be sheared with a small power trimmer.  The blades need to be small and sharp since you don’t want to chew up your plant leaves.  Don’t cut back into the old wood.  Typically it will have to grow some new foliage before it looks beautiful again. 

Year round colorful foliage in NE Portland landscaping. Photo taken in winter.

While the landscape is where Drimys shines the best, it is excellent for flower arrangements anytime of the year but especially useful in winter when choices are limited. It smells aromatic and the leaves and berries were used in the colonial days of Australia as a flavoring but apparently has a carcinogen in the oil of the leaf.  While small amounts are probably not harmful………………I would skip adding this to your salad. 

Best practices

Plant in raised or well-drained soil out of the range of lawn sprinkler heads. Water once a week deeply with a drip system or soaker hoses.  I’ve placed it in full sun but it works well with some direct sun or lots of lightly dappled shade (under the edges of a tree’s canopy).  It is not a shade or deep shade plant.    

Good drainage is a must. It will die if planted in a low spot or in heavy mucky clay soil. 

Colorful year round foliage shrub in Wiltshire Beaumont neighborhood N. E. PortlandEast winter wind can burn leaves

In Portland’s east counties in particular, the cold east wind may desiccate the foliage.  If I’m concerned about cold winter wind I will place it on the west side of the house in well-drained soil.   I have it growing quite happily in landscape designs in NE Portland, close in SE Portland and Beaverton.

Contact me, Carol Lindsay, when you are ready for an interesting full season planting plan (and hardscapes) for your home.

Plant partners:  a spring flowering heather like Erica carnea ‘Addrianne Duncan’, Heuchera (coral bell), Sedum x ‘Purple Monarch’, tiny leafed Hebe odora- boxleaf hebe like and American Switch grass -Panicum virgatum ‘Hanse Herms’

 

Drought Tolerant Landscaping with Manzanita Plants in Portland

Drought Tolerant Landscaping with Manzanita Plants in Portland

Why am I excited about using Manzanita in my Portland landscape designs? 

Manzanita shrub in Arbor Lodge landscape. Landscape Design in a Day

It’s the water

To advocate the use of Manzanita is to advocate the use of drought tolerant plants. Happily we landscape designers are encountering more clients these days who want a low water landscape or want a completely drought tolerant yard. I can advise about the site conditions drought tolerant plants require and select attractive plants that meet the curb appeal test in addition to drought tolerance.   

Unique look 

Manzanita flowering in Woodlawn neighborhood of Portland - Garden Design

Manzanita flowering in Woodlawn neighborhood of Portland – Garden Design

It’s a new look for the landscape. My younger clients are done with  rhododendrons and azaleas, which are somewhat over used here. While Manzanita has attractive flowers, it is the whole package, foliage color, shape of plant, bark color and flower that is creating the popularity. I’m especially happy with the boost these plants give to the winter landscape. 

Fusion of modern style with NW Natural  

These plants are too naturalistic for formal landscapes but they look great with modern and craftsmen homes.  Style-wise Manzanita fit nicely with NW natural,  Mediterranean or even a southwestern look.  We get strong foliage contrast with  leaf blades (Yucca or ornamental grass), tiny needles like dwarf conifer,  heather (calluna type), lavender or fat leafed succulents like hens and chicks or sedum palmeri or other sedums.

New kinds of Manzanita to use in landscapes 

Drought tolerant Manzanita in Portland garden design as foundation plant.

Drought tolerant Manzanita in Portland garden design as foundation plant.

The fact that we now have more than one kind of Manzanita we can use can be laid at the feet of a handful of people who have crossed different kinds of Manzinita to produce plants that can thrive in our rich Willamette Valley soils.  They then tested the plant in different soil conditions and identified the plants that can handle life in an non irrigated garden or landscape.

When I started my Portland landscape design practice in the 1990’s there was a native Manzanita tree from the Oregon coast that “sometimes” survived here. They are so beautiful that I was tempted.  Still “sometimes” was not good enough for my designs.  I needed cold hardy Manzanita ground covers, shrubs, and small trees that would thrive here in the Willamette Valley and there weren’t any. Now I have them!!! 

Less weeding 

This benefit could take some time to realize.  Manzanita leaves contain a substance that discourages weeds. Leaves that shed from the plant should be left in place. It takes several years for these small leaves to build up enough of the substance in your soil to be effective. 

Pruning tip

Portland Residential Landscape DesignerOne of the common mistakes with Manzanita is to underestimate the width of the shrubs and small trees. Most cannot be pruned heavily and can be rendered so unattractive by pruning that tries to contain them, they will be removed. If you have no pruning skills (and most people don’t) be sure to place these plants where they have room to mature with yearly tip pruning only. 

Where to find these plants? 

While Xera Plants, Inc. and Cistus Nursery are the primary resource for retail, there are the Hardy Plant Society Sales (spring and fall) and tried and true mail order plant resources. If you are wanting drought tolerant landscaping and need a landscape designer contact me, I love to design with Manzanita.