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Willamette Heights Hillside Landscape Design

Willamette Heights Hillside Landscape Design Portland, Oregon

WM sized Ericson arah after backyard photos 11 2016 (7)

New boulders define the original pathway leading to Forest Park from the backyard.

Hillside Residential Garden Design 

The Willamette Heights neighborhood of NW Portland is special for many reasons. The architecture of the grand old houses, views of the city, Mount Hood and that it is surrounded by Forest Park.  There is a simple 2 lane bridge for traffic in and out of the hillside neighborhood.  It feels private. My clients happened to have a path that leads into a secluded part of the park from their backyard. It’s an old neighborhood with serious garden history. It was the playground for the famous landscape architects Wallace Huntington and Barbara Feeley. I’ve been privileged to create many residential landscape designs in this Portland, Oregon neighborhood including the restoration of the Bertha Cooper Garden, renamed Cooper Phillips Garden in honor of the builder that saved it from destruction.

My client grew up here.  She and her husband bought a beautiful craftsmen house (1905) about a mile away from her childhood home with views and a private path into Forest Park. She had the clearest vision for what she wanted that I have come across. Her first priority was finding a designer who would fully understand her ideas and hold true to them in the design. Read More →

Cedar Mills Woodland Garden Design

Cedar Mills Woodland Landscape Design

Dave and Noelle love the dyed concrete used for the lower patio entertaining area.

I drove out to Cedar Mills in NW Portland to meet prospective landscape design clients Dave and Noelle.  They were sitting out in their large front yard on a semi private patio.  It was surrounded by large trees and was an idyllic setting.  It was early evening in late summer.  Dave opened a bottle of wine and we talked about their new home and goals for their landscape.  They were newlyweds.

Dave and Noelle are the ultimate DIYers and fearlessly tackled many aspects of remodeling their “new to them” contemporary home.  The landscape was a different story.  We all must balance the demands of work and our lives with the time it can take to DIY.

Sloped back yard before design

The clients found their sloped back yard intimidating.

Dave had installed an irrigation system in the past. They knew they could probably plant and do some of the landscaping work. The design however was beyond them.  Their sloped property was intimidating.

Hills after Daves truck

Finally, a place for Dave to park his truck.

Wish List:

  • Privacy for entertaining areas and the hot tub
  • Entertaining space
  • No lawn
  • Blueberries
  • A parking area for Dave’s beloved truck
  • Paths that created access and flow around the entire property
  • Create plantings that will fit with the existing rustic woods
  • Make the best use of the space in the sloped smaller back yard
  • Create year round color in the landscape plantings
  • Planting style NW Natural
  • A weeping Japanese maple somewhere prominent for Dave.

The contemporary house backs up to a natural woods and a steep canyon.  The front yard was much larger than the back and although they had a great place to hang out in their front yard, they wanted to enjoy the views of nature in the back yard.  It was a blank slate.

As you can see from the before photos, the doors to the back yard were 2 and 1/2′ above the landscape.  The landscape then sloped down to a canyon that drops off quite steeply.   We didn’t have a nice big back yard with lots of depth.   They wanted to be able to step out of their great room with food and easily settle into a large outdoor entertaining and dining area. Noelle wanted no steps down to the new outdoor dining area.  This meant we would need to work hard for privacy from the neighbors.

Northwest Natural stone path

Rustic stone path integrates the garden rooms.

What I love about this design:

I created 3 rooms at different levels.  We added grade to create privacy and used our new raised outdoor dining area to provide screening for the lower dyed concrete patio and the lower still hot tub room.  I created a boulder rockery that surrounds the raised dining area and created lots of planting pockets.  We planted this boulder rockery to soften the effect of the large boulders.  Raising the planting beds allowed us the opportunity to improve the heavy clay soil.

As a Portland landscape designer I never miss a chance to improve our local clay soil.  Soil preparation is such a good investment.

To create privacy for the hot tub room, I placed it on the lowest level – same level as the woods and planted in front of it.  This created a view of plants from the master bedroom, not the view of the hot tub.  I’ve yet to have clients who think the hot tub itself is a thing of beauty.

