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.
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
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.
I knew a multi-level deck would solve our 3 biggest problems.
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.
Trex Contour Chateau Grey – deck walls and planters
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.
“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!
Peter and Lynn are patient people and maybe even a little old fashioned. They purchased their home, made some repairs and updates, waited a bit, then hired me to create a landscape design for their back yard, installed it all themselves and waited for the front yard. This took several years. They hired me again to create a design for the front yard.
Peter isn’t a lawn guy and I’m sure in the years between projects he wanted the lawn hump in the front yard gone gone gone gone. When one considers the age of the home (built in 1917) and the fact it has always had the lawn hump, imagine the number of times it was mowed. Past home owners used thousands of gallons of water over the years to try to keep the hump green in the summer to no avail. The water just rolled off. Peter had no intention to continue this tradition.
A landscape design is never about a single issue. A front yard landscape design is all about integrating the home and its land, however small, into harmony. I want it to welcome its humans, their friends and family and be an asset to the neighborhood. This landscape design, however, is going to be very satisfying when we de hump this home.
The front yard was not welcoming and did not match the attractive bungalow’s interior or the fantastic back yard landscape. The overgrown shrubs had been carved into lumps decades ago and while they were healthy, they did not fit my clients landscape vision. The driveway side needed some retaining to hold the steep slope. We could not magically lose the steep slope but we could soften it. The front yard looked even shorter in depth than it was which effected the curb appeal of the home. This home was not visually connected to its land. While the hump of grass was partially responsible, the small straight front steps and walk lined up to the door added to the effect.
The area at the top of slope was narrow and allowed only 3’ of level area to walk around the house or access the driveway. Another problem, the parking strip floods in the winter from water that originates at the top-level area of the front yard.
Move the front steps to one side to create an illusion of more depth. Add some depth to the top grade of the yard. Replace the hump of grass (sound of applause) by placing boulders to hold the new wider level area. Add plantings to soften and partner with the boulders. Add a catch basin to collect and direct winter water into a pseudo rain garden (after consulting with a drainage expert). Create an environment where the water can percolate down deep in the soil and eliminate or greatly lessen the winter swamp in the parking strip. Using boulders on the driveway side allows us to integrate this area into the front yard, and welcome people who park in the driveway. The boulders create planting areas and the new plants add softening and interest.
A steep sloped front yard landscape cannot be “fixed” with a planting plan alone. Plants are wonderful but without the grading and boulders, it will never work. Covering a steep short slope with plants would mean impossible maintenance and it would not look good no matter what was planted. The hump would still be accentuated.
As soon as our design solution went to boulders it meant that while Peter will general the job, he will not be able to DIY the boulders. They DIYed as much as they could.
Lynn likes silver and gray green leafed plants. Silver and gray foliage plants are typically sun lovers. They wanted some NW native plants in their design.
Russian Sage, many forms of sedum, both groundcovers and upright plants like Sedum ‘Xenox’. Helianthemun, euphorbia, hebe, phlomis and manzanita were some of the low water plants used. A fig tree creates privacy to the living room window and figs to the table. I gave Lynn a NW native plant combination for brown elfin butterfly which is sedum ‘Cape Blanco’ and native huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum in this landscape.
Here’s one Lynn added from Xera Plants. Brachyglottis greyi/Senecio greyi or Daisy Bush. I love the fabulous silver green evergreen foliage and the plants very low water needs.
They used my plant broker Brian Bradshaw for many of their plants (saving more money) and installed the stairs and paths, irrigation and plantings………..beautifully. Not all of us can DIY but we can admire those who do.
I dropped by the other day and took photos. The garden is about 18 months old. “We’re very happy with the design and how everything came together.” Peter.
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.
This home, built in 1917, had existing plantings and my clients had furnishings they wanted to work into the design.
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
Free standing stumps to use for fire pit seating
All of the rough lawn, trees of heaven and other invasive weeds.
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
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.
I placed drought tolerant plants near the old cedar tree as that would be the best compatible planting companions for the tree.
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.
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!
My client has a good design eye and she loves modern architectural style and modern style landscapes. However, her new home in Portland’s West Hills had a boatload of difficulties and she wanted a collaborative garden designer who would value her vision and strive to enhance it.
The first view of the house as you approach from the street is the roof. It’s a classic landscape problem for hillside homes. This is as far from welcoming as you can get. You can’t see the front door at all. The amazing view is in the back and the front yard is small, shallow and often below the road.
An modern styled entry courtyard would solve curb appeal, make a private sunny sitting area and give us an architecturally interesting entry appeal. I was prepared for hours of preliminary design to create the perfect enclosure for the courtyard. Instead my client found a photo that was the perfect inspiration and the design came to life.
My client loves her dog. We needed to accommodate the family Basset hound. The entry area is the only easily accessible outdoor place for the dog. The idea of a Basset hound with such short legs going down three sets of stairs, so he can potty in the backyard is torturous and potentially harmful for his back and hips. The enclosed courtyard is perfect for keeping the dog safe from cars and predators.
The fence would cut off views of the entry from the street even if it was a short fence. We accepted this and made the fence an attractive, visually strong presence on its own. We went taller with the fence to block the view of any parked cars and headlights.
The plantings for the exterior of the courtyard walls (out on the street side) are tricky. The first section has crushed rock. It’s designed for guest parking. The other step back sections create room for a mass planting of evergreen ornamental grass. Carex Morrowi ‘Ice Dance’ was the most low maintenance option.
The entry gate area plantings are very simple and rely on two pots, one larger, one smaller and a very low bright lime colored evergreen ground cover to go around the pots such as cushion bolax, Azorella trifurcata ‘Nana’ . The charcoal colored dyed concrete base of the fence needs the relief of bright and light colored plants.
We created the planting plan for the courtyard interior, and designed an echo chamber water feature to enhance the entry experience and to enjoy while sitting outside on sunny days.
The existing rockery style walls inside the courtyard were built with stone that was too small. It doesn’t look great with the new modern style. Our design replaces 1/3rd of the retaining wall with large boulders. It is surprising to see that large boulders look and feel so good even in small spaces. Small rock jumbled together to make a wall is rarely attractive and is far from a modern style landscape.
The final touches of the design are still in progress and I am looking forward to seeing the plantings completed.
If your hillside home is in need of a remodel, make an appointment today!Contact