Boulders create softening with planting pockets.

Boulders create softening with planting pockets.

Materials that were used in this landscape included large boulders from Gales Creek Quarry.  The patio was a dyed and textured concrete.  The new dining area surface is 24″ x 24″ concrete slabs installed onto deck framing.  The planter adjacent to the dining area is made of concrete board and planted with full season color plants such as heather and dwarf evergreen shrubs.

Other plants we used for this design:  Acer Palamatum Shaina – Japanese Maple, Vaccineum Tophat – Dwarf Blueberry, Cryptomeria Sekkan Sugi – Japanese Cedar, Pieris Japonica Little Heath  – Dwarf Lilly of the Valley shrub, specialty heather varieties, many varieties of evergreen succulents and low water ornamental grasses.

I was on site for grading and boulder work and worked closely with longtime contractor and excavator Joe Hurd.  It was a pleasure to be able to sculpt the grade into a design that made such great use of the space.  Each room was spacious and functional and flowed into the next.

Porch stone work DIY

Here’s an example of one of Noelle’s many DIY projects. She did the stone work for her front porch.

Dave and Noelle loved their new landscape.  They watched the concrete contractor create their dyed concrete patio very closely.  Our next project was a planting plan for the front yard and more grading and boulder work.  A few years later Dave and Noelle replaced the old front yard paver patio and path with new dyed concrete all by themselves.  Natch.  Fearless DIYers.

 

 

Lawn Do Over for Portland Landscapes

Landscape Design in a Day's newly installed RTF grass.

Landscape Design in a Day’s newly installed RTF grass with dry stream bed.

This is the year for rethinking the lawn. As a Portland landscape designer many of my new clients want to make big changes in their landscapes.  I am recommending clients replace their old lawns with new and improved grass varieties.

My Lake Oswego clients, George and Marcia, contacted me completely discouraged about their front yard. I met them in the fall after our particularly hot and horrid summer of 2015. They had spent their entire summer watering and watering their lawn.  It wasn’t dead on the October day that I came to their home but as you can see it was quite unattractive.

Uplands Neighborhood of Lake Oswego

Damaged Lake Oswego lawn

They decided it was time to hire a designer and start over with their landscape. It is a typical Lake Oswego landscape with heavy clay soil, fir trees nearby with thirsty roots, and drainage problems.

Before we even started the landscape design process, I was able to share information about a new lawn grass that uses less water and is more durable than the grass (perennial rye grass blends) we have been using for the last 30 years.  Working closely with Kevin Schindler of Autumn Leaf Landscaping Inc. we replaced their old lawn with Rhizomatous Tall Fescue (RTF) grass and designed a naturalistic dry stream bed that also solves the drainage problems.  Solving the drainage problems also enhances the health of the grass.  Even RTF grass doesn’t do well in a boggy winter soil.  George and Marcia are very pleased with the appearance and performance of the new grass.  They love their new dry stream bed and how it has pulled together the entire front yard, giving it a dramatic focal point.

They are no longer slaves to watering.

Installation day at George and Marcia’s Lake Oswego home.

This year several of my clients have taken out their old grass and installed RTF.   From a distance it looks like any lawn, in fact it looks more uniform because it grows so thickly that it tends to crowd out weed grasses much better than our perennial rye grass does.  My Lake Oswego clients especially appreciate the fact that RTF tolerates more sun and heat and if they did decide to let it go dormant, it will come back beautifully.  RTF can even handle a south facing lawn with reflected heat from a sidewalk.  This is the most difficult place to successfully grow grass so Portland landscape professionals are embracing this new product.

It is available as a roll out turf product (sod) and as seed.  Kuenzi Turf & Nursery

After Landscape Design in a Day Front yard

Rose City Park Neighborhood

No grass lawn

West Portland Park  Neighborhood

Other clients want no lawn designs, thinking it will be lower maintenance.  No lawn will mean lower water usage but replacing a lawn with paths and plants does not promise low maintenance. Even the fairly new minimalist style using 90% round river rock and 10% plants isn’t as low maintenance as you think. Someone has to blow dust and debris out of the river rock frequently to prevent weeds from building up.  Many clients simply don’t want to mow any lawn and are fine with the first two years of extensive weeding that is needed to get a no lawn front yard established.  For a lot of people, however, weeding is the least favorite gardening chore.

Synthetic Lawn Installed in front yard

Newly installed synthetic lawn in Parkrose Heights neighborhood

Other clients are installing synthetic lawn.  Before you sneer at the idea of fake grass (which I did when I first heard about it), check out these photos of my Southeast Portland clients Bob and Norma Bleid.  They gave themselves a retirement gift, front and back synthetic lawn.  No water, no chemicals, no fertilizer; it is the ultimate low maintenance landscape lawn.

Early fall is a particularly good time to install a new lawn or landscape.  With a good irrigation system landscapes can be installed any time of the year.  As a Portland landscape designer I am not fond of July or August installations, I know my clients will be “nervous nellys”  seeing their plants’ leaves droop, scorch and burn in the summer sun.  The fall rains typically do a beautiful job of providing the moisture needed to get plants (including grass) well established.  This eliminates the stress and worry of summer planting.

 

 

 

Low Water Landscape Design for Young Family

Test after

After: New design includes drought tolerant plants and street tree.

Low water landscape design for young family: TJ and Lori had a new house  in the Beaumont Wilshire neighborhood.  They were planning the landscape long term for their son and future siblings. I love to design the landscape where my client’s children will grow up.    It’s so satisfying! We are creating the places where important moments, family traditions and their children’s earliest memories will be made.  Conserving water for the future was an important family value so a low water landscape design was very important.

During the interview, I asked about edibles.  They laughed and said in unison “Beans”!  Green beans were important and there was clearly some family joke about them.  Their wish list was extensive  but the top 5 were curb appeal, low water use, Rain Garden for disconnected down spouts, no lawn, four season plantings and a screen to define their property from their  neighbors without resorting to a fence…….and a  special place for green beans.

Test before

Before Landscape Design in a Day

We solved the curb appeal issue by designing the parking strip as if it were part of the front yard. This added needed depth and gave the large front facade of the house the feel of a much larger front yard.  The rain gardens had boulders with interesting plantings that added drama to the scene.

Test parking strip

True Dwarf Pines and herbs brighten parking strip.

parking strip stepables anderson

Elfin Pink Thyme acts as stepables for flagstone path.

The parking strip was 8′ wide so was treated as an extension of the front yard, and we need that 8′!  The house with such a tiny front yard floated.  The new design integrated the parking strip into the front yard and “planted” the house visually.

Typically no designer would select the driveway for family quality time.  As we worked together it became clear that the deep spacious driveway was the perfect place for the edibles garden and play space.  The driveway got a privacy treatment, a large arbor set within a stone planter.    The planter acts as art, adds curb appeal, and visually softens the size of the driveway .  It’s a functional divide between the properties and it can be seen from inside the house, replacing the view of the neighbors side yard and house wall.  Guess what they grow on the curved iron trellis?  Green Beans!! People tall and short sit on the planter cap to garden and talk or play.

photo (82)

Stone planter with an arbor.  Click here to see more stone planter options.

Top 5 Stepable Path Plants For Portland Landscapes

North Portland Landscape Design parking strip

Becky Clark Design Thymus Praecox ‘Coccineus’ ablaze w flower in north Portland parking strip

Selecting Stepable Path Plants for Portland Landscapes

Maybe it’s not fair that most people don’t know the finer points of selecting stepable path plants.   The truth is planting between pavers successfully without insider knowledge rarely ever results in what I would call low maintenance.   It’s a little like Goldilocks and The Three Bears, the plant has to be just right.  Remember?  The chair and the bed had to be the right size and the porridge had to be the right temperature.   If the plant you select is not right for the job,  your path or patio can have problems that will take a complete do over to solve.

Most people don’t want to trial and error plants. They want to know it will work before they put in their time and effort.  That is the advantage of hiring a Portland landscape designer.  We know what works here and what doesn’t.

Portland landscape designer walking on stepable plants

Step on these plants.  This keeps them growing low and dense.

Here’s how I think about selecting stepable path plants.

I want a plant that doesn’t grow higher than 1″  or 2″ tall maximum.  Many stepable plants tend to grow into a hump and must be walked on regularly to keep it from growing into a hump and being a trip hazard. Stepping on the plants frequently will cause them to grow dense and shorter.  My grandson Rain helped me plant my flagstone patio.  I  stepped away and his friend came running in and said “I keep telling him they’re stepables not stompables.”  I looked up to see my grandson stomping on the freshly planted ground covers.   Surprisingly, the plants survived just fine.

Portland Garden Design GroundcoverI want a plant that doesn’t grow over the flagstone too quickly.  If you plant a type of stepable that grows too vigorously you will be constantly cutting the plant off of the flagstone.  Untended it will completely cover your flagstone.  A slower plant might need a trim every year or two.

What do stepable groundcovers need?

Most stepable plants require good drainage in order to grow thickly and repel weeds.  If they don’t grow thickly, and have bare patches, weed seeds will be able to reach the soil, germinate and thrive.

I’ve listed plants below for part sun and full sun.   I don’t have a stepable plant that thrives in strong shade, regardless of what the plant labels say.  I’ve tried several that manage to stay alive in dappled shade but don’t grow thick enough to repel weeds.  Another tip:  Don’t plant in an area that was infested with weeds.  You will need to tackle the weeds first before you plant your stepables.

Here is my favorites list:

Leptinella with star creeper

Here’s a close up of  ‘Platt’s Black’ Brass Buttons with Star Creeper.

Stepable Plants for Part Shade/Part Sun:

Leptinella squalida –  New Zealand Brass Buttons.   The variety I prefer is ‘Platt’s Black’.  The other variety of Brass Buttons I like, ‘LePrinella P. Verdigris’  is a a little fast for pavers but I have used it for paths.  I don’t grow either of these in full sun. They spread until they find an environment they don’t like.  In my patio they run into too much shade and the strong roots of sword fern and they stop there.  These are spreaders so think before planting.

Stepable Plants Portland Modern LandscapeMentha requienii –  Corsican Mint  This is a crowd pleaser because it smells good when you step on the plant.  This plant needs some sun, and needs good drainage, too much shade and soil that is too wet in the winter will kill this plant.  Full day sun is too much for this plant.

Stepable Plants for Sun:

Elfin Pink Thyme fills in a path in Portland OregonThymus Serpyllum ‘Elfin’ or ‘Elfin Pink’  – I love this plant and it is truly a flat mat if you step on it regularly.  It does get weeds growing into the middle so it’s not maintenance free, but only garden magazines talk about maintenance free landscapes.  When it is successful you will have to cut it off of flagstones some but I find it quite manageable.

Stachys Densiflora ‘Alba’ – Alba Lambs Ear   First of all this plant looks nothing like  the traditional cottage garden plant (silver furry leafed) Lambs ear.  The tiny leaves are fully evergreen, dark green and leathery.  I love this plant because it doesn’t let weed seeds in.  Plant it on the edges of your path unless you plan to step on it every day, otherwise it will mound up.  It takes full sun easily and the flowering period is fantastic! The seed heads are interesting as well.

Stepable ground cover in Irvington neighborhood, Portland, OregonMy Favorite Stepable Plant

Azorella Trifurcata ‘Nana’ – Cushion Bolax   I have this plant at my vacation house in full morning sun (so 4 hours) and it will take full day sun as well.  It occasionally has a dandelion sprout in the middle, but other pesky weeds don’t invade.  I find it to be very low maintenance and perfect for a place I only visit every month or two.   It will creep over your pavers so plan to trim once every year or two.  It’s my favorite filler plant for pavers, paths and as a foreground plant in a planting bed.

My dog Barley looking at freshly planted Cushion Bolax ground cover.

My dog Barley looking at freshly planted Cushion Bolax.

I love the texture.  It goes through a change where the little needles feel like a plastic carpet (which sounds bad but is fun) and then it softens into a pettable surface.  The yellow flowers are tiny fat buttons and cute.